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San Diego Schools Choice Program Means More Opportunities for Students but More Work for Parents

Written by Patricia Hawke for

More than one-third of the students in the San Diego schools were enrolled in the Choice Program for the 2005-2006 school year. The program gives parents the ability to transfer their children from their assigned school to one that offers more academic opportunities or specific school attributes. The program offers six methods of eligibility.

Program Improvement School Choice. Children assigned to San Diego schools that have failed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) academic standards may apply to better-ranked San Diego schools. Students applying for transfer under this program generally receive a higher priority than others and receive free transportation. If in the future the assigned San Diego schools pass the NCLB standards, parents may choose to move their children back to the assigned schools or continue in the new schools.

Magnet Schools Program. These San Diego schools are each based upon a theme, such as performing arts, with the curriculum centered around it. Though they provide all the state required basics, students can immerse themselves in the particular subject; whereas in other schools, the theme may only be offered as an elective class or two. Magnet schools are designed to attract a diverse cross section of students from throughout the city. Free transportation is provided to students who live outside a specific mileage range. Acceptance priority is given based upon:

• Demographics — they encourage San Diego schools students living in demographic areas different from where the Magnet School is located to apply,
• Continuity — San Diego schools students in a performing arts elementary school, for example, would be given acceptance priority when applying to a performing arts middle and high school,
• Siblings — San Diego schools students with brothers or sisters already enrolled in the school are given priority,
• Program Improvement — receives a lower priority than the others listed above, and
• General Applications — receives the lowest priority.

Voluntary Ethnic Enrollment Program (VEEP). VEEP was designed to provide a better racial and cultural integrated, educational experience in the San Diego schools. Predominantly Caucasian-populated schools are paired with minority schools for the program. Most transfer students receive free transportation.

Choice Program. Any San Diego schools student is eligible to apply to any school not in the Magnet program. Acceptance is based solely on the space available, and transportation is the parents’ responsibility.

Inter-District Transfer Program. Any student with the state may apply to any school within the San Diego schools. Like the Choice Program, acceptance is based solely on the space available, and transportation is the parents’ responsibility.

Charter Schools Program. These independent schools within the San Diego schools are on space available only and often use a random lottery for application acceptance. Some require that the students applying meet specific criteria. If you are interested in transferring your child to a Charter School, inquire early — they set their own application deadlines.

If you find that your child does not meet any of these criteria or their acceptance priority would be low, there are two other methods of gaining transfer acceptance that are not part of the overall Choice Program. They are through special request and the Gifted and Talented Education Program (GATE). You may submit a special request to the San Diego schools, when your child’s assigned school does not offer specific coursework. These requests are handled on a case-by-case basis. If the GATE program is not offered in your child’s assigned school and your child qualifies, again you may request a transfer to a school that does.

Other than in the Charter Schools, applications to San Diego schools by March 15th for the following school year are given priority.

Though the Choice Program offers a great opportunity to all San Diego schools students, there are a lot of choices. With 212 public schools, including the 31 Magnet Schools and 35 Charter Schools, investigating the schools and their offerings can be overwhelming and time consuming for the parents.

San Diego schools officials offer the following advice:

• All schools offer the required basic coursework, so do not get caught up in “only one school will do” — look at the many other schools, too;
• Look beyond test scores — schools have a lot more to offer, such as specialized education programs;
• Visit the school campus — what looks good on paper may be different in reality, sometimes better and sometimes worse;
• Talk to parents and educators at the school, find out first-hand; and
• Ask if they offer parent seminars and tours before the application deadline.

If you are interested in applying for a transfer to any of the San Diego schools, begin early, list the criteria you wish to be provided by the school, look at all the available schools, choose those that seem to fit your requirements, and then thoroughly investigate each one. It is a lot of homework for the parents, but it can be the best foundation they can give their children.

This information on San Diego schools is brought to you by

About the Author: Patricia Hawke is a staff writer for Schools K-12, providing free, in-depth reports on all U.S. public and private K-12 schools. Patricia has a nose for research and writes stimulating news and views on school issues. For more on San Diego schools visit

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