Backup Plan Pitched For Neighborhood Schools
by Melissa Bailey | Sep 28, 2012 11:36 am
Posted to: Schools
The next time Stephanie Wilson strikes out in getting her son into the magnet school three blocks away from her home, the city might give her an alternative so he won’t have to trek across town.
Wilson (pictured) failed to snag a spot for her 3-year-old, Isaiah, at John C. Daniels School in the Hill in the magnet lottery earlier this year. She joined dozen parents at a public hearing Thursday night to learn about new recommendations for easing the many headaches parents suffer while trying to navigate the admissions process to New Haven Public Schools.
The recommendations come from a school redistricting committee tasked with reexamining the boundaries that determine who gets to go to the city’s neighborhood schools.
The panel of teachers, administrators, parents, school board members and aldermen came up with 24 proposed changes, including short-term tips on rezoning schools before next academic year. Click here to read their report.
After a final meeting set for next Wednesday, the committee plans to pass along the proposals to the school board for a vote.
The most sweeping recommendation would help families who want to attend schools in their general area of the city, so that they don’t get sent way across town for school.
Depending on what street a family lives on, its child is now given preference at one of 21 designated neighborhood schools. However, because New Haven is a system of choice with many magnet schools, only 28 percent of students end up attending the school down the street from their house, according to the panel’s report.
So what happens when you don’t get a coveted spot in kindergarten at the Worthington Hooker, or the Nathan Hale, across the street from your house? As of now, families may find themselves trekking across town to find a seat at another school.
Some parents are happy doing that. Others are not.
To help the latter families, the panel proposes dividing the district into four big quadrants. Families would still have first dibs on their allotted neighborhood school, based on the street they live on. They’d also get a new advantage: They would also have priority for the magnet schools in their quadrant over applicants living in the other three quadrants of the city.
So each family would effectively have a set of back-up schools in the general neighborhood to fall back on.
For example, Jen Vickery (pictured) showed up Thursday with her daughter, Willow Oliveira, to ask about the boundaries for the Hooker School. She lives on Prospect, on the edge of the school attendance zone. Vickery is hoping to enroll Willow next year in kindergarten.
Under the new proposal, if Vickery can’t snag a seat at Hooker for Willow, she would now get admissions preference for open seats at three nearby schools, Celentano Museum Academy, East Rock Community Magnet School, and King/Robinson Interdistrict Magnet.
And if Wilson strikes out again at getting her son into Daniels, she would now get dibs on open seats at Barnard and Betsy Ross magnet schools.
The proposal aims to increase a kid’s chances of attending school near home; to lower the number of kids involuntary bused across town; to reduce transportation costs, according to the report. Check out pages 23 to 27 of the report for full details on the four quadrants.
To make the new backup plan possible for parents like Wilson and Vickery, the panel proposes granting neighbors preference at more city schools.
Of the district’s 31 elementary and middle schools, only 21 are “neighborhood schools,” meaning they have a specified attendance zone. Some of those 21 are magnet schools, which means students get in through a lottery with extra preference if they live nearby.
Five magnet schools do not give preference to families who live nearby: Celentano Museum Academy, MicroSociety Interdistrict Magnet School, Conte/ West Hills, Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School and the Engineering and Science University Magnet School (ESUMS). The panel proposes opening the first four as neighborhood schools. Conte/West Hills would get a new attendance zone of streets nearby the school; the others would use their large quadrant as an attendance zone. ESUMS, which is set to move to a new building in West Haven, was exempted from this change.
The change means that a Westville family that doesn’t get into Edgewood School, for example, would have a better chance at getting into MicroSociety compared to kids from the other three quadrants of town.
The new quadrants aim to address one problem the panel discovered: In some parts of the city, the number of kids in the neighborhood far exceeds the number of seats available in classrooms. For example, on the east side of town (Fair Haven to the East Shore), there are 1,336 too few K-8 seats to serve the kids who live there. In kindergarten alone, the shortfall is 232 spots.
Thinking of the city in four big quadrants would help align the classroom capacity to neighborhood populations, the panel argued.
The proposal would not force any child to transfer schools, noted Ed Linehan (pictured), a retired administrator hired back as a redistricting consultant. The recommendations would affect future enrollment as spots open up.
The panel also proposed revising the attendance zones for Mauro-Sheridan, Benjamin Jepson, and East Rock Community Magnet School.
A swath of the Hill, where the Vincent Mauro School stood before it merged into Mauro-Sheridan, is still considered the attendance zone for Mauro-Sheridan, Linehan said. That no longer makes sense, because Mauro-Sheridan sits in Westville, he argued. Linehan’s panel proposed gradually shifting away from the old attendance zone and instead giving admissions preference to anyone in the western quadrant. To keep families intact, any child in the old Mauro attendance zone who has a sibling at Mauro-Sheridan would still be considered as living in the attendance zone, Linehan said.
“Everybody would be grandfathered in, and change will happen gradually,” Linehan pledged.
The panel also proposed cutting the East Rock School attendance zone in half, to be shared with the Conte/West Hills school. And Jepson would adopt the former Woodward School zone as its attendance zone. As with Mauro-Sheridan, all kids with siblings would be grandfathered in to the sibling’s school.
The new zones could take effect as soon as the 2013-14 school year, provided that the school board approves them by November, Linehan said. The committee also recommended more long-term solutions, such as relocating the school registration center from 54 Meadow St. to somewhere with more parking.
East Rock Plea: “Walkability”
The mention of redrawing school lines already drew some concern in East Rock.
Britt Anderson (pictured), an active parent at East Rock School, read a letter on behalf of neighbor Anika Singh Lemar.
Singh Lemar, who lives on Eld Street, said she hopes to send her 2-year-old son to East Rock School when he’s older. She said she’s concerned that Eld Street would fall on the Conte/West Hills side of the zone—not as a criticism of Conte, but because the route to school would no longer be walkable. To get to Conte/West Hills from her house, she and her son would have to cross State Street, a state-run road that’s five lanes wide in places.
“No child could cross State Street safely,” Singh Lemar said. She asked that the panel consider State Street as a “natural boundary” and pay attention to walkability, when redrawing school boundaries.
After the meeting, Linehan said his panel never offered a specific proposal on how East Rock’s attendance zone should be spit up. He said he would leave it up to the board to decide exactly where the new lines would be drawn.
Two parents who followed the issue over the past year applauded the panel’s efforts to make the maze-like admissions process more transparent.
The panel incorporated several recommendations from parents, including an agreement to give parents a sense of how likely their kids are to get into a magnet school. The district can’t definitively predict admissions, of course, but the panel agreed that the schools magnet brochure should include data on how many students applied the year before and how many got in.
Holahan Thursday called for more reforms, including ending a pre-registration process that enables kids enrolled in pre-K programs to lock in coveted kindergarten seats before a general lottery. This spring, he noted, Hooker School’s whole kindergarten class was filled up by kids who had pre-registered.
Wilson, who sent her son to private daycare after failing to get into Daniels School, left the meeting feeling “frustrated” with the lack of spots in magnet schools for local kids. The demand for magnet spots far exceeds the capacity: Last year, 9,333 students competed for 2,677 magnet seats. Wilson said her son landed no higher than 66th on the wait-list at Daniels. She was dismayed that half of pre-K slots at interdistrict magnet schools like Daniels are reserved for suburban kids.
Linehan explained that without the suburban kids enrolled, the state funding for the pre-K spots wouldn’t exist. The district reserves half of pre-K spots for suburban kids in order to get a 35-65 balance of suburban and New Haven kids in the school overall, a requirement of magnet funding, he said.
Wilson wasn’t satisfied with the explanation.
“It’s not a fair process,” she said. “It needs to be fair for New Haven parents.”
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Will there be “stacking” (attendance zones) on the West Side? I thought that Davis and Edgewood were among the K-8 schools currently facing the greatest threat of over-enrollment.
New Haven’s population of children has been increasing much more rapidly than any of the NHPS consultants predicted a few years ago.
After checking the enrollment numbers out on the NHPS website, it seems that the numbers in the report are way under actual school enrollment. For instance, on the NHPS website, the enrollment for Jepson is approx. 495 and on the report it lists the building capacity as 322. For Barnard, the NHPS website states the enrollment to be at approx. 550 students and the report says the building capacity is 357. Granted the numbers in the report do not include pre-school slots, but there are three pre-school classrooms at Barnard, so that does not make up the nearly 200 student difference.
There are leading the public to believe that there is HUGE shortage of space in schools, when in reality there is not.
The redistricting process gives the school district the opportunity to consider walkability City-wide. I testified, through Britt, as to East Rock School specifically but I hope the City embraces the policy across the board.
I hope that the redistricting commission will take walkability and transportation into account when making determinations as to how to draw district lines. For East Rock school, that probably means using State Street as a natural demarcation between the East Rock and Conte districts. In other parts of the City, it will require, similarly, ensuring that school attendance zones permit children to walk from their homes to school. This requires checking distances and mileage but also physical features, like major roadways and dangerous intersections, that make it difficult to walk from one point to another. In this age of rising obesity and increasing transportation costs, I hope NHPS will treat walkability and accessibility as key factors in drawing district lines.
Those who live in the neighborhood should go to the neighborhood school.
Typical backwards district leadership. First, the lottery is a scam that allows the kids of politically connected resident and athletes from other towns-to get in even if they do not get in through the lottery. Second, new haven is hyper-segregated already, this plan makes things worse. Typical of New Haven’s miserable excuse for leadership.
True that, that is a very serious accusation, that the lottery is rigged. Do you have any evidence?
The original rational for magnet schools was Sheff v. O’Niel. NHPS’s rational is the large amount of state money the district gets for having magnet schools, and for each out of district student admitted. While pursuing funding at all costs, they seam to have forgotten the advantages of neighborhood schools.