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Kindergarten enrollment crunch spreads to Meredith Elementary

By Benjamin Herold for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Jan 24, 2013 07:04 PM

Sparked by the recent kindergarten enrollment drama at Penn Alexander School in University City, parents this week have quickly gobbled up the available kindergarten seats at popular Meredith Elementary in Queen Village.

Now, parents from the surrounding community are facing a possible waiting list to get their children into their neighborhood school -- and the School District is facing questions about seemingly inconsistent enrollment policies across the city.

Meredith, a K-8 school at Fifth and Fitzwater Streets, has two kindergarten classes serving 60 students.

"Usually, a handful of parents will show up on the first few days, and by summer we're full," said principal Cindy Farlino, who has been at the school for five years.

This year, those seats were gone in two days, filled by parents from the catchment area.

"Parents told me that this year they saw that parents were lined up on the street to get spots at Penn Alexander, and they were nervous that there might be the same issue here," she said.

Overall, Meredith is at 108 percent capacity, according to District data.

As in the West Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding Penn Alexander, Queen Village residents pay premium prices for real estate, in part, due to their neighborhood school's stellar reputation.

Now some of those families may not have access to the school for kindergarten.

"What will happen at Meredith will be what happens at other neighborhood schools," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard. "A waiting list is created."

If there are more interested families than seats, parents from the list will be redirected to other schools in the area.

In Queen Village, that will most likely be Nebinger Elementary, 601 Carpenter St.

"We're going to do everything we can to maintain Meredith's excellence and make sure that Nebinger achieves its potential," said a representative of the Queen Village Neighbors Association. "Everyone in Queen Village understands that the excellence of our public schools is central to our neighborhood."

On Friday morning, a line began forming outside Penn Alexander, a full four days before kindergarten registration officially opened.

For several years, the District has handled the excess demand at the school by enrolling students on a first-come, first-served basis.  In each of the last three years, though, the line has started forming earlier.

Friday evening, District officials suddenly reversed course, saying that Penn Alexander enrollment would now be done by a lottery. 

"We believe that is a good place to pilot a lottery because the seats are being filled by parents who are able and willing to wait two or three days outside in the cold, and not every parent can do that," Gallard said.

Many parents were outraged.  Superintendent William Hite met with about 100 people at the school earlier this week.

Gallard said he has no update on how the District will proceed at Penn Alexander. For the moment, a lottery is still being planned, although the District is holding meetings with parents and community members to solicit information and feedback.

An enrollment lottery is not being considered for Meredith, Gallard said, because the level of parental demand "is completely different than what we have seen at Penn Alexander." It's still possible that spaces could open up at the school before September, he said.

A child from the Meredith catchment area who registers for kindergarten at Nebinger could also reapply next year and be admitted to Meredith for first grade if seats are available, Gallard said. But neighborhood schools do turn students from the catchment area away when they reach their capacity.

"I'm shocked," said parent Karen Breese, who was No. 11 in the enrollment line outside Penn Alexander.

Breese said she hopes the developments at Meredith are a sign that the District is reconsidering the idea of enrollment lotteries for kindergarten seats at neighborhood schools.

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Comments (17)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 24, 2013 7:36 pm

I wonder when the district will go after the parents who live outside of catchment but use a neighborhood friends' address to get their kids in? I know teachers who do this.

Thankfully my kids graduated years ago before the houses were six figures and before anyone thought Meredith was a great school.

Submitted by Parent (not verified) on January 24, 2013 9:26 pm

If only there were lots of public elementary schools with waitinglists because of high performance. I feel bad for the individual parents that might miss out here but really we can only hope this is a problem that will spread to many more of our schools.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on January 25, 2013 12:59 am

Parents want GOOD, NEIGHBORHOOD schools, especially in elementary school. One problem with many charter schools is that they lack the community support that is possible for a neighborhood school. Non-neighborhood schools can have great community support, but that community could never be as strong as one anchored in a neighborhood.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 6:48 am

Will be interesting to see if the Meredith parents who are anxious to have their children in a good neighborhood school come under the kind of heat and criticism that PAS parents got last week for doing the same thing.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 8:28 am

The vast majority of parents want their children in a good neighborhood elementary school. The assumption that parents with means care more is false. Parents with means just can make more noise that is registered by the powers that be.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 9:04 am

Exactly my point! Parents with a strong neighborhood school that is a finite resource will go to great lengths to have their child attend -- in ANY neighborhood. We saw it last week with PAS, and now with Meredith. PAS parents were accused of being spoiled and entitled for rushing to get their kids into the school. My question was simply whether the same basic behavior, in a different neighborhood, will be perceived differently.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 9:39 am

Some of the Penn Alexander definitely appear entitled. Some keep claiming they have no neighborhood school (look at previous posts). Anyone that moved into the catchment knew they would be "entitled" to a well funded, new school with a lot of Penn support. Meredith is also in a wealthy neighborhood and having listened to parents at Palumbo flag football games they do appear to feel "entitled" to "their school." Meredith parents were able to raise tens of thousands of dollars last year. (I guess Penn Alexander parents don't have too since Penn pays the tab.) Most schools do not have parents who can either donate to find other to donate tens of thousands a year. (Masterman and Central also raise huge amounts of money - they have the means and connections to do it.)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 9:22 am

I am sure that there are some entitled parents at both schools, but both are actually economically diverse neighborhoods with families ranging from poor to rich and (mostly) in between. I don't think we should be condemning people, in any neighborhood, for really really wanting their kids to go to a great school! The issue is that there are too few great schools in Philly. As parents/teachers/public education advocates, we should be united behind that message rather than engaging in back-biting based on assumptions about the parents in one neighborhood or another.

Submitted by garth (not verified) on January 25, 2013 10:45 am

Greenfield, Powel and McCall are next up for this emerging trend. As a former Greenfield parent, it's seems to me like all the conversions of public schools to charters is gradually hollowing out the Philly School District. The only public schools that can fight off a conversion are the high-performing schools. So then you get intense competition for the few remaining public school seats in the neighborhood's elementary school. If charter schools aren't held to the same standards as public schools are, this trend will only continue to spread.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 10:29 am

Not to mention that the neighborhood Renaissance charters often include a curriculum style these parents wouldn't want.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 11:31 am

aren't you supposed to be entitled to the school if you live in the catchment?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 12:21 pm

Living in the catchment gives you the right to register there. It does not give you the right to enroll.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 11:37 am

aren't you supposed to be entitled to the school if you live in the catchment?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on January 25, 2013 1:40 pm

Quick question, I'm new to understanding PSD. If many of the public schools are converting to charters but the reputations of charters school are just average, what's the point of the change? It seems like there is a demand for good education....wherever it is? Also, I thought charter schools were free for families.

I admit, I just bought a house 3 years earlier than needed for my child to attend Meredith. We planned for this house, and said we have 3 years to find the right house at the right price...and no more moving. Not everyone can do this, but looking at Nebinger, which does have a decent reputation (I'm in education) - why don't the schools merge programs? House K-2nd grade in 1 building, and 3-6th in another....it's not like they are far apart. This kind of collaboration might benefit everyone.

Submitted by garth (not verified) on January 25, 2013 2:08 pm

I hope this doesn't make you feel depressed, but it's about money, not students performance. The charter operators make millions of dollars by running a school, so they can make huge donations to politicians who will vote in favor of charter schools. $10,000 per students times 1000 students is millions of dollars of revenue which allows for a significant contribution. The public schools don't have the same kind of influence with the politicians, so really bad stuff happens to them in the political process. Now think about trying to reverse the process and reduce the number of bad charter schools. The politicians will never do it, there's too much money to be made by allowing it to continue.

Submitted by garth (not verified) on January 25, 2013 2:05 pm

I hope this doesn't make you feel depressed, but it's about money, not students performance. The charter operators make millions of dollars by running a school, so they can make huge donations to politicians who will vote in favor of charter schools. $10,000 per students times 1000 students is millions of dollars of revenue which allows for a significant contribution. The public schools don't have the same kind of influence with the politicians, so really bad stuff happens to them in the political process. Now think about trying to reverse the process and reduce the number of bad charter schools. The politicians will never do it, there's too much money to be made by allowing it to continue.

Submitted by garth (not verified) on January 25, 2013 2:12 pm

I hope this doesn't make you feel depressed, but it's about money, not students performance. The charter operators make millions of dollars by running a school, so they can make huge donations to politicians who will vote in favor of charter schools. $10,000 per students times 1000 students is millions of dollars of revenue which allows for a significant contribution. The public schools don't have the same kind of influence with the politicians, so really bad stuff happens to them in the political process. Now think about trying to reverse the process and reduce the number of bad charter schools. The politicians will never do it, there's too much money to be made by allowing it to continue.

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