Last January, I joined more than 100 other parents on the Avery Avenue sidewalk overnight for a chance to receive a golden ticket. Through heavy winds, drenching rain, and 30-degree temperatures, we camped outside the Memphis City School main office to receive a yellow, bar-coded application — a chance for our child’s preferred spot in the Optional Schools program.
The MCS Optional Program offer advanced academics and specialized concentrations in specific topic areas. Students must meet entrance requirements to get into the program as well meet qualifications outlined by individual optional schools. They differ somewhat but include good conduct, grades, and standardized test scores.
“There are 44 wonderful schools to meet different kids’ needs,” says Linda Sklar, director of Optional Schools, “from creative arts to international studies to aviation.”
With a limited number of openings for those not living in the chosen school’s district, the first 80 percent of qualifying transfer students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. That’s why parents wait in line for 13 hours to receive the bar-coded application. The remaining 20 percent are chosen by an electronic lottery.
This year, applications will be given out Monday, January 24th, starting at 6:30 a.m. The line forms the day before.
For the 2011-2012 school year, begin navigating the application process now. First, view the list of optional schools and concentrations on the MCS website. Sklar recommends calling potential schools to plan a tour. “I would really encourage parents to attend open house at different schools, get a feel for what the environment is like.”
After choosing a program, make sure your child meets all the qualifications. If grades or TCAP scores fall below requirements, you may need to obtain private testing through a licensed psychological examiner. The Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement is an approved alternative to TCAP.
“I had planned to get there at midnight,” says Tommy Gardner, a sales executive from Cooper-Young waiting for a first-grade spot at Grahamwood Elementary. “But I got a call from another parent who drove by at noon and said people were already lining up. I got there about 3 p.m. and waited for 16 hours.”
When the rain came, parents made a numbered list so they could wait out the storm and return in the same order. I arrived during the middle of the downpour to an empty sidewalk, planted my chair, and huddled under my umbrella. Quickly, a man emerged from his car and told me about the list. Once I tracked it down, I was number 33.
The parent-made list is not honored by MCS, but it serves to keep everyone civil. At daylight, the line moves inside and you get a time-stamped, bar-coded application. If your child is already a Memphis City School student, you can register online the following day. But if he is transferring from another system or requires private testing, you must return to submit the application by Friday, January 28th. Be sure to bring your child’s social security card, report card, and test scores.
Applications are processed in order of priority. Memphis City qualified siblings attending the same optional school are given first preference. Then, city residents are processed, followed by Shelby County residents with qualified siblings, county residents, state residents, and so on. Students living outside the city limits are subject to tuition costs.
Acceptance letters go out in early March. Keep this in a safe place and bring a copy to school registration in August. Once your child is enrolled in the optional program and maintains the standards, all you have to do is send in a renewal form each year.
On the application, you can list a second choice. If the first program is full, the student will be placed in the second. If both programs are full, the student will be wait-listed for the first choice school until September 2011.
As long as MCS Optional School students maintain academic and conduct standards, they keep their transfers until they complete the program or move on to another school.
“It’s worth the sacrifice,” says Elizabeth Shelton from Cordova, who hoped to get one of the 100 sixth-grade spots open at White Station Middle School. “As a former Spartan, I know the teachers are top notch. I want the best education for my child, even if it means standing outside all night long.”
• Go with a buddy or make friends in line so you can take turns warming up in the car.
• Get your name on the parent list.
• Locate the closest all-night bathroom: Shell filling station at Poplar and Hollywood.
• Bring folding chairs, umbrella, warm blankets, snacks, water, and pocket hand warmers.
• Pack up when news crews arrive.
• Not allowed: Open flames, alcohol, and keep off the grass.