OPERATION: 411 ON UNIVERSAL ENROLLMENT
My location: One Newark Universal Enrollment Center, 7/13/15, 10:35 am, 301 W. Kinney St.
As I approached the entrance to the courtyard, a security guard greeted me pleasantly. Mind you, in the past I would get thrown out or not even let in. Luckily a little weight gain, a beard and hat did the trick. Going incognito is now what parents have to do to investigate the district and see what is going on. I felt like a secret agent about to infiltrate enemy territory. At the door, a smiling Newark Public Schools employee named Brittney, who had about three NPS security guards around her, greeted me. She asked me my reason for coming and I told her I was there to find out more about enrolling my 4-year-old in the pre-school across the street from me. She told me to enter the first classroom and gave me small card with a number 1 on it. I WAS IN! Easy Breezy.
The classroom was arranged like a Motor Vehicle Center. You had to put your name on a list at a long desk separating the people from the registration stations. I entered a fictitious name. I was number 42, although there appeared to be more than 42 people seated. I overheard some of the parents saying, “This is ridiculous!” “Why can’t I go right to the school and register?” “Why are they making us go through this whole process?” I gently and quietly leaned over to the mom sitting next to me and said, “It feels like the DMV.” She told me this was her third time to the center and was told that she would need to come down in person to find a match for her child. As with the tension from the patrons who are at the will of the Division of Motor Vehicles clerks, so were these parents! When their number was called, they sat at a station with an NPS employee and were told where their children would be going to school in the fall. The process was definitely more structured and calculated than past enrollment sessions.
I got up and went out to Brittney and told her that I didn’t think I had time to wait, and did she know how many preschool seats were left? She said, “No” with that pretentious NPS smile they are trained to give. I then asked where the rest room was and was told to head down the hall. GREAT! Just what I wanted to see: what was going on in the other rooms! Heading to the restroom, I saw a familiar face that possibly would blow my cover. It was Dr. Lauren Wells, Chief Education Officer for Mayor Ras Baraka. She said, “Hey Frank!” I was hoping she would not say anything to the NPS staff about who I was! I quickly headed to the restroom. On my way, I made sure to look in every room. Each one represented a grade or group of grades with the same scene: parents signing in, waiting for their name to be called and sitting at desks with NPS employees getting their placements. The classrooms were guarded with at least two security guards. If you didn’t have that little card from Brittney with a number on it, you were not allowed in the classroom.
Dr. Wells and I walked out through the courtyard of the Enrollment Center together. I again told her that I was here to get a report for the team and parents we serve. I said, “Looks kind of organized, better than it did in previous enrollment sessions.” Dr. Wells responded, “Organized…Organized Chaos.” We agreed with a smile. I wished Dr. Wells a good day, got in my car, flipped my #PARENTPOWER t-shirt the right way and headed home.