'Controlled choice' for school admission goes beyond proximity

When George Savage researched where to move from Brickell with his family, he considered Coral Gables, “the city beautiful.” But he learned that even buying a home across the street from Coral Gables Preparatory Academy would not guarantee his children seats there and eventually opted to move south to Pinecrest.

In Coral Gables’ controlled choice program for public school admission, parents apply to their top two preferences among Coral Gables Preparatory Academy, Sunset Elementary and G.W. Carver Elementary. But they may actually get their third choice.

“We did not feel comfortable with the choices,” said Mr. Savage. “Everyone knows that Gables is overcrowded and Sunset has around 1,200 kids … With the current economic situation there are a lot more kids coming into the public school system and the crowding of schools will be increased.”

An attorney, Mr. Savage supported the opening of Somerset Academy Coral Gables but predicts the city will block expansion as he believes is needed. “The big draw to Pinecrest is its schools and these are solely based on location.”

This year the Miami-Dade Public School System reduced the number of schools in the controlled choice program from 14 to eight, including the three in Coral Gables.

Through controlled choice, parents meeting the basic admissions requirements who already have a child in the school and live closer to it than the others are given preferential consideration for their child’s application in the random selection process.

After that preference is given for a family with a sibling enrolled but no proximity, then a family with only proximity and lastly a family with no sibling and no proximity.

Parents should also submit their application as early as the school permits and apply for kindergarten when the controlled choice program begins rather than first grade when most slots are filled, said Miami-Dade Public School’s director of budgets and operations Virna Kaufman, adding that a child who attended a pre-K program offered at Gables Preparatory and Sunset still has to reapply for kindergarten and doesn’t have any unfair admissions advantage.

But they can also apply to any of the over 100 magnets around the county as well as to charter schools such as the popular Somerset Academy in Coral Gables or South Miami.

Those who don’t want to enroll their children in their assigned controlled choice school can go through the appeals process where officials will look for “alternative options” based on proximity, workplace and other factors. One lesser-known school that children have been reassigned to is the A-rated David Fairchild Elementary near the University of Miami.

“They were accepting transfers from parents who appealed in controlled choice but couldn’t get in,” Ms. Kaufman said. “There are some schools that have stayed empty because the neighborhood has aged…there are other options around Coral Gables that are very good, viable options.”

While Gables Preparatory and Sunset usually fill up on the first application round, Ms. Kaufman called Carver, with 527 students, “a little more warm and attentive and flexible.”

“They have to look at the school. A lot of times parents judge without knowledge…As a parent you need to find what’s best for your kid."

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