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Working the school system

Meet six parents who beat the odds and got their child into a dream public school. Here are their tips and tales from the trenches.

By Leslie Crawford , GreatSchools Staff

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Cheryl Pope

Detroit, MI

Tip #3: Do your research.

When the second grade class at a Detroit elementary school wasn't challenging her daughter Zaria, Cheryl Pope tried to be patient. But fearing her daughter would fall farther and farther behind in a school that, for more than two years, hadn't made the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) rating, she eventually gave up and began looking for a new school.

When Pope discovered that, under the No Child Left Behind Act, you can transfer out of a non-performing school, she began her mission to move Zaria to a better school. She turned into a public school detective, asking countless parents and teachers for school recommendations, visiting high-ranking schools, meeting with principals, and visiting open houses. Finally, her daughter's former Head Start teacher told her about Cryster Elementary, a journalism magnet school and one of Detroit's top elementary schools.

"When I called I thought, 'There's probably a long list of parents on the waiting list,'" says Pope. The news was worse than this. School had begun two weeks earlier and the second grade class was full. Still, Pope was put on a waiting list. Two weeks later, she received a call that Zaria had could come in and take a test to see if she qualified for acceptance. Her daughter passed and is now happily a cub reporter in training. "I was so happy," says Pope, who knew her diligence had been worth it when she asked what her daughter did at her new school. "At her old school, she used to say, 'We watched a movie.' At her new school, she'd say things like, "I learned about the main idea." She is being challenged here. I love it."

Pope's words of wisdom:

"Perseverance and patience is key. Research the type of school you want your child to go to. Go to the school you're thinking about. Go to the open house, talk with the principal, talk with the teachers, and maybe some of the parents. Ask them how they feel about the school."

 

is a senior editor at GreatSchools.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

09/20/2010:
"I applaud all parents who take an active role and interest in their child's education. Education is one of the most important aspects of your child's life. A good education in a great school can make all the difference in your child's life and future. I can relate to all six of the parent's stories about getting their children into the right school. My son is 5 years old and just started Kindergarten this year. We are extremely blessed to have gotten him into the best Elementary School not only in the county we live in but two other neighboring counties as well! The teachers, staff, and the parents at this school are fabulous. My story goes like this....I started researching all the schools in our district on Great Schools, word of mouth, and in person. I did my homework. I found which schools were the best academically and also which schools were the best fit for my son as well. In choosing a school, I felt that if I could give my son the best opportunity available to him, he had a better chance at being a successful student. I found two schools I was interested in. One was a new public charter school in our city and the other was a public Elementary School in our district. Neither one was my son's 'home school.' I made many phone calls, sent many emails. and made a few visits to the schools. I started doing this while my son was in Pre-School and I got even more serious when he had reached Pre-K. I went and interviewed with the school's Administrator. I had a huge list of questions. I took a tour of the school and looked in while some classes were being taught. I entered the lottery system for the public charter school and I made a request for an Intra-district transfer to the other Elementary School. I was able to make that request under the 'No Child Left Behind' program. Our home Elementary school was not performing as well as I was comfortable with. What happened was absolutely amazing. My son was accepted into the public charter school via the lottery. (Very lucky) We were so ecstatic! We could not be happier. So we thought. See, I mentioned we had also put a request in for the Intra-District transfer, we never thought we would actually get approved for the transfer because the school was always fully impacted and we had missed the normal deadline by a few weeks because we did not know there was a deadline. Therefore, we pretty much put that school out of our minds and focused on the great news of the charter school acceptance. Then a few weeks later, I decided to call the district and check in on the status of our request. I had done this several times already previously. However, they did not have any answers for me in the past. This time, I was told that our son had been approved for the transfer to the best Elementary School in three counties!! Now we had gotten him into both of the schools of our choice!! We came to the conclusion after much consideration that we would go with the public Elementary School instead of the charter. I felt good knowing that another child who did not get in to the charter was now going to be able to because we gave up our son's spot. We could not be any happier at our son's current school. It is a great school with a wonderful Principal and spectacular teachers. I volunteer in my son's classroom every week. I am a PTA member and I plan to get in more involved in my son's education. It is just the beginning for this great journey of ours. We are truly blessed and could not be more thankful or happier. My advice is NEVER settle to second when it comes to your child's education. NEVER give up and do your homework. Be nice and be actively involved. Good luck!"
09/20/2010:
"That's great for the Zofreas, who apparently know how to work the system. This just sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen on the part of the 200 other people who remained on the waiting list. I cannot believe that this could happen."
09/17/2010:
"Right or wrong, it’s good to be reminded that some parents are badgering the schools to get their kids in. You might be only a few spots away and end up missing out, if you don’t make personal contact. But I don’t think there are many real tips here. In 5th grade my son jumped districts. With CA school choice I could have moved him to a different in district school when learning issues surfaced, but I wanted a different type of learning. A neighboring district had such a program, and we were able to fill a spot vacated mid-year, avoiding the lottery! Mid-year isn’t as favorable, but we were in, and his transition was remarkably smooth. I also had a friend apply to one of the schools describe as “never accepting transfers.� Turns out it scared so many people from trying to get, she got in to the highest performing school in the district! I’ve also discovered that there are a lot of alternative programs out there, so the advice to do research is spot on.! Lastly in CA we have had reduced class size through 3rd grade. That gives persistent people who missed the kinder cutoff a chance to get in again in 4th grade. I was hoping for more advice along these lines from this article."
09/17/2010:
"This story is so wrong in so many ways and never should have been published in this educational 'newsletter'. This is about a woman who knew the 'inside track' about schools and their politics and took advantage. How dare she 'make sure they knew she would volunteer if they accepted her son'. What about teh other 200 kids who probably had 2 working parents. This is school politics at its best and NEVER should have been published. SHAME........."
09/17/2010:
"Not sure how school choice works but it may not necessary work on first come, first served, in which case I believe choosing the best suited student for the school from that waiting list is not a big deal. If I were a school administrator I would want smart, cooperative, non-trouble makiing students that would make my school a desireable one. Which would bring more revenue to my school. Wish we had school choice here too. Some may call this unfair but that's why we have such a strugling school system. Competition, is not bad... it makes the best rise to the top."
09/17/2010:
"I am also one of the group on a waiting list.....thinking the system works..... Very sad....it doesn't"
09/17/2010:
"public schools for everybody, not for favor. Principal and other administrator have to stand equally to every child and every parents."
09/17/2010:
"Leslie, good for you in writing on this topic. This is definitely the new trend; getting parents involved in their child's learning and applying school choice. It is not 'dodging the system' but rather following new policy. This article encourages other parents to be persistent, proactive, engaged in their child's education, yet polite. The squeaky wheel gets the grease in almost every situation, even though you are 'standing patiently in line' - probably looking the other way."
09/17/2010:
"I am sorry, but that is just an awful story..for the 200 parents with children on the waiting list. Some of those children may also have been straight A students, or had great attendance. Perhaps some of them would have become those perfect students with the same chance this boy had. I think what the principal did for this mother was shameful."
09/17/2010:
"I suppose the mother has a right to fight for her son, even in a most unethical manner; however the principal, ought to be especially ashamed of caving in to her pressure. "
09/17/2010:
"Hold on you bloggers who seem to take verbatim everything you read. The way Mrs. Zofrea described how it happened isn't exactly my recollection and since the term unethical is attributed to my name I feel a need to respond. Not to defend my name to you but to anyone that I might know and respect who may read your opinion of my charactor. Mrs. Zofrea, a wonderful person and parent, desperate to find the right school for her son, did approach me about him attending our school around Oct of Zack's 4th grade school year. Although our school does have a very long list of people trying to get in now, we did not have a list of people waiting to get in 7 years ago. My hesitation of letting him in centered around him leaving his current school after the school year started and being able to adjust to our curriculum which is somewhat different than the school he was currently in. For example we teach Spanish as a second language to all of our students. Zach was accepted because we did! have room and I felt confident that after meeting both him and his mother he would make the transition successfully. Zack did! He was an awesome addition to our student body and I'm glad to see he is doing so well. Brenda thanks for the kind words and support you have always given our school. "
09/17/2010:
"Well I am now waiting a third year for our choice magnet school (we can only pick one) while footing the bill for private school because our neighborhood public school in L.A. is not so great- but not so bad that we can automatically get on a wait list at a better school. So goody for the 1% that got the school they wanted with out having to pay for it. We still need better schools and more options."
09/17/2010:
"I'm Happy she got her son in a good school! i've been fighting with New York board of Ed for two years already!!!! isn't that sweet???"
09/17/2010:
"i wouldn't judge what anyone is willing to do get their child in a good school. remember the movie 'forrest gump? despite living in what of the best school counties in the country I am ironically in one of the worst school districts in the state. it has an amazingly low student teacher ratio, and tons of funding but the student body makeup is really bad. only way to fix it would be to ship kids out and ship kids in. that will never happen... i thought i would have an easy time to picking my school because of child left behind. failed 7 of the last 8 years including last spring of 2010. but... the one year it passed was 2009. and it has to fail consecutive years to have automatic transfer approval. so i had to either send my kid to private school, work at a county school i want to send my kids too, hold my kid back a year, or lie. my wife and i chose to hold him back and reapply to all the lottery schools again and hope our district school fails child left behind again. i don't judge anyone, because i might do something scrupulous come next year if i have too."
09/17/2010:
"Wow. So this mother bumped her child past all the others who did not try to cheat the system and she is proud of it? Great example to set for your child--can we say 'entitled?'"
09/17/2010:
"Wow, great for her, but unfair to, at the very least, one child whose parents had followed the rules and hoped in vain that the system would work for them, but saw their child denied a spot. "
09/16/2010:
"Very sad to feature a story on someone who feels so entitled that she took these measures to force her child into a school ahead of others waiting. A terrible example for both the mother and the school to set for the children."
09/16/2010:
"Good for her. But what about the other 200 kids on the waiting list, who did not cheat? What about the not so brilliant kid, who needed that school more than her straight-A son, and will not get it? Aren't public schools supposed to serve the public, and not the other way around? Wasn't Flynn the principal very un-ethical, if not downright fraudulent?"
09/16/2010:
"I don't consider this a 'legitimate' way to get in. I'm a mom who has to 'compete' against you - I guess I'll schedule lots of meetings w/ administrators in the future to try to push my personal agenda through. Rather than following Florida's lottery system for public schools, you tried to push your personal influence. I consider this unethical in a public school system. You actually dodged the system. Perhaps the next school you want your kid in you should just write the principal a big check. Leslie Crawford at GreatSchools - you shouldn't be giving this coverage. "
09/16/2010:
"This is a great story and its why every State in the country needs School Choice. We cannot let our politicians fool us into thinking its impossible to have in States like Illinois. Its is possible and we need to DEMAND SCHOOL CHOICE accross the board. Schools want more money..well not without competition. The money belongs to the child NOT to the Administrators.Until we agree we will never have school reform that improve education for the kids.Remove the politics and start doing the right thing for children."
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