On Monday, December 3, 2018, I visited the Central Registration Center on Ash St. and met with Associate Superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams and new Director of the CRC Ms. Anne Henry.
I was impressed with the welcoming environment when I entered the building. Before taking a tour, Ms. Henry and I dialogued for some time on changes and ongoing concerns. Ms. Henry was very willing and prepared to answer some hard questions. Though she just began as the new Director in August, it was clear that she had an understanding of parent concerns, had already begun making positive changes, and was actively exploring ways to make additional changes.
Ms. Henry gave examples that the CRC is intentionally becoming service-oriented and more responsive to parent needs. Staff are engaging in two-way conversations with parents for registration. A parent, who I know well, recently experienced this change firsthand, sharing that the in-person registration was a much more positive experience than what she experienced last year. I believe this was some of the intent by the CRC to only accept in-person registrations, this year. Ms. Henry indicated this was also implemented to avoid registrations being lost in the mail or through fax. However, concern was raised that the in-person-only registration made it difficult for working parents and those with transportation needs. As a result, the CRC recently added evening hours on Thursdays and an option to email completed applications. Ms. Henry indicated that steps are being taken to eventually make the entire registration process electronic, hopefully by next year.
I inquired about new parents being notified about a placement at an earlier time in the spring. Ms. Henry indicated that other factors beyond the CRC often impact this, such as, criterion-based school determinations/acceptances and each school’s budgets. Without all information known from building principals, it delays notifying all parents earlier.
I inquired about new parents not getting one of their five choices and the need for some recourse when this occurs, such as, inviting a parent in to explore other placements and possibly tour other schools. Ms. Henry indicated openness to this in partnership with school principals. She noted, however, that there are some applications with only one or two schools selected and in many of these cases parents are not open to exploring other schools beyond the one or two choices. As a BPS parent and parent leader, this is a narrative and expectation that we collectively need to work on changing. We discussed collective efforts to promote and market other schools (i.e. school brochures, short social media video, such as, what was done on the new North Park Community School #50, etc…). Dr. Williams indicated that some of this work also falls on building principals- to market and recruit in their school communities.
Logistically, the CRC space and staff have changed locations and roles. For example, the first room up front now has additional staff to address more immediate and less involved matters (i.e. proof of residency). Ms. Henry also showed me the office with several cultural resource specialists to assist our new American and multilingual families. Ms. Henry also spoke about a staff member who is responsible for McKinney-Vento and students experiencing homelessness.
I inquired about the difficulty for parents to reach the CRC staff by phone with questions and concerns. Ms. Henry is currently having the Technology Dept. rework how phone calls are routed to make it more likely that a call is routed to an available CRC staff member. In addition, Ms. Henry is looking into having one staff person operate as a dispatcher, always prepared to answer a call and then direct the call to the appropriate staff. I can say firsthand, after calling Ms. Henry to follow-up on a matter just recently, a staff did pick up and was responsive to my call. This had not been my experience in the past.
I inquired about the CRC being more accessible in schools and communities. Ms. Henry indicated that they have already begun to have staff out in community centers to meet with parents and complete registrations. One recent example, was the Belle Center on the West Side.
Ms. Henry described how the “wait pools” for particular schools work and these are often mistaken for waitlists. She indicated that a student is placed into a particular pool (i.e. sibling preference or neighborhood preference) and that a computer system randomly draws from these pools. Ms. Henry followed up with me on how this system works. The system randomly selects students in the pool based on preferences indicated. If there is not a parent acceptance from that first student picked, then that student is removed and the system runs again to randomly select another student.
Ms. Henry shared that the CRC processes a large volume of cases indicating that the CRC had processed over 3000 cases since July.
The meeting and visit left me feeling optimistic about the direction CRC is moving in under the leadership of Ms. Henry. We have work to do. Let’s work together to ensure that the CRC continues to move forward with transparency, accessibility, responsiveness to parents, and providing timely placement determinations.
You can review the updated Central Registration Website to learn more about the application process.