Student assignments are in. Parents suffering from sleepless nights and frenzied nerves over their toddler’s kindergarten placement were finally able to rest in peace when the last of the 560 school assignment letters were mailed out from Berkeley Unified’s Office of Admissions and Attendance earlier this month.
Some, such as incoming Rosa Parks parent Lori Opal, were even able to enjoy a birthday party. “Everyone at the party was talking about their child’s kindergarten assignment. And not everyone was elated,” she told the Planet on Wednesday.
“Some had gotten their second or third choices and that made me really nervous. I kept calling my husband to see if our mail had arrived. Thankfully I got the news that we had got Rosa Parks, our first choice. Everything was great after that.”
Opal, like a lot of other parents, had chosen Rosa Parks because of its excellent Spanish Immersion Program.
At a “coffee, tea and treats” get-together hosted by Rosa Parks PTA president Tracy Hollander on Sunday, incoming parents got to ask questions.
“Sometimes non-Spanish speaking parents are concerned about the logistics of the Immersion Program. Talking to parents who have experienced that with their children in the past helps a lot,” Hollander said.
She added that there were also parents who had not listed Rosa Parks as a first choice.
“There are always disappointments, but the job of the PTA is to help parents get over those and to have as smooth a transition to kindergarten as possible.”
Robin Gadient, parent of a kindergartner at Rosa Parks, had listed the school as a third choice last year.
“We had wanted Thousand Oaks or Jefferson,” she said. “We don’t hang out in the area where Rosa Parks is located. But we were seventh on the waiting list for Thousand Oaks and way down on the list for Jefferson. That was definitely disappointing.”
A year later, Gadient has no complaints. “Everything changed when we got to meet our child’s excellent kindergarten teacher, Tracy Iglehart. She’s an environmentalist and a literacy specialist,” she said. “I just love the vibrant and amazing community at Rosa Parks. I am glad I stayed on.”
A small section of parents were not happy with their kindergarten assignment this year, said Francisco Martinez, manager of attendance and admissions for BUSD.
“I have met with the families and heard their concerns. I have asked them to get in touch with the teachers and principals at the respective schools and to not make a decision based on urban myth,” he said.
If families aren’t happy with their child’s placement then they can have the child’s name added to the waiting list of the school they desire. “If they don’t register their students in a school between April 10 and May 10,” he continued, “then their [original] assignments are taken away and they are given a chance from the waiting list” of the school they hope to enroll in.
Thousand Oaks Elementary School—which has the most number of spaces with four classrooms—saw an enrollment of 72 students this year. Rosa Parks, which has three and a half classrooms, was assigned close to 70.
Emerson, John Muir, Oxford and Jefferson—which have two classrooms per school—took in forty students each.
The assignment system lets parents put their first, second and third school choices and then the computer runs a lottery to give the final placement.
“The chances of getting a school out of your zone is very slim,” said BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan. The lottery takes into account factors such as race, ethnicity, student background and parental income and education.
“People often don’t want to put a certain school as their first choice. Ironically one of the biggest places we used to see that was Rosa Parks,” he said.
“Rosa Parks was quite a distance away from where most families lived and it was falling behind state standards in the past. It has been a Program Improvement School for the last five years. But we have put huge resources into making it better and I am proud to say that more parents want to put their kids into Rosa Parks today.”
Shana Rocklin, who had applied for the Immersion Program at Rosa Parks said that although there had been hesitancy about the history of the school, their doubts were cleared after extensive discussion with other parents.
“My son is coming home speaking sentences in Spanish and we are learning from him as well,” she said excitedly.
Hollander attributes the success of the school to its principal, Pat Saddler. “She is ‘Berkeley’s Best,’ and knows every child by name.” she said. “I could not be more happy with the education my first grader is receiving. It’s a positive learning environment for both the children and the community,” she said proudly.