published Monday, July 18th, 2011

Most North Georgia students stay in zoned schools

by Kelli Gauthier
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Three years into a statewide open enrollment policy, most North Georgia students seem pretty happy to stay at their zoned schools.

Despite a Georgia law requiring all school districts to post online all vacancies in each classroom at every school, only seven students in Catoosa County have requested to move to a different school.

“We do have some, but you know, not a great deal that take advantage of this opportunity,” said Susan Wells, co-director of student services for Catoosa County Schools.

Like other local school districts, Catoosa County had been offering open enrollment more informally for years. If parents wanted their child to attend a school other than the one they were zoned for, they could just apply directly with the principal of that school, Wells said. If there was room at the school, typically the request was granted.

Now Catoosa officials must follow a projected enrollment formula that takes into account that students may move into a district after the school year begins.

“This probably limits it a little more for parents than the situation previous to this house bill,” Wells said.

A year after the Georgia open enrollment law went into effect, the Whitfield County Board of Education took it a step further, opening their schools up to students from other school districts.

Including students from Murray, Catoosa, Walker and Gordon counties, and those hoping to transfer within Whitfield County, officials say 105 students have applied to switch schools.

Judy Gilreath, assistant superintendent of support services for Whitfield County Schools, says the open enrollment policy doesn’t lead to overcrowding in schools perceived to be good, and under-utilization in schools perceived as bad.

“Of course, I think all of our schools are good; you may have students transferring out of a school, but you also have students transferring into a school,” she said. “It’s not just because they think the school is better; it’s maybe closer to where [a parent] works, [or] it’s closer to a grandparent who’s going to pick them up.”

All school districts in Georgia are required to post the number of available classroom spaces by July 1 and give parents two weeks to apply for them. The deadline for most districts was the end of last week.

If a school district receives more applications than they have spaces available, the system must hold a lottery, but that has yet to happen in Whitfield County, Gilreath said.

“So far, I’ve been able to accommodate everyone who has asked.”

about Kelli Gauthier...

Kelli Gauthier covers K-12 education in Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She started at the paper as an intern in 2006, crisscrossing the region writing feature stories from Pikeville, Tenn., to Lafayette, Ga. She also covered crime and courts before taking over the education beat in 2007. A native of Frederick, Md., Kelli came south to attend Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. Before newspapers, ...

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