Confusion surrounding the district’s convoluted enrollment system has led Tulsa Public Schools to transform the process to make it easier for families to choose the right school.
The improved enrollment system, which launches in December, features a single enrollment period and allows parents to fill out only one application for all neighborhood, magnet and charter schools – except the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences.
TPS has fielded numerous complaints from parents about not knowing when to apply for which school due to the multitude of enrollment windows and applications across the district.
In the current system, there’s a different window for students transferring to a magnet school. There’s another for transferring to a neighborhood school. Others exist for prekindergarten and charters.
This has resulted in numerous missed deadlines and enrollment issues over the years, said Jorge Robles, the district’s chief operating officer. For example, if a family applies to transfer a student to a criteria-based magnet school during the appropriate window, they might not find out the application was denied until after the deadline to enroll at a neighborhood school.
“If you’re a family that, let’s say you’re new to Tulsa and you’re trying to understand what you need to do to enroll your kid and understand your choices and what you need to do for each choice, it’s really complicated,” Robles said.
Now all students will be enrolled during the same time frame, which is from Dec. 9 through Jan. 31 for the 2020-21 school year. They’ll also be able to choose up to six schools and rank them in order of preference. If they are unable to get into their first choice, then they automatically will be considered for their second.
With the limited availability at the district’s most popular sites like Booker T. Washington High School, Robles said the application will include a school finder tool to highlight the other choices.
“Right now our neighborhood schools don’t really have a mechanism to showcase themselves,” he said. “If you move to Tulsa, you’ll soon hear about the Booker T. Washingtons and Edisons of the world. This will be a fantastic opportunity for our neighborhood schools who have great programs to share information with families so they can see that they have strong options in their neighborhoods and that is something they might decide is best for their kids.”
The district also plans to host an informational expo in which representatives from every school will be available to answer questions in January.
Officials also sought to address another common complaint regarding the accessibility of the current enrollment system. Many parents, especially ones working multiple jobs, have struggled making it to the TPS Enrollment Center during hours of operation. Those unable to do so missed out on bilingual and other culturally relevant supports while trying to enroll their children.
Robles said there will be additional enrollment sites with expanded business hours during the 2020-21 period to prevent lack of access from being a barrier.
Not only is the improved enrollment system meant to make the process easier for families, it’s supposed to help schools avoid last-minute enrollment fluctuations. Robles said it’s common for parents to not enroll their kids until late summer, with some waiting until the start of the school year.
“What’s critical about having a simpler, more straight-forward process is that we can enable families and educate them on how to participate during the window versus them not knowing and thinking it’s fine to show up the day before school,” he said.
Every student in the district should know where they’ve been accepted by mid-March.
There will be four information sessions, including one in Spanish, from Oct. 28 through Nov. 7 for parents and community members to learn more about the improved enrollment system.
The district also is partnering with the city to mail enrollment information to families via their water bills in December.