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Newark’s new enrollment system launches this weekend, but questions remain about how it will work

Newark superintendent Roger León, alongside board president Josephine Garcia, addresses the crowd at the November 26, 2019, school board meeting.
Newark superintendent Roger León, alongside board president Josephine Garcia, addresses the crowd at the November 26, 2019, school board meeting.
Devna Bose/Chalkbeat

When Newark’s revamped school-enrollment system launches on Saturday, families will find some new school options. But some people also have lingering questions about how the system will work.

Parents and students may learn about new school choices and get help with the enrollment system at the annual citywide school fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Barringer High School.

At a school board meeting last week, Newarkers lined up to ask questions about enrollment. Superintendent Roger León was clear about one thing: The online enrollment system, Newark Enrolls, is meant to make it easier for families to apply to schools, not for charter schools to fill their seats.

“Newark Enrolls is not a charter school opportunity,” he said, but is an “opportunity for the children of this city to go to the school they want to.”

The updated Newark Enrolls system by the vendor Schoolmint will continue to allow families to enroll online during the enrollment period until Feb. 14. They also may seek help by visiting any Newark traditional school during operating hours from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Enrollment in Newark schools has been the source of increasing strife in recent years. Last summer, district officials pledged to revamp the enrollment system.

At the board meeting, charter school boosters worried that the new system would hinder enrollment at their schools. The school district has placed more restrictions on charter school enrollment, and the district will not allow families to request school transfers by visiting charters, which are privately run but publicly funded schools.

According to the Newark Enrolls website, the district will send school assignments on April 12, but has not said whether the online system will be available for requesting changes in schools after then.

In October the board approved guidelines that no longer guarantee that families may switch schools online after they receive their school matches. Instead, the district will consider giving families that option if it can modify the online enrollment system to prevent switching schools in a way the district believes could cause problems.

For instance, León said families previously could transfer online to schools that don’t offer the bilingual or special education services that their children require.

For instance, if a parent sends a non-English speaking student to Hawthorne school, León said, “you’re going to be the only one speaking Spanish. Now I have to deal with a lawsuit, because that parent claims I didn’t provide a program.”

At the meeting, speakers affiliated with Newark charter schools expressed worries about limiting families’ abilities to switch to schools that they want.

“This will have a severe effect on the community we serve. I respectfully ask that you reconsider,” said Lamar Washington, event coordinator at Newark’s Great Oaks Legacy Charter Schools. “I’m here not as an advocate for charter, traditional, or private schools, but an advocate of parent choice. This is impeding upon that choice.”

What’s not clear is whether the new academic programs will attract more applicants for comprehensive high schools that generally get fewer applications than the district’s magnet schools (excluding East Side High School). The district recently unveiled career academies intended to boost enrollment at neighborhood high schools.

The district also announced last week two new school options, the Newark School of Global Studies and the Sir Isaac Newton Elementary School, which will replace the closed Newton Street School.

At the board meeting, León noted that all rising ninth graders will take a new high school admissions test in late February, which will help determine admission to magnet schools and honors programs at the comprehensive schools.

The Newark Enrolls website was updated this week with information about the enrollment process for the upcoming year.

This article tackles a topic raised during our 2019 Listening Tour. Read more about the Listening Tour here, and see more articles inspired by community input here.

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