LAUSD makes plans for simpler enrollment but doesn’t include charters
Mike Szymanski | April 1, 2016
On Friday morning, more than 100 parents were lined up outside Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City waiting for a permit to get their child into one of the district’s Schools for Advanced Studies. One dad spent the night on the school steps.
No, it’s no April Fool’s joke. Getting into one of LA Unified’s popular magnet or dual-language programs, or one of the many other choices, is a complicated process of deadlines and forms, and a lot of waiting.
At a special school board meeting earlier this week, Superintendent Michelle King said her staff was proceeding with a unified enrollment process that would make the application process easier and prevent parents from having to camp out in front of their child’s school just to get them in a better program.
However, the simplified process will not include any of the charter schools that are overseen by the district, which seems to fly in the face of King’s public declaration to avoid the “us vs. them” mentality between traditional schools and independent charter schools within LA Unified.
School board member Ref Rodriguez, who helped start charter schools in the northeast Los Angeles area, told LA School Report that parents should be informed about the charter school options in their area at the same time.
“I’m really enthused about this step forward, but we didn’t bring all the gear, there’s still a missing piece of this equation, the charter school,” Rodriguez said.
He doesn’t think that all parents will want to flock to charter schools.
“I have a hunch that it would be the opposite,” Rodriguez said. “I come from the charter world, and I know that most families want their neighborhood schools to work, but they don’t always know what’s available. I think this works in the district’s favor to do this.”
A unified enrollment system with one deadline and application period for all area schools has been established in Denver, New Orleans, Newark and Washington, D.C., but has caused controversy in other school districts considering such a plan, such as Boston and Oakland, and raised concerns among some charter organizations about a loss of autonomy. Rodriguez said he was familiar with the Washington plan and that it helps with diversity and ensures that charters are not “cherry-picking” the best students.
Jesus Angulo, LA Unified’s director of Counseling and Student Services, is in charge of putting together the unified enrollment plan. At the moment, there’s no specific deadline, no specific funding and they’re not sure if it is going to be developed in house or by a firm outside the district.
“We are in the exploratory stage,” said Angulo, who said the biggest changes will be to shorten the sometimes eight-month-long process to no more than six weeks and put it entirely online. The hope is to offer a search engine with the available choices, career pathways and other comparable data.
For now the district plans to combine deadlines for magnet schools, SAS schools, early education, International Baccalaureate programs, dual-language schools, Zones of Choice schools and other programs.
“Right now we are only considering district schools, not charter schools,” Angulo said. “We are streamlining our own internal process and what we can control within our district.”
The idea for a simplified process came when King was assistant superintendent, but now it’s being fast-tracked even as funding is being sought.
Sarah Angel, managing director of advocacy of the California Charter Schools Association, said, “It’s encouraging that the district is trying to better engage families. Clearly it should be easier for parents to explore their options and choose the best public school for their children. But charter schools are public schools, and more than 100,000 Los Angeles families are already choosing them.”
Angel added, “So it seems reasonable that charter schools would at least be invited to be part of the discussion about a common enrollment process for families. If district leaders are serious about treating all public school students and parents with the same care and concern, then charters should be part of the conversation.”
Rodriguez said the different deadlines with charter schools can create unnecessary competition because a parent may be waiting to get into a district magnet school, but then they are accepted earlier into a charter school. Two or three months later, they are accepted into the magnet program, but the family already has a relationship with the charter school so they stick with them.
“By including the charter schools, it gives charters the advantage of quicker enrollment, but it also allows schools to plan properly for next year,” Rodriguez said. “We have to try to see if this system works in this district.”
He said it is important to see if charter schools will sign on to the idea. Now that the schools will all be connected via the district’s MiSiS computer system, such a process could be easier.
“I’m really grateful that LA Unified is going to the united enrollment of their choices, but we should be thinking more broadly,” Rodriguez said. “We should have conversations with our charter parents. Does it make sense to include all the options for the district?”
Rodriguez said some of the district’s mentality is still that charters are not part of LA Unified. “That is the biggest frustration I have on both sides. I know Ms. King really does mean that it’s not us vs. them, but the machine only knows how to see the world in one way. The charter world is the same way, they want to be part of the district when it makes sense and do not want to find solutions together when it doesn’t. There are parallel systems fighting most of the time and not working together for the kids.”
After hearing about the long lines outside Walter Reed Middle School, Rodriguez said, “If you’re a low-income person you do not have the time to take off or spend the night at your child’s school. You shouldn’t have to do that. Families need to be informed of their choices, and there’s not choice if people are not informed. They can’t make that decision properly if charters are taken out of the equation.”