Parents hoping to get their children into Surrey’s most popular “choice” school programs will no longer have to strengthen their dialling finger or recruit their friends prior to registration day.
Registration for French immersion, Montessori, fine arts and traditional programs has traditionally taken place during a one-day phone-in session, with parents frantically dialling and re-dialling – some even having “telephone parties” – trying to get through on the jammed lines in hopes of securing a sought-after spot.
But beginning next year, a new online process for choice kindergarten applications is being implemented, with a much longer, three-week window to register.
There will be no queue and seats will be allocated in a random draw, with parents automatically notified by email whether they’ve secured a space or have been put on a waiting list.
Successful applicants will have two days to accept the seat. If declined, the space will be offered to the next student on the waiting list.
As opposed to the old system where children were placed on individual school wait lists, those who don’t immediately get a spot will now be placed on a district-wide list and notified if a space at any school with the desired program opens up.
“I think it’s great they listened – finally – to some of the issues,” said South Surrey mom Erin McCall, who struggled to get her daughter into French immersion this year after calling in and being placed on a months-long waiting list.
But, she says, the new system doesn’t address the biggest problem: The number of student spots available in French immersion falls far short of the demand.
Currently six of Surrey’s 101 elementary schools offer early French immersion – by far the most popular choice program.
“There’s still going to be people turned away from all of them,” said McCall. “It’s sad to me that there’s a bunch of parents and kids who want to try harder at being bilingual and it’s so difficult. I don’t understand why they can’t sort this out.”
Surrey School Trustee Shawn Wilson acknowledges things still aren’t perfect but is optimistic the new system will alleviate at least some of the frustration.
“There will still be disappointed people,” he said, “but at least they know they were part of a fair game.”
He said meeting the demand for French immersion continues to be a huge struggle due to a lack of available school space in elementary schools to open new French classrooms.
“That’s a real problem for us,” he said, noting the high population growth in Surrey leaves little to no wriggle room in schools.
Simply adding portable classrooms is not an option, Wilson added, because choice programs must be cost-neutral and portables are a significant expense.
The new online registration also pertains to the two fine arts, three Montessori and three traditional school programs in Surrey.
It’s essential that parents still register their child at their local catchment school before applying to a choice program. Regular kindergarten registration at local schools begins Jan. 19 and the online applications for the four choice programs opens Jan. 26 and closes Feb. 16.
On Feb. 24 a random lottery draw for the choice programs will take place and an email will be sent to all applicants between March 2 and 6.
Registration for other choice programs, such as international baccalaureate, Inter-A, gifted, and discovery will remain unchanged.