The application window for the Elementary Choice Academies Program opened Nov. 11 and ends Jan. 17.
In June 2008, Marietta became one of Georgia’s first charter school systems. After seven years of setting a precedent, families now have an expectation to pick their school of choice, said Preston Howard, the district’s operations manager.
Howard said parents should not have an “artificial barrier” to where their children get an education.
“We want our families to have a say,” Howard said.
Still, out of the 4,740 students enrolled in the system’s elementary schools this academic year, only 190 students are attending a school outside of their zone.
Howard said the benefit is not only allowing parents to pick a school, but also raising their commitment to the entire system.
The parents have flexibility and ownership over placement decisions, it is not just the “district’s bureaucracy,” he said.
Each of the eight elementary schools in the city have differing educational environments, from arts integration and leadership skills to gifted programs.
Parents can pick a school that suits their child’s talents or needs, but “no matter which school they select to go to, they are going to get a high-quality education,” Howard said.
All Marietta elementary choice academies offer school tours by appointment. Parents should contact the school directly to arrange a tour.
Who is selected?
In Marietta, elementary school children can attend a school outside of their neighborhood or zoned area if space is available.
Howard said he does not know how many spots will be open for next year because the amount is based on projected enrollment. In past years, the choice program placed around 75 students a year.
“We are working on it as we speak, and we keep refining it,” he said.
Howard said the district is obligated to place the children in a school within a zone’s boundary.
“Zone students have an absolute guaranteed seat in the school of their zone,” Howard said.
Next priority, determined by Georgia law, is given to students who are children of teachers at a particular school.
Siblings of an enrolled students also have priority to be enrolled at the same elementary school, Howard said.
After that, openings are filled by families that have applied from other zones. If there are more applications than seats, a random drawing is conducted in February, which Howard said the public is encouraged to attend. Anyone left is placed on a waitlist.
Which schools are popular?
The biggest barrier to parents not being able to place their child in a school farther from home is lack of transportation, Howard said. There are schools on the far east and far west boundary of the city, and the district is intersected by Interstate 75.
“Unfortunately, because of cost, we just can’t provide school bus transportation. That burden rests with the family,” Howard said.
The closest schools to Atlanta: Burruss, Hickory Hills and West Side, are the most popular for families in the choice program because of the easier commute on the way to work, Howard said.
Howard said West Side typically has the least amount of spots open and the most amount of applications.
“Very few people are trying to ‘choice out’ of West Side and many people are trying to choice in,” Howard said.
Catherine Sanders is the mother of one of the first students accepted by West Side in the choice program seven years ago, when her daughter, Anne Hollis Sanders, entered kindergarten.
Now, Sanders said her daughter, who attends Marietta Middle School, is well prepared to succeed.
“You want to feel confident,” Sanders said. “It is competitive out there nowadays.”
Sanders was interested in West Side at the time because she was facing multiple surgeries and recovery time, and needed support for carpooling.
Sanders said she went to West Side as a child and knew a lot more of the parents of children at the school than at other schools near her home in Whitlock Heights.
“It just felt like family there,” she said.
Now, Sanders has two other children, Mary Ford Sanders in fifth grade and Walker Sanders in first grade, attending West Side.
“It was a no-brainer to continue to send our children there,” Sanders said.
Sanders said even though a family might like the school in their zone, she encourages parents to visit other schools.
“If you don’t look around you won’t even know how great you have it,” Sanders said.
Schools offering a choice
* Burruss — A communications academy that develops writing, speaking, presentation and collaboration skills.
* Dunleith — A literacy academy that integrates literacy with technology learning tools and resources.
* Hickory Hills — Arts academy that incorporates the performing and visual arts in the teaching of core courses.
* Lockheed — A leadership academy that incorporates principle-centered, character-building, and personal leadership development.
* Marietta Center for Advanced Academics — An integrated, academic program focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The magnet school has separate admission and eligibility criteria.
* Park Street — Offers personalized 21st century learning experiences with hands-on digital education content.
* Sawyer Road — An interdisciplinary, student-centered academic program that develops a global perspective through inquiry-based learning.
* West Side — A talented and gifted learning academy that focuses on developing potential for advanced learning and creative productivity.