City's School Choice Program Inspires Excitement, Skepticism
December 12, 2008
At Hartford Board of Education events and meetings, the topic of school choice often is met with excited anticipation.
New schools are opening around the city, replacing others that are failing, and district officials are busy collecting applications from parents who, for the first time, can choose any public school in the city for their children to attend next year.
Among some parents, however, the conversation about school choice is marked by skepticism.
These parents worry about how the system will affect neighborhood cohesiveness. Some fear the change won't give them any more options than they already have. Others say they feel the choice program is being rushed.
Those concerns were expressed at the PTO Presidents Council meeting Wednesday. The council, a group of all the schools' PTO presidents, is seeking more comments from parents and people in the district to create an informational video on the choice program.
"Ultimately, the biggest stakeholders in this are the parents and students," said Milly Arciniegas, council president.
Some parents at the meeting said they're concerned that the choice program will essentially create another system of lotteries and waiting lists. The program is structured so that students have first priority to attend their neighborhood schools, then schools where their siblings attend, then schools within specific zones and, finally, schools across the city. There are four zones in the city under the choice plan.
Students in transitional years [those entering the lowest grade of the schools they would like to attend] must fill out an application before Feb. 17. Parents need to apply even if they choose their neighborhood school. Transportation is provided only between students' homes and schools within each zone, so if students are accepted into schools in other zones, parents have to provide transportation.
If students are already enrolled at a school, they will not have to apply to continue attending that school, district spokesman David Medina said.
"There are more options now than ever, as evidenced by Tuesday evening's Choice Fair at the Connecticut Expo Center that drew 625 families and showcased 50 schools," Medina said in a prepared statement. "Moreover, parent feedback at past Choice events indicates that an overwhelming majority of families are clear on selections available to them."
Medina declined to comment on the concerns parents brought up at the PTO council meeting.
"This is the first year of district-wide choice," he wrote. "There are bound to be some bumps on the road. We can't comment on vague concerns that have yet to be addressed directly to the Choice office."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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