Beginning with this year’s application cycle, New Haven public schools have simplified their kindergarten enrollment process as part of a wider effort to make the school district more welcoming and accessible to parents.

The school district has consolidated the application process to neighborhood schools, magnet schools and charter schools into one application process in an attempt to streamline the process of enrolling a child for families new to the system. The previous system required separate applications and due dates for magnet, charter and neighborhood schools. The change, which is coming under the leadership of Superintendent Garth Harries ’95, will take be put into effect in conjunction with a bundle of programs with similar goals, like district-wide open houses

“Through outreach to the community, we heard from parents that the enrollment process could be confusing at times,” said Abbe Smith, Communications Director for NHPS . “This year, we really wanted to make an effort to streamline the enrollment process — to make it one process, whether you are applying to a magnet school, a charter school or a private school.”

The process requires that parents fill out one form, marking their top four choices between all public schools in New Haven for entrance into a lottery. The system gives preference to children who live in the school’s neighborhood or already have a sibling in a certain school. Children fulfilling both criteria receive top priority.

Smith said the changes take place alongside many other new and continuing programs as part of Harries’ previous work with NHPS to make the district more family-friendly. Other new programs include district-wide school fairs, which will be held each year, as well as open houses in each individual school.

These changes appear to fit easily into the national focus on early childhood education, said Elizabeth Carroll, director of Yale’s Education Studies program. She noted that though kindergarten is technically not considered early childhood education, it fits into the national conversation about getting children to school as early as possible.

“This seems to be one of those changes that everyone can agree is beneficial and important,” Carroll said. “Nevertheless, even when change is noncontroversial, it takes effort to change a system. When you have a new superintendent in town, there can be communication happening that makes that sort of change easier.”

Although some community members objected to the district’s decision to leave the preference system intact, Cyd Oppenheimer LAW ’04, a Senior Policy Fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, said preferences in schooling still hold benefits.

She said giving preference selection to children who already have siblings in their chosen school may be logistically necessary for many working parents. She added that giving a higher bid to children who live near the school can foster a sense of community within the school.

Still, she said, the policy’s most important impact will be unifying the kindergarten enrollment process into one application and deadline.

“Speaking not just as a policy analyst, but as a New Haven public schools parent, I can tell you that when my husband and I were registering our eldest child … for kindergarten, we found the fact that there were two separate processes very confusing,” Oppenheimer wrote in an email to the News. “If you were hoping that your child would get into a magnet or charter school via the lottery, you still had to participate in the enrollment process for the neighborhood school, but this was not clear. The paperwork required was redundant, and the multiple deadlines confusing.”

A district-wide kindergarten fair will be held at the Floyd Little Athletics Center from 6-8 p.m. on Feb. 28th.