News

Time to pick your learning partner

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Cindy DeSimone wasn’t content to just send her two sons to the public school near her home.

She researched the elementary schools in the Federal Way Public Schools system and also considered private schools before requesting that her children attend Green Gables Elementary instead of Sherwood Forest.

DeSimone took advantage of the school district’s “choice” option for parents and guardians of students. While the district assigns students to schools based on where they live, the adults raising them can decide to send them to another public school in the district.

“It’s good that you have options at public schools,” DeSimone said.

Choice enrollment has been offered in the school district for several years, said Paula Curtis, the district’s choice coordinator.

Choice enrollment applications for secondary students are being accepted at the district’s main office through March 10. Elementary schools’ choice-enrollment is March 25 through May 10.

So far, there aren’t any openings at the high schools for next fall. If students apply to a school and there isn’t a seat for them, they are put on a waiting list. It’s first-come, first-serve.

Parents can apply to the choice system for any reason; the district doesn’t scrutinize the parent’s decision, officials said.

Choice enrollment allows a student to attend a school located outside the area a specific school serves. Students can even apply to other districts, but it’s more complicated than a choice application within a district. When Stadium High School in Tacoma closed for extensive remodeling, some of its students applied to Federal Way’s Todd Beamer High.

Choice enrollment - within a district or not - must be requested by the student’s parents or guardian.

The placement requires a minimum one-year commitment by the student, and requires they reapply as they advance from elementary school to middle school to high school.

Parents with elementary-aged children often opt for choice because the daycare service they have is close to a certain elementary school. Middle and high school students often request going to a certain school for academic reasons, Curtis said.

About 10 percent of the students in the district are “choice students” and that percentage has not changed much over the years, she said.

More than 1,100 elementary students are part of the choice program and more than 1,500 high school and middle school students chose to go to a school other than the one the district automatically selected for them. Much like the district has boundaries, all the schools have their own, smaller boundaries. Depending on where students live in relation to the boundaries determines the school they will go to in September. Unless they want to go to another school.

Two schools in the district are strictly choice schools - Federal Way Public Academy and Truman High School. Parents have to sign their children up to get in to those programs.

There are some potential downsides to choice enrollment. The district does not provide transportation for choice students. If they can get to a bus stop that serves their school - and there is space on the bus - then choice students can ride the bus to school.

But they are the first ones off the bus if a student in the service area needs the seat, Curtis said.

It used to be parents only had to apply for choice once - say at the beginning of their child’s elementary education in the district - and determine where their student would go to school for the rest of their time. But that changed a few years ago. Now, as students move from elementary to middle school and then high school they have to reapply for choice.

Going the choice route can be a bit stressful, Curtis said. The 62 students selected from the 300 or so applicants for Public Academy were drawn from a hat. It can mean some families find out only a few weeks before school starts where their child will go.

Kerri Hofmann’s three children all use choice enrollment. She was initially nervous, especially with waiting through the summer to find out where her kids were going to be in September. Her oldest daughter and son attend Decatur High School instead of Federal Way High. The family was mentally prepared for Decatur, she said, but when the boundaries for the high schools changed with the addition of Todd Beamer, the Hofmanns were switched to FWHS. But her daughter’s friends were still going to attend Gatorville and she was interested in Decatur’s horticulture program.

Priority is given to siblings of students already attending a school by choice. Hofmann’s son entered Decatur as a freshman this year because his older sister was a student.

“So far, it’s worked really well for us,” Hofmann said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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