Specialty programs in Prince George’s County Public Schools have been expanded, but as of last week, some of those seats were empty.
“There were more than enough parents who applied to specialty programs, but not all of those chose to enroll,” said school board chairman Segun Eubanks.
Eubanks said parents can enter the lottery for multiple specialty schools, and some may have gotten their first and second choice schools. Others may have changed their minds and decided to go with their neighborhood schools.
The school system offers several specialty schools, such as French language immersion, Montessori education, and now Spanish language immersion, as well as schools with specialized programs for students identified as Talented and Gifted, or TAG, during second-grade testing.
Entry into these programs is often competitive, and openings are filled via a lottery held every spring.
Last year, there were 354 students on the wait list for TAG center schools, and 198 students applied to enter the John Hanson French Immersion program, which had approximately 75 seats available, according to school officials.
Increasing school choice through expansion of specialty schools and the creation of Spanish immersion schools was a large part of school system CEO Kevin Maxwell’s agenda during his first year, and $21.7 million was directed towards program expansions in the 2014-15 budget.
PGCPS spokesman Max Pugh said that as of July 30, when the application process was reopened, 20 kindergarten seats were available for two of the school system’s new Spanish Immersion program, Overlook Elementary in Temple Hills and Phyllis E. Williams Elementary in Upper Marlboro.
Twenty seats remained open at the John Hanson French Immersion School at Shugart in Temple Hills, and approximately 200 seats in total were available in 10 of the county’s 11 Talented and Gifted Center schools, with the greatest availability in second, third and eighth grades.
The 75 kindergarten seats in the dual Spanish-English immersion program at Cesar Chavez Elementary in Hyattsville have been filled, according to school officials.
The process to fill the available seats is being held on a first come, first served basis rather than lottery, with seats filled as soon as applications are approved. The deadline for application submission was Monday evening.
Maxwell said the low enrollment is not unexpected in the first year of a new program rollout.
“I think it’s a short-term situation, where we have more seats than students,” Maxwell said. “I’d rather have a few open seats than to have to lock parents out of programs they’re really interested in.”
Eubanks said the creation and expansion of programs last spring gave very little time to get the word out to parents.
“As more and more parents become aware of these programs, I expect there will be increased interest,” Eubanks said.
Delores Millhouse, co-founder of the grassroots language immersion parents’ group My Bilingual Child, said some parents who entered the lottery for the Spanish immersion schools were frustrated by a lack of timely information from the school system about the new programs.
“We do have a lot of parents who are pulling out, because they didn’t know what was going on,” Millhouse said. “When you have something new, people are looking for more information, and when it’s not available, they’re likely to choose other options.”