Fall is the time to choose your child's school for next year - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Fall is the time to choose your child's school for next year

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Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 3:26 pm

The first progress reports of the year are just arriving at home. Students are finally figuring out their schedules, homework load and what's expected of them.

But if you want your child in a different school next year, the time to apply may be now.

Several public schools - from specialized district academies to charter schools - are already preparing to accept applications for the 2012-2013 school year.

In some cases, the process has already begun.

Arizona's open enrollment law allow parents to send their children to any public school, regardless of where they live. Schools cannot discriminate based on a student's race, income level, disabilities, language proficiency or national origin.

Charter schools, however, can set a cap on enrollment.

State statute also allows charter schools to set guidelines - such as giving preference to siblings of current students, employees' children or children of board members. Districts can give priority to students who live within their boundaries.

But the first step to getting in is the application. From there, schools may hold lotteries or create waiting lists to determine student rolls.

Application availability for the 2012-2013 school year varies. For example, parents who want their children to attend Gilbert Unified School District's Neely Academy, a back-to-basics school, could start turning in applications for next year right after Labor Day. Gilbert Classical Academy starts accepting applications for incoming seventh-graders on Oct. 1.

Not everyone operates this early - most districts and charter schools get the process rolling in January - but if you're even thinking about it, it's best to look at the deadlines now.

"Traditionally we start getting open enrollment requests in the fall," said Kathy Bareiss, spokeswoman for Mesa Unified School District. "Parents start thinking about open enrollment sometime after Thanksgiving. They come in more heavily after the holidays."

The district's early open enrollment deadline is March 1. Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies, a Mesa Unified campus which is open to students in fourth through eighth grade, will have applications available in December.

The Arizona Charter Schools Association reports most charter schools have waiting lists for at least one grade level. Several popular schools - district and charter - have dozens, if not hundreds, of students on waiting lists each year.

It's not uncommon for parents of incoming seventh-graders to call Gilbert Classical Academy in the spring for enrollment information, long after the process has taken place, said principal Jodie Dean. The school accepts applications for its eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade waiting lists year-round.

"We definitely have a lot of people that are interested," Dean said.

The school only has spots for 81 seventh-graders, so it typically holds a lottery for enrollment. Last year, there were 160 to 170 applications turned in.

"That leads to a waiting list," she said. "As the year progresses on and we go through summer, and people are making changes, that list continues to grow."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

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