The Dean's List

The best public high schools along the Front Range. Plus: an in-depth look at how the so-called Colorado Paradox has shortchanged our kids—and how we might finally be able to fix it.

September 2013

Fitting In

Front Range parents befuddled by the complex process of open enrollment are turning to outside experts for help.

Say your daughter is musically gifted, but her high school doesn’t have an orchestra. Or maybe your child has special needs but might not get enough individualized attention from your large neighborhood school. Although Colorado’s school choice gives kids the option to “open enroll” into any public institution, most of Denver’s more desirable public schools have waiting lists, and researching and applying can be time-consuming and even mind-boggling.

A burgeoning industry has arisen around helping parents find the best classroom for each child. Last October, Denver Public Schools launched a free online tool called SchoolMatch. It helps you suss out your preferences for everything from fine arts or International Baccalaureate programs to graduation rates and sports. It also tells you whether a school offers basics like breakfast or English Language Acquisition services. SchoolMatch then ranks compatible schools based on how closely they match your needs or how convenient their locations are.

For a fee, parents seeking more hands-on support can try E.Merging, an educational consulting and coaching firm. “Most parents focus primarily on test scores when searching for schools,” says Leanna Harris, an E.Merging educational consultant. “Ideally, they should also be looking at things like teaching philosophies and the types of educational and extracurricular programs offered, and try to view those things through the lens of their child’s needs, passions, and learning style.”
Because the application process is ever more harrowing, E.Merging encourages clients to cast a wide net: About 85 percent of its clients apply for spots in both public and private schools. But E.Merging founder Laura Barr says school choice is more about finding the perfect match. “We don’t see schools as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ ” she says. “We see them as fits.”