Choice Committee meeting, Friday August 9th

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.

School Assignment

On November 5th, Dr. Susan Zola will present the first reading for some modifications to the existing student assignment process via Policy 705.09 (they vote on it Dec 10th).

Over the last two days, I have been reading the policy, reviewing past emails with members of the Board, Gene Logas, Greg Novak, Michael Alves, Sandra Duckworth and posts on this blog. And I have been crunching some numbers. I have come up with 4 suggestions for the Policy that fall into two groups, and two further suggestions that probably fall outside the scope of Policy. In summary, my suggestions are as follows:

Choosing schools

1. Allow incoming parents to rank-order all schools, not just 5

2. In light of how Magnet registration will occur concurrently, place the magnet schools on a separate list from the non-magnet schools

Defining SES

3. Standardize the definition of SES to match all other areas of District Administration and Title I funding

4. Publish the SES ratio for the current year to be used to determine what SES “quotas” are in effect

Non-policy requests

5. Explain how Choice and diversity promotes academic excellence

6. Provide parents with a personalized table of schools and distance from their house sorted by distance. Don’t use the word “proximity”

Looking over the proposed changes to Policy 705.09, I am really glad that District Administration is continuing to act upon suggestions provided to the Board back in 2010; for example, getting rid of Proximity B (that was SO confusing!) and changing the name of the process from “Lottery” and “Choice” to something else. It is obvious and encouraging that the district is acknowledging the need for changes and are doing something about it. I applaud this recent effort. Having said that, I feel it is important to not stop here but push for a few more changes that I believe will make a world of difference.

Choosing Schools

My first two suggestions Read the rest of this entry »

The Lottery: A case study

I thought I had published this note a while ago, but am not finding evidence I did. I did something similar, but it only covers the summary worksheet. The following is using an example from the 2010 Kindergarten Lottery, and helps to show the inner workings of the Point System for the Lottery.

So for starters, Read the rest of this entry »