Sunday, February 06, 2000

Last school dash greeted with joy, trepidation

Some fear lottery, urge school parity

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A tired mix of joy and terror played on Terrisa Shropshire's face as she emerged from “Super Saturday,” the annual early morning scramble of parents registering their kids for Cincinnati Public Schools' magnet programs.

        “I got in!” the Roselawn woman cried, waving a sheet of paper placing 4-year-old daughter Latrisa in Schiel Primary, a school for the arts. “It's a relief, but I'm terrified. Now I don't know, did I choose the right school?”

        More than 1,100 other moms and dads shared her trepidation. With the intensity of high school seniors applying for the Ivy League, parents of grade-schoolers raced to four district schools at 7 a.m. to snatch precious slots in popular magnet programs.

        This was the last year for the scramble. Some people complained the decade-old process was unfair to parents who couldn't circle neighborhoods in their cars or sit glued to cell phones and radios for the pre-dawn announcement of registration sites. A lottery will be held next year to allow for random selection. The CPS board of education estimates it will save about $100,000.

        Traditionally, among public schools, students' neighborhoods determine the schools they will attend. But CPS' magnet schools — created in the 1970s as a desegregation tool — introduced parental choice into the equation.

        Magnet programs are attractive because students perform better, on average, than their neighborhood-school cohorts. Parents also like choosing programs that suit the individual needs of their children.

        With good “Super Saturday” timing, good test scores in certain cases, and a little luck, parents can send kids to schools that stress subjects from math and science to foreign languages, or to programs that use teaching philosophies such as Montessori or critical thinking (Paideia).

        “As parents, we know what sort of approaches and structures our children need, and with the magnet schools, we have the choice of a structure that matches that ability,” said Beverly Massey of Bond Hill.

        She left Saturday's registration at Woodward High School disappointed because, for the third year in a row, she failed to get 7-year-old daughter Olivia into North Avondale Montessori. Olivia will attend Silverton Paideia instead.

        Some parents, like Ms. Massey, welcome the demise of “Super Saturday.” Others fear it will make it tougher for parents to exercise their options.

        “I would rather have this than a lottery,” said Karen Abrams of Amberley Village, waiting nervously at Woodward to register 12-year-old daughter Rebecca at Clark Montessori.

        Like Terrisa Shropshire, Ms. Abrams agonized over choices for Rebecca. Rebecca got on Clark's waiting list Saturday, but her mother still must convince the school she can adjust despite a lack of earlier Montessori experience.

        Of CPS's 63 schools, 27 are magnet schools. Nearly 14,000 students are enrolled this year. Saturday, 1,134 applications were processed, and 745 names were placed on waiting lists. Magnet school applications will be accepted through Feb. 23.

        Allowing public-school parents to help choose their children's school has been so successful that CPS is considering offering choices among neighborhood schools as well, board member Sally Warner said.

        “When people make a choice for a school, it makes them more involved,” Ms. Warner said. She pointed to Saturday's crowds. “These will be the most active and involved parents in our schools.”

        Waiting in line Saturday with 6-year-old daughter Asia, Melissa Hill argued that choice should not be an issue in public schools.

        The Paddock Hills woman got Asia out of bed at 6:30 a.m. to register her in a Paideia magnet program.

        She thinks she shouldn't have had to.

        “(All the schools) should all be good,” she said. “Achievement needs to be spread across the entire district and not just to certain schools. If you can do it in some schools, you need to be able to do it in all schools.”


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