To Improve Access to Newark's Best Schools, District Pushes Choice

Monday, August 18, 2014

Yeraldin Holguin says her daughter didn't get into a public school in Newark that is close to home. The stay at home mom with no car is planning on moving out of Newark now. (Sarah Gonzalez/WNYC)

Until this year, parents who wanted to secure a seat for their children at a top performing charter school in Newark would camp out on a sidewalk outside of the building.

Gabriella Wyatt, who oversees enrollment at Newark Public Schools, says there was no fair process.

“Enrollment and policies were just all over the place,” Wyatt said. “There were no rules. Nor was it a level playing field.

Top performing charters have been drawing students away from neighborhood schools, leaving them nearly vacant and under-funded, she said. The district instituted a new enrollment system aimed at balancing out enrollment numbers throughout the district and increasing access to school choice.

Students whose neighborhood schools are under-performing are no longer required to attend them. But there’s no guarantee they won’t still get placed there.

Families rank their top school choices, regardless of whether they are traditional public schools, charters or magnets, and students get assigned to one of them. 

In its first year under the new enrollment system, 67-percent of Newark students got matched to one of their top three choices:

  • 90-percent of kindergarteners.
  • 77-percent of 5th graders
  • 69-percent of 9th graders

Who Gets Top Priority?

This year, six schools were either closed, re-purposed or turned into charters. Another six moved to a new location.

About 3,800 students were affected by the reshuffling. Those students were supposed to get top priority over which schools they attend. But that didn’t always happen.

Yerlin Holguin still doesn't know which school she’s attending.

“I’m really worried because I’m going to have to be homeschooled and that’s not fun,” the nine-year-old said.  

Her school, Roseville Elementary, was closed after a two year battle to keep it open.

She and her mom just wanted her to get placed at a school that was close to her home – even if that school was deemed low-performing.

“Even the bad schools didn’t choose me and I’m an A-B student,” she said. 

There were more applications than there were spots at every school they chose.

Close to 4,000 families were in the same position. They didn’t get matched in the first round and were asked to submit another list with their 9th and 10th school choices.

Yerlin’s mom, Yeraldin Holguin, says none of those options would have worked for their family. Holguin is a stay at home mother in Newark’s West ward. She has two other young children and no car, so she would have to buy bus tickets for herself and the two other kids.

“All the other schools are in South Newark,” Holguin said. “To get to the South I have to take one, two, maybe three buses to get over there and who is going to pay for that every day?”

Newark doesn’t have a school bus system. It gives city bus passes to students who live more than a couple miles away from their campus.

But Holguin says her 5th grader is too young to take mass transit alone. City buses don’t drop kids off at their school, and Holguin says Newark isn’t a safe city.

The district has announced it will shuttle students from their old school to their new building if they attended one of the campuses that have now closed.  

Everyone else will have to rely on the city bus.

But the district says it’s also working on mapping safe routes for students who walk to school.

Houlguin doesn’t plan on living in Newark by the time those options become available.

“I’m just going to move out of Newark because I am just tired of the school system,” she said.

“Even if we do get placed in a school, what if that school is going to get closed next year?”


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Comments [1]

Lucinda Mercer from Millburn, NJ

While I appreciate the somewhat skeptical tone of this piece, especially at the end, I think the headline is somewhat misleading. I don't think that the district is "pushing" choice, I think it is forcing choice. Based on what I've read (by admittedly anti-administration/Cami Anderson bloggers), the entire process was highly chaotic from the start and it isn't finished yet. The fact that there are children who don't know what school they will be attending at this late date is crazy. In addition, the fact that there was no acknowledgement or attempt to deal with the transportation issue until just a couple of weeks ago is highly problematic, particularly in a city where a lot of parents don't drive, don't have access to cars and/or work hours that don't allow them to drive their kids to school. I read a couple of weeks ago that Cami Anderson was calling for volunteers to help with the busing issue. This is not the way the public schools should be run. There are many places that the public schools can and should use volunteers, but this is not one of them. What if a volunteer doesn't show up? Will they be background checked (which costs money, too)?

In addition, I am concerned about the impact that "One Newark" will have on students with special education needs. I am the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for a special education student in Newark and there was some confusion earlier this year regarding the school he attends. I believe that he will be continuing at this school for the 2014/2015 year, but I have no confidence that he will be able to do so after that given the disruption that Cami Anderson is causing throughout the entire district.

Finally, I think we would be better served by looking at how the public schools can be improved rather than allowing/enabling charter schools to starve the public schools of much needed funds. There is a lot of evidence that charters are not all they are cracked up to be and that many do not served the full range of the school population, no matter what they say. I find it hard to believe that wholesale disruption of an entire school district will actually wind up improving the education our children receive.

I would love to hear more about the issues facing public schools all over NJ and in Newark especially from WNYC.

Aug. 18 2014 10:13 AM

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