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New Orleans schools' OneApp is back, this time with a new name and unified enrollment process

Aubri Juhasz
Students play at Akili Academy in the Upper 9th Ward. Nov. 13, 2020.

Each year, families looking to enroll their child at a new school, or in the district for the first time, must navigate the OneApp, rebranded this year as the NOLA Public Schools Common Application Process, or NCAP.

New Orleans’ unique all-charter system is open enrollment, which means it’s up to families to rank the schools they’d like their children to attend and hope for a match.

This year marks the first time the district’s process is truly unified. All 76 district-affiliated schools are participating in addition to the city’s six state-authorized public schools, publicly-funded K-12 scholarship programs at private schools and publicly-funded early childhood education programs.

“We want to make the application process informative, clear and easy to use for everyone joining our great school community because we are stronger together,” Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. said in a statement.

But the application and lottery process still isn’t uniform for several high-rated schools with selective admissions criteria, and other schools and programs have language requirements for certain grade levels.

Families who are new to the district are required to visit a family resource center as part of the application process, and students looking to switch schools within the system start the process by informing their current school.

A limited number of early childhood programs are also available through the central enrollment process and do not require parents to visit a family resource center in-person.

For many, the process can still feel like a “crapshoot,” even as the district has gotten better at assigning families to their preferred schools.

Last year, 82% of applicants matched with one of their top three schools, and 85% matched with a school ranked somewhere on their list, according to district provided data.

Families rank their preferred school choices in order and may receive priority status for specific schools for a variety of reasons, including where they live and whether they have another child already enrolled at the school.

The more schools a family ranks, the higher the likelihood a match can be made during the first round of enrollment when the largest number of seats are available. The district’s algorithm only matches students with schools listed on their application.

This year, the NCAP launches on Nov. 1 and closes on Jan. 21, 2022. All applications submitted by the deadline are processed at the same time, according to the district.

Families should have results no later than March 31, 2022, according to the district. If a family misses the deadline, they can participate in the second round in April, though seats may no longer be available at some schools.

How the enrollment process works

New Orleans’ unique all-charter public school system isn’t zoned, which means students are eligible to attend dozens of schools across the city regardless of where they live. The only requirement is that the student reside in Orleans Parish.

NCAP, is a centralized enrollment process that allows families to rank up to 12 school choices for a given student. Families rank their school choices in order of preference and the NCAP uses an algorithm to make assignments.

The higher a student’s randomly generated lottery number, the more likely they are to be assigned to one of their top ranked schools. There are no random-generated placements and students are either placed at one of their choices or back at their original school.

Using the district’s school finder, parents can sort school options by both geographic area and letter grade. The finder can also be used to identify schools that provide before- and after-school care.

Parents can use the search feature to identify schools with specific curriculum offerings such as language immersion, arts enrichment, and dual enrollment. School profiles also include the resources available to students with special needs and English Learners.

While families have the option to switch schools every year, students applying for new school placements are usually those entering the system for the first time, as well as students entering high school, since many lower schools run through the eighth grade.

In most cases, students looking to stay at their current school are automatically re-enrolled for the following year and should not complete the NCAP unless they want to change schools. If you complete the NCAP you forfeit a seat at your current school.

Families must also use the NCAP to apply to new schools if their children’s current school is closing. This year, six schools up for renewal have not met the district’s standards and could have their charters revoked.

Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. is expected to issue renewal recommendations later this month. His decisions can be overturned by the Orleans Parish School Board with a supermajority vote.

The six schools at risk of closing are Arise Academy, Einstein Charter School at Sherwood Forest, Fannie C. Williams Charter School, Harriet Tubman Charter School, James M. Singleton Charter School and Elan Academy, which was included based on a technicality and is expected to remain open.

Who gets priority?

Whether a student gets into their top ranked school largely depends on three things: the number of available seats, the student’s randomly assigned lottery number, and whether they belong to a priority group.

To see how the lottery plays out, the district created a video that simulates the matching process.

Families impacted by school closures have top priority in the district’s algorithm. The other two factors that can influence priority are a student’s proximity to a given school and whether their sibling already attends.

Geographic priority is given to students who live within a half-mile of the school or live in the same zone as the school. A certain number of seats are also reserved for students who do not have geographic priority.

While 100% of available seats can be awarded based on priority for students from closing schools and the siblings of current students, in most cases geographic priority is only used to fill 50% of available seats, according to the district.

Each school has its own priority breakdown that’s listed on its school profile.

Schools with selective-admissions policies

There are three schools with selective admission criteria: Benjamin Franklin High School, Lake Forest Charter School and Lusher Charter School. Families must first complete the NCAP and list the school as a choice. After that they’ll receive a link to the school’s supplemental admissions form or can begin the process on its website.

Benjamin Franklin High School

There is no lottery at Benjamin Franklin High School. If a student lives in Orleans Parish, meets certain academic criteria and applies on time they will be admitted, according to the school’s website.

Aubri Juhasz/WWNO
A list of NOLA-PS 10 most in demand schools for ninth grade applications for the 2021-22 school year.

Students applying to Benjamin Franklin must sit for the school’s admissions test and have a 2.0 GPA or higher, with no failing grades, to be considered for admission.

An admissions matrix score is calculated based on the student’s GPA and admissions test score, which awards points in reading, language and math.

Students entering ninth or tenth grade need a matrix score of 88 points or higher to gain admission, while incoming 11th-graders need a matrix score of at least 108 points.

Admissions tests will be administered on Nov. 13, Dec. 11, Jan. 15, Feb. 5, Mar. 12 and April 2. Prospective students can register for the test after they complete an online application and verify their birth date and Orleans Parish residency.

Tests are administered at Benjamin Franklin High School. Students who apply by the admissions deadline may retest if they do not meet admissions requirements on their first try.

Benjamin Franklin is scheduled to host a virtual open house on Nov. 2 at 5:30 p.m. Applications must be received by Jan. 7 to be considered on time.

Lake Forest Charter School

Students hoping to attend Lake Forest Charter School must complete an in-person admissions exam, consisting of math and reading, and a supplemental application process. Test results are then used to calculate a matrix score along with the students GPA, school absences, and whether or not a family member completed the orientation process.

For kindergarten and first grade (which has their own separate matrix), students must receive 20 points or higher. Second through eighth grade students must receive 33 points or higher. There is no retesting and if a student has a GPA less than 2.0 they are not allowed to sit for the exam.

A two-tiered selection process will be used for the 2022-23 school year, according to the school’s website. In the first tier, students are ranked by total matrix score and 75% of available seats are filled by students with the highest scores. If multiple students have the same score and there are not enough seats, then a lottery will be held. The remaining 25% of seats are filed through a general lottery which includes all remaining students.

Lusher Charter School

Prospective Lusher students are also assessed using an admissions matrix that awards points based on GPA, admissions test scores, an arts profile and application, and for kindergarten and first grade students, parent involvement.

Admissions testing is conducted at Lusher and testing dates are assigned once a student’s NCAP and supplemental application are submitted. Students without a 2.0 GPA or higher are not eligible to test. Retests are not permitted.

For kindergarten and first grade, students must score 25 out of 30 points and students in second grade and up follow a slightly different matrix process and must score 28 out of 33 points to qualify for the school’s lottery, which is two-tiered.

First, qualified students are ranked based on their matrix score, and 75% of available spots in each grade are filled by students with the highest scores. The remaining seats are then filled using a non-ranked lottery.

Preference is given to kindergarten applicants with siblings who attended Lusher’s lower school and will be enrolled at Lusher for the coming school year.

A limited number of spots are also reserved for the children of Tulane University-affiliated parents as part of a formal partnership between the two schools. These children are not exempt from the admissions process and must score high enough on Lusher’s admissions matrix to qualify.

Aubri Juhasz/WWNO
A list of NOLA-PS 10 most in demand schools for kindergarten applicants for the 2021-22 school year.

Becky Bell, Lusher’s head of admissions, said last year that half of available spots per grade level are set aside for the children of Tulane’s full-time faculty and staff.

Students who are considered “economically disadvantaged” and have qualified using Lusher’s admissions matrix are included in a “second chance drawing” if they are not admitted during the regular drawing.

To qualify for the “second chance drawing,” families must provide either a Medicaid card, free or reduced lunch qualifying letter, SNAP card, Head Start verification, TANF verification, or another document verifying some form of governmental assistance.

Completed applications must include the NCAP, a supplemental admissions form, a copy of the student’s birth certificate, relevant report cards, prior year standardized test results for some grade levels.

Campus tours will be offered in small groups this year. Tour sign-ups should be available on the school’s website in mid-November.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.

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