Hamilton County Schools kicked off its Choose Hamilton school choice campaign for the 2022-23 school year on Monday and opened choice applications.
School choice options include magnet schools, which focus on a specific theme; open enrollment schools, which are K-12 schools that admit students from anywhere in the district; early college programs that offer post-secondary credit; and Future Ready Institutes, housed in high schools, with specialized industry training.
In the two months leading up to the application deadline on Jan. 31, here's what to know about school choice options and changes to the process for the upcoming school year.
1. The number of open enrollment schools has quadrupled this year.
Families have 45 open enrollment schools to choose from this year, up from 11 last year, said Hamilton County Schools school choice facilitator Lindy Matthews.
The number of Future Ready Institutes has also increased from 29 last year to 31 this year.
One aspect that won't change in the upcoming year is transportation availability. Transportation is provided to students attending the district's nine magnet schools and students not zoned to their Future Ready Institutes, but not students attending open enrollment schools outside their zone.
"We've discussed it, but at this time that is something we cannot offer," Matthews said.
2. Available seats are now listed by school and grade level on the district's website.
Another new addition to the process is the Available Choice Lottery Seats page on the district's website, where families can view all choice schools, the total number of open seats at each school and the number of open seats per grade level.
"For every school that is on the application, you can see the number of seats available by grade, which is really helpful for parents to know what their chances are looking like and what schools have seats available for the grade that their child is in," Matthews said.
3. Families can make up to five choices on their applications.
Matthews said that families can now make up to five selections on school choice applications - up from three selections in years past - since the number of school options has increased this year.
"So if they are wanting to apply to a few magnet schools, and then maybe there is a neighboring school that's now open enrollment that is on their way to work that may be a good fit for their child, because their child has special interests related to that school, they can consider that as an option as well," Matthews said. "It increases their chances at getting into at least one of the five options."
4. School choices are a yearlong commitment.
At a November school board meeting, member Rhonda Thurman asked why students would be transferred back to their zoned schools at the end of the year, rather than the end of the semester, if they were "causing a lot of problems."
Jennifer Bronson, chief of staff of Hamilton County Schools, said that families make a yearlong commitment to choice schools.
"We have the same policy for charters as well, that we ask families to make a year commitment as well as the school to make a year commitment on the front end. However there's a tiered intervention approach if a kid has attendance issues, behavior issues, where we're going to try to use multiple interventions before we consider a transfer," Bronson said.
Matthews added that students would only transfer out of their chosen school after one semester under special circumstances.
5. The district will hold a school choice fair on Jan. 12.
Students and families can learn more about school choice options at the Choose Hamilton School Choice fair on Jan. 12 at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
"Every school will be there to talk to families and share about their school and what makes them unique. So that's a really great opportunity for families and kids to come and, kind of like a one-stop shop, they can come and see what options are available, they can complete an application," Matthews said.
"We're going to cover parking, so that's not going to be an issue. So it's gonna be a really good time for families to see what's out there."
Following the application due date on Jan. 31, the choice lottery will run Feb. 9 with results released to families a week later, on Feb. 16.
Contact Anika Chaturvedi at email@example.com or 423-757-6592.