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Children / School

The Open Enrollment Game: Where to Register for School?

Next week, I get to register Claire for Kindergarten! It’s hard to believe, but districts all over the Denver Metro Area are holding their Kindergarten Registrations in January!

(Stock photo credit: igoghost.)

So, next week, I’ll be standing in line at our neighborhood school…whether or not I want her to go there. If I was satisfied with our neighborhood school, my task wouldn’t be so daunting. I have to gather all of our proof of residency requirements, birth certificate, immunization records, and the other items. (The Eye of Newt was surprisingly easy to find, and I may have a good lead on the Unicorn Whisker.)

But that’s not the tricky part.

The problem lies in the fact that our neighborhood school is not our first choice for Claire. It’s not even our second or third.

Thankfully, we do have other first choices: Enter Choice Enrollment. (Jefferson County Choice Enrollment, sometimes called Open Enrollment, is January 5th through the 24th.) As a Jefferson County resident, I can enroll my child in any of the Jefferson County schools that have space for her. Because of this, I spent last year and the beginning of this year doing my research and creating my spreadsheet. You think I’m kidding? I needed a spreadsheet to keep all of this straight!

Some great resources for getting information on schools can be found at Great Schools and School Digger.  (Online review sites are what they are, so you’ll have to sift through reviews that may not fit your needs, but these are great places to start!)

Of the schools we’ve applied to, some only offer full-day kindergarten.  Some offer half-day.  Some give you a choice, and either way there’s probably a cost involved if you do the full-day option.  Information on this seems to change on a daily basis, so be sure to double-check with the particular school if you have questions. (In fact, when I started writing this article, the free options had been denied for 2011.  Now, I’m being told they have been approved for some schools.)  If it’s not free, the going rate for full-day Kindergarten in JeffCo is $300+ a month.

Claire is MORE than ready for full-day Kindergarten.  Some of the schools offer really cool extras, so I can justify the money in the budget for that.  Others, not so much. (Oh, look! Another column for my spreadsheet!)

One of the schools where we wanted to apply required that I turn in documentation verifying our county residency and proof that Claire was indeed five by October 1st. They needed this with the application, before we’re even guaranteed a spot on the Choice Enrollment Wait List!

Speaking of wait lists, one of the schools I toured had their own old-school wait list in place. (Pun totally intended.) They now follow the Open Enrollment protocol for Jefferson County, and their old wait list is being grandfathered in, and it’s my understanding that this is the last year for it, so we were actually allowed to apply anyway.

This was a school that, until recently, accepted kids for The Kindergarten Wait List the day they were born. In fact, I know at least three people in real life who did just that. They put their babies on The Kindergarten Wait List. I’m not even kidding! I thought this only happened on the East Coast or in movies!! (No offense to anyone on the East Coast or in movies.)

For Kindergarten?? Really? Really.

Part of me doesn’t understand the need to do this and was completely flabbergasted. The other part of me who just spent hours running around with applications and various forms of identification wishes I would have thought of it five years ago.

With all the complaining I’m doing, you’d think we were in dire straights. We’re not. Our neighborhood school was once called “a hidden gem of a school,” but things have changed. Even now, it’s not “that bad” in comparison to schools with real problems.  If our neighborhood school does indeed offer full-day Kindergarten for free, is that enough to trump other factors? In a 2-mile radius from our house, we have incredible options. Go a tiny bit farther out, and we have even more. If I’m willing to drive my child to school anyway, I may as well take her to a school about which we can be passionate.

I’m so glad to have a choice, but I’m frustrated with the process. Not only does it make me sound like a crazy person when I talk about it, it’s disheartening to say the least. I’ve spent hours researching schools and visiting schools and trying to find the best fit for my child, and yet all of this culminates with her name being unceremoniously tossed in a hat…

…and picked out at random.  Random!?  Random is the word that makes me twitch.

What happens if we’re given a spot at more than one? Great! We get to weigh all the factors on my spreadsheet and choose.  Depending on which schools have an opening for us, that job may be easier.

What happens if we’re not given a spot at any of them? Boo! Her name goes on the dreaded wait list.

When will we know? Just like everything I’ve discovered, that answer varies by school. In theory, by the middle of February, we should know if we have a spot or where we are on the Wait List for all of the schools on our list. Then, there’s a second round of madness if we didn’t make the first cut.

The system practically forces people to stack the deck and hedge bets, just in hopes of working the numbers to get a spot. You didn’t get into the school you wanted? Just wait until everyone else has decided where they really want to go before you panic. Spots will open up as people shuffle around. Or they won’t. Good luck!

Every single office I talked to knows that it’s a game, and they weren’t shy in telling me how to play it. They whispered advice like “just accept every spot” and “wait until all the calls have come in” and “then decide for real” with their fingers curled in massive air quotes around certain words like “accept” and “decide” and “for real.”

So, where is Claire going to Kindergarten in the fall? I haven’t a clue…but I do know where to get a good deal on some Eye of Newt.

What’s it like in your district? Have you ever played the Open Enrollment Game? Do you know where I can get Unicorn Whiskers?

Author: JoAnn

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  1. I only thought things like wait lists from the day they were born were for the elite back East who *have* to have their child in the correct school. Pretty unbelievable we’re dealing with that, too.

    Of course, with open enrollment comes a lot of hoops to jump (some of my friends from other states are amazed we even have the open-enrollment luxury). That said, I’m glad my children’s local school is a good one so I don’t have to shop around. The process might just send me over the edge.

    And I’m not even a “Casual Perfectionist. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Amber! This was just so foreign to me. When I was in school (in a different state), we went to the school based on where we lived on the map…period. Luckily, the public schools in our area rivaled “private ones,” and it wasn’t even an issue! I admit that I took that all for granted…

  3. “When I was in school (in a different state), we went to the school based on where we lived on the map…period.”

    JoAnn, that’s how it was when I went to school, right here in Jefferson County! I think it’s more the times than the place that’s changed.

    Thanks for this insider’s view of the process. It will be really helpful for people with kids entering KG!

  4. Thanks for the comment, Lori! One thing I didn’t mention in the piece is that it’s not just for Kindergarten…we get to do this again for Middle School (if the school where she goes doesn’t offer those grades) and again for High School! Yippee. 😉

  5. Thanks Joann, I am now dreading doing this even more with Logan in a couple of years 😉 At least I have a heads up on what to expect! I am sure by the time we are looking all the rules will have changed anyway 😉

  6. Thanks for the comment, Kristin! You’re right…it will probably be different, but the crazed part of me (the part that is still twitching) thinks you should look into it NOW! Ha! 😉

  7. JoAnn – I totally understand what you are going through. I did the same when my oldest went into school. Went to parent meetings, visited classrooms, charted, planned, questioned, researched, stressed. I was not impressed with our neighborhood school, and the “top desirable” schools had wait lists and snooty people behind the desk who said things like “If you are LUCKY to be a BlahBlah Parent, we will call you.” I didn’t like the vibe. On Aug 5 I still hadn’t made a decision and stumbled over a school I had not heard of hidden about 2 neighborhoods over from our house. Yes, we had to drive past this school to our neighborhood school. I walked in, they were so happy to meet me, put my daughter on the list, gave me a tour and we were in. We love our school and so happy we open enrolled. Keep your chin up. The pieces will fall into place and you will find the right school. And for God sakes, let’s not even MENTION the MS word.

  8. Susan, I’m so glad I’m not alone!! I thought I was starting this process incredibly early when I started researching LAST YEAR, but that was before I realized that some schools had wait lists that started at BIRTH.

    I’m so glad you found an option that you love!

    p.s. Would it be better if I called it Junior High? 🙂

  9. A lot of the schools I looked at had wait lists that picked “winners” at random instead of on first come first serve basis. What part of Jeffco are you in?

    Let’s just not mention Junior High or Middle School. I prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist at all.

  10. I’m in the Arvada area. All the ones I talked to picked at RANDOM. (They had priority for siblings, and then JeffCo residents were drawn out of a hat.)

  11. We didn’t get into any of the 4 schools we picked for Kdg, so I sent my daughter out of district, to a Jeffco School ironically enough. Now we have the fortune of choosing between 3 awesome schools at our new house and it’s driving me bonkers. Keep her where she is or move her next year. Aah, the decisions.

    Best of luck!!! I will tell you, everything does happen for a reason and if you don’t get your first pick for Kdg, don’t be too upset. It’s really a transition year!

  12. Thanks, Denise! Even if we do go to our neighborhood school, I’m confident that it will work out. It’s just the process that has nearly pushed me over the edge, and I thought I’d share with others! Before all this research, I had no idea just WHAT a process it was!! 🙂

    Good luck with your decisions, too!

    My husband teases me that Claire’s Kindergarten (and Elementary School experience in general) will probably not keep her out of Juilliard. Ha!

  13. I’m so glad that we’re going though this together…or I’d have lost my mind by now. Especially since my husband thinks I’m insane.

    Thanks for the additional info (wink,wink).

  14. No, Connie, you are not insane. Well, you weren’t before you started this process…as for now? I am not qualified to be the judge of that. 😉 …but if you are, I am, so the more the merrier, I say!

    It is SO nice to know I’m not alone!

  15. JoAnn,

    I enjoyed your post. I, too, went through this whole process a few years back. My friend and I decided to create an educational blog as the result of our experiences– ScoopToo ( We started this blog about a year and a half ago to help parents in the Denver area navigate the elementary school phase of their children’s education. Although, our blog is focused on Denver, many of our posts are relevant to all. Be sure to take a look. And, good luck!

  16. Oh wow! Thanks for sharing. I am so worried because I am about to go through this. My daughter turns 4 this summer so I will be needing help to figure all this out and a spreadsheet certainly sounds like it is necessary. I am daunted but your suggestions and information is so helpful for those of us that are about to face this not just for one child, but two! So, thank you, JoAnn!

  17. Thanks, Kerri! I remember looking at your site! It’s a great resource for those in DPS!

  18. Thanks, Ratna!

    When the time comes, I can give you my notes. 😉

  19. Wow JoAnn – thank you for that! I, too, will embark on this adventure with my daughter next year. And in Arvada, too! Looks like I should get going now. Thanks for your advice – and good luck!

  20. Thanks, Leslie! Good luck!!

  21. We are doing the same thing—but with high school. Thankfully, our school is K-8 so we didn’t have to go through the stress of deciding on a middle school.

  22. All of our kids are in schools that aren’t our home schools. They are in our district, but no where near our home. We did a lot of research to see which elementary schools fed into which middle schools and high schools we liked. We, too, had to provide lots of paperwork and such when applying, but it was well worth it. Our sons go to a fantastic elementary school that has the same goals and way of teaching as the middle school they will go to next year… these schools are no where near one another, either. Thankfully, the middle school works in conjunction with the high school we love and they are close to each other. Currently we have two daughters in the high school and they love it as well.
    I do a lot of driving as the elementary school is six miles from our home, and high school is seven. The girls take city buses sometimes. I lose a couple of hours a day to driving. The education our children are getting is worth every penny in gas and my time that is eaten up by driving.

  23. Good luck, Gretchen!! I think it would be stressful enough just having a teenager, let alone trying to figure out where to go to High School! Yikes! 🙂

  24. Kelley, thanks for your comment! I know the Feeder Schools has come up a lot in my discussions with parents, too. It’s my understanding that you still have to try for an Open Enrollment spot in those schools, and that enrollment in the particular Elementary school doesn’t guarantee a spot in the Middle School or High School, though, right?

    Either way, it’s good to plan ahead so that your kids will be with the kids they’re with in Elementary.

    Good luck with that process when the time comes!!

  25. Don’t forget that there may be surprises in store by the time your child is accepted, such as a change in teachers and or Principal. I recall completing tons of research and interviewing the existing Principal. We were thrilled to have been accepted only to learn on the first day that the Principal we interviewed decided to retire and a new one was in place. The quality of the leadership in any school is vital to its success so I suggest your research includes these tidbits as well.

  26. I was appalled reading Obama’s comments on how we should raise our children. Each parent should make a decision on how to raise their youngest for themselves without the interference of the federal government or taxes being involved. The President should have nothing to say about it. The idea that there is less value in staying home to raise our children is preposterous.

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