clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How to change high schools in midstream

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

High school students in Philadelphia public schools transfer for two basic reasons: They are having problems at their current school or they hope for better educational opportunities elsewhere.

In either case, District officials are working to make the changes quicker and easier.

“We want to be able to streamline the process,” says Danielle Seward, deputy chief of student enrollment and placement.

But while students can transfer even as late as 12th grade, it’s always easier to find an opening and get into the right high school at the outset – by starting that process in 8th grade.

If a transfer seems desirable once high school is underway, though, school officials recommend starting as early as possible, particularly if a student is considering a career program with a three-year track.

Except in emergencies, students who want to change high schools within the District have an eight-week window to complete the transfer process for the 2013-14 school year, from September 7 to November 2. For charters, the application deadlines vary and may come later in the school year.

For voluntary transfers – the most common kind – Seward recommends that parents and students start with the counselors at their current school and with the District’s High School Directory, available online or at one of the District’s family resource centers (see box, p. 8). While there is no way to know now what openings will be available next spring, counselors should be helpful in assessing whether a student is likely to meet any admission requirements.

Once the choices have been narrowed, the student should attend the High School Fair on September 28-29 at District headquarters. Students, teachers, and staff from all District and charter high schools will be there to give presentations and answer questions.

The student should then call any schools of interest and schedule a personal visit, Seward says. “Go to the school and ask the tough questions.”

But she cautions that before doing this, it is worth checking out transportation time to and from the school. Ride the bus and subway at the times you would be using it.

All students attending schools 1.5 miles or more from their home are given a SEPTA TransPass, but in some cases, she says, students have found that the travel time to and from their neighborhood places a burden on them or their family.

Parents may also want to contact the principal to get the name of a parent leader, such as the head of the School Advisory Council, and get their views on the school and the administration.

Students are notified in the spring if their transfer request has been accepted.

Emergency transfers are available in rare cases, usually when a student feels unsafe or threatened and can provide documentation such as a police report. There must also be a record of past efforts by the school and the parents to remedy the situation. These transfers are initiated through the school and can usually be arranged in a matter of weeks.

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), students in schools designated as “persistently dangerous” by the state can transfer to schools not on the list as long as they meet the admissions criteria. Twelve Philadelphia schools now have that label. Schools are required to notify parents when their child’s school is on the list and supply a list of receiving schools. These transfers can also be effective in a matter of weeks. Parents will also be told the steps the school is taking to reduce the number of serious incidents and get off the persistently dangerous list for the following year.

An additional avenue for high school transfers under NCLB, available in previous years, is no longer an option, school officials say. Students previously could apply for a transfer if their school failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress performance targets for two consecutive years. But now the District has no receiving high schools available for these transfers. Parents still do receive a notification letter from the District about their school’s status, and these students, in some cases, are eligible for special services, including private tutoring if they fall under NCLB low-income guidelines.

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.

Connect with your community

Find upcoming Philadelphia events


  1. Dec 8 – Virtual Information Session

Sign up for the newsletter Chalkbeat Philadelphia

Sign up for our newsletter.