Penn Alexander kindergarten registration going to a lottery

January 18, 2013

Update (7:37): Superintendent William Hite, in a statement about the lottery, said the new plan will make the process of registering “more efficient and less challenging for parents in the catchment area.” See the full statement below.

Update (7:20 p.m.): Parents in the line are not moving. Several parents have said that they are “protesting” the decision to transition to a lottery. Some parents in line called the decision unfair.

Kindergarten registration for the Penn Alexander School will become a lottery, the School District of Philadelphia announced. The announcement is in response to the registration line that began this morning, four days before registration opens on Tuesday morning.

District officials told the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Kristen Graham that the Penn Alexander lottery will become a “pilot” for other schools.

Here is the statement from Superintendent William Hite:


William Hite

33 Comments For This Post

  1. SteveG Says:

    This is yet another example (Ackerman) of very poor leadership in the Philadelphia School System. Could this not have been announced 6 months ago? People in the neighborhood are making very large life decisions based on their children’s educations. PAS was my plan B this year, Lea was plan C. (Lea is still an option.) This has been three years of planning for my family. Very large amounts of stress have been expended. It’s an insane process that I’m happy to do for my child.

    Philadelphia is my home and I love my neighboorhood, especially the people. I’m not enjoying the current conversations about being flat broke, putting my kid in a school that looks like a run down prison or moving on in search of a place with decent “Neighborhood” schools.

    To my neighbors with the RV campers, tents and large propane heaters that was quite a scene! Very well played. To Mr. Hite Jr, no points awarded as you failed today. Tonight was both predictable and preventable by those in charge. Changing the rules while the game is in play is not very fair.

  2. Peter C Says:

    While I completely understand the anger and frustration of parents currently in the registration line, I do believe the lottery solution is the most equitable given the circumstances. Granted it will complicate things for my own family as my son gears up for Kindergarten in September 2014, but we know families who didn’t anticipate this year’s line insanity, went to work as one normally does on a Friday, and were consequently going to forfeit any opportunity to attend PSA due to no conscience decision on their part. The district must bear the brunt of the blame here. As others have pointed out, this situation was entirely foreseeable given last year’s line. If the district announced the policy change a year ago or months ago parents would still have been angry but at least they’d have had time to react and plan. Now, everyone who hasn’t yet paid attention to the West Philly Coalition for Schools should begin to do so. Even if your child attends PSA, elevating the level of other public schools in the area can have only positive ramifications for the neighborhood as a whole. We all claim to value and support public education; let’s demonstrate that with our actions.

  3. Kimm Says:

    Thank God. It’s about time.

  4. Erin Says:

    (Cross-posted to the previous story.) I live in the Lea catchment and my daughter is currently a kindergartner at Lea. Yes, the school has some image problems from the outside which reflect the time it was built, but inside the building is warm, cozy, and inviting. More importantly, my daughter loves her school experience. Like cg said on the previous story, she has a great teacher who she respects and adores, has made lots of friends, and comes home from school every day excited by what she has learned. She has made enormous strides in her literacy skills, and I am impressed by her teacher’s individualized plan for the year for my daughter and her plan for the entire class. I also have to mention my daughter’s strides in her art skills; the kindergartners have art class twice a week and not only have her technical art skills improved, she now can define abstract and representational art, not something I could do in kindergarten. She came into kindergarten with “advanced” math skills and her teacher has provided her with many opportunities to continue to grow in that subject, and I have been impressed with the creativity of how the math curriculum is implemented. The kindergartners have art, vocal music, science, library, and gym as part of their week, and with the exception of gym, my daughter loves it all. At the class special events and trips I’ve been at there has been a high level of parent involvement. Our experience has been positive, and I encourage everyone to visit the school and see what it has to offer.

  5. HeatherG Says:

    I am sure it is incredibly frustrating to be a parent facing this. Living a block outside of the catchment, PAS was never an option for our family. But really our out of catchment public schools are not the horrible pits of despair that they must seem if the only options for in catchment parents are queuing for 4 days or moving out of the city. In being willing to stand in line you have already exhibited how important education is to you. Your kids are going to learn everything they need to thrive in life no matter what school they attend. Yes, our non PAS schools are not as we’ll resourced as PAS; but if every parent willing to spend 96 hours waiting in line devoted 96 hours to bringing (or fighting for) resources for our other neighborhood district schools, that could go a long way to making other schools as resourced as PAS. Your kids can go to school with our kids. I know you’re worried, but really our schools are not anything to fear. Your kids will be fine.

  6. HeatherG Says:

    Hite hasn’t been here long enough yet (<4 mos) for me to judge his performance, but it is totally understandable if the line situation in West Philly wasn't on his radar until today. Anyone reading the news lately knows that he's been busy dealing with angry parents at the 37 schools slated for closure next year. And while yes, hearing last minute that you'll have to enter a lottery to find out if your kid is going to be able to attend the best elem school in the district next year IS upsetting. It's a different kind of upset from finding out that the school you were planning to send your kid to next year may not exist.

  7. Kimm Says:

    “Hite hasn’t been here long enough yet (<4 mos) for me to judge his performance, but it is totally understandable if the line situation in West Philly wasn't on his radar until today."

    That was my reaction. I actually think it's an encouraging sign that he reacted as quickly as he did, and a negative commentary on our previous district leadership.

  8. VeronicaM Says:

    Congratulations to Dr. Hite & members of the SRC for acting quickly to rectify an unjust situation. Admission to a neighborhood public school should not be skewed toward those (predominantly white) members of the community who can afford camping supplies, RV’s, outdoor heaters and firepits and time away from work and childcare.

    I celebrate Dr. Hite and his team for taking decisive action. It restores my faith in equality for all.

  9. Matthew Wolfe Says:

    Let me give a somewhat different perspective from what others have been saying.

    First and foremost, conducting registration by having parents stand in a line for days in the winter is unfair, unsafe, inefficient and insane. It was in previous years and will be if it is done this year. The line is great for the parents who don’t have jobs, are not single parents, have family that can take care of the children while they are away or are wealthy enough to take off from work and pay people to do cover their responsibilities while they wait in line. For everyone else, not so much. It is certainly foreseeable that someone could develop a physical problem due to exposure to the elements and there is an increased chance of spreading disease with random people in close proximity without proper sanitation facilities. This is the sort of thing that gives bureaucrats a bad name and makes people reluctant to live in Philadelphia, work in Philadelphia, operate businesses in Philadelphia or even visit.

    I agree that the School District issuing a letter yesterday was pretty late notice of a rational change in policy. I understand that the parents who are in line do not want the policy to change because they feel that they are giving their children an advantage since they are already there. I will not criticize any parent for doing what they think is best for their children regarding something as important as education. That being said, the only thing worse than changing the policy at the last minute and going to a lottery would be to NOT change the policy and keep the line. It may not be fair to the parents who are in line to go to a lottery. It is also not fair to the parents who cannot be in the line for any number of very legitimate reasons (work, sickness, child care responsibilities, infirmity, etc.). It would be especially unfair for a parent who was given a copy of Superintendent Hite’s letter and either left the line or decided not to join it in reliance upon it. You can’t really take back the letter or let people cut in line based on their representation as to when they left or would have come if they had not seen the letter. I guess one analysis is which unfairness is least unfair (how’s that for a stupid sentence?). In my opinion, again, the only solution is to support the lottery.

    That being said, the School District’s late change is reprehensible and they should be criticized for their conduct of this entire situation.

    I read Dr. Hite’s letter. He says that there will be a lottery. In addition to the line, there is another problem with the way that this process had been conducted over the years. There has been an utter lack of transparency. Questions as to how many positions are available, how many who registered have been accepted, how many are on the waiting list and what people’s positions are on the waiting list are shrouded in mystery. Why is that? The cynical among us might suggest so that those with “connections” (the same people who get preferential treatment in Traffic Court) can be rewarded by the politicians in power. I know for a fact that some parents have screamed loudly enough that they received preferential treatment. Again, I am not going to criticize a parent for advocating for their child, but this cannot be allowed to happen. The lottery should be an open process which it is conducted in public so that everyone can see exactly how many positions are available, who is picked for them, who is on the waiting list and where they rank and that the lottery was really a fair process.

    My recommendation is that the Spruce Hill Community Association issue a letter strongly condemning the district for the process they used to decide how they were going to conduct registration and how they publicized it. We should, however, argue that the lottery is the only rational method of allocating spots at the Penn Alexander School, especially considering that Dr. Hite had issued a letter clearly outlining what the process is and certainly some parents have relied upon that letter. Finally, we should demand that the lottery be conducted publicly an with full transparency. They look stupid enough right now that they could be shamed into taking politics out of the process.

    -Matthew Wolfe

  10. John Says:

    A lottery without sibling preference will make it logistically impossible for single parents, and others with more than one child, to drop off / pick up their kids at two different schools.

    I urge everyone to lobby Superintendent Hite, Spruce Hill, and Amy Gutmann to add a sibling preference clause to the lottery pilot.

  11. Kim Woodbridge Says:

    While I understand sibling preference and wanting them to attend the same school for logistical reasons, I don’t think people are entitled to this simply because they have chosen to have more children than others. If an only child and a child with an older sibling both want the same spot, why should the only child not get it? Because she doesn’t have an older sibling?

  12. Ella Says:

    John, that’s ridiculous. Those children are in a school full of children, so parents who can’t get both of their kids to school in time need to start socializing with other parents and setting up carpools.

  13. Darlene Says:

    People from the front of the line are meeting today (the same people who decided to start the line four days early), and they’re organizing to press the superintendent to honor the line.

    Those of us who want the lottery to go ahead should make sure to show up at Tuesday’s meeting with the superintendent. We should also press the superintendent to make sure the lottery is fair and transparent.

  14. Casey Says:

    I’m not sure that John is ridiculous. What happens to a single parent (or even married couples where one parent is less available) when two different schools schedule events on the same night? Even for the kids, I think sharing the same school with my brother strengthened our bond as siblings. I can see in families like these where one child is in the preferred school and the other one’s school situation is stressful, it would not be unusual for the second child to internalize some of the negative feelings his/her parent are directing at the logistical problem.

    I think the case for sibling preference could be made, but right now everyone should appreciate this step in the right direction.

  15. 45king Says:

    This is why public schools in Philly are generally a failure. Arbitrary changes in policy from centralized bureaucratswho are more concerned about perceptions of fairness than results, parental feedback, or any other consideration.

    If the school were accountable to parents in its catchment would this policy have happened?

    With most of the district run schools an abject failure, why else would hite focus his energy on changing processes at one of the few schools that works- that parents seek out.

    First rule is do no harm. This is common sense, something hits and the other hacks running urban school districts lack entirely.

  16. SteveG Says:

    VeronicaM@ This was not a quickly rectified situation. It needed do be done, yes, two years ago.

    Matthew Wolfe@ “Utter lack of transparency”, you are spot on. This is the injustice.

    John@ The current sibling preference issue is totally bat****. Who thought that one through? This policy needs adjustment.

    Erin@ Thanks, your shared insight to the experience at Lea was helpful and encouraging. We are close to opting for Lea but the school board management skills are a serious ding against it. We like what we hear about the kindergarten but what’s beyond that? I’d like to talk with other Lea folks offline on this.

  17. Jm Says:

    I agree with John. Why would you want to split up families or force parents to split their time and resources between two or three different schools? Particularly in a district that is calling for increased parental involvement. To suggest that parents should have to ask for the help of parents at a nearby school just to be able to get their kids to school (and themselves to work) on time is kind of ridiculous. It seems that sibling prefence would be considered best practice. It is currently the policy for the voluntary transfer process as well as many, if not all, charters with lotteries. I would very much like to hear the district’s reasoning on this topic.

  18. Andy Says:

    Sibling preference must be a part of the lottery policy. I plan to fight for this. I have a child already enrolled in PAS, and at least another who I want to attend later. Anyone that doesn’t realize that sibling preference must be tied to this policy is not thinking carefully about the this issue, or they only have a single school-aged child.

    lottery ftw

  19. Wild Turkey Says:

    Just a point about “the line” and demands from parents demanding that Hite “respect the line”. Lining up x days before registration was never a school sanctioned event. The line was something parents “organized” (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk…) on their own, and from the school’s perspective, the real line starts (or would have) Tuesday morning during registration INSIDE THE BUILDING. “The line” was not official. This was a line for the line. I remember last year (I too was part of this madness) some parents were passing around “The Clipboard” and having you sign your name next to “Your Number”. All very official sounding. Some parents suggested that we get this list “notarized” so that we all could go home. Oh yeah let me stamp the hot wax with my Ring. What BS.

    Yay lottery!

  20. Lisa Says:

    Regarding sibling preference only: people make their own reproductive choices. Raising two children presents more logistical challenges than does raising one. Parents who choose a larger family should not get to externalize the costs of their choice onto others — and parents with one child should not be forced to “subsidize” others’ choices. Why should an only child have a lower chance of getting access to a scarce resource than a child with a sibling?

  21. Wild Turkey Says:

    Or what about twins? Will they be treated as one or is it possible one twin gets in and the other does not?

  22. cg Says:

    SteveG- I second what others are saying about Lea (my son is in k there too). I’ve heard good things about at least one 1st grade teacher, haven’t had conversations about other grades yet. I can also tell you that Principal Bell-Chiles is excellent.

    I’d urge you to at least register and go to the orientation.

  23. MH Says:

    Sibling preference isn’t just about convenience for a few families. The school’s success is dependent on a high level of parental involvement. A pure lottery makes it much harder for parents to make the kind of commitments that are currently (and correctly) asked of them.

  24. MH Says:

    I should add that I am absolutely in favor of a lottery. I can’t believe people are surprised by this — it was turning into the Hunger Games.

  25. Saddened Says:

    When I walked past the line yesterday I knew many of the people in the front of the line by acquaintance or from seeing them in the neighborhood. Many of these families know each other, have kids who go to school together already, and/or are good friends. Many of them already have a child in PAS. It seems like these “front-liners” are so caught up in feeling like some injustice has been done to them they cannot step back and see or focus on the bigger problem here or the elitist message they are sending to community members, most importantly the children (those attending PIC & PAS on Friday could see what was happening outside).

    “People from the front of the line are meeting today (the same people who decided to start the line four days early), and they’re organizing to press the superintendent to honor the line.”

    Why is this not an open meeting? Is transparency not one of the big problems that exist in the current dysfunctionality of our school district? Will following the district’s lead and withholding ideas and information help move forward or cause friction in the community at large?

    Why not hold an open meeting to start organizing getting community members (including the children as we should model to them the right way to facilitate change) involved in other schools like Lea, Powell, and Wilson? The time and energy they have already spent and will spend fighting their own personal “injustice” would be an amazing resource for any school in the city.

    I believe that PAS has an early drop off in the cafeteria for parents who have to work early or get another child to a different school. If this doesn’t exist, we as a community could make it happen. This allows parents to drop off at another school such as Lea which is only 4 blocks away.

  26. Jm Says:

    Lisa, turning this into an argument about reproductive choice is a bit of a stretch here. If parents who have chosen more than one child had known this would be an issue when enrolling their first child, they probably would have chosen a different school in the first place… There are plenty of options for decent public schools in the city where sibling preference is honored.

  27. Saddened Says:

    Not having to follow in older siblings footsteps can be a good or great thing, depending on your perspective. When a child follows a sibling in school that child is often compared (and criticized) to the older sibling by teachers & staff. This impacts a child’s opportunity to develop their own personality & learning style and flourish as an individual.

    Does it make life harder as a parent to have kids in different schools? Of course it does, but no one ever said being a parent was easy. I do understand the anxiety of single parents and as I posted above I know that we as a community can come together and support or create an early drop off program (or something better).

    Also, I’m curious how many of the parents that waited in line and are so outraged are also parents who will pull their children out of PAS after fourth grade to send them to Masterman? This is an ongoing issue at PAS and also reeks of elitism.

  28. Erin Says:

    @SteveG: To answer your question about later grades, I will paraphrase Bill W: we’re taking it one grade at a time.

  29. Lisa Says:

    Jm, I am not “turning this into an argument about reproductive choice.” I am saying that people who make choices (which in this case are reproductive) should bear the consequences of them. Each individual child should have an equal chance in a lottery. Giving preference (which functionally means automatic admission) to a child simply because he or she has an older sibling at the school is unfair.

  30. bob Says:

    my current ‘reproductive choice’ right now is not to have any children. Even though I don’t have kids I pay taxes that fund schools including PAS. I don’t mind at all. In fact I would be willing to pay more for better schools because I feel education is extremely important.

    I went to the same school as my brothers and we had many friends that were siblings. It created a real sense of community.

  31. Ella Says:

    Sorry, I am not buying any of these arguments that splitting parent resources or sending children to separate schools is going to cause some kind of irreparable psychological trauma for these kids. I was the child of a single mother who was a teacher, and my sister and I are far enough apart in age that we were hardly ever at the same school. My mom had to attend my school plays, my sister’s, and those of the kids she taught. Did she miss a few? Yes. But she made it to what she could, and my sister and I turned out fine. There is way too much hand-holding going on with kids these days.

    Parents are not the only adults in a child’s life. What happened to family friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors? Can’t they all work together to make sure these kids become good, productive citizens?

  32. JD Says:

    Totally agree with Lisa. Not fair to let a family with six kids have all kids go to the preferred school just cause the oldest won the lottery, taking spots from the less reproductively active. Or to let all seven kids of septuplets go to the preferred school just cause one of their siblings got in dramatically decreasing the odds of other similar aged kids.

  33. MH Says:

    Good point. I know of at least four families of septuplets in the neighborhood. Making sure they don’t receive any unfair advantages should be the school district’s top priority.

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