If your family is in the process of looking for the right schools for your children, then January is often an unsettled time. Some charter schools in San Antonio have already held open enrollment, while others are having it right now, and a few haven’t started yet. You are in suspense because you are still waiting to get offers or lottery results. What can you and your family do at this time of year to gather information, be assertive, and help your child have the best chance of an offer at a right-fit school in the fall?
Phases of the Charter School Search
In San Antonio, school application timelines are all over the map, so it’s hard to summarize what is happening in January. Depending on the school, they could be in the beginning, middle, or late phases of their enrollment process. If you’re new to this process, have a look at this earlier post because it has an overview of the school search timeline.
In January, some charter schools have already finished open enrollment, some are taking applications right now, and some are preparing to hold open enrollment soon. The guide page has an alphabetical list of schools of choice. Where available, the guide has a link to the school’s online application and lists the open enrollment dates.
For the schools that have ended open enrollment, they will be holding their lotteries soon. In this earlier post, I shared about lottery stress—not knowing if your child will get a good number that will lead to an offer soon, or a bad number that means you need to make backup plans. Unlike in the documentary movie Waiting for “Superman”, lotteries now typically happen behind the scenes, somewhere on a computer.
Generally, parents get notified by email that their lottery results are available, and then they can go back to the application portal to log in and see. If it’s good news, your child gets an offer—either right away or soon. If not, you should get information about where your child stands on the waiting list. Being on the waiting list is tough, as I wrote about in this earlier post.
For open enrollment charter schools, finding out where your child stands on the waiting list should be a simple process. If you submitted your child’s application during open enrollment, and your families resides in the enrollment area (usually covering the entire San Antonio metropolitan area, and sometimes more), then all of those applications are treated the same. In the lottery, they are randomly shuffled and assigned a number, and offers go out in that order. Sibling preferences can set you back: Let’s say your child is applying for kindergarten, and you see their waitlist number go from 10 to 12. Most likely what happened was that an older child accepted an offer, and their younger siblings got put at the top of the waiting list for kindergarten. It’s frustrating, but only a temporary setback, and the same rule applies to everyone.
Finding where your child stands on the waiting list is different for in-district charter schools; they can create subcategories of students and give preferences to some groups. San Antonio ISD does this for the purposes of increasing integration. The benefit is schools that are diverse by design. The downside is that if you’re a parent who wants to know your child’s position on the waiting list, it may take some time and a few phone calls to get an answer, and even then there is still uncertainty because the campus may be holding seats for late arrivals or students from low-income census blocks.
A question that comes up a lot in the SA Charter Moms discussion group on Facebook is, “My child is [number] on the waiting list for [grade level] at [charter school]; will she get an offer before school starts?” There is always uncertainty, but group members who have past experience applying to those schools have given surprisingly accurate predictions. Even if the group doesn’t have a clear answer, it helps to be able to talk it out with other parents who are in the same situation. Your friends who have not used school choice yet may not understand the stress of lotteries and waiting lists, but the Charter Moms do.
I know from personal experience how painful it is to find out your child is waitlisted at the school you have your heart set on; we lived that during the application timeline for the 2014–15 school year. Since then, I have seen many new charter school campuses open, and I am thankful that those children have been able to get seats at great schools. During the same time, I have also seen more families become aware of school choice; as a result, more students are applying to charter schools, and waiting lists are still long. The solution is more parent advocacy to keep growing the supply of high quality charter schools and to improve the overall quality of education in our community.
Advocacy is important, but in the short run, you are trying to figure out where your children will go to school in August. What can you do at this time of year to make your school search successful?
What to Do in January
What to do in January depends on which schools your family is interested in and what stage those schools are at in their application timeline. As resources to help you, the guide page has application links and information about timelines, and the discussion group is a good place to search for answers or ask “what-if” questions.
If you are just now finding out about a school you’re interested in, but they have already ended open enrollment, apply anyway. Examples: BASIS and Great Hearts. They will add your child’s application to the bottom of the waiting list—first-come, first-served. Still, it’s better to apply now than in August. There is still a chance that your child will get an offer in 2019–20. The offer may come during the school year, so ask yourself how you would feel about the stress of moving your child to a different school mid-year.
Take a Tour
The schools that have finished open enrollment are still doing tours and info sessions through the spring. Charter schools have different learning models than traditional public schools, and it’s good for families to know what to expect. If you applied during open enrollment but are still undecided, then taking a tour could help you make up your mind. Even if your child’s chances of getting in for 2019–20 are low, visiting the school can help you make an informed decision about whether to reapply in the future.
Submit Your Applications
Many schools are having open enrollment right now. Examples: San Antonio ISD schools of choice, IDEA, SST, and Harmony. Get those applications in! You might be surprised how short a charter school application is—not like private school, magnet school, or college applications. They are not sorting students based on the applications; they just need basic demographic information about your students.
Mark Your Calendars
Some schools haven’t started open enrollment yet. Examples: KIPP; EKHLA. You can mark your calendar for when applications start. Also, join the interest lists on email and follow the schools on social media to get reminders. They will be offering tours, open houses, and information sessions as well.
Will these application timelines ever get more in sync? That has happened with Apply Houston. But each school network likes having autonomy to manage their own enrollment and waiting lists. Also, each school serves a slightly different population of families. Some families are more likely to be looking at private schools as an alternative. By February, the private schools are already asking for deposits for the next school year. So, charter schools that compete with private schools need to have earlier application timelines. Other families are more likely to be moving and are not certain about their plans after the summer; schools that serve those families will have later application deadlines. So, the spread-out deadlines are hard to keep track of, but they do give more control and autonomy to schools and families.
January is a time of uncertainty and possibility. Armed with information, plus some legwork and good fortune, you can make a difference in improving your child’s chances of getting an offer at a school where they will be happy and get a good education. I encourage you to start conversations with friends who have children so they become aware that this is an important time of year to take action. If you still have questions, leave a comment or visit the Facebook discussion group. Good luck with your search!
- “Our Back to School Story: Elementary School and Middle School at Great Hearts Academies,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, September 6, 2018
- “Finding the Right Schools in San Antonio for Your Children – MOMS Club of San Antonio NE Edition,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, April 9, 2018
- “How it feels to be on a charter school waiting list,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, January 28, 2014
- “‘Don’t dwell on it’: Stressing about the lottery, and making backup plans,” Inga Cotton, San Antonio Charter Moms, January 13, 2014