Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Slipping off the wait list and hopping back on again

Quite a few parents I’ve spoken with the past couple of years have a horror story about the assignment process and/or the Family Resource Center. Up to this point, my dealings with them have been pretty smooth. No real complaints.

But then I called Friday, just to see we stood on the wait list for the Haley. They tell me that I’m no longer on any wait lists. “Whaaaa?” In July, you may remember, I paid the FRC a visit to take my name off the Lyndon’s wait list. I asked that I remain on the Haley’s wait list. Amazingly, I still have the wait list action request from that visit. Both the Lyndon and Haley are listed, but under the column “Please remove my child from the following wait list(s)” I only circled “Yes” for the Lyndon, not for the Haley.

So it took me a few days before I could reach someone who could remedy the situation. He put me back on the Haley’s wait list where I was in July (#4). It sounds as if the wait list hadn’t moved in the last month, so no harm done.

I can’t really complain. We’re already assigned to a school we’re happy with. We’re still hoping for an indoor play area in the winter and an on-site after-school program, but if we don’t get that, we’ll manage. But what if we had been one of those unlucky unassigned families and suddenly discovered that we weren’t on any wait lists. Or what if I had not been neurotic and felt the urge to periodically check my wait list status. Tough luck, I guess.

I debated whether to write this at all. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. Mistakes happen, I get it. But I also don’t want to gloss over this and make it seem like every part of this process has been peachy.

Ultimately, I’m pleased the issue was resolved quickly and professionally. However, I think it points to a weakness in the system. Why can’t this all be automated online? That way, curious parents like me who want to occasionally check on their wait lists wouldn’t have to bother a human being who probably has better things to do. It would also reduce -- though not eliminate -- the potential for human error.

Imagine something like the Boston Public Library’s online system for requesting books. When you log in, you can see where you are in the queue for a given item. Decide you don’t want to check out that item any more? Click a box on that line and hit the delete button. No more human intervention unless you hit the wrong button. I guess someone could argue that with sibling priorities, people might get upset if they see that they’re suddenly bumped further down the list. To me, that would be a great opportunity to explain how the lottery works, perhaps at the bottom of the page have a little disclaimer. BPL has a similar disclaimer on why you might be bumped down the list for a book.

When your book is delivered to your library branch, you get a robocall. Something similar could be set up for when you’re placed into a new school.

I get that not everyone has easy internet access. Perhaps this feature could be an option you could select early in the process… like when you tell your bank you’d prefer to do all your banking online.

If a cash-strapped public library can do this, why not a cash-strapped public school?

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