Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Switching schools within the Philadelphia District

Voluntary transfers: A fair system?

Switching schools within the Philadelphia District

Many city parents do not consider their local public school an option. And every year, some of them try to transfer their children to one of the public elementaries that are considered better: Meredith, Greenfield or McCall.

It’s known as the Voluntary Transfer Process, and it’s supposed to be a lottery, with “winners” chosen randomly by computer.
But many parents, including me, don’t believe the process is random, or that the rules that the district lays out here work as they are supposed to.
No disrespect to school district officials. I think they believe the system works properly, but it’s a giant district with bigger problems than ensuring that a lottery for a tiny number of students is as unbiased as, say, the Powerball jackpot.

Ultimately, principals and their staffs at individual schools decide who gets in and who doesn’t. They must make many of these decisions at the last minute, as they figure out how many children will really attend once the school year starts. The district, some of them say, does not tell them where children placed in the voluntary transfer lottery. So officials at individual schools instead see which families applied first, or choose students from the lottery to achieve diversity.
In addition to applying early, at some schools visiting the principal and letting that person know you will be a committed, involved parent can help. At other schools, this could backfire, so your best bet might be getting to know parents who run the Home and School Association and asking them how to improve your odds.
(The web site Phillyschoolsearch.com also offers this guide to the voluntary transfer process, written by parents.)

None of this is fair, of course, to the parent who believes it’s a lottery. And it’s complicated this year because the district started taking voluntary transfer applications before the Sept. 19 start date they posted on their site.
There aren’t a lot of voluntary transfer spots anyway. Philadelphia Magazine reports that McCall took one kindergartener this year who did not live in that school’s catchment, the area that defines which kids go where.
Given the low odds, maybe jumping in to try to improve your local school is a better shot. So many parents around the city are trying this, it just might work.
And there’s always Powerball if you want to win money for private school.

Miriam Hill
About this blog
Reach Miriam at hillmb@phillynews.com.

Miriam Hill
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