Hundreds of children in Newark still have no idea what school they'll be attending in less than two weeks because of an apparent backlog in an open-enrollment system that was put into place earlier this year.
The One Newark system instituted by the Board of Education lets parents research schools and rank their preferences for public or charter schools across the city, rather than select the school closest to their home. The new system seeks to improve education in the beleaguered district.
But a final step in the process appeared to flunk for hundreds of families. More than 600 parents sat in line for hours at a Newark Vocational High School Thursday hoping to find out where their children are enrolled, but some never even made it through the door.
Parent Sharrone King said she pulled her two children out of the 13th Avenue School but now says her alternatives aren't much better. Her 10-year-old daughter, an honor student and a cheerleader who wanted to try out for the squad this year, doesn't even know what team she'll be rooting for.
"School's going to start on the 4th. Where are we going to place our kids?" said King.
"This is the first year that this ever happened. But it has to stop," she said.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the former principal of Newark's Central High School who took office in July, said Friday he's deeply concerned about the new enrollment procedures.
"You cannot tell parents a week or so before school starts that they do not have a school location for their child, when if this plan did not exist, parents could have walked to any school in their neighborhood and registered their child on their own," he said.
The district said in a statement it is working "feverishly" to support families and get students enrolled quickly.
"Our goal was to work through challenges now, before the first day of school, so students and families are ready Day One," enrollment director Nancy Deering said in the statement Thursday. "We will increase the number of staff, work through any missteps from today and improve tomorrow in pursuit of that goal."
Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson apologized for the inconvenience in a statement issued Friday.
"Despite operational challenges, we were able to successfully serve approximately 50 percent of the families who arrived yesterday and made arrangements to open early today and Saturday to serve the rest as quickly as possible," Anderson said.
"The number of families requesting new school placements is indicative of what we already know to be true -- that family demand for quality school options far exceeds the number of quality seats we have available today," she added.
By Friday afternoon, there appeared to be some progress. Lines outside the school were disappearing and parents were emerging with positive reports. Binto Kourama said she was able to enroll her daughter in the public school of her choice -- a relief after getting discouraged by Thursday's chaotic crowd.
"At least you know what school your child is going to before school opens," she said.
Newark's schools were brought under state control in 1995 following years of mismanagement, chronically low test scores and crumbling infrastructure in the city of 280,000, where the median household income is less than half the state's average.
The district says the One Newark plan aims to guarantee that all students in the district attend high-performing schools, using the same standards for public and charter schools. The plan is one part of the education reforms financed through a $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.