Registering My Son for Kindergarten in the Philadelphia Public Schools: A Timeline

Many thanks to all who prayed and helped over the past week as we’ve tried to get our son registered for kindergarten here in the Philadelphia public schools.  For your update and my future remembrance, I am recording the process, which (to spoil the ending) has culminated in him being enrolled at Henry C. Lea Elementary. 

·         2010 – We registered Jada at Penn Alexander on the first day of kindergarten registration.  I got in line 90 minutes before registration opened and got the last spot. 

·         January - Fast-forward two years and the waiting has increased to 24+ hours.  Since Penn Alexander no longer guarantees enrollment for grades 1 through 8, getting into kindergarten has become that much more valuable, because if you get in, you’re in, and if you don’t get in, you may not be able to get in for several years.  We were 65th in line that day.

··         April – It is announced that University of Pennsylvania will pay for Penn Alexander to have afourth kindergarten class.  All kindergarten classes will be capped at 18, which means 72 spots.  The question is now how many of those spots will go to Penn Alexander Head Start kids (who didn’t have to line up in January), children and grandchildren of Penn Alexander employees, and the politically connected. 

·         May – The answer to that question is “13.”  We got notice that Aaron did not get a spot in Penn Alexander, and that we should come in to fill out a form to get him assigned to another school in the District.  When I went into the office to do this, I was told that Aaron was 6th on the wait-list.  That means 59 people that waited in line in January got spots, which means that 13 people that didn’t wait in line got spots.  We get notice later that month that our form has been received and that the District will tell us in August where Aaron has been assigned.  As someone who likes to play way in advance, this is uncomfortably close to the start of the school year.

·         August – I call Penn Alexander to get a status on whether Aaron has moved up on the wait-list.  He has not.  However, they say they will be calling all kindergarten families to confirm they are still enrolling next month.  They also inform me the District is likely not to assign Aaron until right before the start of the school year.  As in, the week before the first day of classes.  Again, uncomfortably close.  On a positive note, I’m told the wait-list rolls over, so we don’t have to wait in line again for Aaron, and will just have to wait until six kids leave so that there’s space for him. 

·         Monday – I call Penn Alexander to get an update on the wait-list.  Aaron is now #4.  I mentally budget that Aaron will have a spot sometime towards the end of the school year or else the beginning of 1st grade.  I then call the District to see what school Aaron has been assigned to.  They say they can’t release that kind of info over the phone, for privacy purposes, and that I need to come into Headquarters to find this out. 

·         Tuesday early morning – After I drop off the kids and have a meeting, I head to Headquarters, go to Student Placement, sign in, and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  The waiting area grows from about 10 people to over 30.  Ninety minutes later, I look at the sign-in sheet and notice that my name has been skipped, and three or four people have been helped ahead of me.  I point this out to the sign-in person, and she apologizes profusely. 

·         Tuesday late morning - I’m brought to the back to wait some more, and finally see the person who handles these kinds of placements.  She tells me placements will take place later that evening, and then letters will go out.  She then looks up Aaron in the system and can’t find him, in fact can’t find any Penn Alexander wait-list students.  A quick call to Penn Alexander yields the fact that the forms, which Penn Alexander says were faxed in on August 15, were never received by Headquarters.  The placement person asks for those forms to be refaxed immediately.  (I wonder what would have happened had I not come into the office to inquire about this.  What would have happened is that I and the other wait-listers from Penn Alexander would have been persona non grata to the District: none of us would have been assigned a school, and kindergarten would have started with none of us aware of what to do or where to go.) 

·         Tuesday early afternoon - The placement person also tells me Penn Alexander kids are assigned to Lea or Locke, that Lea is almost full, and that there is no possibility of transfer to another school (except to request it this year to take place starting the year after).  While I would be happy with Lea, because it’s close and I know some folks there, Locke is far less attractive.  And with Lea almost full, I begin to explore non-District options.  Amy suggests Spruce Hill Christian School.  I put in a call to St. Francis de Sales to get instructions on registration.  My head is spinning at this point, between having to budget for tuition, figuring out how to enroll, managing the morning commute, and getting Aaron from school to after-school program each afternoon.

·         Tuesday late afternoon – It is suggested to me by a colleague that I contact Lea directly to see what they can do about enrollment.  I call over to the office there, and they ask me to come in the next morning with all the papers and they’ll get me in.  Well that was easy. 

·         Tuesday evening – I share my story at my Spruce Hill Community Association board meeting, at the request of their Education Committee chair.  She also shares that registration for grades 1 through 8 at Penn Alexander in August involved not one but two nights of waiting in line (!), and that none of those poor families got spots in any of those grades, because all the grades that folks were looking to place their kids into were full and had wait lists. 

·         Wednesday morning – After dropping the kids off, I make a beeline to Lea with my papers.  I am given a big stack of more papers to fill out, and within minutes have been given a spot, assigned to a classroom, and introduced to Aaron’s kindergarten teacher.  She is nice enough to do an orientation for me right then and there, and walks me to a counselor who may be able to help me find an older student who I can hire to walk Aaron from Lea to PIC.  I am in and out in about 45 minutes, and book it to the subway station to make a 9:00 meeting downtown.  I call Amy on my way to the station to let her know what’s up, and we make plans to finalize after-school pick-up, figure out school clothes (we’ve had to wait until now to buy them, since every school has a different color scheme), and buy school supplies (I was given a list of things Aaron will need on his first day).   We hang up, I hop on the subway, put my earbuds in, and get myself back into work mode for a long work day ahead.  Thankful to have a spot for Aaron, after all the waiting and stressing.

These are the facts.  Tomorrow I’ll post some commentary.

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