The Open Enrollment Game: Where to Register for School?
posted by: JoAnn
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?