The SchoolChoice enrollment period in the Denver Public Schools wraps up today. I wrote about the DPS single-application system here yesterday, from a broad, “good-policy” perspective.
Here’s a guest post with a personal perspective from Denver dad and blogger Jim Furman, who shares the firsthand experiences of him and his wife in their search for the right school for their child.
By Jim Furman
SchoolChoice applications are due this week in Denver. This is my first time engaging in the process as a parent. It has been stressful and intense at times—multiple school tours, hours of online research, needing to weigh various factors. I have seen many ways that we could improve it, but I’ve just hit submit on our family’s online application, and it felt right.
During the past few months as we considered our choices, we have discussed and debated many issues: Should we wait another year for our daughter with an August birthday to start kindergarten? Should we be thinking about advanced or gifted programs? Which instructional model will be best for her?
I’m still thinking about a lot of these things. I’m also acutely aware of the fact that I come to this process with certain advantages. My wife and I both work in education and speak the language of schools and districts. We have experience with the choice process in multiple cities from that perspective. I’m currently a stay-at-home dad with plenty of time to do research and a schedule that allows me to go on tours easily. If we choice out of our neighborhood school, we are going from a good option to a better one, which is not the case for many.
I have seen some flaws, here in Denver, in Chicago where we’ve considered moving, in New Orleans where I’ve worked, and across the country as I hear and read stories from others. That said, we have come a long way and many things about the process are working. Based on my experience as a parent, here are some of the things I’m glad Denver is getting right:
One common, straightforward application
I didn’t need a spreadsheet to track application deadlines. In Denver, there is one application for all public schools—charter and district-run. There may be a good reason to have separate applications, but right now I can’t think of it. I’m glad we only had to fill out one. The system must function for families, and a common application is the only thing that makes sense.
Knowledgeable and supportive school employees
Last week I was in a school office waiting to ask a question about our application. I watched as the front office staff spoke to four other families before it was my turn. Both women had the system figured out. When families were still uncertain about the answers they gave, they called the central office to get it straight from the mouths of the people in charge.
This can be an extremely stressful process for families, and every single person I have seen in action has done their best to alleviate that stress. Thank you to them.
Useful and honest information
As I went on one tour, which ended up being over an hour long, I couldn’t help but think about all of the things this amazing and energetic principal could have been doing during that time. What was most important to her right then, though, was interacting with potential future families, answering their questions, and trying to alleviate their concerns.
It would be easy to paint a perfect picture of a school during a tour, but I was consistently impressed by the honesty and nuance that came out as school leaders talked about their programs. Sure, they were selling their school, but I felt they also gave the families on the tour a real sense of what it would be like to be part of that community.
A sense of collective effort, not competition
There are ways to cheat this system, and some people do it. At an individual level, this is about your kid and what is best for that child. But all I’ve seen is parents helping each other and working together. There is a sense of competition at some level—if my kid gets a spot, yours may not—but more so, there is a sense of wanting to have a system that works for all kids. Parents want a system where there are lots of great choices, and all families end up with a school community that is right for them.
There are some things that I would change if I ran the choice system in Denver. I know that not every family’s experience is a positive one. I wouldn’t call this a highly effective system yet, but it’s on its way, and I am grateful for that.