Education

Browsing for Schools

By Jessica L. Tonn — February 21, 2006 1 min read
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The St. Paul, Minn., school district is using the explosive popularity of the Internet to give families new tools for selecting schools.

To help residents navigate the system’s school choice menu, the district has unveiled a new Web site that allows parents to type in their home address to identify which schools are available for their children, and compare their options.

Launched last month at choicecatalog.spps.org, the site offers parents detailed descriptions, maps, test scores, demographics, and other data for each school that their child can attend.

Before the launch of the site, parents were given a printed catalog that explained the district’s school choice process, said Jill Cacy, the assistant director of St. Paul’s student-placement center. The center helps parents through the process of enrolling children in St. Paul public schools and navigating the intradistrict choice program, which has been in place since the late 1970s, Ms. Cacy said.

Rather than calling the center for help, “parents are now doing a lot of the [school choice] homework on their own,” she said.

Information on the site is provided in English, Hmong, Spanish, and Somali. In the 41,000-student district, some 11,000 students identify Hmong as their home language, 4,000 identify Spanish, and 650 identify Somali.

St. Paul secondary students must apply to attend any school in the district, even their neighborhood schools. Secondary schools vary in format and subject focus and draw students from across the city.

Elementary students can enroll in schools in their attendance area, or apply for one of the 32 magnet or “citywide option” schools.

Since the site’s launch on Jan. 21, it has had more than 1,000 visitors, according to Steve Buettner, an educational technology specialist for the district.

A parent of children in the district who is the owner of Urban Planet, a software company based in St. Paul, originally designed and donated the system to the district. The district has since paid $40,000 to upgrade the system, Mr. Buettner wrote in an e-mail last week.

A version of this article appeared in the February 22, 2006 edition of Education Week

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