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Op-Ed

L.A. Unified's grade-school game

Getting your child into the L.A. Unified elementary school of your choice involves a lot of planning, patience — and luck.

December 14, 2011|By Leslee Komaiko

Want to send your child to a well-regarded LAUSD elementary school? Get your notepad ready, and maybe some aspirin too.

If money is no object, move — simply purchase or rent a home near your desired school. Residential property. An office where you're writing a novel won't do. And don't take the real estate agent's word that the school a block away is your home school. Just because you can hear the tether balls being whacked, it doesn't mean your child is destined to hit those tether balls. (Double-check addresses for home schools here:

Oh, and if the school you want is a magnet or, in certain cases, a charter, disregard the above. For that, even money won't help. You have to amass points.

And you may still have to move. What you'd be looking for is a house in an area with a crummy home school, a school that's overcrowded, without enough books and desks. That gives you points. So does a PHBAO home school. No, that's not one that serves PH-balanced pork-filled dumplings to its charges. It stands for "predominantly Hispanic, black, Asian or other." (Never mind that every school is predominantly Hispanic, black, Asian or other. Hello, LAUSD — "other" means everyone else.)

Now submit your application to your desired magnet or charter the winter before your child can begin kindergarten. (The application deadline for the 2012-13 school year is Dec. 16.)

And don't forget about race. If your child happens to be of mixed race, be flexible. Find out which one is underrepresented at your school of choice and go with that; it could increase your odds of success.

If it all works and your kid gets accepted into the magnet or charter of your dreams, congratulations and please don't gloat too much in front of your less-fortunate friends. And if your kid is rejected, you're out of luck, at least for kindergarten. Maybe you could try home schooling — you don't have anything else to do, right?

And remember there's still good news in the form of those much-coveted Los Angeles Unified School District points. A kindergarten rejection will move your child up the list when you apply for a spot the following year.

And of course if the magnet (or program) of your dreams doesn't start until first grade, what you want is a kindergarten rejection. So study the numbers carefully in the Choices guide, which has moved online this year and which should really be called the You Wish guide. It will reveal the schools that are most in demand, the ones that therefore have the stinkiest odds. That's where you should apply to kindergarten, because remember, rejection and thus points are the goal here. Confused yet? I thought so.

Maybe you'd like to try something less duplicitous? Find a charter that operates on a lottery system (some use the point system, some don't), which means your kid will have essentially the same chance of getting in as any of the hundreds of other kinder vying for those few garten spots.

Or here's a seldom used but effective strategy: Siblings get preference at charters and magnets, so adopt a third-grader at your school of choice. Now your little kindergartner-to-be has more points, and in the case of some schools, automatic enrollment. On the flip side, you have another PB&J to make every morning and, well, another kid.

What, you're still not happy? Clear out a little more time on your calendar because you'll need it to fill out open enrollment applications. Yep. Open enrollment. Sounds nice, doesn't it? Hopeful. You apply for the few empty seats that might appear at the schools you prefer. You may have to wait until school has begun to find out if you've won the game of musical chairs. But cheery persistence, they say, can be effective. So put on a smile before you dial.

Had enough? If not, try one more angle: special circumstances that can get your kid transferred into a better school. Like SAS programs. That's Schools for Advanced Studies programs, for which your smarty-pants kid may be eligible if your home school doesn't have one. Or you may qualify for a PWT (Permits Without Transportation), a child-care permit or an "intra-district and inter-district parent employment-related transfer permit" (if ever a permit was in need of an acronym...).

Alas, last I checked, there's no MHIATEJTIJK permit. That's the My Head Is About To Explode Jeez This Is Just Kindergarten permit.

Leslee Komaiko got a magnet rejection letter for her son for kindergarten, but now she is the very satisfied parent of a first-grader at an L.A. Unified charter school.

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