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Centennial is top pick for city students as school of choice
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Gainesville School choice enrollment

Schools listed with 2016-17 and 2017-18 numbers

Centennial: 859; 829

Enota: 653; 581

Fair Street: 533; 455

GEA: 920; 742

New Holland: 747; 725

Mundy Mill: N/A; 322

Total: 3,712; 3,654

Two lanes of cars stretched bumper to bumper from the main entrance of Centennial Arts Academy as parents and other legal guardians waited in line to pick up their children at the end of the school day on a recent Friday.

Alma Gonzalez clutched the hands of her children, 4-year-old Aida and 10-year-old Andy, as they walked on the curb of Century Place to meet with her husband, who parked outside the school grounds to avoid the late-afternoon rush.

Gonzalez said she chose to enroll Andy, a fourth-grader, at Centennial, even though the family lives closer to Fair Street International.

As a school choice district, Gainesville schools allow parents to enroll their children at any of their elementary schools regardless of their school zone.

Gonzalez said she’s enrolling Aida in pre-kindergarten at Centennial as well.

“They send us a letter in English and Spanish when it’s time to enroll,” Gonzalez said. “I like this school for my children.”

Centennial is the most popular school of choice for the new 2017-18 school year that begins in August, according to enrollment numbers released by Gainesville City Schools.

At the completion of a three-week window in January for parents to select their school of choice for the upcoming year, Centennial topped all elementary schools with a Choice Enrollment off 829 students.

Centennial Principal Leslie Frierson said the school has been over the 800 mark in choice enrollment for quite awhile.

“For the past few years, we’ve been the second largest (choice) school in attendance,” Frierson said. “(Gainesville Exploration Academy) has had a larger number of students than we’ve had.”

Although GEA had the largest choice enrollment (920) in the current 2016-17 school year, it dropped behind Centennial for the upcoming year with 720 students enrolled from outside its school zone.

Priscilla Collins, chief professional services officer for Gainesville schools, said schools are staffed for the coming school year based on the choice enrollment, which will include a second round of kindergarten registration not included in the numbers released by the district. For example, she said the district expects the New Holland numbers to increase by an additional 176 students once pre-kindergarten enrollment is included.

Collins expects the numbers to increase throughout the spring and summer.

Gainesville schools serve approximately 8,500 students from pre-K to 12.

Although Hall County Schools assign their students to schools based on where they live, Superintendent Will Schofield said the district provides 29 school choice programs for middle and high school students.

“We’re proud of our school choice programs,” Schofield said.

Frierson calls her school fairly diverse. Of the 916 students currently enrolled at her school, more than 51 percent are Hispanic, while whites and African-Americans are about equally represented, along with a multiracial and Asian representation as well.

Frierson said that choice enrollment is just as equally diverse.

School officials believe the opening of the new Mundy Mill elementary school is changing the choice enrollment numbers somewhat.

Mundy Mill will be a transportation zoned school, so if parents choose to not send their children to that school, they must provide transportation.

Frierson said 55 students currently enrolled in Centennial are zoned to attend Mundy Mill, but 41 of those have chose to return to Centennial, and their parents would have to provide transportation for them to remain.

“Some of those are in their last year of elementary school and they want to finish where they started,” Fierson said. “Others are just happy with the school and they’ve been car riders all along. Their parents are just choosing to stay.

“We’re flattered that they have chosen to stay in our school. I’m pleased that the families when they come to Centennial, or any of the other schools, they typically for a connection with that school and just want to stay.”

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