Choice Program Complicating School Selection Process
February 12, 2009
Irving Rosario plopped down in a chair in guidance counselor Deana Leikin's narrow office and looked at the paperwork spread out in front of him.
Several school applications dotted the table in front of Irving, an eighth-grader at Bellizzi Middle School.
The one that stood out — because of its size and importance — was the one for Hartford public schools. The application, which is larger than the rest, is required of all eighth-graders in the city this year, even if they choose to attend their neighborhood high school rather than an out-of-district school.
"For some kids, this is a first choice. For some, this is a backup," Leikin said to Irving. "But you've gotta do it."
That's because under a new choice program, all Hartford students must apply for public school if they are in a transition year, which is the last grade at a school, or if they want to attend a different school.
As Tuesday's application deadline approaches, students are seeing just as much paperwork and frustration as they are school options.
Increased state desegregation efforts are opening more spots in magnet schools and technical high schools in the region. And high schools in other communities, such as Bloomfield and Glastonbury, have specialized programs, with separate applications. At the same time, students in Hartford suburbs can apply to attend Hartford public schools, and vice versa.
"It's hard for them," Leikin said of the application process. "I think, in theory, it's a great program. Choice sounds good. It will be good. But it's in its infancy, and it's complicated for us as counselors to get all the pieces together."
The magnet school application — though more streamlined than in the past — has complexities. For example, some magnet schools, such as Sport and Medical Sciences, have sixth through 12th grades. When Hartford students apply at the end of the eighth grade, there are likely fewer openings at those schools.
Still, officials are reporting high numbers of applications returned. Leikin said that more than 80 percent of the eighth-graders had given completed applications to her by last week. And the Regional School Choice Office, which was created to help bring the state into compliance with Sheff v. O'Neill desegregation mandates, has seen record numbers of applications, said Christopher Leone, an administrator there.
More than 7,000 applications for magnet schools have been returned, as of this week, and more than 2,000 students have applied to attend traditional schools in towns other than their own, Leone said. Of those, about 700 students applied for 173 spots in Hartford public schools, Leone said.
Some students, like Mariely Jiminian at Bellizzi, are on top of the process. Carrying a tattered folder with six applications, Mariely said she is most worried about getting into her first choice: the program at Glastonbury High School.
"It's been a nervous time," she said. "Some people don't even try [for the other schools]. I think that's sad."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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