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.
I learned that a few years back, when I - a well-intentioned but hardly perfect mother - changed my mind about the middle school I wanted for my daughter. And I did it after the district's application deadline.
Video: A guide to private schools
Video: How to find a middle school
By Marian Wilde
1. Understand how the wait list works.
In the San Francisco Unified School District, for example, there are detailed rules for the wait pool process. Parents in a wait pool for a school participate in a wait pool run, a computerized process that matches the waiting list with available seats according to a complicated diversity formula, soon after the first school assignment offers have been mailed out. There are then additional waiting pool runs in June, August and September.
The final run in September occurs after school officials have counted the number of students who actually show up on the first ten days of school. The "Ten Day Count," as it's called, is the final head count at the school site and the last chance to assign empty seats to students in the wait pool.
"Many wait lists are really wait pools," says Bryan Hassel, co-author, with Emily Ayscue Hassel, of The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence. "It's not really the case that things are going to be pulled off in some kind of strict order. So you actually can influence the wait pool or wait list process through a letter or through a communication to the principal of another kind."
2. Learn what the appeal process is and don't be afraid to use it.
In New York City, appeals are permitted if you are unhappy with your high school assignment. Valid reasons would be a recent move to at least 90 minutes away from the school, lack of appropriate special education services, or interest in a new school that opened after the application was submitted. You can also bring up any other reasons that might motivate an appeal, such as a new interest in a school program or a mistake on your part.
3. Look again for those hidden gems.
If you've met with the district officials, written the appeal letter and waited out the waiting pool, and you still didn't get in, it might be time to take another look around for those hidden gems in the district.
Sandra Halladey of the San Francisco chapter of Parents for Public Schools reminds parents, "If a school is extremely popular it might just be that it's popular. It might not be any better. Parents have to go visit the schools. Relying on hearsay or outdated information can be very dangerous. Parents really need to make sure that they're getting information from families that are currently in the schools rather than from families that were at the school ten years ago, because schools can change very quickly."
So take the time to look at those schools that were on your early lists. You might just find a hidden gem that you've overlooked.
The Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child's School with Confidence by Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel, Armchair Press, Ross, California, 2004.
Education Commission for the States. School Choice State Laws: State Comparisons This site provides a detailed, state by state comparison of open enrollment laws.
The Web site for Parents for Public Schools, an organization that champions public education, offers in-depth information on how to help support our public schools. InsideSchools.org provides useful guidance to parents seeking to learn more about New York City public schools.
InsideSchools.org provides useful guidance to parents seeking to learn more about New York City public schools.