Here are some of the things I find myself regularly explaining to incoming parents.
You should put down the schools you want in the exact order you really want them on the enrollment form. Putting popular/hard-to-get-into schools at the top of your list does nothing to harm your chances of getting into a neighborhood school in your cluster lower down on the list. I promise. I've had this confimed by Tracy Libros several times. Also, there is also no limit to how many schools you can put on the list.
Here's an excerpt from an old post I made on this subject:
Regarding the question about the chances of getting into Salmon Bay (or any school), the probability varies every year. But, it is important to remember it doesn't matter what the chances are. Why? Well, it's convoluted and difficult to understand the enrollment system, but if you just list all the schools you would like your child to attend in your true order of preference, it works out.
You are not penalized in any way by listing many schools. And, if you don't get into your top choices, you still have just as good a chance of getting into the other schools on your list. For example, if you really want Salmon Bay first and Adams second and Loyal Heights third, then list them that way. If your child doesn't get into Salmon Bay, then you have the same priority for Adams as if you put that one first. If your child doesn't get into Adams, then you have the same priority for Loyal Heights as if you had put that one first, and so on.
Pages 34-40 in the Elementary Enrollment guide are very useful for answering questions about the enrollment process. In particular, pages 36-37 detail the tiebreakers that determine who gets spots in which schools. You can see that distance is a major determining factor for most schools, but not for alternative schools which tend to pull evenly from among a group of several clusters.
Chances of Getting Into a Particular School
The number of kids who apply to and get into different schools obviously varies by year, but there are consistent trends. Take a look at this historical data on the SPS website. It makes very interesting reading.
Looking at 1st choice data (page 4) for example, you can tell that Madrona is on a downward slide in terms of popularity. Of course, you can’t tell why, but it’s still interesting. You can also see how Beacon Hill popularity skyrocketed last year with the roll-out of the language immersion programs.
Page 6 (waiting list) shows the enormous size of TOPS, Salmon Bay, and John Stanford International waiting lists, as well as the fact that the majority of elementary schools never have any wait list.
It looks like Beacon Hill, after only having a waitlist of 1 person in 2004 and no other waitlist through 2007, had a waiting list of 48 kids in 2008. That’s huge! With the addition of the language immersion program, in one year they have gone from being a school that is easy to get into to being a school that is difficult to get into.
Closures & Consolidation
The district is now done with elementary school closures for the foreseeable future. Really. I know the last several years of closures have undermined families' confidence about stability and predictability in the Seattle Public School district. But if you find a school that works for your child for the upcoming year, you can feel confident that it will remain open throughout your child's time in elementary school.
New Assignment Plan
On the flip side, the school you get into for the upcoming year may not be one that you are able to stay at for the entire time your child is in elementary school. A new student assignment plan is being designed now and will be put into place for the 2010-2011 school year that drives to keep more families in schools closer to their homes. Details (such as they are) are on this page on the district site.
It could be that the revised assignment plan allows current students to stay at their schools and the changes only affect future students. If so, it is likely that changes in transportation will mean that some families that get transportation to schools for 2009-2010 may lose that transportation for the following years. But it is also possible that the revised assignment plan will send some children back to schools closer to home. I don't have any insight into the decisions or the details around this. I'm just reading between the lines.
For those families that are considering waiting a year and doing private school in a Kindergarten, I wouldn't recommend it. You will almost definitely find yourself with fewer options of schools to enroll your child in the following year (2010-2011) when the new assignment plan is implemented.
Start Time Changes
The proposed changes to start times have all K-8s, middle schools, and high schools starting at 8:00 am, and all K-5s starting at 9:15 am. I think it's a terrible idea and I think the district will end up saving very little money from this effort (as Charlie and Johnny and other people's data analysis shows).
The district has promised a final decision before the end of Open Enrollment period, so we should know for sure about this in the next couple of weeks. Read the district FAQ for the details and spin.
Choosing the "Best" School
There are popular schools and less popular schools. But there is no one school that is "best" for all children. Make sure you go on tours and ask the questions that matter to you and your child.
Here are some blog posts written over the last couple of years that may be helpful:
- Seattle Schools Data
- Seattle Public Schools Enrollment Services page
- Choosing a School: Alternative Schools
- Choosing a School: South & Central Seattle Elementary Schools
- Choosing a School: North Seattle Elementary Schools
- Choosing a School: West Seattle and Queen Anne/Magnolia Elementary Schools
- Choosing a School: Middle Schools
- Choosing a School: High Schools
1) The Seattle Times Enrollment Guide which has data and articles on choosing a school.
2) The district's Research, Evaluaton and Assessment page. Because I'm not very interested in standardized test scores, what I look at are the Student Climate Survey and the Staff Survey. It's fascinating what you can learn from reading them.