the starting line

With school year approaching, enrollment centers work to meet families’ needs

Michael Hancock / File photo

For Aubrey Turner, Thursday marked a third visit to Manhattan’s temporary school registration center.

Turner, who recently moved from Poughkeepsie with his family, said he kept returning with different paperwork while he attempted to enroll his daughter in New York City’s school system.

“They need to get a better process,” Turner said. “It’s too hot for this.”

But several trips to the registration center did not dampen his daughter’s spirit, who broke out into a huge grin when school was mentioned. As she walked away, after finally securing a seat at P.S. 123 in Harlem, her father put his arm around her shoulders.

Turner’s daughter is one of the thousands of students annually who tries to find a school after the regular enrollment cycle. This week, and continuing through the start of the school year, students and their parents will file into the temporary registration centers scattered throughout the city looking for a seat.

Some, like Turner’s daughter, recently moved, while others are trying to transfer between schools or need to provide further paperwork. In each case, city officials must compile family documents and consider city rules, home addresses, special needs, and open seats in a complicated calculus designed to make sure the year starts smoothly.

Chase Studwick, who just moved from Miami, said he will miss some of his friends.
Chase Studwick, who just moved from Miami, said he will miss some of his friends.

New to New York

The Manhattan center was filled with those moving to New York from other countries and states, including Africa, Brazil, Idaho, and Florida.

Leticia Herren, a 17-year-old from Brazil, said that she was excited to begin school in New York. Herren moved with her parents, who are completing their postdoctoral research in New York. Herren said she planned to visit schools throughout the day Thursday.

“It’s a city where everybody wants to come and now I’m here,” Herren said.

Armando Garcia moved his daughter, a rising sixth grader with multiple disabilities, with hopes that the city can provide her with services that were not available in Idaho.

But not everyone is moving to New York without reservations. After Chase Strudwick registered for sixth grade at Renaissance Leadership Academy in West Harlem, he paused from running around the sidewalk and jumping onto the walls to reflect on his move from Miami.

“I’m going to miss some of my friends,” Strudwick said.

Syeda Begum and her son are frustrated that they cannot transfer schools after she said he was bullied last year.
Syeda Begum and her son are frustrated that they cannot transfer schools after she said he was bullied last year.

Paperwork woes

After running around the city Wednesday trying to register his son, Troy Holston returned Thursday to Manhattan’s temporary center only to hear that his son needed to be present to register. Holston said he was at the Manhattan center yesterday, but he arrived a few minutes after it closed at 3 p.m. after rushing to different location.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Holston, whose son will be out of the city through the weekend. “I just want to make sure my son has a spot.”

As she walked from a temporary school registration center on Thursday morning, Syeda Begum sighed heavily and said, “I failed.”

She tried to transfer her son, a rising seventh grade student, from Technology, Arts, and Sciences Studio School in Manhattan, because he had been bullied — including being stabbed in the chest with a pencil and chased around by a taller boy, she said — but her efforts to move him were not successful.

“I’m fed up,” said Begum, staring at a crinkled, handwritten, list of choice schools. “Now I worry. I’m scared.”

Jesiriam Rosario, who is trying to transfer to a school in Chelsea, said the experience was quick and easy.
Jesiriam Rosario, who is trying to transfer to a school in Chelsea, said the experience was quick and easy.

Quick and easy

Not everyone found the process cumbersome. Jesiriam Rosario, a 16-year-old who is trying to get into Satellite Academy High School, a transfer school in Chelsea, did not mind her morning at the registration center.

“It was good, easy, quick,” she said. Rosario is still unsure whether she will get into the school. If she does not get a spot at Satellite, she said she will attend Heritage School in East Harlem.

Rosario said she is “still hoping.”

A new beginning

A number of parents waited to register their children for kindergarten.

Sending a child to their first year of school provokes a range of emotions, said Dorian Acosta, who wanted his son to attend P.S. 140 on the Lower East Side because it is close to where he lives. His older children attended and liked the school too, he said.

“You worry about your kids, ya know?” Acosta said, but added, “You’re happy for them.”

Dorian Acosta is preparing to send his son off to kindergarten.
Dorian Acosta is preparing to send his son off to kindergarten.

Closer to home

Michelle Legros went to the center with her 15-year-old son, trying to switch his school to one on 84th Street, which is closer to where they live in Manhattan. Legros said she will meet with the school’s principal tomorrow to figure out if he can attend.

“When I received the letter I said, ‘Are they kidding me? Brooklyn?’” Legros said. “If he goes to Brooklyn I won’t know what’s going on.”

Better future

Sheron Redden arrived early at the registration center, determined to transfer her daughter from the Gramercy Arts High School to Pace High School, another small school. The guidance at Gramercy, Redden said, isn’t enough for her daughter, who is entering her senior year and wants to attend dental school.

“The kids that want to get out and want a life, it’s like they try to hold them,” Redden said.

Looking at her daughter, she vowed her case would be different.

“She worked too hard to get where she’s at,” Redden said.


Lee says ‘parent choice’ education initiative coming soon in Tennessee

Gov. Bill Lee became Tennessee's 50th governor in January and pledged to make K-12 education a priority, including providing parents with more choices.

Gov. Bill Lee hinted that he soon will introduce a legislative initiative to give parents more education options for their children, even as Wednesday’s deadline passed to file bills for lawmakers to consider this year.

“We continue to believe that choice is important and that we want to look at every opportunity for choices for parents,” the Republican governor said.

But whether his proposal will include school vouchers or a similar type of program remains a mystery.

“We haven’t definitively put together the legislation around what that choice looks like, but we will be in the coming days,” Lee said.

The door remains open because of numerous vaguely described education bills known as “caption bills” that met the filing deadline on Wednesday. Any of these could be turned into voucher-like legislation by the bill’s sponsor.

On the campaign trail and in his victory speech, Lee pledged to give parents more education options. But he’s been coy about what that could look like and whether he would champion such a crucial policy shift during his first year in public office — one with the potential to end in a significant legislative defeat. Over the past decade, vouchers have been fended off consistently in the legislature by an unlikely alliance of Democrats and rural Republicans.

Vouchers would let parents of eligible students use taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition and fees. But this year, Tennessee’s voucher supporters have talked about taking a different voucher-like approach known as education savings accounts, or ESAs.

Education savings accounts would let parents withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds into government-authorized accounts. The money could be used to cover everything from private school tuition and tutoring to homeschool materials and online learning programs.

While a new survey suggests that most Tennesseans support education savings accounts, school boards across the state are on record opposing both approaches. They argue that such programs would drain state funds from traditional public schools and increase student segregation. They’re also concerned that students in those non-public programs would not be held to the same standards and performance measures as students in public schools.

Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican who leads a key panel that all education legislation must clear, said any bills to create an education savings account program would have to include strong accountability measures to get his support.

In Arizona, where lawmakers approved education savings accounts in 2011, the program has been marred by rampant fraud. A recent audit reported that parents who used the program misspent $700,000 from their 2018 accounts on banned items that included cosmetics and clothing.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari said Arizona’s experience should give Tennessee lawmakers pause.

“It would have to be a really tight bill for me to support it,” said the Memphis Democrat. “A lot of folks like the flexibility of an education savings account. But when you’re talking about public dollars, there has to be a measure of accountability.”

The results of a Mason-Dixon survey released this week showed that 78 percent of Tennesseans who were polled recently support passage of legislation to create education savings accounts. The survey was commissioned by the pro-voucher group American Federation for Children.

“During last year’s campaign season, many candidates spoke boldly about parental choice in education,” said Shaka Mitchell, the group’s Tennessee director. “The polling shows that voters were listening and expect those promises to result in laws that are just as bold.”

Lee spoke with reporters Wednesday about his legislative agenda after addressing Tennessee school superintendents meeting in Nashville. A day earlier, he announced his legislative initiative to expand access to vocational and technical training for high school students, another promise he campaigned on.

“It will increase the number of kids that are career-ready within a year of leaving high school,” he told members of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents.

Lee said he also wants to strengthen the state’s programs for developing principals and create more opportunities and curriculum focused on science, technology, engineering, and math.

“I want to be an educator governor,” he told the superintendents. “I want [Tennessee] to be a state that is an education state.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include results of the Mason-Dixon survey.

tough sell

Rezoning debate highlights gap in opportunities at two Memphis high schools

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Under Mark Neal's leadership, Melrose High School has earned its way off the state's "priority" list of low-performing schools.

As Shelby County Schools considers a rezoning that would transfer 260 White Station High School students to Melrose High School, some in the community are calling the proposal a needed correction, while others don’t want to move students from a higher-performing school to a lower-performing, but improving, one.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
Jonathan Cross speaks at the rezoning meeting Monday.

The community meeting Monday was the first of 10 such gatherings to discuss the district’s plan to rezone a portion of 19 schools with the goal of moving 3,200 students to schools closer to home. Students currently living in those areas can choose to stay at their current school, but parents, not the district, would then be responsible for transportation. (For an overview of all proposed rezonings, read our story from last week.)

This particular meeting was focused on the proposal involving White Station and Melrose.

“The kids already have a fantastic option for education,” at White Station High School, said Jonathan Cross, who owns a house in the proposed area that would no longer be zoned for the East Memphis high school.

If the school board approves the plan, rising ninth graders in the area would be zoned to Melrose this fall. The neighborhood, Sherwood Forest, was rezoned to White Station, from Melrose, at least 20 years ago. Neighborhood advocates in the city’s historic African-American community of Orange Mound say that decades-old change has contributed to the enrollment decline at Melrose.

The rezoning would help level the enrollment at the two schools where Melrose had declining enrollment and White Station was crowded. Under the rezoning, enrollment at Melrose could increase by 44 percent and decrease at White Station by 12 percent. Currently 586 students attend Melrose, while 2,142 attend White Station.

“We’re just reclaiming what was taken from Orange Mound,” Claudette Boyd, a neighborhood advocate, said.

The fight for students in the square-mile that the rezoning plan addresses highlights Shelby County Schools’ struggle to ensure high school students have similar opportunities wherever they go in the district.

“All of our schools need to be high-quality options that offer comprehensive work to our students,” acknowledged Angela Whitelaw, the district’s chief of schools.

Melrose, which has the highest concentration of high school students from low-income families in the city, recently earned its way off the state’s “priority list” of low-performing schools; still fewer than one-quarter of students score at grade level in any subject.

The rezoning could boost Melrose’s enrollment to what the district considers acceptable, meaning that students fill at least 60 percent of the building’s capacity — up from 52 percent capacity this year.

White Station High School, which conversely has the second-lowest concentration of poor students, routinely performs above the district average in all subjects, but in the last three years has seen academic achievement decline.

State of Education in Orange Mound

    • Parents, students and community stakeholders are invited to a community discussion about:
    • Attendance zone for Melrose High
    • Opening of charter schools
    • School closures
    • Status of Aspire Hanley
    • Childhood trauma (ACEs)

The event is sponsored by Committee of Melrose Alumni, Orange Mound Development Corporation, and Orange Mound Community Parade Committee. Grand prize drawing for a 39-inch television. Must be present to win.

  • When: 12 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9
  • Where: Orange Mound Community Center, 2572 Park Ave. Memphis, TN 38114

Making sure that Orange Mound students have preferred admission to their neighborhood school has been a priority for Joyce Dorse-Coleman, who was elected to the Shelby County Schools board in August.

“This may be new to some of you, but this is not new,” she told meeting attendees, referring to neighborhood residents attending Melrose, which she said “used to have high enrollment.”

At Monday’s meeting, Whitelaw outlined the sports teams and clubs Melrose offers, as well as course offerings that can count for college credit and industry certification.

But some parents are wary of the Shelby County Schools claims — saying that if Melrose was as academically strong as the district claims, most of the students slated for rezoning would already be attending that school, which is closer to where they live.

“If the kids my child hangs out with don’t go to Melrose, we don’t have a strong neighborhood school,” said Michelle Ficklen, who has lived in the proposed rezoned area for about 20 years.

In a district report last year, Melrose High had few options for advanced coursework that could prepare students for the rigor of college classes. There were no Advanced Placement classes, three dual enrollment, and 21 honors. Next year, Melrose is slated to get some Advanced Placement classes, eight dual enrollment classes, but will offer six fewer honors classes, according to Linda Sklar, the district’s optional school coordinator.

By contrast, White Station High already has the highest number of Advanced Placement and honors courses, and the second highest number of dual enrollment classes in the district.

School board member Stephanie Love, who was present at Monday’s meeting, said district staff should see “what classes [White Station students] were in and mirror some of them at Melrose.”

“What’s going to happen if they choose somewhere else?” she said after the meeting.

The school board will likely vote on the rezoning plans in late February or early March, district officials said.