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Dallas Public School Choice Program Seeks to Expand District Options

Under its public school choice program, the Dallas school district has been attempting to increase the different types of academic models students have access to and encourage parents to give the district a second look.

The idea is to provide parents and students with schools that best fit their children's learning styles and interests, the district says.

The program, which went into effect under previous superintendent Mike Miles, aims to create 35 "choice" schools by the year 2020. About 15 such schools are already in existence or have been approved.

The choice schools fall into a couple of different categories. Transformation schools are completely new schools, with open enrollment policies, which are selected through a competitive application process. Innovation schools are existing neighborhoods schools in which the school leadership team gets approval to adopt a new academic model. 

Models can focus on leadership; business and entrepreneurship; science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM or its variant STEAM, with the arts included); Montessori; and others. 

Mike Koprowski, chief of the district's transformation and innovation office, and Mohammed Choudhury, the office's director, spoke to Education Week last month about the program, and Solar Preparatory School for Girls, a single-gender, STEAM, dual-language school, which is part of the public school choice initiative.

Solar Preparatory, which was one of three single-gender schools that opened in August, had an open enrollment policy. The district also had the added goal of creating a school in which half of the students qualified for free-and-reduced price meals. The district received 360 applications for 198 slots at the school, Koprowski said.

The socio-economic diversity pilot at Solar Prep was one way to begin to address the segregated nature of Dallas' schools, they said.

There was some early evidence indicating that the new choice schools were drawing families to the district—another explicit district goal, they said. 

About 1,600 applications poured in for 617 seats in four schools earlier this year, according to Koprowski. About 668 of the students in the applicant pool were not current Dallas ISD students, he said. Some had previously attended charter schools, others private schools, and others came from private or non-Dallas ISD early childhood programs.

The preliminary numbers, Koprowski said, "suggest that families that are not currently in the system are opting back into these schools, and we are encouraged by those results."

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