NPS Improves Enrollment Process With Community-Driven Changes

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Newark Public Schools announces key improvements to make the process more family friendly, and formation of a transparency committee to review enrollment policies

[Newark, New Jersey – April 24, 2017] Today, Newark Public Schools (NPS) announced a number of important improvements which will further strengthen the district’s school enrollment process for Newark families. These include: The Parent Enrollment Portal, which launches next month and is a new, user-friendly portal that will enable families to directly select their school online from their home computer or at their closest school; the Neighborhood Preference Policy, which will ensure that 100% of seats at each elementary school are prioritized for families from the neighborhood or with siblings; and the Transparency Committee, which is a community-based committee that will provide guidance on enrollment policies.

“We are taking these steps to ensure that this system is set up to best meet the needs of all Newark families,” said Newark School District Superintendent Christopher Cerf. “Universal enrollment as a concept has often been misunderstood. Put simply, it is a common enrollment system for student applications and school assignments, designed to give families an opportunity to choose a school that best suits their child’s needs. In the last two years we have worked very hard to partner with community members to both clarify the purpose of the system and to make incremental improvements.”

Family Enrollment Portal
NPS will launch the Family Enrollment Portal on May 8th, providing parents with the ability to directly address many of their enrollment needs online without having to travel to the Family Support Center. Building on the district’s successful online application website, this new portal will also allow families who arrive in Newark after the application period has ended to enroll in a school of their choosing online. It will also allow families who need to change schools to do so online. In previous years, all families who needed support after the application window closed had to enroll in person at the Family Support Center.

“When they miss the traditional application window, our families have shared with us that they would still like to be able to enroll in school directly from their home or in locations that are close to their home” said Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, Executive Director of Enrollment. “The family enrollment portal will allow them to do just that. While the Family Support Center will continue to handle appeals and unique cases, those who simply want to enroll in a school that has space will now be able to do so on a smartphone, their home computer, or at their closest neighborhood school.”

100% Neighborhood Preference
In response to community feedback since Newark Enrolls was implemented, the district announced it is shifting the enrollment policy to ensure that 100% of the seats in each elementary school go to families that live in the neighborhood or have a sibling at the school. This will ensure that families who wish to attend a school in their neighborhood are able to do so. Previously, a small percentage of all elementary school seats were left open to a random lottery.

“The actions we are sharing today represent the most important steps we have taken yet to make the process more transparent and family-friendly,” continued Cerf. “The current system was set up so that families can continue to attend their neighborhood school if they choose to do so, while also considering options in other parts of the city. At certain schools however, there are far more students than seats, and Newark Enrolls seeks to establish fair, non-political rules to assign those seats. This change will assure that more families who want to attend neighborhood pre-K-8 schools will be given priority.”

Transparency Committee
To continue to improve the school enrollment process, the district will create an independent working group to verify data and provide input on the process through the formation of a community-based Transparency Committee. The Committee will be composed of parents, community partners, Newark School Board Members, district administrators, and elected officials to assess and advise and provide feedback on how Newark’s current enrollment processes can be further improved moving forward. The application will be open to all parents or primary care-givers with children in Newark schools that participate in Newark Enrolls. The application process to be one of the parents on the transparency committee opens today and ends on Friday, May 5th, 2017 at 3:00pm. Parents and family members can apply here.

“I found the enrollment process easy to navigate and was happy to be able to visit schools in-person and then apply online,” said Newark parent Alexis Penn. “I’m glad to hear that the school district is listening to parents and families to continue to improve the system and make it better. As a parent who participated in the process for the first time this year, I can say that it has worked great for me so far. As an educator in a nearby school district, I actually think other districts could benefit from similar systems.”

Launched in 2013, Newark’s enrollment process was created to make the school selection process easier for families with an online application and a streamlined, fairer process to determine which students get into which schools when they are in high demand. The process ensures families have equitable access to the best schools for their child’s or family’s needs.

NPS has seen substantial progress since implementing Newark Enrolls. Newark students have made significant gains in reading and math scores, as well as improved graduation rates in part because more students are attending better schools. This positive progress has helped NPS make a case for the return of local control to the city of Newark.

OTHER KEY FACTS ABOUT NEWARK ENROLLS

  • Newark Enrolls prioritizes matching every student with his or her first-choice school or the highest-ranked school on their list, especially those students who want to be matched with siblings in a school, attend a school in their neighborhood (see information on geographic preference below), or have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
  • The Newark Enrolls process does not open or close charter schools, determine which district schools are closed or open, decide how many spaces are available at crowded NPS schools.
  • Newark Enrolls also does not set the policy for competitive admission high schools or determine policies for student services or transportation.
  • Newark Enrolls works to ensure that parents have access to all types of public schools in Newark – be they a magnet school, a traditional district school or charter school – but is neutral about which schools are listed as preferences by parents and families.
  • All students have an absolute right to remain in their existing school if it has the next grade.
  • Nearly 13,000 Newark students participated in Newark Enrolls for the 2016-17 school year, which were record enrollment numbers.
  • 41% of families applying for Kindergarten list a school in their neighborhood first. Of the other 59%: 15% of Kindergarten families list an NPS school outside their neighborhood first and 44% of Kindergarten families list a charter school first.
  • 80% of kindergarten families received their first choice last year. 93% of kindergarten families received one of their top three choices in 2015-16.
  • No students were assigned to public charter schools who did not list one on their application in 2015-16.

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT 100% GEOGRAPHIC PREFERENCE
When Newark Public Schools launched Newark Enrolls in 2013, 75% of seats at K-8 district elementary schools were assigned based on sibling preference and geography. The other 25% were assigned based on random lottery that considered students from inside the neighborhood and outside the neighborhood on equal footing. For the 2016-17 enrollment cycle, the district increased this to 85% geographic preference in response to feedback that families in neighborhoods where many schools were at capacity did not have enough access to local options, and felt that too many seats in crowded schools were being given to students from outside of their neighborhood.

While this incremental improvement helped, the change to 100% geographic preference for the 2017-2018 school year will ensure that in neighborhoods where schools are at capacity, families who live in the neighborhood or have a sibling at the school will be given first priority 100% of the time. This will help the district ensure that families who want to attend a school close to their home have that option.

Historically, families who prefer for their children to attend a neighborhood school have been admitted the vast majority of the time; however, long before the Newark Enrolls system existed, many schools had more applicants than seats, particularly in certain areas in the East Ward of Newark. These conditions often required parents to stand in line or invoke a political process. The Newark Enrolls process seeks to create fair and equitable access to schools where there are more applications than seats in a way that did not exist previously. With this additional change, parents in crowded areas of Newark can be assured that even if a school cannot accommodate all students, neighborhood children have been considered first.

The only exceptions to this rule will be made in rare cases where special education or bilingual students need a program that is not offered in the student’s home neighborhood.

RESOURCES

  • For more information about the transparency committee click here.
  • For more information about the family enrollment portal click here.