It’s school choice season in Oakland and it is easier than ever to access both district and charter public school applications. Especially with the prospect of school closings, families need to be more active than ever in making sure they find the best possible school for their child. There are simple ways for families to explore their options, choose wisely and meet the deadlines.
I spoke with Shawn Masten from Enroll Oakland about the steps families can take to ensure that they choose the best Oakland public school for their child.
Q: What advice do you have for families looking for a school for next year?
A: Explore and compare schools using the Oakland School Finder online tool, make a list of schools you like and then go visit them. Attend school enrollment fairs, go to school open houses. Talk with school principals, teachers and families, observe classes in session and talk with friends and neighbors at the school. And don’t miss the application deadlines. If you have a child starting Transitional kindergarten, transitioning to middle or high school, or you are interested in changing schools for the next school year, now is the time to start checking out potential schools – both charter and district.
Q: What are the deadlines and why are they important?
A: For OUSD schools the application deadline is January 26, 2018. For charter public schools participating in the EOC common application process, the deadline is February 16, 2018. On-time applications for both OUSD and charter schools are included in random selection processes or school lotteries. Applications that come in after deadline are placed on waiting lists behind those who don’t get a seat in the lottery.
Q: Why is it important to apply to more than one charter public school?
A: Enrollment isn’t guaranteed, especially at the most in-demand schools, which may have more applications than seats available, so it is good to have a backup plan by applying to multiple schools – and by apply on or before the deadline.
Q. There are so many schools in Oakland, how do families decide which one is the best for them?
A: We know that families experienced with school choice consider many factors when choosing a school that best fits their child(ren). Is it close to home? Is it safe? Is it diverse? Is it high-performing? When looking for your dream school experts say it is also important to keep in mind the “goodness of fit” where a child’s personality is closely matched to the characteristics of the school. At EnrollOak.org we help families find the best Oakland public school for their child by providing easy access to:
- The Oakland School Finder, a simple online tool that enables families to explore and compare all Oakland schools, and easily understand school performance data.
- The EOC online application that enables families to apply to nearly all of Oakland’s charter public schools.
- The OUSD enrollment website for apply to district-run public schools
Q: How can families learn more about schools?
A: Oakland School Finder is a great first step. It provides easy access to detailed information about each of Oakland’s district and charter schools and can be used to search for schools near your neighborhood, or by address and school name and also by grade.The school profiles include information about the types of instruction styles and programs the schools provide as well as each school’s’ demographics. And new this year to School Finder is the Oakland Schools Report Card which provides easy-to-understand data on school performance based on new California state standards.
GreatSchools.org is also a useful tool in finding schools that best fit your family. Once families determine which schools they like, they can get a better feel for school fit by spending time at the school and getting to know it’s principal, teachers and families through tours and open houses and by attending school enrollment fairs. There are fairs scheduled throughout the city between December and January. To learn more about fairs and open houses and scheduling a tour, go to EnrollOak.org click on Events at the top of the page or click on the green OUSD button.
Q: EnrollOak.org created a common application for charter schools last year. How did that go? Are there new changes this year?
A: It’s been great! More than 95 percent of the city’s charter public schools are now participating in the EOC single online application, which means Oakland families no longer have to drive all over town from one charter school to another, fill out various different paper applications and keep track of different deadlines. More importantly families have benefited from learning that they have choices when it comes to their child’s education and that includes charter public schools.
Q: Is there data you can share about the common application process, around participation.
A: As of October 2017, 8,365 Oakland families had submitted 16,818 applications for enrollment to multiple charter public schools for the 2017-18 school year. This year for 2018-19 enrollment, week one applications were more than double last year’s.
Q: What feedback did you get on the process last year and did you make any changes this year as a result?
A: We conducted a family survey last year, and received 55 responses. Of those 67% of families reported that the process was easy with only 8% reported it being difficult. More than 60% reported that it took them 15 mins or less to complete the application, half of the respondents felt like the amount of time they spent completing it was really quick and 89% of responders reported that the questions were easy or very easy to answer.
The feedback also keyed us into areas that needed improvement. We spent much of the summer and the months leading up to November 1 streamlining the application and emphasizing key actions like choosing multiple schools to better ensure the chance of getting into a choice school, clearly defining the importance of applying on or before the deadline, which gets applicants into school lotteries and applying after the deadline which lands applicants on waitlists.
Families also wanted to better understand school performance data, which has now been added to Oakland School Finder in the form of Oakland School Report Cards based on new state indicators. We are also helping families with their online applications by providing over-the phone support through the EnrollOak.org office, in-person support at participating schools and “How-Tos.” This year we are also piloting a common registration process for charter schools to replace the current process, which is vastly different across schools.
Q: What if I am looking to change schools, or enroll in a charter school mid-year, what should I do?A: Go to EnrollOak.org, click on the blue EOC application. Once you’ve created a SchoolMint account, select the 2017-18 school year at the top of the page and start your application. Many charter schools are still accepting applications for the current school year and may be color coded based on their potential seat availability by grade.
Q: Any final thoughts, information you would like to share or advice for parents as they look for schools?
A: When participating in school choice, it is important to apply on or before the deadlines (OUSD, Jan. 26 and Charters, Feb. 16) and to apply to as many schools as possible because that increases your chance of getting into a school of your choosing. Families can apply to both district and charter schools using their smartphone. Those without a computer, smartphone or Internet access can call EnrollOak.org at 510-454-9360 for help completing an application. We provide phone support in English and Spanish, and multiple language interpretation is also available. Families can also apply online at any participating school with the help of school staff.
EnrollOak.org is a project of Oakland Enrolls, a non-profit organization committed to helping Oakland families choose the best Oakland public schools for their children, charter or district.
Our portal provides access to information about all Oakland public schools, allowing for easy comparison and exploration. We also manage the single application for more than 95% of charter schools in Oakland.