Choice Committee meeting, Friday August 9th

Attendance:
Dr. Susan Zola
Doretha Simmons
Michele Brown
Becky Laws
Charles Schultz
Laurie Bonnett
Stephanie Stuart
Amy Aviram
Maria Alanis

The agenda was initially split up between 9 10-minute segments to cover various things (including the Wait List, RFP, Registration, Transfers, etc); we started off talking about Policy 705.09, which actually covered almost half the agenda items. And we covered that one policy for the entire 90 minutes. 🙂

We had some really great discussion; I wish it was recorded so that more folks could listen and chime in, even if after the fact. (In fact, I just sent an email to Stephanie Stuart and Laurie Bonnett asking this).

Dr. Zola walked us through the policy. The first part is about parents choosing their top five schools and capacity (aiming for 23/classroom at the K-1 level, 24 if they have to really push it, 25 is almost unthinkable). I questioned the “top five schools” – why not open it up and let parents choose as many as they want. While the FIC staff currently allows this, the policies and the software (previously) did not. We did not come to a conclusion. Some did mention that some parents already struggle to fill in three choices (which is saying something in itself – if I really like one school, why do I have to “choose” 4 others?). My point is, just remove the restriction on the number of schools. When I thought about it, if you want to totally remove “unassigned” cases, one of the best ways to guarantee it is to either have everyone rank order all schools or simply just flat out assigned a parent if they don’t make their top n choices. The point is, there are ways to technically deal with “unassigned”, but what is the root problem? I pose that part of the problem is the sheer complexity of the system; another issue is the desire for “fairness”, for which nobody agrees on a universal definition.

We than got into a long chat about SES (the next section in the Policy). We all agreed that the language used in the policy has to be clarified significantly. Some of us also expressed the desire that SES be defined unilaterally across the district – no more where SES means one thing in one context and another thing in another context. We also talke about the need to clarify the precedence of priorities; Sibling has highest priority, but what about SES and Proximity? It’s a sliding scale, which further leads to complexity and confusion. We talked about the need to be as up-front as possible, even to the point of broadcasting the SES ranges (ie, +/- 15% of what?).

We next moved on to Sibling priorities. One thought that came up was allowing parents of siblings to register in February, or really any time. Which lead to the thought – if a parent knows where they want to go to school, why not just allow them to submit their choice anytime, instead of just a one-month period? Even if you still “run” a school selection month, you can pre-process a significant number of sibling applications thus allowing more accurate numbers for capacity.

Next in the policy is Proximity. Dr. Zola had previously submitted to the Board of the time a revision that was hammered out by the Choice Specialists; we revisited that revision this morning and liked it a lot more than the previous wording. Essentially, it removes Proximity B and simplifies the language. We also talked about removing the April 1st cutoff, since those with extenuating circumstances should be able to contact the FIC any time.

Last, we dove into Unassigned Students. A parent in attendance was able to share a specific case whereby the placement of unassigned students on the waiting list was done in a controversial manner. Via discussion, we strove to hammer that out a bit more, shedding light and sharing information on several different levels. For example, about 5 years ago an Assistant Superintendent had proclaimed that all unassigned students would bump up to the top of the wait lists, ahead of any students that were also assigned to any other school. We spent a bit of time talking about this, trying to figure out what is “fair”; in the end, I think it comes down to having integrity and being open about all the practices, instead of providing a kind of Gnostic special knowledge for only certain folks.

During our conversations, we talked about how some folks in the public have developed a negative perception of the school district in general, and maybe even more specificially various staff, because of the School Assignment system. While many of these perceptions may be formed regardless of reality, they in effect become a type of reality for that parent. I feel that this was an important made by certain members of our group this morning.

Personally, I felt it was an excellent way to hash out various perspectives – I only wish more folks could have benefitted from it. We agreed to follow-up in the near future, perhaps at the end of September after registration and school assignment dies down a little.

"What is Controlled Choice?"

It is interesting to watch the school district attempt to answer this question. Perhaps the biggest issue is attempting to communicate a concept that is for all intents and purposes totally foreign to most people, using loaded words like “choice” and “proximity” and “priority”. Another interesting thing is that there are SO MANY different attempts to explain choice, it’s quite crazy. For instance, the title of this blog post is taken from one of the hand-outs at the Community Forum tonight. However, I cannot find that hand-out on the Unit 4 website. Instead, I found 6 others of varying degrees of aesthetic appeal:

 

And you wonder why parents are confused. *grin*

 

I have blogged about these Choice Community Forums several times in past years (2010,  Jan 10 2012, Jan 26 2012). I am glad to see some small improvements like the FAQ (“What is Controlled Choice?”) – they capture some of the key questions, most of which were also asked tonight during Q&A. As I mentioned last year, the video is much better than the previous incarnations, but I still think we need another spokesperson to emcee. Dr. Zola got up at the end of the presentation time and did a great job of engaging the audience and basically putting on a show. I suggested to a few folks that Dr. Zola should kick off the entire thing. Even with these improvements, it is obvious to me that parents still struggle mightily with the concept of “Choice”, “proximity” and “priority”. The pro tip on the FAQ is killing me: “Let your priorities work for you!” What in the world does that mean? Don’t get me wrong, I know what it means; but a new parent?

 

So Read the rest of this entry »

Reflection on the Jan 26 School Assignment Community Forum

Here is a letter I sent to various Unit 4 Administrators and a Board Member:

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,

The video is a huge hit! It is such a huge improvement over the previous forms of communicating information. It is exciting to see Unit 4 and the FIC moving in this direction.

While several of us were talking after the presentation, several things came up – specifically about getting information online and maybe even making a couple posters:

  1. put edulog online
  2. while #1 is being talked about, I have a google maps + javascript solution that gets pretty darn close
  3. Show people a map with the school district boundaries and the location of each school. Maybe a 4′ x 3′ posterboard and people can insert pushpins (I have done this elsewhere with great success).

Jamar, Orlando and Judy asked for the URLs for my projects. Feel free to share these Read the rest of this entry »

New School Assignment video is up on registration website

Here is the URL:

http://fast.wistia.com/embed/iframe/57f6eaeb23?videoWidth=630&videoHeight=354&volumeControl=true&playerColor=3853a4&autoPlay=true&endVideoBehavior=reset&popover=true

 

You can get there from the new registration website:

http://www.unit4registration.org/

 

They did a really swell job with the video – very impressive! I wish they spent a little more time explaining why the one parent did not get any of her 5 choices since that kinda sticks out like a sore thumb, but there is the implication that the parent finally get in via the waitlist. Proximity is described in much better detail, which helps. I still wait to see an online map and real-life examples.

 

Trevor Nadrozny has short outtakes in many of the sections (the “process flow” from the website), and does a lot of the explaining in the longer video. The repetition of the three R’s does indeed drive home the point of what one does, and I appreciate that Trevor acknowledges the pain points.

 

I am pleased that Unit 4 found someone to do such a snazzy video on such short notice. I hope they look to supplement the video and website with even better stuff for next year.

Reflection upon the Jan 10th "Choice" Community Forum

I am glad I rearranged my schedule to make it to this forum; as with all meetings I find myself in, I personally place a much higher value on the one-to-one conversations I have, over and above the information that is disseminated and dumped upon attendants. So here are the pros and cons, from my point of view:

Cons Read the rest of this entry »

Gearing up for the 2012 Lottery

The School District’s way of deciding which school your child will go to has many names; “Schools of Choice”, Controlled Choice, Seat Assignment, School Assignment, Kindergarten Lottery, etc. One of the reasons I started this blog was because there was too much “hidden” information floating around Unit 4, information that was unnecessarily hidden by obfuscation, technical details, and even more obfuscation. My latest effort to help parents as they attempt to tackle this monstrosity is reflected in the following letter sent to the Family Information Center (FIC) and its director, Doretha Simmons. I carbon copied the Unit 4 Board of Education and soon-to-be Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand.

Good evening,

I hope each of you are enjoying a pleasant holiday break with friends and family.
Let me first say that I am extremely grateful for all the efforts of the Family Information Center and the role it plays within in Unit 4. There is a lot of hard work that the FIC staff put into making the FIC what it is today. Having talked to previous directors (Mrs. Hattie Paulk, Mrs. Sandra Duckworth), I am aware that there is always an ear for parents at the FIC, and for that I applaud you. In the interests of improving perceptions, communication, and the experience of the Lottery process, I humbly ask that you consider the following suggestions, with the goal of taking action prior to January 10th, 2012.
I. Simplify the website
As soon as possible, consolidate the information about “Controlled Choice” and “School Registration” on the FIC website. Currently, there are five (5) separate documents each attempting to explain and/or answer questions about School Assignment. Please have just one link. Additionally, Wake County used to have a very user-friendly information sheet about Controlled Choice and the involvement of Dr. Michael Alves; unfortunately, that website is no longer available, but I encourage you to contact Wake County and see how Unit 4’s own efforts can be enhanced.
II. Clear Information
In past years, terms like “overchosen schools” were used during presentations, yet most parents, especially those who are new to the system, have absolutely no idea which schools are overchosen. On top of that, the geographical layout of the schools and their relative proximities tend to be another point of confusion. I implore the FIC and Unit 4 to do the following two things to address these concerns:
  1. Spell out which schools are overchosen. Dr. Alves provides a nice summary after each lottery, and I can provide further summaries and graphs/charts if needed (note: I am aware of arguments about not wanting to scare or dissuade parents from choosing a “popular” school – I recommend couching this piece of information as an example, as historical information. I am happy to discuss this more)
  2. Prepare and present a large (ie, 2′ x 4′) posterboard that shows the entire school district and each school within it, with 1.5 mile “circles of proximity”. I have an example based on Google maps if interested.
III. “Reverse Feedback” during Community Forums
Ms. Doretha Simmons, I hereby request that an explicit effort be made to collect and report on community comments/concerns expressed during the January 10th Community Forum. I realize that Unit 4 and specifically, the Family Information Center, has been quite open about community comments in the past, and I appreciate that. My request is to formally extend that opportunity in the following ways:
  1. Announce that an individual (by name if possible) of the Unit 4 staff will be recording comments with the purpose of publishing a summary on the Unit 4 website
  2. Publish said summary within 3 days
  3. Assign or otherwise attach a response (or an estimated time to expect a response) from a Unit 4 representative, to be published on the website
As an example of this process in action, I point you to the White House’s experiment with We the People; it is not perfect by any means, but in my opinion is does appear to engender more engagement and involvement.
Please understand, I do realize that there is a lot going on; Winter Break is in full swing and most folks are not reporting back to work until after Jan 2nd (or later); new Superintendent; new FIC office/building; lots of preparation for the 2012 Lottery process. I believe that each of the three suggestions above are quite practical and achievable prior to January 10th, yet I am anxious to hear what you think and if you (in the plural) are willing to accept these challenges. On top of that, I am quite willing to join in the efforts. 🙂 If I can do anything to help us all reach these very short-term goals, please let me know.
Thank you for your time.