Window opens for SDUSD School Choice program
The transition back to in-person school is a huge step forward for many families in the San Diego unified school district. Now it's time for parents to think about which school they want their children to attend. The San Diego unified school choice program is now accepting applications. Families have until mid November to apply for spots in any of the 170 schools in the district. And joining me is KPBS education, reporter mg Perez and mg. Welcome. Good to be with you. So students are usually enrolled in their neighborhood schools. How does school choice expand a student's options? Can they go to any school in the district? Can kids out of the district actually apply for the school choice plan? Yes,
Actually they are eligible to apply to any school in the district that a parent might be interested in sending them to. And that does also apply to parents who are not in the district, but are within San Diego county.
Now, why would parents want their kids to switch schools? Is it only if they're having a problem at the neighborhood school? Uh,
Not at all. In fact, uh, it, it might be considered the opposite. If a student, for instance, has a particular interest in a subject area like science or the arts, uh, their parent might want them to go to a school that would allow them to, to really flourish in that kind of an environment. And that not probably is not their neighborhood school. So in order to get there, uh, the parent has to apply, uh, in order to be considered for the program of their choice.
Can they just switch schools for geographical reasons? Like it's closer to a parent's workplace or something like that?
Yes, they can. As a matter of fact, Maureen, in fact, uh, several parents do that. For instance, let's say they, uh, live in Chula Vista, but work in Sorento valley, then they absolutely can put in an application for a school that is closer to their work place in order to make it more convenient to get their child to and from school.
Why does San Diego unified offer this school choice window?
Well, the Genesis of it goes way back to integration, actually, that was the basis of the original program back in the sixties and seventies, uh, in order to try to diversify the, um, school district. And what has transpired is, uh, you know, children have so many different interests and parents especially are interested in the best fit for their child. So this opportunity, um, is, is, is the chance for them to get that. But because there is such a demand for it, there has to be a window. There has to be a timetable and that timetable is now, uh, so first come first serve in the sense that all of those applications that come in now will be, uh, considered a priority
In San Diego unified the only district to offer school choice program. No,
There are other districts, uh, that, that do offer the program. But San Diego unified of course, is the largest district in the county and offers the most programming and that has the most school campuses. So that's why it's open to any parent of any child in the county. Uh, they can apply to San Diego unified choice programs.
Okay. MG you've been hinting at it, but let me ask you specifically to go through, how does the program work?
There is a welcome center at the administration building, which is located in university Heights where parents can physically go and they can be walked through the process of the application. It's a pretty basic application, uh, with specifics about your child and also the programs that they're interested in pursuing, but because of COVID, um, they have not had much business at the welcome center. And so a lot of it is being done online and by simple telephone call. So by going to sandy.net, uh, there is a parental portal that has information on the choice program and that's where you begin the process. And it's important to act now because as I said, these applications that are coming in now are applications that will be considered priority for the next school year.
Okay. So people look at what's offered and they make a selection. Do they have only one selection or can they choose more than one school,
Top three choices. So in order of your, uh, the school that you would like your child to go to most, so that would be three choices. And the good news is, um, the outcome usually works in the favor of the parent and the child. Uh, they say about 75% of those who apply are given at least one of their first three choices.
If there are more students who apply for a spot in a school than the school has spots, how is that decision made, who gets in?
So there is an electronic lottery that happens in late February, and that is how students are chosen. And then once the lottery has occurred, parents are notified by email as to the outcome of their choice.
And this year more schools are still offering online options for students. And some parents have actually found that works best for their children. You met one of them and spoke with her.
Yes. Uh, that option works for students who work well independently, uh, who don't need as much support and who actually thrived in that kind of, uh, uh, situation. Um, and so, uh, that is still being offered. It's called the virtual academy. I will tell you that, um, it is a challenge to even get into the virtual academy, uh, because of the interest in that program.
So you're saying about 75% of kids get a spot at one of their chosen schools. That of course means 25% don't. So is there something to look for that might give a student an edge in getting into a chosen school? Not
Really, um, of course you always want to be honest in your application and you want to put your best foot forward, but ultimately, as we mentioned, it is decided by an electronic lottery system. But as I said, there's hope because if a child does not get the choice school that they want, there is a wait list. Um, and then of course, San Diego unified is very clear that all of the neighborhood schools are able to meet the needs of students, even if they're not able to get into a choice school.
Has there been an increase in applications for the program so far?
Uh, actually there has been, um, it's almost doubled in just the first couple of weeks, uh, that, uh, it has been, the window has been open. They expect more than 10,000 applications. By the time we get to November 15th, which is the deadline for this window. Um, the officials tell me that parents are especially interested in choice because of COVID and because of the pandemic, they want to be more involved in their child's education and making a choice in where their child goes and attend. School is something that is very important these days to most parents.
So tell us again where parents get information about the program and the schools. And also, I believe there are zoom forums coming up.
Yes, there are zoom forums. All of that information can be email@example.com, S a N D i.net. Uh, that is the district website. And it will lead you to a parent portal and, uh, information to all of that. But yes, you are correct. There will be zoom sessions because some parents are a little bit perplexed by the whole process. And they, uh, are available to talk to someone live on a zoom call, uh, in order to get the information that they need to fill out those applications.
In addition to providing spots for students who want to come to a specific school, do those schools have to increase staff in order to accommodate the new students?
Well, they certainly have to have the staff in the first place to offer these programs and to have people teach them, uh, because of COVID. And because of all that has transpired in the past 18 months, there is a shortage of teachers and more specifically, there's a shortage of substitute teachers. And so the district is actively recruiting for those positions. And they're obviously looking for people, um, in specialized areas like the arts, like science, like mathematics and so forth, um, and substitutes, um, are required to have a bachelor's degree. But after that, uh, there is a process to go through and become an employee of San Diego unified.
I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter mg Perez, thank you. Thank
This week, the San Diego Unified School District began accepting applications for its School Choice program. Parents anywhere in the county have a six-week window to apply to have their child enrolled in the District school of their choice.
The program is open to all existing San Diego Unified students, in addition to out-of-district students and students attending private or charter schools. With San Diego Unified’s new Universal Transitional Kindergarten program, Choice options are expanding to an even younger age group, providing critical education opportunities to the littlest learners at 56 school sites for children who turn four by September 1.
Typically, more than 10,000 area students apply to the Choice program to attend one of more than 170 schools in San Diego Unified. Last year, approximately 75 percent of all students secured a spot at one of their three school choices.
“While the neighborhood school may be the just right fit for many families, San Diego Unified offers parents the opportunity to apply for Choice to any school,” said Marceline Marques, the district's Operations Support Officer. “Parents may be looking for a school with a special program such as language immersion, visual and performing arts, STEAM, or International Baccalaureate. Perhaps they are looking for a strong athletic program, or a school located near their workplace, family, or childcare provider. Whatever the reason, the perfect San Diego Unified school is waiting for you to apply.”
School Choice enrollment is determined through a computerized lottery system, with weight given to factors such as sibling enrollment and magnet program continuity. No priority is given based on when the application is received, so long as it is received by the November 15 priority window deadline.
Yvonne Torres is a supervisor at the district’s Family Welcome and Enrollment Center in University Heights. She’s also a parent of two elementary school students. She applied and was approved to move her 9-year old daughter Abbey and 11-year old son Jacob from their home schools to choice schools in Point Loma. She said COVID taught her to recognize and adapt to her children’s needs. “Both of them did well online but when it was time to go back to school, I sent one and didn’t send the other. It was about recognizing who they were and their needs academically and to socialize,” Torres said.
San Diego Unified offers personalized consultations for families who want to discuss their options with an enrollment specialist, or for those having difficulty with the application process. The bilingual staff at the Family Welcome and Enrollment Center is available in both English and Spanish at 619-260-2410 Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Although families can apply for Choice anytime during the current school year, the priority application window ends November 15. After that date, any applications received are processed in time/date order of receipt.
Families will receive an email notification by early March indicating whether they have been accepted or waitlisted to a school of Choice.