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Kindergarten enrollment crunch spreads to Meredith Elementary

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

Sparked by the recent kindergarten enrollment drama at Penn Alexander School in University City, parents this week have quickly gobbled up the available kindergarten seats at popular Meredith Elementary in Queen Village.

Now, parents from the surrounding community are facing a possible waiting list to get their children into their neighborhood school — and the School District is facing questions about seemingly inconsistent enrollment policies across the city.

Meredith, a K-8 school at Fifth and Fitzwater Streets, has two kindergarten classes serving 60 students.

"Usually, a handful of parents will show up on the first few days, and by summer we’re full," said principal Cindy Farlino, who has been at the school for five years.

This year, those seats were gone in two days, filled by parents from the catchment area.

"Parents told me that this year they saw that parents were lined up on the street to get spots at Penn Alexander, and they were nervous that there might be the same issue here," she said.

Overall, Meredith is at 108 percent capacity, according to District data.

As in the West Philadelphia neighborhood surrounding Penn Alexander, Queen Village residents pay premium prices for real estate, in part, due to their neighborhood school’s stellar reputation.

Now some of those families may not have access to the school for kindergarten.

"What will happen at Meredith will be what happens at other neighborhood schools," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard. "A waiting list is created."

If there are more interested families than seats, parents from the list will be redirected to other schools in the area.

In Queen Village, that will most likely be Nebinger Elementary, 601 Carpenter St.

"We’re going to do everything we can to maintain Meredith’s excellence and make sure that Nebinger achieves its potential," said a representative of the Queen Village Neighbors Association. "Everyone in Queen Village understands that the excellence of our public schools is central to our neighborhood."

On Friday morning, a line began forming outside Penn Alexander, a full four days before kindergarten registration officially opened.

For several years, the District has handled the excess demand at the school by enrolling students on a first-come, first-served basis. In each of the last three years, though, the line has started forming earlier.

Friday evening, District officials suddenly reversed course, saying that Penn Alexander enrollment would now be done by a lottery.

"We believe that is a good place to pilot a lottery because the seats are being filled by parents who are able and willing to wait two or three days outside in the cold, and not every parent can do that," Gallard said.

Many parents were outraged. Superintendent William Hite met with about 100 people at the school earlier this week.

Gallard said he has no update on how the District will proceed at Penn Alexander. For the moment, a lottery is still being planned, although the District is holding meetings with parents and community members to solicit information and feedback.

An enrollment lottery is not being considered for Meredith, Gallard said, because the level of parental demand "is completely different than what we have seen at Penn Alexander." It’s still possible that spaces could open up at the school before September, he said.

A child from the Meredith catchment area who registers for kindergarten at Nebinger could also reapply next year and be admitted to Meredith for first grade if seats are available, Gallard said. But neighborhood schools do turn students from the catchment area away when they reach their capacity.

"I’m shocked," said parent Karen Breese, who was No. 11 in the enrollment line outside Penn Alexander.

Breese said she hopes the developments at Meredith are a sign that the District is reconsidering the idea of enrollment lotteries for kindergarten seats at neighborhood schools.

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