Open enrollment is drawing students back to PBC’s public schools

A mother walks into Galaxy Elementary School with her 3-year-old son. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

When Florida lawmakers decided last year to mandate open-enrollment policies in public schools across the state, the move prompted a fair bit of unease.

Among the worries of public school leaders: Would giving families more freedom to leave their local schools for campuses with extra space sow chaos?

But as Palm Beach County’s public school system prepares to start its first school year with open enrollment in place, district administrators say the program has been a boon, attracting at least 400 extra students into under-enrolled public schools from charters or private schools.

The open-enrollment program allows students to apply to enroll in any school with more than 10 percent of its seats empty. Bringing more students into under-enrolled schools is generally considered a plus because it makes them more efficient.

>>> RELATED: Your student didn’t get into a ‘choice’ program? There’s another option this year.

All told, 2,700 students applied this year for seats at 79 schools through the open-enrollment process, and a little more than 2,000 won seats. Of those, an estimated 400 to 500 – nearly a quarter – are expected to come from charter schools or private schools.

In other words, hundreds of students who had been in charter or private schools are either returning to district-operated schools or enrolling in them for the first time via the new open-enrollment program, district officials say.

The interest from parents outside the school district was a pleasant surprise to school district administrators, who weren’t sure how much interest the program would attract and how it would play out.

But it’s become clear that many parents view the program as a Plan B if their students don’t win a seat in a school choice (or “magnet”) program through the school district’s annual choice lottery.

>>> RELATED: These 79 PBC schools are accepting open-enrollment students

Students accepted through open enrollment won’t be able to take a school bus to school. And they won’t be eligible for any of the schools’ specialized choice programs.

But the new policy gives parents another set of options if they’re dissatisfied with their neighborhood school or think their child would be better off in a different one.

Peter Licata, the school district’s director of choice and career options, said parents applied for open-enrollment seats for “multiple reasons,” including some who were simply “unhappy with their local school.”

“We’ve had so many reasons why,” he said.

But while he said the program may benefit students, it is “inequitable” because parents can only take advantage if they are able to transport children on their own, meaning that many poorer families may not be able to take full advantage.

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Choice, charters leave several PBC middle schools half empty

 

Dwindling enrollment at Odyssey Middle in Boynton Beach imperiled the school, and has now put it on a track to closure. But it isn’t the only school in the district that can’t fill even half its seats – and most of those schools are middle schools.

(See story on the school board meeting that is clearing path for Odyssey closure here. )

Why is that? 

One big reason: Parents of middle schoolers choose not to send them to their assigned schools and they make this choice more often than parents of elementary or high schools students, according to the district’s numbers.

Of 42,269  students in grades 6-8,  nearly one-third choose to attend a choice program at a school other than their home school or a charter school.

 

Here are three examples of how this plays out, with data supplied from the district’s boundaries department as of the February head count.

Carver Middle, Delray Beach

820 students attend the school built for 1,534

1,317 students live in the boundaries

175 of those attend charters; 448 attend another school in the district

113 come to Carver from outside the boundaries for reasons such as its magnet program or special education services

 

 

Congress Middle, Boynton Beach

Congress Middle

887 students attend the school built for 1,432

1,462 students live in its boundaries

428 of those attend charter schools; 328 attend another school in the district

159 students come to Congress from outside its boundaries

Crestwood Middle, Royal Palm Beach

750 students in a school build for 1,653

1,232 students live in its boundaries

229 students attend charter schools; 336 attend another school in the district.

 

The district is home to 33 middle schools. Others that are struggling to fill their desks: 

Bear Lakes Middle 49 percent of capacity

Carver 53 percent

Congress 62 percent

Crestwood 45 percent

John F. Kennedy 53 percent

Lake Shore Middle 47 percent

Odyssey 50 percent

Polo Park 59 percent

Roosevelt 64 percent

Are any middle schools full?

Ten are filled near to capacity (at least 95 percent)  and beyond, including: Bak MSOA, Boca Raton, Conniston, Don Estridge, Eagles Landing, Independence, Loggers Run, Omni and Western Pines.

What about high schools? 

All but two of the district’s 23 high schools are filled to at least 80 percent capacity – nine are beyond capacity.

 

 

 

 

Reminder: Applications due today for PBC’s performing arts schools

Reminder: If you want your child in one of the district’s choice schools for the performing arts next fall, the deadline to submit an application is today, Dec. 2, 2016. You have until midnight to file.

More than 20,000 students are expected to apply to one of the district’s choice schools. But only some have to have their applications in by day’s end. It’s an online application, so no travel is required. 

December deadline is for those applying to an arts program that requires an audition:

December 2, 2016:
Bak Middle School of the Arts (all programs)

The Conservatory School @ North Palm Beach(Symphony Orchestra-grades 6-8)

Boynton Beach High School arts programs (Dance, Digital Media, Music-Band, Music-Keyboard/Piano, Music-Vocal, Theatre, and Visual Arts)

A.W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts (all programs).

 

All other applications are due Jan. 27, 2017. Late applications are accepted after that date but don’t get in the March lottery. Instead they are considered after all the wait pool applicants are assigned, the district notes.

 

District invites 75 more students to Dreyfoos, Suncoast; buses prep for 1st day

Seventy-five students were called two weeks ago and given what many in the district consider golden tickets to seats in two of the most in-demand high school programs in the county.dreyfoosdance

District administrators gave the green light to open 25 more seats at Alexander Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach and 50 additional spots at Suncoast High’s school’s various programs including the coveted International Baccalaureate.

The space had been available at those schools, but money for the necessary additional teachers had not until now, said Pete Licata, director of the district’s choice programs.

Superintendent Robert Avossa announced the additions in his back-to-school press conference Monday morning, a week before students return to school.

Most of those seats went to freshmen and some to sophomores chosen by lottery from the waiting pool created after last spring’s original lottery, Licata said.

Avossa also noted that the district will be opening new choice programs next week. Details on that to come.

Monday also saw the second mock run for the district’s buses.

(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
(Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

Avossa said the second go in two weeks was intended to work out potential routing problems. Other efforts to avoid last year’s debacle include 60 new buses and 100 more drivers than last year, when the year started with a shortage of 50 drivers. As a result, this year begins with the bus compound full staffed with drivers and 50 “on the bench,” he said.

“The first 10 days of school is always going to be a challenge,” Avossa said.

Parents and students will be able to see where their bus stop will be picking up and dropping off when the Find My Bus Stop site goes live Wednesday, Aug. 10.

 

 

 

Some 19,000 PBC students vye for 10,000 school choice seats

Did you get in? Palm Beach County school choice lottery results go out Friday.

Most students haven’t even begun to study for final exams, but Friday thousands already will be looking to next year when the Palm Beach County School District hits the “send” button on its choice program acceptance emails.

More than 19,000 students have applied for one of 10,000 seats in the district’s 306 choice programs.  That’s about 1,000 more students in the lottery than last year vying for spots in everything from dance to cyber security studies.

Friday at 4 p.m., the district will let those applicants know if they’ve landed in their program of choice or on a waiting list. All but 2 percent will get that notice via email, the others who didn’t submit an email address will have to wait a day or so for the post office to deliver the letter on paper, said Pete Licata, director of the district’s choice and career options department.

Each student was allowed to apply to two programs – one a backup if their first choice was full. That yielded more than 33,000 applications – 2,000 more than last year.

The district this year has expanded its options, adding, for example,  a Marine ROTC at Olympic Heights High and a medical program at Boynton Beach High.

And as Extra Credit’s Andrew Marra noted last year, the toughest choice schools to get into aren’t always the ones you might expect.

“We’re trying to give parents as many options as possible,” Licata said.

 

 

Student to school board: We’ve had a math sub all year, we want an education

 

Palm Beach Lakes student Joseph Trahan and teacher Malik Leigh.
Palm Beach Lakes student Joseph Trahan and teacher Malik Leigh. (see video here)

 

See our updated coverage of this story including what happened to these students at school the next day here.  

A sophomore from Palm Beach Lakes High and four of his classmates, all eyeing careers in the justice system, came to seek a piece of that from the school board Wednesday night. They say they have gone the entire year without a regular geometry teacher.

Joseph Trahan told the board members and superintendent that they’ve been led by a series of substitutes, who regularly relied on YouTube math videos to deliver lessons.

“We’re just given busy work and grades for our busy work,” Trahan said.

He said the group is struggling to learn the concepts. Trahan said they did horribly on the district-designed mid-term, but are getting passing grades by benefit of extra credit points that come by buying the teacher sweets or drawing pictures.

“The current sub says stuff such as, ‘I am not a teacher. I’m here to babysit you and give you grades,’ “ Trahan said. “This isn’t what we want. We want a higher education. We demand more out of ourselves… When the EOC (end of course exam – designed by the state) comes around. we’re not going to be prepared.

“Time is not something you can get back. We’ve already lost so much time. We’re so ill-prepared.  And we are looking to you for help.”

When Trahan finished, board chairman Chuck Shaw asked the area superintendent to meet with the students.

Deputy Superintendent David Christensen said after the meeting that the matter will be investigated. “We are going to immediately address it and make sure there is a certified teacher for them.”

The students, a mix of freshmen and sophomores – boys and girls – from West Palm Beach, said they have high aspirations and reached an “Ah-ha” moment not while sitting in math class, but in their Legal Concepts and Comprehensive Law class in the school’s legal academy.

They were talking about contracts and negligence, said Lemuel Gadson, 16. Gadson and the others all had to sign a contract to enroll in the legal academy and then they wondered if the school was holding up its end of the bargain.

Their legal teacher, Malik Leigh, who both teaches and practices law full time, accompanied them to the board meeting.

“Nobody can do more about themselves than they can,” Leigh said.

But they weren’t alone in their fight.

Celena Trahan said she called her son’s guidance counselor, who simply noted that Joseph was carrying a B in the class – even though Joseph said he hasn’t earned it. Trahan also called an assistant principal, but got no action, she said.

Michelle Jackson said she was willing to forgive a staffing problem for the first couple weeks of school, but by the end of first semester she worried the gap was going to cause problems for her son Marques dragging down his GPA and his readiness to take college admission tests.

“My son has now lost a whole year of his math education,” Jackson said.