Demand for open enrollment has jumped significantly after trustees of the Sacramento City Unified School District voted to close seven schools last month.
As of Friday, the district received 1,559 applications for coveted elementary school assignments, officials said, up 39 percent from two years ago.
Each year, the open enrollment process results in competition and long waiting lists for the most desired schools. The district has extended this year's deadline to 5 p.m. Wednesday to accommodate nearly 2,300 students whose schools will close because of enrollment declines.
The district's open enrollment system allows students to attend schools other than their assigned neighborhood campus.
Parents each year have different reasons for participating, but many seek openings at a high-performing campus or a school near a parent's workplace. Families facing school closures suddenly have their own reason: dissatisfaction with their newly assigned campus.
The district typically gives priority to students with siblings at a chosen campus or children of school staff. But this year, trustees have decided to give students at closed schools priority as well.
"It's critical that these families have special treatment this year," since they are being displaced, said Gabe Ross, spokesman for the district.
If there is more demand than openings, the district uses a lottery.
Elementary campuses closing at the end of this school year are Washington, Maple, Collis P. Huntington, Fruit Ridge, Joseph Bonnheim, Mark Hopkins and Clayton B. Wire. Most students are expected to attend their newly designated home schools.
But at Mark Hopkins, trustees still must decide whether to convert the adjacent campus, Rosa Parks Middle School, to a K-8 school. If trustees vote within the next month to do this, students at the campus wouldn't need to go far to their new school.
If trustees don't convert Rosa Parks school, students at Mark Hopkins will be automatically enrolled at either John Bidwell or John Sloat elementary schools.
Gabriela Aguilar, a parent at Mark Hopkins, is taking advantage of open enrollment to avoid any chance of having her 8-year-old daughter Jasmine automatically enroll at Rosa Parks if the campus is converted to K-8. She's not ready for her daughter to attend a school with older kids, she said.
She said her target school is John Bidwell, and she's already filed that paperwork for Jasmine, who is entering the third grade. She hopes her son, Osvaldo, 5, will also be able to attend kindergarten at the school.
She has used open enrollment before. Her daughter Wendy, 13, is a student at the School of Engineering and Sciences in the Pocket area and is entering the eighth grade. And her daughter Yoanna, 12, is a good bet for her open enrollment acceptance as a seventh-grader at the same school because her sister attends that campus.
Mark Hopkins Principal Tiffany Smith-Simmons said she has received inquiries from eight or nine parents about the open enrollment process. Several other Mark Hopkins parents who attended a Thursday workshop said their kids will move to the designated new school.
"We are hoping it will be to Rosa Parks," Maria Lopez said through an interpreter about her 11-year-old son, Luis.
Parents elsewhere in the district are vying for high-performing campuses such as Sutterville Elementary, Matsuyama Elementary, Theodore Judah Elementary and Genevieve Didion K-8.
Each spring brings anxious moments for families waiting to learn whether they get into their top-choice school. Kim Cramer is worried that her efforts to enroll daughter Lily, now 4, in Sutterville Elementary won't pan out.
"It's very overwhelming," Cramer said.
"Yes," she said. "I want her to do her very best and to be competitive."
Other campuses such as Phoebe Hearst, Camellia Basic, Alice Birney Waldorf- Inspired K-8 and Leonardo da Vinci K-8 have student bodies that are entirely open enrollment. But these require more than just an open seat.
At Alice Birney and Leonardo da Vinci schools, parents must make commitments to be highly involved in their children's educations.
Phoebe Hearst and Camellia Basic set academic criteria for eligibility in grades 1-6. Phoebe Hearst also has a readiness screening for kindergartners. This year, the school has just three slots available for entering sixth- graders and is expected to have many more applicants.
For kindergarten classes at Phoebe Hearst, there are 143 applicants and 96 seats, Ross said.
Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073.