06 February 2008

Magnet School Registration Mess

This weekend, parents of potential CPS magnet school students, must endure an annual ritual: Standing in line.

Our friends, who wish to enroll their son at Fairview, have been given notice that parents are not permitted to start standing in line before 4pm Friday. Well, registration was set to begin Monday morning! Think of that. Standing in line for three nights! What a mess.

Some parents are raising a ruckus about this, and some parents at North Avondale Montessori even started a now denuded website dedicated to the issue.

The better method, which Fairview School implemented for many years is to require that parents take a tour of the school, and allow applications to be turned-in any time begining 12 months before the first day of school. With this old method, there was no standing in line, and the slots typically filled-up before Christmas for the following year.

Monday, Parents for Public Schools organized a meeting, and a compromise solution was agreed upon for this weekend. The compromise should help avoid the camping. The parents and administrators agreed that a new process must be developed for next year. The consensus process will probably be an extended application time combined with some sort of lottery.

The Enquirer reported as thus:

Responding to a growing outcry from parents, Cincinnati Public Schools officials announced several changes today to the highly competitive magnet-school enrollment process set to begin this weekend.

Also, parents should be forewarned that they face extremely low odds in getting a seat in the district’s most popular programs, said Superintendent Rosa Blackwell, because preschoolers and siblings of current students – who have dibs – already took most the spots.

The changes are designed to minimize the need for weekend-long overnight camping in line for parents. They will affect Fairview German Language School, Sands Montessori, North Avondale Montessori and Dater Montessori, the four magnet schools in CPS that historically have long lines and waiting lists when enrollment begins each year for the general public.

At those schools, doors will open at midnight on Sunday for parents, instead of the beginning of the school day on Monday as originally planned. Then, at midnight, parents will be given time-stamped applications, and will be able to return them at their leisure. They will be admitted based on when they received an application, not when they turn it in, officials explained.


Beach said...

thanks for the info. i had no idea that the line was that bad, nor had i heard of the changes.

CityKin said...

There are ways to avoid the lines, and I really think CPS should implement them. I mean, here they have parents clamoring to get into CPS, and they are turning them away! How many parents get frustrated and go private or move because of stuff like this?

Anonymous said...

It's an inhumane system, but what other short-term options are there? A few years ago they were all set to go to a lottery system and many parents, including me, were up in arms over that. Anyone could put their name in for any school, regardless of whether they bought into the philosophy or not. Now there's no guarantee that a parent has bought in, in fact there are parents who send their kids to Montessori who don't understand/agree with the philosophy, but the parents who really don't buy it aren't going to stand out in line.

The solution must be a long-term one: more higher performing schools. That's chicken and egg territory, though. What makes a school higher performing?

They gave in to the white parents in Pleasant Ridge who were clamoring for Montessori but didn't want to stand in line. That was a very stupid move, though. They took a neighborhood school with 30% annual turnover and put in the one program that DEPENDS on continuity. Then they overbuilt it by 200 extra students and committed to paying out of CPS-money for extra-big classrooms. That school cost several million extra in property costs they didn't expect, $500,000 in extra Montessori materials costs, and the 200 seats they overbuilt by have to be deducted from other surrounding schools. Woodford has 570 kids now but is slated to be cut to 450 in part to make up for the overbuilding at Pleasant Ridge. Eventually they're going to have to turn PR into a neighborhood/magnet school (to make it work academically and financially), and after that its only a matter of time until the magnet parents will push out the neighborhood kids. Net effect: one more Montessori magnet, neighborhod kids pushed farther out of their neighborhood. That helps those nice white homeowners but the predominantly African American neighborhood kids have even farther to go to school which makes it even more difficult to involve already uninvolved parents. They could have started up another magnet in the area, replacing one of the three Paideia programs in the area, and solved two problems with one solution.

CityKin said...

^I agree with most of your comments, and you are obviously better informed on some of the details.

It seems that the old Fairview sign-up method was humane and was still first-come. It worked for us, I know that.

I think that Montessori is a great teaching method, but it is not a cure of all ills. I did notice for example that the fourth Montessori program, Winton was not listed as in high demand. Why is that?

Fairview is successful because:
It is located near UC, and it is the oldest magnet program,and success breeds success by attracting the right teachers and the right students.

Personally, I am very happy that Fairview had a traditional teaching method, as that is what our son needed IMO.

Anonymous said...

^I think we agree on a lot. I think most of the reason the majority of magnet programs are successful is that they attract motivated parents. Kilgour is a successful neighborhood school because there is a preponderance of involved parents. (I won't say "tipping point" because I hate that jargon.)

You're right that Montessori isn't a cure all. I have met very few children that wouldn't do well in a Montessori classroom but it's not for all parents. I'm not so sure I would classify a German-language immersion school "traditional," though!

And you're right about Winton. With a very high percentage of children in poverty, high mobility of the student body, and uninvolved parents (for a variety of reasons, not just "parents who don't care"), the school is doing poorly. That's why it was such a laugh to hear former Board of Ed member Harriet Russell try to sell Amberley Village parents on the idea of attending PR Montessori. She actually told them that Montessori means higher test scores and cited North Avondale and Sands. Somehow she forgot about Winton which has many of the characteristics of Pleasant Ridge.

I was lucky in applying at North Avondale, only 6 years ago. I took a tour early and because my daughter had been at a Montessori preschool they called me to come in and file my application during the priority period. No standing in line at all. They very next year the story was different.

I was at a community learning center planning session at Woodford a few weeks ago. Someone asked the principal why people came to Woodford. She started reeling off things like their violin program, their afterschool activities such as cup-stacking (!?!). And she was dead wrong. The reason people come to her school is that the scores are better than average. They may stay for the cups but they come for the scores.

Bottom line, I don't think there's any way to avoid lines and camping out until there are more schools that are in good shape. To be in good shape a school needs a preponderance of involved parents and, let's face it, a number of middle class parents, that are willing to take a chance, roll up their sleeves, and help make a good school.

And bottom bottom line? The defeat of the school levy in March is just going to make everything even worse. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting take on PR Montessori. I wasn't aware of them overbuilding the school, and I agree that it could have an impact on other CPS schools in the area. But I disagree with your view that the school will eventually become a magnet and then force out the local black kids. I think just the opposite is likely. Once the people who have enrolled their children in the off-site pre-school send them to the new school this Fall, I'm afraid they will be in for an unpleasant surprise. Very few whites attend the school now (we have our children their now at their site in Madisonville), and once these new parents get a good look at their new classmates, I have a feeling their will be a mass exodus for the doors. In fact, I think this is already occuring to some people in the neighborhhod. All of a sudden, I'm seeing signs up for North Avondale Montessori all over Pleasant Ridge. I suspect that the word is already out that PR will not be up to the standards of other CPS Montessori schools. I give PR Montessori about 2 - 3 years, and it will revert to a typical neighborhood school.

CityKin said...

I would like to thank the above parents for commenting. I wish PPS or someone would start a public school forum where these issues could be hashed out a bit more.

CityKin said...

By the way, I think the levy has a decent chance at passage. I think the close Democratic Primary will bring out a lot of public school supporters.

Anonymous said...

anon 02_11,
Your scenario is quite possible. The faces that Amberley residents made when they heard the racial balance at PR spoke pretty eloquently. You might be right - I give it a 50/50 chance between forcing neighborhood kids out or abandoning the school. Either way it is unlikely that the new crop of Montessori parents will want to be with the current enrollment. Having the preschool offsite was an ingenious way to get parents in. Whether they'll stay in when the school reunites is an open question. It may be that the PR preschool becomes a feeder for the North Avondale elementary grades. Transferring in rather than enrolling at the beginning.

I am torn about PR. It's good that a cadre of middle class whites have linked arms and decided to make the school a better place. Too bad that it had to come at such a high price. The extra land, the extra materials, the extra classroom space, the extra training. Millions have been spent over and above the usual costs to attract whites to the school.

The district desperately needs more involved middle class parents. Heck, it needs more involved parents of any income level. And those parents will only come to a school where there's at least a chance that their child will do well there, i.e. the school has good test scores.

But how could the Montessori program be equal?

1. They are taking traditionally-trained teachers, giving them a few months' crash course and then calling them "Montessori." It just doesn't work that way. Even the Xavier program, which isn't that hot to my mind, takes more time than that.

2. The multi-age classroom depends on having the majority of students be there for the whole three-year cycle. The older kids are classroom leaders who model the appropriate behaviors and have internalized the structure and routines, can teach a lesson or correct a younger child's work. You can't have that in a school with such high turnover every year. Kids coming in from other traditional schools at the 3rd or 6th grades will be in the same boat as kindergarten and 1st graders--total novices.

It was just a dumb decision to put that particular program in. The only thing dumber was the Waldorf suggestion. But I suspect that was a ringer from the start. The idea that kids don't need to read until 2nd grade is crazy talk for the public schools, particularly in this age of annual testing.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope you're right about the levy. As bad as it might be at large, an uncontested Republican primary combined with a hotly contested Democratic one definitely increases the odds of passing Issue 10.