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Time for Turkey, Stuffing and… School Choice?

It’s that time of year again, when many of us drive over the river and through the woods to reconnect with family, debate whether marshmallows really belong on sweet potatoes, and watch way too much football.  

Thanksgiving is not just a time to relax and indulge, of course. For families in New Orleans, Boston and other cities, it also marks the beginning of the school choice season. That’s right, barely one-third of the way into the current school year, and it’s already time to think about schools for next year. 

In New Orleans, for instance, late November is when the city’s OneApp unified enrollment system officially opens, selective admissions and magnet schools start their application processes, and private and Catholic schools begin hosting open houses. The situation is similar in Boston, where families are beginning to look into schools they might want their child to apply for in January.

If you have students in either city (or many other cities with extensive school choice), we recommend using an hour of your Thanksgiving break to take stock of your child’s current school and think through your plan for the school choice process in the coming months. Here’s one way to do it.

1. Reflect on your current school(s)

In many states, new school grades and state report cards come out in the fall. Take a minute to look up the grade or rating for your child’s school and see if it raises any questions or concerns for you. Here’s where you can find Louisiana’s school report cards and here’s the link for Massachusetts’ school profiles. Ask your kids how they feel about their schools as well.

2. Understand the local process

Your school choices will vary depending on where you live. In New Orleans, for example, residents of Orleans Parish use OneApp to enroll in public schools. Just outside the city limits, in Jefferson Parish, families have more limited choice but can apply to their district’s selective admissions magnet schools. In some cases, you may only need to participate in the school choice process at certain times, like when your child is moving from middle school to high school. It depends on your local policies. Make sure you know what your options are, what you need to do, and when you need to do it.

3.  Clarify what you want

If you expect to participate in the school choice process, think about what you care about most in a school. Do you prioritize particular geographic locations near home or work? Certain academic programs or extracurricular opportunities? Diversity of students and staff? You know your child best; what are the characteristics of the school that would work best for him or her? And what would you be willing to compromise on, if you had to?

4. Explore your options

Use state websites, local school guides, and other resources like GreatSchools.org to research your school options. In addition to trying to identify your top-choice school, we recommend finding one or two backup schools that could still be a good fit for your child even if they don’t have everything you want. That’s especially important if your top school is one that is very popular with families or a selective admissions school.

5. Get ready to go

Add any school choice deadlines to your phone’s calendar and set up reminders about them, so you don’t miss an important date. Bookmark enrollment system websites and other important pages in your web browser, and follow your local school district on social media. Check out your local schools’ application requirements to make sure you have everything you need, and store those materials in a folder. This way, when it’s time to submit your applications, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running.