Hamilton County families have a few more weeks to apply to a magnet, open enrollment or specialty program school in Hamilton County.
The district currently offers more than 40 "choice schools," including traditional magnet schools like Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences or Normal Park Museum Magnet, as well as eight open enrollment schools and more than two dozen career academies embedded in local high schools.
This year, the process is streamlined into one application. In the past, some parents have complained that the application and magnet lottery process has been confusing or unfair.
Jill Levine, chief of Hamilton County School's Office of Innovation and Choice, said the district is focused this year on expanding access to both the application process and the best school fit for every child in Hamilton County.
"We believe that the programs we are offering in many of our choice schools rival any school - public, private, parochial - in Hamilton County," Levine said. "It's all about choice and providing parents with as many options, as possible."
For more information and to access Hamilton County Schools’ school choice application, visit: www.hcde.org/choosehamilton.
With the "Choose Hamilton" application closing on Jan. 31, here are some things families should know about school choice and the application timeline in Hamilton County.
1. The district is hosting a school fair on Saturday.
On Saturday, Jan. 11, representatives from dozens of Hamilton County schools will be available at the "Choose Hamilton Fair" at Northgate Mall. Students and families are invited to meet with representatives from magnet schools, open enrollment schools, charter schools and early college programs ahead of this month's application deadline. The fair is from 10:30 to 1:30 p.m.
2. There is only one application for all the different options.
This year's application process was "streamlined" to make it more accessible, Levine said. Parents can access the application through their PowerSchool Parent Portal. Some schools such as the Chattanooga High Center for Creative Arts (CCA) do include auditions and other admission criteria, but the application process can all be completed online.
3. Parents and students can select up to three top choices.
Previously, families had to rank their top three choices, according to Lindy Matthews, school choice facilitator for the district. That could lower a student's chance of getting into their second choice if they missed out on their first. This year, Matthews said, all choices are weighted equally. If a student is accepted into more than one school then parents will have until March 1 to decide what spot to accept.
4. Transportation is not provided for all programs.
Transportation remains one of the biggest barriers for access to programs not offered at a student's zoned school, district officials say. Levine calls it "the great equalizer." Most traditional magnet schools, including CSAS, CCA, Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, Normal Park, Barger and Battle academies and others, provide transportation to their students, but transportation is not currently provided to students attending a Future Ready Institute who live outside a high school's zone. Open enrollment schools also do not provide transportation for students outside the school's attendance zone, though the new Howard Connect Academy provides transportation from specific locations for its students.
5. Siblings and the children of school staff are still prioritized.
Parents are able to indicate on their child's application if a sibling already attends a desired school. The children of principals and teachers will also remain a priority - something school board member Rhonda Thurman, of District 1, has raised concerns about in the past.
Levine said parents can view it as a "stamp of approval" by school staff.
"If your principal or your teachers have their kid at the school, then that shows that's a school that they want to send their kids to," she said.
6. The district is trying to increase diversity and enrollment in some schools.
One focus of the Office of Innovation and Choice is to ensure all students in Hamilton County have access to the same options as other students, regardless of where they live.
"Reducing socioeconomic isolation" is one of the ways to achieve equity among school choice, Levine said. Students who attend a school outside their home attendance zone can also help increase diversity and enrollment at schools that are currently less diverse or underutilized. Levine uses Rivermont Elementary School, which opened enrollment to any student in the county two years ago, as an example.
"When we open up seats in neighborhood schools to kids from other areas, the schools become more diverse, and diversity is better for everybody," she said.
SCHOOL CHOICE APPLICATION TIMELINE
— Jan. 11: Choose Hamilton Fair at 10:30 a.m. at Northgate Mall— Jan. 31: Deadline to submit a school choice application— Feb. 10: Online lottery is live-streamed— Feb. 15: Parents notified of acceptance/lottery results— Feb. 21: Information sessions and tours will be held at each school— March 1: Deadline for parents to accept their student’s spot— March 20: Deadline for parents to secure their student’s spot by attending specific event as designated by each school
7. Best fit looks different for each student.
"Some kids are hands-on learners who like to be building and constructing, some kids are highly technical and want to design things they can 3-D print and solder and some kids like a traditional paper-and-pencil education," Levine said.
Therefore, best fit can look different for every child. Some schools like Barger Academy or CCA offer a fine-arts curriculum, whereas other schools like the STEM School or Calvin Donaldson Environmental Science Academy have a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) focus.
Each Future Ready Institute is also centered around a career or industry theme, ranging from aviation and advanced manufacturing to health care and technology.
8. The lottery will be live-streamed on Feb. 10.
Students will be notified of their acceptance by Feb. 15, according to the district's timeline. Parents will have until March 1 to respond and accept a spot at their chosen school.
9. Parents are encouraged to visit the schools and check out their programs.
Levine said that seeing what a school offers can help parents make their decision.
"I always say to parents, "Go and visit the schools, go look in the classrooms, talk to the principals, see the programs,'" she said. "The idea is best fit and finding the school that is best for your child."
Contact Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.