Denver Public Schools opens school choice process for 2016-17

The Denver Public Schools school choice process has begun.

Starting Jan. 5, students (or their families) can fill out a form listing their top five school preferences for the 2016-17 school year. The forms are due by 4 p.m. on Jan. 29.

Students will find out no later than March 18 which school they got into.

This is the fifth year that DPS has used a unified enrollment system, called SchoolChoice, for its charter, innovation, magnet and traditional schools. The state’s largest district has embraced school choice as one of the key tenets of its aggressive reform agenda, which has attracted national attention but produced mixed results.

DPS is encouraging students heading into transition grades — such as kindergarten, sixth grade and ninth grade — to fill out a choice form. If those students don’t fill out a form, they will be assigned to their boundary school or to a school in their enrollment zone.

There are now 11 enrollment zones in DPS, including a new one in northeast Denver. Students who live in enrollment zones are given preference at several schools within their zone. They’re guaranteed a spot at one of them, though it may not be their first choice.

Once a student is enrolled in a school, he or she continues to have a spot there the following year. But students who want to switch schools should fill out a choice form, too.

This year, DPS is pushing families to submit the forms online. Twenty percent of families did last year, said Brian Eschbacher, the district’s director of planning and enrollment services. The rest submitted paper forms. It takes DPS staff about three weeks to enter the information from those paper forms into the system, which Eschbacher said delays the assigning process.

“Families are antsy,” he said. “So if people do it online, we can trim that three weeks down and get results to families sooner.”

Last year, 24,988 students participated in school choice, according to an analysis by DPS staff. That’s more than a quarter of the district’s approximately 90,000 students. Of those 24,988 students, 59 percent of them were heading into either kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth grade.

Eighty-three percent of students entering kindergarten got into their first choice school, as did 74 percent of students entering sixth grade and 77 percent of students entering ninth grade.

An average of 95 percent got into one of their five choices, the analysis shows.

The most requested school for kindergarten last year, and the one with the longest wait list, was Swigert International School in Stapleton, according to the analysis.

The most requested school for sixth grade was McAuliffe International School in Park Hill. The most requested school for ninth grade was East High School.

DPS is hosting several school choice expos this month to help families pick schools, including events featuring schools in the far northeast region of the city, the near northeast, and the west and southwest.