Sibs Get An Edge In Public School Admissions

Melissa Bailey PhotoA kid with an older sister at Edgewood, Hooker or Nathan Hale schools will get a leg up in this year’s admission lottery, according to a new policy unveiled Thursday.

Kids applying this year to any New Haven magnet, charter or neighborhood school will get extra preference if they have siblings already at that school, Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries (pictured) at a press conference announced at the Board of Education headquarters at 54 Meadow St.

“Families very much want their children together in schools,” Harries said.

The new changes are detailed in the brochures for magnet and charter schools, which were released Thursday. The deadline for those applications is Feb. 15; the lottery is on March 12.

The policy came in response to a demand from parents to keep their kids together, Harries said. The feedback emerged as a panel of teachers, administrators, parents and aldermen spent the last year publicly reexamining the geographic boundaries governing who gets into each school. The Board of Education had sought to delay changing its sibling policy for another year, but heeded Mayor John DeStefano’s request to accelerate the process.

The new policy won’t guarantee admission. It won’t boot any kids out of a seat they already have. It will give kids a leg up in joining siblings at a given school, especially if they live nearby. Depending on which street they live on, kids get admissions preference at certain nearby magnet and neighborhood schools—click here to see which schools your house corresponds to.

In the past, neighborhood schools like Hooker and Nathan Hale did not grant any formal sibling preference. That sometimes meant kids who lived across the street from the school, and had siblings there, would not get in. Magnet schools did allot some preference to siblings, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference for most families, because sibling preference was subservient to neighborhood preference. At a popular magnet school like Edgewood, the attendance zone is so big that all the spots would get taken up by kids who had neighborhood preference, before sibling preference was accounted for.

Now the city plans to give top priority to applicants who both live in a school’s attendance zone and have a sibling at the school, Harries said. Second preference will be given to neighborhood kids. Third preference will be given to students who don’t live in the neighborhood, but do have a sibling at the school.

That means a kid who lives across the street from Nathan Hale won’t get elbowed out of a spot by an out-of-neighborhood applicant with a sibling at the school.

Also new this year, siblings who want to attend the same school can submit a joint application so they don’t get split up.

These new preferences will take effect at the March 12 lottery for magnet and charter schools as well as for the lotteries for kindergarten spots and spots in neighborhood schools where the number of applicants exceeds the number of available seats. Read more about the registration process here.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoInformed of the changes by phone, Hooker parent Anna Festa (pictured) applauded the decision.

“That’s awesome,” she said. “That’s what we actually proposed to them back in February,” when a group of Hooker parents called on the school board to introduce sibling preference.

Festa, who lives near the Hooker school, argued that parents can be more effective when their time isn’t split between several schools. “It’ll make parents lives a lot easier,” she said.

“I wish [sibling preference] were established sooner. But all in all, I think people will accept this with open arms. It’s just something that needed to be done,” she said. “I congratulate the Board of Ed for making a very wise decision.”

When the mayor called on the school board to change the sibling policy, Harries and Superintendent Reggie Mayo objected that they needed more time to publicly air the idea. The sibling policy was not explicitly in the purview of the redistricting committee that held public hearings over the last year. Harries argued that there is a set of people—kids without siblings in schools—who would be disenfranchised by the new policy. On Thursday, he said the district decided that the benefit of having parents choose to keep their families together was worth making the change. The change does not need approval by the school board, according to schools spokeswoman Abbe Smith.

Westville/Beaver Hills Alderwoman Angela Russell (pictured), the parent of five kids who went through city public schools and a member of the city school redistricting committee, said the new parents will serve to improve one area of weakness at the Board of Ed—parental involvement.

Russell said as a mom, she struggled to keep up with her kids’ activities at three different schools. “It puts a strain on you as a parent,” she said, “and then your commitment declines.”

She said she found herself choosing between two kids’ report card nights because she couldn’t be in both places at once. Keeping kids together will allow parents to be more involved, and will give younger siblings an older role model inside their school, she argued.

In her first year as alderwoman, she said she has received “numerous phone calls” from parents frustrated they couldn’t get a younger kid into the same school as an older sibling. “Trust has not been the No. 1 thing between the Board of Ed and parents,” she said.

She said allowing sibling preference will serve to “eliminate distrust.”

“This is a step that ensures that their voices will be heard.”

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posted by: PH on January 3, 2013  6:49pm

Makes great sense.  Let’s see what revolutionary ideas they come up with next!

posted by: HhE on January 3, 2013  9:13pm

Let me if I got this.  A sensible idea, a long time coming, that would keep families together, has been implemented for next year, but only because the mayor pushed the BoEd?

posted by: dorothy25 on January 4, 2013  9:37am

This is a reason why the BoE needs to be accountable to more than just the Mayor.

posted by: Walt on January 6, 2013  4:25pm

Somehow your new labeling of Ms Festa as a Hooker parent seems much nicer than your old practice of calling her a “Hooker Mom”

Thanks for the change