Though praised by some, new system for enrollment in RSD schools draws critics

By Jessica Williams, The Lens staff writer |

Recovery School District head John White needs to rethink his strategy for helping students get into higher-performing schools, critics of his enrollment plan said Tuesday.

Top education officials and members of the public critiqued White’s new centralized enrollment plan at a rare New Orleans gathering of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday night.

The plan will have parents fill out just one application for all of the direct-run and charter schools associated with the district. It is intended to bring clarity to what many parents have called a confusing enrollment process. The RSD also has pledged to match parents with their top school choices, which White has said will ensure a more equitable process for all involved – including special needs students and others who have been turned away from their top choices in the past.

Members of the public and school officials prepare for Tuesday night's meeting in New Orleans of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Photo by Jessica Williams

But some say that the plan doesn’t consider the possibility that parents  will want schools with high test scores. Because such schools are in short supply, they will be the fastest filled. After Hurricane Katrina, the lowest-performing schools were absorbed into, or chartered by, the RSD. Few have posted strong performances, as measured by the state accountability system.

State school board member Louella Givens said as much Tuesday.

“If there are no vacancies in the higher performing schools…what is my choice?” she asked White.

White responded that the plan, by design, gives preference to students from lower-performing schools. But Givens still stuck with her statement, saying that parents with kids at lower-performing schools will especially want to put their kids in a high-performing school.

Attorney Tracie Washington said the same in her comment to the board, noting that the spots to higher-performing schools will be even more limited because students already at those schools will be given preference to return, which White later confirmed.

“I don’t disagree with you. If anything, that to me lends greater urgency to the idea that we need to make greater change in our schools,” White said to Washington.

Other board members had more positive points to make about the plan.

“It’s not going to be perfect, certainly some parents will end up with schools that weren’t their first choice,” board member Chas Roemer said. But he did say that it’s better than the previous alternative, which was more random and had less structure.

Board member Linda Johnson also had good things to say about the plan, highlighting the fact that it gives preference to neighborhood students. But she also said that the new process needed to make a way for parents to fill out the application and submit it online, and that it needed to make sure pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students received preference to their chosen schools.

When Washington continued to press the point of the lack of choice for lower-performing students, Roemer, who was running the meeting, told her “we could go through hypotheticals all night long” and that she needed to wrap up her comments. Washington said that this was not a hypothetical situation, but rather a scenario that is bound to happen. She later asked him not to raise his voice to her, and not to insult or attack her.

When explaining the mechanics of the plan, White also hinted that, in future years, he’d like for the Orleans Parish School Board to be part of the district’s centralized enrollment, citing the board and the RSD’s past working relationships on the master plan. It’s unclear if the School Board will acquiesce to that – RSD’s invitation for the board to participate in a unified enrollment system may be seen by some groups as a ploy to rid the elected board of some of its power.

Regardless of the plan’s perceived shortcomings, its implementation isn’t far off – the unified application will be released Feb. 6, with March 31 being the application deadline. Parents and students will find out their assignments the week of May 1.

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  • Instead of pushing this enrollment system, John White should spend his time giving parents access to real school choice by expanding capacity at non-academically unacceptable schools as the No Child Left Behind law mandates. This new enrollment does make one thing easier for parents. It makes it easier to apply to attend a failing school. Now instead of having to fill out multiple applications to attend a failing or low performing school, parents now only have to fill out 1. This is not choice, because now John White’s mysterious computer system will choose the school for the parent, and will place the child in a low performing or failing school. This is insanity. If John White wanted to actually give parents choice, he would stop playing this game of expecting us to believe that this enrollment system will fix the problems parents have been complaining about.

  • William Keleher

    RSD does something, Karen Harper Royal, Tracie Washington and Louella Givens complain, rinse, repeat.

    For the foreseeable future there are going to be more kids who want to get into good schools than there will be good schools to handle them. No admissions policy is going to solve that. Complaining without offering a solution equals whining. Unless there is a better solution on offer FOR ADMISSIONS, can we please just move on with updating the admissions process and focus our attention where the real problem is – in the SCHOOLS, not the admissions. Does EVERYTHING really have to be met with complaints? It’s tedious and counterprodctive.