Families across New Orleans are deciding where to send their kids to school next year. Parents can now use the district’s OneApp — an online application that allows you to apply to many schools at once. The district then tries to match students to their first choice. But when you want to get into the top schools, it's not all that simple.
WWNO's Jess Clark followed one New Orleans family to find out what it takes to get into the city’s highest-demand public elementary schools.
I didn't have to go far to find a parent struggling to navigate New Orleans' public school enrollment process–just down the hall to the front office at WWNO, where my colleague Kate Scheuermann works managing sales. One afternoon in mid-November, I catch her thumbing through a stack of color-coded folders on her coffee break.
Kate has application materials for five different public charter schools in New Orleans — among them are some of the hardest to get into. There are tests, parent essays, mandatory meetings, just to apply. But Kate says she wants the best for her rising first-grader, Rembrandt – Remy for short.
"I’ve just done a lot of research on schools that are in Orleans parish, that have good reputations and that are public schools," she says.
She wants Remy in a public school because she thinks they’re more diverse than private schools.
"It’s more important now than ever to expose your children to people of different backgrounds, races, cultures, [and] socioeconomic situations," she says.
It's all about the "points"
On a sunny Saturday morning in December, Kate and her husband Craig are in the cafeteria at Lusher Charter School, watching as a teacher greets a group of six-year-olds and helps them form a line. They’re about to take a test that will help decide whether they’re gifted enough to get into Lusher. Remy is in the front, fueled up with a special pancake breakfast and wearing a t-shirt with the planets on it. Kate says she can tell Remy is nervous.
"He forgot that his name is Rembrandt," she says laughing quietly.
The teacher leads the line of six-year-olds out of the cafeteria to the testing room. And now all the parents can do is wait.
The stakes are high. Lusher is one of a handful of A-rated schools in the district. It has some of the most experienced teachers and a rigorous curriculum. Kate and Craig go outside to get some air and look over the rest of their application.
"It’s based on parent involvement — you get these 'points,'" Kate explains as she pulls out the "matrix" the school uses to evaluate applicants.
The more points families score on their application, the better their chances of getting into Lusher. In addition to points Remy will score by doing well on today’s test, Kate and Craig can score “parent involvement” points by attending a meeting. They also filled out some short essay questions describing their family’s interest in the arts. Finally, they had to deliver the application in-person to the school during business hours.
"So you’re going through all these steps over the course of months starting in November, going through January — you don’t even know if you’ve gotten into their lottery yet," Kate says.
That’s why Kate and Craig are also applying to Audubon Charter School’s Montessori program — another rare A-rated school. That school has extra application requirements too. Parents have to attend a two-hour meeting to be considered. And students in grades three and up have to test in.
"I fully admit that I will spend some hours during a day making sure that we know when the open houses are, know when the curriculum meetings are, are rearranging our schedules, or luckily my husband can attend some of the meetings so I don’t have to," Kate says.
In other words, Kate has certain advantages. She has a partner, a flexible job, internet access, a car — things that many New Orleans parents don’t have.
"You know, to me it almost weeds out the parents that either A: are not engaged or B: just do not have the time or resources to do this," Kate says as she looks over the application.
Are the district’s best schools weeding out certain families? We’ll look into that tomorrow in part two of this series exploring what it takes to enroll in New Orleans top public schools.
WWNO's education reporting is supported by Entergy Corporation.