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Seattle Stories Seattle mom Christal Duyungan successfully navigated the system in her search for a school with good academics and a safe environment for her son who has a peanut allergy.
A San Francisco Mom's Story There seems to be one universal truth that applies to all schools and districts when it comes to getting what you want: communicate. Always communicate.
By Marian Wilde
6. Consider New Schools
Often public schools create small academies within larger schools, or new public, charter or private schools are opened, after the regular enrollment process is over. These schools may have seats available for months before word of their existence spreads. Check with your district for more information about new public and charter schools. Choosing a school without an established reputation is a risk, but new schools can provide exciting opportunities to form communities and to create positive change.
7. Find Out If You Can Apply to More Than One Program at a School
"Some larger schools have several programs-such as one in art, or one in government," says Wheaton of Insideschools.org. "So if that's the school you want to go to, apply to all the programs, because once you get in you can transfer to the program you really want."
8. Write Directly to the School Principal
"One tip, even for the public school system, is to write a cover letter to the school that really zeros in on what we call your child's fit with the school," says Hassel. "It certainly can be provided, even for the more mechanical lottery type systems. It never hurts to try, right? Plus, it's part of building your relationship with the school, if your child does ultimately go there. This letter should be brief and to the point."
9. Apply to Schools That Require Auditions or Special Admissions Procedures, As Well As to Regular Lottery Schools
Some schools require auditions or portfolios of past work for admission. If you feel that your child has a special talent or a strong interest in a particular field, preparing for these schools will create more options for your child.
10. Use All Preferences that Apply to You
"Find out what kinds of preferences are built into the system," says Hassel, "and make sure that you're taking advantage of those that apply to you, such as sibling preferences and neighborhood preferences. Often public school lotteries have preferences for race, although race is supposed to be counting less, but with court decisions it's possible that income counts. There are all kinds of preferences that are built into the system. There is nothing that you can do about those preferences, either you have them or you don't, but make sure that you get any advantage that you can out of them."
For example, there's a twist on sibling preference that can sometimes be used. "It may be that getting your kindergartner into a school is easier than getting your second-grader in," says Hassel. "If you get your kindergartner in, maybe your second-grader can go there the next year with the sibling preference. Understanding how that works can be really helpful."
(Note: Sibling preference deadlines are often earlier than regular enrollment deadlines. Be sure to know the different enrollment deadlines.)
Finally, if it applies to your situation, find out what the inter- and intradistrict transfer rules are. Every state has rules that govern the use of interdistrict (between districts) and intradistrict (within a district) transfers. For example, in California, you can legally apply for a transfer to a district in which you work, regardless of whether you live in that district. The district must consider your request, although they do not have to admit you if there are no seats available. Knowing the rules of district transfers might allow you to place your child in a school in a better district, however it probably won't help you land a spot in an oversubscribed school.
If your child doesn't get into that must-have school on the first go round, here are a few Plan B tips.
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