Parent’s are starting to ask about Unit 4 Registration, especially those new to the system and/or looking at the Kindergarten Lottery. In the spirit of spicing things up, Unit 4 has now introduced an additional Lottery for two schools, Gardens Hills and Washington, featuring their magnet programs. Jodi Heckel put out a good article in yesterdays NG (http://www.news-gazette.com/news/education/2011-01-16/champaign-wants-spur-interest-magnet-programs.html); she spells out a little about what is going on and quotes Dr. Michael Alves. Couple of interesting things going on here – I could easily make this topic really long, but to make it bite-size, I am breaking it up into chunks. I do not know how many chunks I need.
First off, you will be very hard pressed to find any information about the Magnet programs on the school district’s website. That in itself is a bit odd and even disappointing. It appears that Unit 4 is leaning heavily on Jodi Heckel to “spread the word” for them. Lynn Peisker is getting warmed up with the Key Communicator mailings and has sent out a few items (ie, a Jan 10th notice about meetings), but I long to see more information “from the horse’s mouth”, if you know what I mean.
Next, read Heckel’s article thoroughly – there is a lot of good information in there. Unit 4 will be making a big push to advertise the two magnet programs. And with good reason. Like Dr. Alves points out, Garden Hills and Washington are not “overchosen”. What does that mean, and why is it significant? Typically, schools that have higher AYP (Academic Yearly Progress) ratings like Bottenfield, Barkstall and Robeson have many fewer seats than parents choosing them, meaning that a lot of parents do not get in. How many is a lot? Last year, Bottenfield was chosen 318 times (a mixture of first, second and third choices), but it only had 69 seats available. That is a lot. Garden Hills has 77 seats (not including the ESL program), but only 64 parents chose it. So the big push is basically to get more parents to choose Garden Hills and Washington. In that vein, I found an interesting Promo video (
not specific to the Magnet program, that I can tell – the Garden Hills Magnet theme is “Primary Years Programme”, not sure where the UK spelling came from):
In my opinion, it is a good thing that Unit 4 is trying to bolster the underdog schools. This is something that should have happened 5 years ago, though. As Mr. Culver states in the opening scene of the video, I also believe that all the schools within Unit 4 are really good. If you are skeptical (and keep in mind a dose of skepticism is quite healthy), just talk to the parents and the teachers and what you might subjectively call the “worst” schools. As it stands, Unit 4 is going through a laborious, stretched-out wind-up and delivering a pitch for a lottery that opens in 9 days (Jan 26th). I will grant that much, if not all, of the information here can be found in the Board Minutes, if one is so inclined to comb through them. Or read all of them. Apparently, the Minutes are not accessible to search crawlers, unfortunately.
But my goal is not to poke holes in Unit 4; rather, I want to help fill in the gaps. If there is a unfilled gap, please let me know! *grin*
From what I can tell, Washington’s magnet program will focus on “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math”, while Garden Hills will focus on “International Education” (NG 2011, NG 2009). I am going to try looking for some documentation that spells this out – for instance, what in the world is international education (tongue in cheek)? If you find that you want to attend either one of these fine schools, there will be a special “lottery” held in February (well, starting in late January). This is not the same as the “normal” Kindergarten Lottery held in March. The unspoken expectation is that there will still be seats in both schools at the beginning of March. If it so happens that both schools fill up (which would actually be a very pleasant surprise), parents are still eligible and encouraged to participate in the March lottery. The Magnet lottery is not weighted at all, from what I have learned so far. It seems “first come, first served”. I hope this will be spelled out in greater detail in the next 9 days, but I have already been told that no registration forms will be sent to Dr. Alves for the Magnet lottery. I suppose that if you get into one of these schools, it is technically possible to then turn around and enter into the March lottery if you really want to, just for grins and all. Please note, I do not recommend this course of action. I am merely speculating.
In the past, parents were told to choose three (3) schools as their top three choices. This year, parents are supposed to get five (5) choices. This will probably reduce the number of “unassigned” households down to zero. That is a small accomplishment. You have eleven (11) schools to choose from. Some of them have special programs (ESL, BL, Magnet, etc). If you choose schools based on their AYP ranking, know that there is a fair chance you will not make it into the first three (but maybe you will *grin*). A big variable this year is Carrie Busey, since it is moving in 2012. If you live near a school that is not Barkstall, Bottenfield, Robeson, Westview or South Side, the chances of getting into it are exceptionally high. If you want to get into one of the schools I mentioned, please mark it as one of your choices but please understand there is a chance you will not receive it – it simply comes down to numbers. Remember, all the schools in Unit 4 are rather good; they all have pluses and minuses.
This is probably a good place to conclude Chunk #1. I have had the occasion to read “How We Decide”. The author makes a distinction between informed decisions and gut feelings, between the logical and the not-so-logical regions of our brain – neither one is always perfect, and beware of falling into the trap of too much information. I realize that as I research and help expose what is going on, there is a danger I am really making it more difficult for the others. For this reason alone, I highly encourage you to ask questions! Call up the FIC, the Mellon Center, leave a comment here, or just call another parent in Unit 4. School registration should be the least of your worries.