A Primer on Transfers in the School District of Philadelphia




The most frequent question I get from readers is with regards to catchment boundaries and the flexibility for families to go to schools that are outside of their specific catchment.  In response, I put together this primer with the help of Catherine Collins, the moderator  of the Mount Airy Parents Network.  Actually, Catherine did most of the work….

Disclaimer: The information contained in this post was gleaned from the School District of Philadelphia website, newspaper articles, blog postings, and conversations with principals and parents. In many cases it is subjective and as such may be inaccurate or subject to change.  PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE contact the School District of Philadelphia and the school of your choice to verify all policies and procedures for your specific situation. If you do learn of any changes or inaccuracies in this information, please contact me. Best of luck!

How do I know which catchment I live in?
Philadelphia public schools have very specific boundaries. There are several ways to find out about Philadelphia school catchment boundaries

Even though the second two sites I listed are published by official sources, it is not clear how often that they are updated.  As such, you should not rely on these websites, the word of a neighbor, realtor, or friends since catchments change and can vary even on an individual block or the side of a street. It is strongly recommended that you call the School District of Philadelphia at (215) 400-4000 and verify your catchment.

Can my child attend a public school in another catchment?
It depends. Any Philadelphia resident may apply for a transfer to another public school via the Voluntary Transfer Program (formerly known as the EH-36 process), but whether or not a spot is provided at the school of one’s choice depends on a number of factors, primarily how many children residing within a school’s catchment are attending that school and how many families from outside of the school’s catchment are applying for transfers to that school.

What is the Voluntary Transfer Program and how do I apply?
The Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP) is also commonly known as “the lottery.” If you wish to send your child to a public school that is not your designated catchment school, you must fill out a VTP application and submit it to the district before the stated deadline (the deadline for Fall 2011 applications is October 29th, 2010). The form is made available in the early part of the preceding fall (in 2010 the application was made available September 20th). Go to your nearest public school to obtain the form or download it from the School District of Philadelphia’s VTP website.  As of this date, the VTP website still has the 2009 form and application dates, so be sure to confirm them with the district.  When completing the form, you may request up to five schools; however, you are strongly advised not to include a school on the list unless you are committed to sending your child to that school.  Each public school principal calculates how many non-catchment spots that the school can make available to the Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP). All VTP applicants are placed in a district-wide lottery and spots are chosen at random by computer.  Some schools may admit few or no VTP applicants, while other schools may have many spots available to applicants.  Remember when you applied to college?  If you are sure that you want a school that is out of catchment, you may wish take the same approach–process, it may make sense to reserve a spot on your list for a ‘safety’ school or two.  There are numerous stories of parents who applied and listed only the most desirable schools in the district and ended up having to stay within catchment.

When will I be notified if my child has a spot in the public school of our choice via VTP?
Traditionally, the district doesn’t begin notifying families until late spring.

Is there any recourse if my application to transfer my child via VTP has been denied?
If you’ve applied for a transfer to a public school and you’re notified by the district that your child did not get in, there still may be a chance that your child can enroll. Each principal reserves a certain number of spots for last-minute additions from within the school’s catchment. During the summer, some of these spots may go unclaimed, resulting in vacancies at the school that were considered “filled” until that very moment. It has been suggested by others who have gone through this process that you make photocopies of your child’s completed VTP application and give these to the schools that you’re applying to via the lottery. This way, the schools will have an internal record of your child and be aware of your interest when it comes time to fill these spots.  It’s also a good idea to do what you can to demonstrate your interest in a school and in being an involved parent–take the time to meet the principal and to attend a Home & School Association or PTA meeting if you can.  Once you receive your letter from the district stating that your application for transfer has been denied, you can request to meet with the principal to plead your case directly. Be aware that although this method worked relatively well in previous years, that may not be the case at those schools in high demand. We have heard stories of schools being completely closed to last-minute additions, and others where seats were only offered in late August before the school year was set to start.  Regardless, please remember that the only principal who must accommodate your child is the principal of your catchment school, so it’s in your best interest to remain courteous, respectful, and patient since any out-of-catchment principal is doing you a favor if they accommodate your child in this manner.

Does this guide mesh with your experience?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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