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It's school choice week. Here are 7 things families should know as they try to find the right school

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Posted at 5:34 PM, Jan 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-23 19:34:25-05

DENVER – The academic year isn’t even halfway through yet, but it’s already time to start thinking about next year and where your kids will be going to school.

Jan. 22 to 28 is National School Choice Week, a nationwide effort to promote school choice and educate families on their options in K-12 education.

Colorado is one of 10 states that allows parents to opt out of sending kids to their default neighborhood school in favor of a school of their choice, without restrictions.

In Denver, the first round of school choice enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year is open until Jan. 31.

Brian Eschbacher, Executive Director of Planning and Choice at Denver Public Schools, says about half of Denver’s 92,000 students attend their neighborhood school while the other half opt to attend the school of their choice.

Denver uses a single, district-wide lottery system, Eschbacher said. That means each student is randomly assigned a number between one and a million and an algorithm places students in schools based on the available number of seats and each student’s preferences. When applying, each family picks five school choices and ranks them in order of preference.

Using that system, about 85 percent of families ended up at their top choice last year, Eschbacher said.

Because Denver’s lottery system is district-wide, families can pick up and submit an application at any school in the city, regardless of their school choices.

Deciding which school your kids should attend can be overwhelming. There are about 200 schools in the city, each with different things that make them unique.

Some schools are in higher demand than others. Eschbacher said East High School tends to be one of the most popular choices for families in the school choice program. In general, middle school tends to be when families decide to choose a school because that’s when curricula and other characteristics really begin to differentiate between schools.

Here are some of the major factors the U.S. Department of Education suggests researching before making a choice:

1. Curriculum
Does the school have a particular focus? What kinds of classes does it offer beyond the core subjects? What kind of programs or classes are available for advanced students?

2. Location
How important is it that the school be close to home/work/daycare? How far are you willing to drive or have your child ride the bus?

3. Teaching/learning styles
Does the school have a particular approach or philosophy? Does your child learn better in certain environments? How many students are in each class?

4. Academic performance
How do the school’s test scores compare to other schools in the district? Have those scores gone up or down in recent years? What’s the graduation rate?

5. Safety
What kind of safety procedures does the school have? Is there a school resource officer on duty during the day? Does the school have emergency plans and drills?

6. After-school programs and other offerings
Does the school offer academic or other programs after school or on weekends? Will your student be participating in any sports? Do classes go on field trips often?

7. Behavior policies
What kind of discipline policy does the school have in place? Is the school proactive about preventing and addressing behavior issues? Does the school have programs to encourage good behavior?

As families decide which schools they’re interested in, it can be helpful to visit the building to meet staff and get a feel for the learning environment. The best way to arrange a visit or tour is to contact the school directly.

Families can also find information such as academic performance, what makes each school unique and contact information on Denver Public Schools’ school choice website at schoolchoice.dpsk12.org.

Eschbacher said parents with questions or concerns can also call the district at 720-423-3493. Operators who speak several languages are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

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