Responding to criticism, Newark announces more changes to school enrollment process

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on April 22, 2017

 

NEWARK -- Hoping to alleviate community concerns over the school district's universal enrollment system, Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf is pushing new measures to improve the process -- and get more feedback along the way. 

The district is launching a long-awaited "transparency committee" that will give input on the schools' enrollment process. Next month, parents will also be able to use an online portal to handle any school changes after the school enrollment window closes or sign up after enrollment deadlines. 

The changes comes after Cerf announced this year that K-8 students who live in the neighborhood will be given 100 percent priority in a school over those who do not reside in the neighborhood.

The universal enrollment system started under the district's former schools chief as a way to centralize how students to apply for and rank their schools of choice, whether traditional or charter. Fourteen of the district's 19 charter schools participate in the system.

"When this thing was first rolled out it had some implementation hiccups," Cerf told NJ Advance Media.

"Families all over the country have to figure out which school is the best fit for their child and should not be limited to only their school in their geographic area. At the same time many parents would like their child to go to school in their neighborhoods."

Parents and board members have complained universal enrollment has shuffled students across schools and emptied some campuses while overflowing others. 

School parent Brian Stepmey-Taylor said the community will be able to see if changes to the process address their concerns by next school year. 

The 2017-18 school enrollment window closed at the end of February and for the first time since 2013, ensured 100 percent of seats at K-8 schools go to neighborhood children or their siblings. Before that, a percentage of seats were open to a random lottery for students across the district. 

"If it works, you'll be able to tell by the end of September," Stepmey-Taylor said. 

The transparency committee -- which members of the School Advisory Board have asked for months about its debut -- will include parents, community partners, board members and district administrators. 

Parents interested in serving on the committee have until May 5 to apply online at www.nps.k12.nj.us/transparency-committee

The family enrollment portal will launch May 8 and give parents the option of making enrollment changes on a computer or at any nearby school instead of coming to the Family Support Center.

"When they miss the traditional application window, our families have shared with us that they would still like to be able to enroll in school directly from their home or in locations that are close to their home," Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, the district's executive director of enrollment said.

Universal enrollment, though, has in some ways, become a symbol for former Superintendent Cami Anderson's turbulent tenure and the controversial school overhaul initiative called "One Newark," critics say.

But Cerf said many major cities use universal enrollment systems as a way to ensure equity and guarantee charter school accept their fair share of students with special needs. 

"We deeply believe that this is about equitable access and eliminating political favoritism," he said.

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