For some New Haven Public School students, going to school literally means winning the lottery.
NHPS’s school choice policy means that all New Haven area residents can attend any one of the city’s 58 Public Schools of Choice. It also means that acceptance to many of the district’s schools depends on a lottery. To help parents navigate the process of selecting a school, the New Haven Schools of Choice Magnet Office held their annual Citywide School Choice Fair last night, with booths representing various schools, educational organizations and other community groups.
Students can submit up to four applications per year, so last night’s event, which was held in the gymnasium of the Floyd Little Athletic Center, aimed to help families make a more informed application decision.
Debbie Breland, the student recruitment coordinator and director of the fair, noted that parents are often surprised by the number of schools and services that are available. Fifty schools were represented at the fair, along with several education organizations such as Head Start and the New Haven Adult Education Center.
“A lot of times, [parents say] ‘I didn’t know New Haven offered that,’” Breland said.
By exposing parents to the entirety of NHPS’s school offerings, the fair serves to help simplify their decision-making process, Breland said, adding that parents use the fair to decide which schools’ open houses they will attend.
Several parents who attended the fair said that although some booths were crowded, it was easy to have one-on-one conversations with school representatives.
William Marks, a Bethany resident whose son attends a public school in New Haven, praised the convenient access to information that the fair offered.
Natasha Perez, a part-time clerk with the Choice and Enrollment Office, said that with other forms of communication, such as phone or email, miscommunication with parents is more common. The personal interactions at the fair mitigate those issues.
Not all parents had such positive experiences at the fair, however. Kenya Torres said she has put her son in the magnet school lottery for three years to no avail, and she came to the fair because she thought she “had to be doing something wrong.” But the fair revealed no more information about the lottery process than what was available online, she said. Though she found the fair’s variety of informational booths to be convenient, Torres said she does not think they offered any information she could not find elsewhere.
In addition to offering information at the booths, the fair served as a place for parents to exchange information. Sandra Fitzpatrick, a parent of a preschool student, said she ran into several acquaintances at the fair. She said they gave her advice “the people at the booths might not necessarily give you.”
In one corner of the gymnasium was a group of auxiliary education agencies, including Head Start and New Haven Public Schools Bilingual Services. Deborah Lawson, a recruitment coordinator for Head Start and an 11-year veteran of the fair, described the experience as “one-stop shopping.”
The fair, according Breland, is in its 18th year.