DeKalb unveils changes to magnet-school process

The DeKalb County School District is rolling out a new enrollment system for its magnet schools after glitches last year in the student selection process prompted changes.

Parents and district officials who tested the new software say the system is more user friendly, can be used on mobile devices and streamlines the process for the approximately 20,000 parents expected to register their children for about 4,000 spots in magnet schools and other accelerated programs.

“It provides clarity for parents as far as ease of use,” said Gary Brantley, the district’s chief information officer. School-choice time “is a tense time for parents, so we wanted to make sure it was a lot easier to use.”

Now, parents will log onto the website for the School Choice program and enroll their children into the lottery for the available spots. That’s where parents’ interaction with the program can end. Brantley said the program will email parents about any changes in their child’s status, including whether they are moved along in waiting lists and whether they are offered places in programs.

“Our goal was to meet the parents where they were, not to have them logging into a system to find updates,” Brantley said.

DeKalb County parent Allyson Gevertz said she and several parents were chosen to test the software before it went into use. She was ready for a change, she said, saying the previous system was difficult to log into, and updates were nearly impossible.

“It was just not user friendly,” she said. “Overall, (the new system) was so much better than the old one. I felt pretty positive about it.”

Complaints began immediately last winter from parents who sought unsuccessfully to get their children into the highly sought programs. Parents have complained for years that students with lower grades and test scores than their children are admitted into an elite program that can put students on the fast track to educational success. In addition to those allegations, a computer-generated lottery system ruled out some students by mistakenly classifying them as living outside the district and by dropping some grades from their records. School Choice Director Pat Copeland said last summer that it was time for the entire system’s software to be replaced.

“I found it to be very hard,” Brantley said of the previous system. “It definitely needed to be revisited.”

Some parents had complained that district staff were not helpful once they ran into problems. Brantley said about 10 staffers have been trained to handle parent questions with the new process.

Magnet schools typically offer more accelerated curricula and have higher success in reading, math and bridging the achievement gap than traditional schools, according to Magnet Schools of America, a member-based nonprofit advocacy group.

About 2,500 students are enrolled in the DeKalb School District’s magnet program, which pulls students from across DeKalb County into 13 magnet schools.

Copeland said in addition to the changes to the online system, parents will get six weeks instead of three to decide which School Choice programs are right for their student, using the time to visit schools and search the district’s website for additional information.

“The six-week window should allow parents to explore and apply for the different options,” she said.

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