Apply for school of choice now

School of Choice applications will be available in all School District 51 schools and at the Emerson Building at 930 Ute Ave., starting at 10 a.m. today.

Parents can fill out a School of Choice application if they want their child to attend a District 51 school that is outside of their neighborhood attendance boundaries.

The applications can be submitted at any school or at Emerson between Monday and 4 p.m. March 1.

In 2011-12, 1,534 students applied for School of Choice and 1,306 students were allowed to go to the school of their choice. All traditional district schools participate in the choice process unless they have no space for extra students.

District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz said current School of Choice policy worked a few years ago, when the district was adding up to 900 students per year and there wasn’t much room to grant School of Choice applications.

Now, with the student population dropping and an enrollment dip of another 150 students predicted for 2013-14, Schultz said the timing is right to revisit the board policies that govern School of Choice.

District 51 School Board members will vote Feb. 19 on some possible changes to the School of Choice application process.

Two revised board policies, if adopted, would ask school principals to inform applicants by March 30 if there is room for their child to attend the school of their choice.

Parents would have to either accept or reject an offer of a spot at a school by April 15.

If an applicant is denied, the revised policy allows for a second application window over the summer.

If they are denied again, they could apply instead for a school transfer that may be approved at any time before or during the upcoming school year.

Schultz said he does not plan on the district having a second application window this year.

Current School of Choice policy allows principals to wait until possibly after the school year has started to see how enrollment turns out and tell parents whether a School of Choice request can be granted.

Some parents apply for multiple schools, so that late deadline can leave the other schools guessing where the student will show up on the first day of school.

The new system, Schultz said, will ask parents to list all schools they are applying to and list them in order of preference and require principals to make enrollment predictions earlier so parents can learn which school accepted them sooner and pick one earlier in the year.

That means parents and schools both will know sooner where a student is headed and principals can staff classrooms appropriately, Schultz said.

“In many cases principals felt like they had to wait until people showed up to see how many students they had, so they didn’t tell (choice) parents yes or no until August,” he said.

This way “families don’t have to wait as long and we have a clearer picture of what’s going on.”

At least 12 hurt by Mississippi tornado

HATTIESBURG, Miss. — A tornado tore through Hattiesburg on Sunday as part of a wave of severe storms that downed trees, damaged buildings and injured more than a dozen people.

The twister traveled down one of Hattiesburg’s main streets and mangled homes, commercial buildings and structures on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi. Emergency officials said at least 10 people were injured in surrounding Forrest County and three were hurt to the west in Marion County, but they weren’t aware of any deaths.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Greg Flynn said it appears that a single tornado caused the damage in those two counties and Lamar County. Hundreds of homes are damaged in Forrest County, along with a couple dozen in the other two.

Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency.

Flynn said the sheer scope of the damage was slowing their assessment.

Tip on fugitive focuses on shopping mall


IRVINE, Calif. — Police have evacuated a Los Angeles home improvement store after a caller said they had seen someone resembling a fugitive ex-police officer suspected of three killings.

Los Angeles police spokesman Gus Villanueva says the caller reported a sighting of 33-year-old Christopher Dorner on Sunday. Police were sent to the Northridge area, but Villanueva couldn’t say whether the tip has turned out to be legitimate.

News helicopters showed police helping customers and employees leave a Lowe’s Home Improvement store. A command post has been established nearby.

The search since Thursday evening had focused on mountains 80 miles east of Los Angeles where Dorner’s burned truck was found. But authorities have found no recent signs of Dorner.

LA officials announced a $1 million reward earlier Sunday for information leading to Dorner’s arrest.


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