School of choice or open enrollment in Colorado means that any student can request to attend any state public school for free. No longer are families bound by their neighborhood school or even their resident “home” school district.
Public school choice is not a new concept in Colorado. But given changing circumstances and new insights in a post-pandemic world, plenty of families are giving school of choice a thought for the first time. So how does it work for children in Boulder and Broomfield Counties?
All kinds of schools are included
While traditional district-run schools make up most choice enrollments, all types of designated public schools are included in choice education: innovation, magnet, option, charter and online. Among these options, choice enrollment may vary slightly, including meeting certain criteria during the application process or requiring that all students to choice in, as is the case with most charter schools.
It’s important to note that not all choice enrollment requests work out. In most neighborhood “boundary” schools, numbers are still dictated annually by children in the immediate vicinity. If you live in bounds, you typically get an automatic spot. If not, you are “competing” for a number of openings based on a school’s physical and staffing capacity.
For schools with a high number of choice applications, spots may be filled on a first-come, first-served or lottery basis, with some schools offering priority to siblings of current students. Waitlists are also common.
Tips for choosing a school
For families unfamiliar with school of choice, here are few ways to go about finding just the right spot for your child.
Do your research. Narrow your school search by getting basic questions answered through the school website. You can learn a great deal about staffing, resources and culture right online. Then, ask around. Locate a few parents who you can interview by calling the school for recommendations or connecting via a neighborhood Facebook group.
Prioritize transportation. The biggest issue with choice education is getting to and from school. Without a busing option for out-of-boundary students, it’s important to ensure reliable daily transportation for your child. “Test” visits during school transition times can be a helpful way to determine feasibility.
Tour your top schools. Get an authentic sense of the school environment, both inside and out, by scheduling a tour during rush hour. Plan ahead, too, by asking to see a variety of in-session classrooms. And come prepared with questions that you can get answered on site. Checking out a school sports event, concert or open house is a good idea as well.
Open enrollment period coming up
The open enrollment application process can vary by district. The standard school of choice request window starts December 1, with commitments required by February 1. However, families are welcome to make their decision sooner.
For example, St. Vrain Valley Schools accepts open enrollment applications year-round. “Even though we have a window for open enrollment and we encourage families to apply during this time, we continue to accept applications on a rolling basis,” says Amber Muir, student data manager, St. Vrain Valley Schools.
St. Vrain also forgoes the “ranking” system common to school of choice when families want to apply to multiple schools. “There is one application per student per school, so families don’t have to rank their choice by order of preference,” Muir says.
While the process may seem a little daunting, Muir says to keep an eye on the big picture. “Even if there is no space in your school of choice or if you are pointed in a different direction, keep an open mind. You will end up at a great school.”
Boulder Valley School District
Open Enrollment begins in Nov. 1 at 8 a.m. for next school year (beginning the following August). Closes Jan. 5, 4 p.m. For more information, visit bvsd.org/parents-students/enrollment/open-enrollment.
St. Vrain Valley School District
December 1st through 15th is the period in which applications for open enrollment should be submitted online. For more information, visit svvsd.org/schools/enrollment/open-enrollment.
Adams 12 Five Star Schools
First Round (priority consideration): Dec. 1 to Jan 31 (for next school year). Second Round: Feb. 1 to March 30 (for next school year). Third Round: April 16 to mid Sept. (Sept. 10 for the 2021/22 school year) For more information, adams12.org/admissions/choice-schools.
By Julie Kailus, Raised in the Rockies.