Editor’s Note: Reporters were barred from this meeting so that parents could feel free to speak their minds without fear that their names would be used. As a parent, I was able to attend the meeting, but honor that principle. No names – other than Superintendent William Hite – are used in the story. In another note, everyone has had a chance to vent about the line and those who participated in it. I, like many of you, know many people who were in the line and they are good, hard-working people who want their kids to go to the best school possible. So as of now, any comments that are of a personal nature or do not further the search for a solution will be deleted.
Superintendent William Hite told a group of about 125 parents on Tuesday that the School District of Philadelphia would explore several options to address the kindergarten registration crisis at the Penn Alexander School. But he offered no immediate solution and did not take the proposed lottery off the table.
The options, he said, could include a lottery, but that the best long-term solution is to find out whether it’s “possible to serve every student in the catchment area,” a statement that drew applause from many parents present.
Hite seemed willing to rescind the lottery announced Friday if an equitable solution could be found.
He announced in a letter to parents on Friday that Penn Alexander would switch from a first-come, first-served process to a lottery to be held sometime in April. That announcement angered many parents who began standing in line to register Friday morning, four days before registration.
“Quite frankly I saw a process that from my perspective was not equitable,” said Hite, who told parents that he was only alerted to what might happen at the school during a meeting on Thursday evening.
Hite told parents that, while he understood that the line has become a protocol for registering at Penn Alexander, that it is unofficial.
“From my perspective the process begins when registration begins,” he said. “(That) is not the official start of the process to register.”
Several parents from Friday’s line requested that the district honor the list that circulated through the line indicating when each person began to line up.
“We got in that line because the school district steadfastly stood behind the first-come, first-served policy,” said one parent. “The line is the de facto school policy.”
That parent like many others who testified said they felt a mix of embarrassment, shame and chagrin to be forced to stand in the line, but that added that district was being disingenuous to change the policy with such late notice.
“I stood in that line not because I thought it was right, but because I thought it was what I had to do for my child,” one single mom said.
But another single mom testified that she couldn’t get off work to be in the line. Still another parent said that she refused to stand in the line.
One alternative to the lottery that gained traction during the meeting was to roll back kindergarten enrollment caps at the school, which are currently set at 18. One parent suggested raising them to 25 as a way to accommodate most, if not all, the students who want to register.
That solution raises questions about how those children will be accommodated in subsequent grades, where enrollment has also been capped. Caps in other grades is what has made kindergarten admission so coveted. Once a student gets into kindergarten, he or she is guaranteed a spot in the other grades.
One parent of a child who attends Penn Alexander middle school grades asked that those grades not be targeted in the quest for more space. The middle school grades, which have smaller classes than lower grades because students often leave in fifth grade for magnet schools, have been eyed before as a way to create additional classroom space.
“I beg you not to remove the middle school as you consider these plans,” she said.
It became clear during the meeting that more data should be collected and released that details the number of prospective kindergartners who live the catchment.
“We believe that decision are being made with the absence of data,” said one parent.
Here are some more outcomes of the meeting:
• The district asked for members of the community to volunteer to be on an advisory committee that would be part of the decisionmaking process. Several people lined up after the meeting to sign up.
• A meeting between district officials and that advisory committee will likely take place in the next week.
• No decision was made today to rescind the lottery.
• Some parents requested that Alexander Wilson School, which could be an alternative for those who are not admitted to Penn Alexander, not be closed.
• A call for more transparency between parents, the community, school officials and the school district.