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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / From left, Hudson Greene, 9, Jayanth Siddenki, 9, Aubrey McBrayer, 10, and Lauren Commander, 10, plan a strategy for their robots during a workshop at the Chattanooga School for Liberal Arts in August in East Brainerd.

The school choice application period has just begun for the 2022-23 school year, and data from the previous process indicates magnet schools are the most in-demand options in the Hamilton County Schools system.

Normal Park Museum Magnet School, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts had the highest numbers of waitlisted students out of the school choice options for this school year, according to data released by Hamilton County Schools at the request of the Times Free Press on Friday.

Normal Park had the longest waitlist for the 2021-22 school year at 609 students and seated 140 students. The K-8 school in North Chattanooga, has 90 seats available for next school year, according to the district's table of available choice lottery seats.

The arts and sciences magnet seated 59 students this year with 491 on the waitlist, followed by the liberal arts magnet with 49 seated students and 405 on the waitlist.

For next school year, the liberal arts school has 63 seats. The arts and sciences school has 137 seats across the upper and lower schools, but selection for grades 3-12 will be chosen from a pre-existing waitlist and not the choice application, according to the district's website.

(READ MORE: Two Hamilton County magnet schools receive national awards)

Additional schools with three-digit waitlists include magnet schools like Barger Academy, Battle Academy, Rivermont Elementary School, Lookout Mountain Elementary School and the Hamilton County Virtual School, which saw a jump in enrollment amid the pandemic in the 2020-21 school year.

The fairness of magnet school waitlists and the lottery system is often a topic of concern among parents this time of year.

"I can't wait to hear my daughter is going to sit on a waitlist for the next nine years to attend a magnet school that I'm alumni of," Amanda Lee Parsons wrote in a comment on a Nov. 12 Facebook post from the district.

The topic also came up at the Board of Education's November meeting the previous day, when board member Rhonda Thurman of Hixson asked if the children of alumni get preference at magnet schools and insinuated that was the case.

"No, only current staff will get a preference, so if you work at that magnet then you get a boost in your standing in the lottery," chief of staff Jennifer Bronson said.

The district significantly expanded open enrollment school options from 11 to 45 for the upcoming year and expanded Future Ready Institutes — where students receive training in industries like aviation, health care and engineering at the district's 13 zoned high schools — from 29 to 31.

Most Future Ready Institutes seated students with three or fewer students on the waitlist for this school year, but there were a few exceptions.

The EPB Institute of Technology and Networking at Tyner Academy seated six students and waitlisted 13, and Erlanger Institute of Healthcare and Innovation at Howard High School seated four students and waitlisted four students. Howard is home to three Future Ready Institutes, while Tyner Academy is home to three and has 54 open seats for the next school year.

Following the school choice fair on Jan. 12, the school choice application deadline is Jan. 31 and the district will run the choice lottery on Feb. 9.

Contact Anika Chaturvedi at achaturvedi@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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