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 »