Mayor Prods Schools To Keep Sibs Together

Melissa Bailey File PhotoBrothers and sisters applying together to popular magnet schools may get an edge in the lottery next year—if the district responds to Mayor John DeStefano’s urging to act quickly.

Whether the schools will act quickly, or hold off another year, was the subject of discussion at Monday’s school board meeting. The discussion focused on the school district’s current policy on sibling admissions.

Currently, siblings applying to the magnet school lottery get an advantage only if they already have a sibling attending that school. The system does not help a brother-sister pair apply simultaneously to a school, unless they already have a sibling there. The district is considering allowing siblings to enter the lottery on a joint ticket; it’s also considering extending sibling preference to neighborhood schools, where siblings don’t get any advantage.

Over the past year, parents like Anna Festa (pictured above) have come forward calling on the school to start giving students admissions preference if they have a sibling at a given neighborhood school. Festa and a group of parents from East Rock’s Hooker School met with school officials in February and asked for sibling preference.

“There’s a very strong need and want for sibling preference across the board in New Haven for all schools,” said Festa this week.

She argued sibling preference would help the city’s school reform initiative by getting parents involved in one school instead of multiple schools. It would also help parents get a second child into their neighborhood school.

“It just makes more sense, plain and simple,” Festa said.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries announced the school district does not plan to change the policy before the admissions lotteries early next year.

Harries said changing how siblings are treated in the lottery could be easy, but he felt the issue had not been amply aired.

While many parents have spoken up in support of sibling preference, Harries said, “there are sets of parents disadvantaged by that move,” whose voices had not been heard. Those parents didn’t come forward because they’re not frustrated with the current status quo, he said. Harries recommended the school district get public input on the policy this year, then decide whether to change the policy in time for the fall of 2014.

Why wait a year and a half? asked board member Mike Nast.

Harries said the district is under a tight timetable: The proofs for the magnet school pamphlets go to the publisher in the next two to three weeks, he said.

Melissa Bailey File PhotoMayor John DeStefano (pictured) agreed with Nast.

“I’m for sibling preference,” DeStefano said. He said letting parents keep their kids in the same school boosts parent engagement.

“Who would be against” the policy? he asked. Parents with only one kid?

Harries responded that at popular magnet schools, solo applicants might not get spots if students with siblings grab them first. Most parents lose out in the magnet lottery: Last year, 9,333 students competed for 2,677 spots in magnet and charter schools.

“Virtually all magnet schools have wait lists,” Harries said.

Superintendent Reginald Mayo said the district needs to hold a public hearing on the subject.

“We ought to get public input,” he said.

DeStefano urged the district not to delay.

“The point is, you do get more ownership in a school” if a parent has multiple kids there, instead of being stretched between several schools, DeStefano said.

DeStefano said he understands the time crunch, but the district could make it work with a simple blast to the Parent Link parent advisory system and a call for public input.

“To me this is a no-brainer,” DeStefano said. He urged the district to “find a way to do it this year.”

Mayo agreed to “push” the subject, but did not commit to changing the policy before next school year.

The topic popped up this year as a panel of teachers, parents and public officials reexamined the rules by which kids get admitted to city schools. The panel issued a final report earlier this month with 24 recommendations.

Sibling preference wasn’t in the purview of the panel, but it emerged as a top priority for parents attending the redistricting meetings. The panel made no recommendation about changing the city’s sibling admissions policy; instead it called for a task force to take up the issue.

Harries said because the topic was not under the redistricting committee’s charge, the district did not gather data on how many parents would be affected by a change in policy.

Mayo conceded the district has been inconsistent on the topic. “Before, it seemed like we had sibling preference at some schools and not others,” he said.

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posted by: davecoon on November 28, 2012  1:19pm

ALL schools in the city of New Haven need sibling preference.  It is a vital key to parental involvement.  The NHPS can’t keep talking about parental involvement out of one side of it’s mouth and then expect parents to be involved in more than one school.  Its a no-brainer and were not really talking about losing that many open seats to siblings year-to-year.

posted by: anonymous on November 28, 2012  1:38pm

While sibling preference is absolutely crucial and should be strengthened ASAP, the rules on neighborhood preference need to be strengthened at the same time. Otherwise many parents will feel slighted by this new rule. Sibling preference doesn’t help you if you are forced to send your children to a school on the other side of the city. That’s an argument for waiting until next year.

Also, if schools are oversubscribed then additional classrooms should be added. These schools all have plenty of space to add another kindergarten or first grade classroom within the building. The construction and materials required to do this takes less than one month, so it is something that can be done after the lottery.

We need some new leadership that can think outside of the box on these issues.

posted by: PH on November 28, 2012  2:53pm

Sibling preference is a no-brainer.  Who wants their kids attending two separate schools?  What a hassle—trying to coordinate schedules, drop-offs, events, PTAs, everything about this cries out for sibling preference.  DeStefano should get pushy on this issue.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on November 28, 2012  3:11pm

The magnet theme needs to be the reason why a kid goes to that school, not because a sibling goes there.

Magnet schools suffer when the students are not interested in their themes.

posted by: streever on November 28, 2012  3:26pm

Schools—and children—suffer when their over-worked, minimum wage earning, poverty-line income parents have to coordinate schedules between two schools on opposite sides of the city, shuttling children back and forth, and stressing out over which child has to skip soccer practices, or which child just doesn’t get to join an academic or extra-curricular event.

Sibling preference really should be a no-brainer: the alternatives are messy, complicated, and a giant turn-off for struggling parents.

posted by: TryingToRemainAnonymous on November 28, 2012  6:53pm


You can’t have it both ways. The mayor has created a large magnet school system (I believe to get state funding). The magnet schools are supposed to attract students who WANT to be at that school to learn about THAT theme. Too many students are going to schools they do NOT want to be at…they are not the right fit.

If people want more neighborhood schools they must recognize that this will increase taxes (and rents).

Parents need to be more vocal as to HOW the district is going to accommodate such a large variety of schools. This may mean that schools have staggered “Meet the Teachers” nights, or that the schools/district find innovative ways to deal with these issues.

The students who want to do extra curricular activities generally receive tokens to get on the city bus to get home.

All students who need to be on a bus get a bus.

Please do not send your child to a school he or she does NOT want to be at just because s/he has a sibling.

The beauty of the magnet system is that it provides a unique opportunity for children to be exposed to things outside the comprehensive schools do not have.

We already have too many students coming into certain magnet schools JUST BECAUSE they perceived as safe(r) schools. And these students do not thrive.

posted by: HhE on November 28, 2012  9:30pm

Sibling preference is not just a no brain-er, it begs the question why we do not have this already—say years ago?

I am confident that the real reason we have primarily magnet schools is the extra money.  Themes are nice, but the basic curriculum does not change all that much.

Thus spoke a former magnet teacher.

posted by: PH on November 29, 2012  1:56pm

Themed magnet schools are idiotic for young children.  No 5 year old can predict what they will like next week, let alone for the next 8 years of their life.  I understand that magnet schools bring in more state money and allow some families with lousy neighborhood schools to have more options, but the fact is that nobody should be shoveling elementary school kids into theme-limited schools in order to take advantage of a theme.  The notion that a sibling will be “disinterested” in a theme at a particular school is a terrible argument against sibling preference.  The benefit to the parents of multiple children outweighs whatever fleeting interest a young child has in a particular theme.

posted by: Wildwest on November 29, 2012  10:38pm

Why not just make all schools equal? The kids in my neighborhood barely know each other or who their neighbor is. I see something wrong with that, am I alone in thinking this?

I see magnet schools as a form of segregation, very expensive segregation. My urban planning prof. would not be happy with any of this.

posted by: HhE on November 30, 2012  1:23am

MikeM, how ironic since the origin for magnet schools in Connecticut comes from Sheff vs. O’Neil.  When I was young, I went to a none neighborhood school for most of my Elementary years.  I had school friends, and I had home friends.  Which helps explains why I am such a big fan of schools within walking distance.  (I may mistake your meaning, but…) There is no way to make schools equal.  What makes a really good school good is not so much the budget or the physical plant, it is the staff and students. 

TryingToRemainAnonymous, streever is not trying to have it both ways.  Yes, eliminating magnet schools altogether would kill the generous (Faustian?) funding, and that would increase the tax burden, but sibling preference is allowed under the magnet law.  The availability of a bus does not mean that a bus is suitable for a given child. 

PH, I agree with much of what you said, however I think it is fair to say that Dr. Mayo and the BoA does the Mayor’s bidding, so I think saying that DeStefano ought to get pushy on this misses the mark.  Me thinks he ought to tell his minions to get on board with sibling preference, and be done with it.  (Also, plpleaseorgive this, but “disinterested” means something very different from “uninterested.”  Sorry, my mother was an English teacher, and a bit of it has rubbed off—even I am a terrible speller.)

posted by: davecoon on November 30, 2012  11:09am

I believe that most people would prefer neighborhood schools.  Whats not to like about walking to school and having your neighborhood’s children (including all siblings) attending the same school?
The problem is that top-heavy urban school districts like New Haven’s are addicted to all the federal and state grant funding coming in for magnets.  The grant monies pays for the high salaries that administrator’s receive, outside “consultants” and bureaucratic nonsense.  Too little of those dollars trickle down where the rubber meets the road - meaning the classrooms.

posted by: Will Clark on December 1, 2012  7:55pm

The New Haven Public Schools has implemented and approved a site based budget model over the last few years.  One of the benefits of the site based budget model among many others is to see where the budget goes. 

The assumption that magnet money is somehow diverted to alleged top heavy salaries is simply false. 

Magnet money, along with most other grant funding, is a primary source for funding teachers, technology and support services within the Magnet schools.  While some grants do also support consultants and administrator salaries, thus avoiding local dollars being spent on such items, the vast majority of the Magnet funds are directly supporting magnet teacher salaries and classroom supports as they are specifically dedicated to such schools for such purpose.  So the suggestion that such funds are not directly supporting the classrooms of those schools is also inaccurate.

In fact, as was studied and reported in the recent public meetings on redistricting issues, Magnet funds also serve other needs such as to support full day Pre-K in virtually every Magnet school across the district.  That is hundreds of full day Pre-k slots for New Haven students fully funded through Magnet dollars.  Absent those resources which are only available through the Magnet School Program such slots would likely not be available for New Haven students and New Haven would be like most other towns having limited or no free Pre-K programming.  Thankfully New Haven has one of the largest Pre-K programs in the state.

New Haven’s model of neighborhood schools mixed with magnet schools of choice allows for a blend of options for families.  Themes, language support and diverse academics allow parents options while also promoting diversity and positive interaction among neighborhoods.  Published independent studies also provide proof that Magnet Schools have succeeded in academic growth measures at a pace above traditional schools.  So it is not simply a question of dollars and cents.  Other factors such as the benefits of choice, additional funding steams and academic success must be considered as well.

The Redistricting Committee has come up with some very exciting recommendations to further enhance the system while maintaining both choice and neighborhood preferences.  We will be seeking more public comment on the recommendations in the coming weeks and encourage all interested to check out the Committee’s work through its website