As schools face closure, parents left with limited options

Consider Jennifer Holman a prepared mom. Before her son, Miles, was even born she had begun considering which school in Philadelphia would be right for him. She talked to friends and scoured the Internet.

She and her husband weren’t comfortable with the neighborhood school in Point Breeze, so the couple made a list of seven schools, ranging from top-notch charters to high-performing traditional public schools.

They have now been turned down for all seven due to limited space.

“I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy,” Holman, 38, said. “I did not necessarily realize the outcome would be so unfortunate.”

But Holman’s story is not unique. Many Philadelphia parents are finding it tough to enroll their children in quality schools outside their neighborhood boundaries. That figures to become even harder if the Philadelphia School District goes ahead with plans to close as many as 40 schools next year to cut costs and “right-size.” Most charters already have waiting lists, and seats in schools like Penn Alexander – where the lines for kindergarten enrollment are well-documented – will be even more prized.

The district said it will maintain many of the programs in those 40 schools, but relocate them to other facilities.

“We’re not about to close a program that’s working,” district spokesman Fernando Gallard said. “We have an extra 50,000 seats that we must get rid of because it’s costing us $33 million annually.”

Gallard also noted the Renaissance Schools effort to turn around chronically underperforming schools and the Great Schools Compact, which calls for expanding high-performing charter or district-run schools over the next five years.

But the concern is that demand will still outpace supply.

“There’s not enough options,” said Darlene Callands, president and CEO of Black Alliance for Educational Options’ local chapter, an organization that helps parents navigate the process. “We need more options.”

Holman said if no spaces open up in their desired schools, they are committed to home-schooling Miles, at least for the first year.

“It gives us another year to figure it out. We’ll just see then,” she said.

Five things to know

1. Applications for voluntary transfer (attending schools outside the child’s neighborhood) must be submitted between Sept. 19 and Nov. 2 for the 2013 school year. You can select up to five schools in preference order.

2. Admission is not guaranteed. It is based upon the student’s ability to meet the school’s criteria, space availability, and sometimes a computerized lottery. Transfer status letters will be mailed out in the spring.

3. The enrollment process for charters varies from school to school, so check with your desired school. Some may require interviews, auditions, essays or recommendations.

4. Under No Child Left Behind, parents have the right to apply for a transfer from a school that is in need of improvement to a school that has not been identified as needed improvement. Decisions are made in the spring for the following fall.

5. Sibling preference is only offered for elementary school transfers. A sibling lottery is conducted for those who have a sibling in the same household already enrolled in the school to which they are applying.

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