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In Its Second Year, the JCPS Elementary School Assignment System Got More Kindergarten Applications


Jefferson County Public Schools had a slight increase in kindergarten applications before its "initial" school choice deadline, but overall elementary school applications declined, according to data provided by the school district.JCPS administrators took steps to increase the number of applications before that "initial" January deadline, because those applications are given first priority in student assignment.This year, 4,970 applications were sent for the kindergartners of the 2014-15 school year. For the 2013-14 class of kindergartners, 4,860 applications were sent.But applications for students in grades K-5 decreased 4 percent; JCPS student assignment director Jonathan Lowe has a theory.Because last school year was the first for the 13-cluster system, "there were a set of folks who had a different set of schools to choose from and availed themselves of those choices," Lowe said. "This year, the set of schools they have to choose from is the same as last year, so there’s just less movement.”Let's back up. In the fall, Devin Katayama and I took a deep look at the JCPS elementary student assignment plan. The gist was that parents of rising kindergartners may find the process overwhelming, but their involvement is a necessary part of making it work. That's important because not all of the 13 "clusters" (the parents' non-magnet school choices, essentially) are created equally when it comes to state test results. Generally speaking, clusters based in more affluent parts of Louisville had better schools (test score-wise) to choose from.Those stories were:The Key to JCPS' Elementary School Choice? Parent Involvement in the Process.Test Scores Vary Widely Among the 13 JCPS Elementary School ClustersWhich JCPS Elementary Cluster Schools Were Parents' No. 1 Choice Last Year?Last year, JCPS had about 2,000 children out of 7,500 new students whose parents didn't fill out applications before the "initial" deadline, when their choices would get first consideration. JCPS projects 7,766 kindergartners starting in August.As Devin and I reported, JCPS has been sending out a bus out to various parts of Louisville where parents could apply their childfor school right then and there. The idea was to give those parents on-the-spot help to fill out those applications. Lowe said it's only been two years for the 13-cluster system and they're "still fine-tuning" their efforts to increase the number of applications before the "initial" deadline."So what we find is that we kind of changed up the times and the places we were going to," Lowe said of the bus. "And some times and some places are more effective in terms of numbers than others. And so we’re using our history we’re gathering over time to better target where we spend out time.”There are a couple of other interesting tidbits in the data. Here's a breakdown of what, precisely, those application asked to do:

For the uninitiated in JCPS school choice, elementary magnets are generally schools with specialty programs. For the rest—the cluster schools—parents have a half-dozen or so choices of schools in a geographical boundary (yes, a cluster). Magnets (for instance, Brandeis Elementary) may be cluster-specific or district-wide—JCPS explains here. Basically, parents rank the magnets and/or schools in their cluster by preference. Last year, the bulk of applicants go their first or second choice, JCPS officials said.Cluster-only applications jumped. And consider the 110 jump in magnet-only applications. Lowe has a theory on that, too.“Potentially, there could be an economic aspect to it," he said. "As the economy improves, people have a little bit more leeway as to what their choices are, public or non-public.”In other words, those parents like a JCPS magnet school program but if their child doesn't get in, they'll go to a private school.

Joseph Lord is the online managing editor for WFPL.