A New Orleans student walks off a bus after arriving at school in 2013. Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

The highly anticipated results from New Orleans’ centralized school enrollment lottery were released Wednesday afternoon as parents were picking their children up from school.

Parents’ reactions, on social media and in interviews with The Lens, ranged from elated to nervous to furious, after many spent the day eagerly awaiting text and email notifications from the district.

Parent Donna Dugue said she was feeling scared Wednesday morning. She’d only listed Audubon Charter School’s Gentilly campus for her son, assuming at the time that if he didn’t get in there, he’d simply continue to attend ReNEW McNair’s pre-kindergarten class for four-year-olds otherwise.

But for Dugue and other McNair parents, this week came with further surprise. The McNair campus on Carrollton Avenue is closing over the summer and students are being relocated to ReNEW’s other schools. The network didn’t inform parents of the decision. A spokesman told The Lens earlier this week that parents would find out about their children’s placement through their OneApp results.

“I don’t think that was OneApp’s job,” Dugue said. “ReNEW should have done that.”

ReNEW did not immediately respond to a question about how it was informing parents who hadn’t participated in OneApp that the school was closing.

“It’s taking away your choice because now you’re holding on to my child and holding onto my choice,” she said early on Wednesday. “Had I known, I would have had the chance to make a better decision and choice in Round 1.”

”It’s still upsetting to me because I still have all these different schools.”—Donna Dugue

It turns out that Dugue, like approximately 45 percent of students last year, got the top choice for her son.

“He actually got Gentilly,” she said after results were published Wednesday afternoon.

But her daughter did not. Her four children will attend four different schools for the second year in a row.

“It’s still upsetting to me because I still have all these different schools,” she said.

Related: Class Dismissed, a series on school closures in New Orleans

She also wondered whether her son got closing school priority. That’s something the district says boosts students in closing schools’ chances of getting their first choice. This year there are roughly 980 students in closing schools who will receive that priority designation. That applied for students of at least five schools slated for closure this year: Edgar P. Harney elementary, Cypress Academy, Medard Nelson Elementary, William Fischer Accelerated Academy and McDonogh 32 Charter School.

But Orleans Parish school district spokeswoman Tania Dall said McNair students did not get closing school priority “because the school is being relocated, not closed.”

Match rates declining with better schools

Competition is stiff and getting stiffer in the soon to be all-charter city. Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. acknowledged the trend in an early April letter.

“Demand for seats is very high, but ultra-concentrated,” he wrote. “There are 79 OPSB schools, but most applications list the same 5-10 schools.“

Much of that competition is for seats in top-rated schools. This year, only seven schools in the city were rated A by the Louisiana Department of Education, and four of them don’t participate in OneApp.

Parents can rank up to 12 schools and the unique algorithm assigns students based on a variety of priorities and the lottery number they happen to draw. It’s not uncommon for families to list only a few choices, hoping that OneApp won’t push them to lower-performing schools.

Lewis said increasing capacity at A and B schools was his “most urgent priority.” But he also encouraged families to look at other qualities in schools, such as year-to-year academic growth.

“We must increase awareness of schools with ‘A’ rated growth, schools with specialized programming, and schools with high teacher and student retention,” he wrote.

“Until the majority of our schools are delivering a high-quality education, OneApp results will be a mixed bag,” Lewis wrote, acknowledging some families will be happy and others disappointed.

“OneApp cannot guarantee that all families will receive their top choice, but OneApp does guarantee that, in a landscape of citywide access and choice, every single family is considered fairly, in an equitable, transparent enrollment process.”

”Until the majority of our schools are delivering a high-quality education, OneApp results will be a mixed bag.”—Orleans Parish Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis

The district posted instructions on how to check results Wednesday, and parents can check their placements online. Parents must register at their assigned school by June 14. “Failure to register may result in the loss of your seat assignment,” the instructions state.

Nearly 17,000 families submitted an application for the 2018-19 school year, according to a district release last year, an increase from the 15,000 applications the year before.

Last spring, results were released on April 11. This year the district added a new priority for students who live within half-a-mile of a school. It’s unclear if that affected the release of results.

According to a data sheet released late Wednesday by the district, 68 percent of applicants got one of their top three choices for 2019-2020. That’s a slight uptick from 67 percent last year. Those numbers only represent first-round matches. The second round opens April 29 and closes May 31.

But over the last five years, rates of students receiving their top choice or one of their top three choices have dropped significantly. An August 2018 report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor found that about 45 percent of students received their top choice and about 66 percent of students received one of their top three choices for the 2018-2019 school year, down from 58 percent and 78 percent, respectively, in the 2014-2015 school year.

Applications will likely continue to grow and the match rate will likely continue to drop as better performing schools enter the citywide centralized lottery.

Parents with questions can call or visit a Family Resource Center at 877-343-4773 or email at oneapp@opsb.us. The help centers, located at Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Livingston Collegiate Academy and the district’s headquarters are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.

This story has been updated with comments and data from the Orleans Parish school district.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...