The highly sought-after specialty programs in Prince George’s County Public Schools had a different problem this year. Instead of not having enough seats for interested students, several programs simply didn’t have enough interested students.
Entrance into the specialty programs — offerings that include Talented and Gifted Center schools and language immersion curricula — occurs via a lottery system. The lottery application process occurred in the spring, but was reopened July 30 to fill the vacant slots (parents had until Aug. 4 to reapply).
The vacancies are surprising, as some of the most popular programs still had vacancies. For example, last school year, there were 358 students on the waiting list for TAG center schools; as of early this month, a total of about 200 seats were available at 10 of the county’s 11 TAG center schools. The John Hanson French Immersion program had 198 applicants for the 75 seats available last academic year; 20 seats hadn’t been filled by early this month.
Surely, parents jumped on the most recent chance to take part in specialty programs; it would be a shame for such opportunities to be missed.
School officials say there are several reasons for the unfilled slots, such as the fact that parents were able to apply to multiple schools and, once they selected a school, the other options may be left vacant; and other students may have chosen to go to neighborhood schools rather than enter a specialty program for which they applied.
Delores Millhouse, cofounder of the grassroots language immersion parents group, My Bilingual Child, expressed frustration over the empty seats.
“We do have a lot of parents who are pulling out, because they didn’t know what was going on,” Millhouse said of the Spanish immersion program being offered for the first time at two county schools this academic year (where a total of 20 kindergarten seats were still available earlier this month).
Granted, if the school system failed to get information regarding the Spanish immersion program out to parents — whether it was due to the timing of the program’s approval or other challenges — officials need to review what went wrong and ensure the problems are fixed.
Given that long-standing specialty programs also encountered vacancies, it’s likely that there are other factors involved. It’s possible that parents who have tried unsuccessfully to get their children in programs through the lottery simply didn’t bother to try again, or perhaps parents have found other options to fill the curriculum needs they were hoping to find in a specialty school.
On the bright side, having more seats than expected is much better than not having enough. For years, parents have decried the lack of options in schools, and schools CEO Kevin Maxwell appears to have heard their cry.
Since he was hired a year ago, Maxwell has focused greatly on expanding program offerings, dedicating $21.7 million toward the effort last school year. The fiscal 2015 school budget also makes a concerted effort to aid specialty programs, to include language immersion, career technology, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.
It appears his work is paying off — as long as parents make an effort to reap the benefits.