Easing the Nightmare: Online Resource Helps Parents Navigate the Schools

It’s tough to get parents to think about September in January, but when it comes to enrolling in the school system, January is like the first day of school.

This week opens up the school enrollment priority round, and many parents are trying to figure out the ins and outs of how to enroll, where to enroll, and what schools are available.

That process has never been harder to navigate, and a good many parents find themselves nursing migraine headaches when trying to figure out the process and system of getting their children into the best Boston Public School, charter school or private school.

That process has gotten much easier now courtesy of the Boston School Finder non-profit organization, which curates a one-source website for parents to see all their options for schooling in Boston – whether it’s public school, private school or charter schools.

And the time, said Executive Director Latoya Gayle, is now.

“A lot of families don’t realize they have to be thinking of September in January, but the best time to enroll is now,” she said, speaking of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Priority Registration. “That time is important because of the way the lottery system works for BPS. Everyone who gets in during the first round will get a lottery number and then choices will be made for the first round. In the second round (after Jan. 31), the only choices are what’s left over after the first round. The charter lottery is also coming up in February, and it’s very easy and can be done online. The private schools have rolling deadlines, but now is the time for them as well. It’s important to remember you can always refuse a seat, but you can’t refuse a seat that isn’t there when you apply.”

The Priority Registration for BPS started this week and runs through Jan 31. It is particularly critical for parents looking to enroll kids who are going into grades KO (Age 3), K1 (Age 4), 6th grade, 7th grade and 9th grade.

In January, BPS holds open houses at many of its schools, as do charter schools and private schools. Every school is a community unto itself, and when parents are put in the position of trying to find the best fit, it can be daunting just to know what is available.

That’s where Boston School Finder can help, said Gayle.

Gayle learned the system through raw experience, and it wasn’t always a good experience. She has a junior in high school, and a 4-year-old headed into kindergarten. She said her experiences drove her to begin looking to create a non-profit to help parents like her find information on all of their options.

“I have a junior in high school and my youngest just started kindergarten,” she said. “I remember obsessing for hours trying to figure out a school for my oldest child. I’m not originally from here so it seemed so outrageous because it’s something that should be simple. When I started the process again with my 4-year-old, I quickly saw nothing had changed. It was crazy. Boston School Finder is a response to that experience, which so many other parents have also experienced.”

This is the second year for the non-profit, and the third school choice round that they’ve been up and running for. The goal, Gayle said, is not to rate schools or tell parents where their kids should go. Rather, it’s to let them know all of the options that are available, the processes they need to follow, and the resources that are available.

“School Finder is a website with a comprehensive database of all the schools in Boston across all sections,” she said. “We have BPS schools, charters and private and religious schools accessible to most people. Parents can really look at the plethora of choices they have in the City, all located in one place on our site. It’s a lot easier than trying to skim around everywhere to find the information.

“We do not rank schools because what I think is a great school for my kid, that same school may not be the best school for some other family,” she continued. “Families do need information and knowledge of the process and we try to give them all the information and options – and what people say about how certain schools are doing in certain areas. With that information, they can make the decisions.”

The website is translated into eight languages, and it is free to the public. Boston School Finder also has developed a network of parents, and has – and is looking for – Parent Ambassadors to help spread the word and ease the stress of finding a good school in the city. The site is very mobile-friendly and can be easily accessed via computer, phone or tablet. The web address is www.bostonschoolfinder.org.

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