The last minute scramble for school placement

With just over three weeks to go before the start of the school year, some Philadelphia public school parents are still hunting for open roster spots.

Gena Hutson of Germantown is one of them. She’s searching for a slot for her daughter, who will begin high school in September.

During the 2010-2011 school year, Hutson’s daughter attended a seventh to 12th grade charter school near the Allegheny West section of the city.

“It’s a nice school, but I really didn’t understand a lot of the teachers,” said Hutson of her decision to switch schools.

Huston said the process of finding a new high school hasn’t been easy. Most enrollments are full for the upcoming year.

“It’s been very hard because I didn’t know the rules and regulations and that you had to pick schools last year,” said Hutson, who has narrowed things down to three schools.

Tanya Johnson of North Philadelphia is also looking to enroll her daughter in a new high school. For the past three years, Johnson’s daughter has attended Germantown High School.

Johnson said she’s looking for an alternative that’s smaller, safer and more academically challenging.

“They’ll pass you doing nothing and then there’s too much drama in the school,” said Johnson, who added that her daughter has nearly been stabbed on two different occasions at Germantown.

As part of their searches, Hutson and Johnson attended a recent open house at Hope Charter School, an independent public high school in West Oak Lane.

Now entering its 10th school year, Hope offers smaller classroom sizes – about 18 students – and three academic tracks depending on whether a student is interested in college, trade school or entering the job market after graduation.

And while not specifically focused on at-risk students, Hope Charter School does welcome and work with that population.

Principal Eric Worley said August is usually the busiest time for the school’s admissions department because school officials are still working to finalize enrollment numbers.

Worley said a number of families approach the school for the first time throughout that month.

“Hope may not be their first choice of schools so they may be going around looking at other school situations and then they say ‘oh we didn’t get into this school. We didn’t get into this school. Ok. We’re going to take a look at Hope,'” said Worley.

“Or at the last minute they decide that they want to get their kid out of school that they’re going to,” he said.

Worley said not all of the school’s 440 spaces have been filled for the 2011-2012 school year. Typically, he said, there are openings available for ninth and 12th grade students.

After Worley’s presentation, Hutson said she will certainly consider the school.

“The small class size is a plus,” she said.

Johnson had her mind pretty much made up for a similar reason.

“[Hope] would be better,” she said. “Eighteen kids in a class we know that she’s going to get a good education.”

The first day of school is Sept. 6.

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