Parents who want their children to attend schools with good reputations but located outside of their neighborhoods lined up at school offices throughout the city on Monday to get on waiting lists.
The D.C. school system, which in the past has allowed each of the four school regions to set its own date for accepting transfer applications, this year is trying to enforce some uniformity by requiring parents to file their requests between Monday and April 30.
School officials said they were surprised that only 100 parents showed up at the three regional offices that began accepting applications Monday. The fourth region began taking applications last fall.
The school system usually receives several thousand transfer applications each year. The system allows parents to transfer their students for reasons ranging from economic hardship to "gross inconvenience" for the parents to unavailability of a specific course at the student's neighborhood school.
"On the secondary level most parents are looking for a specialized program such as pre-engineering and science," said school board member Bob Boyd, who represents Ward 6. "On the elementary level, some schools have concentrated on early childhood programs, and they are the ones who have earned the good reputations."
On Monday, the school system accepted applications from six of the city's eight wards. Two schools received almost all the transfer requests -- Peabody Elementary School located on Capitol Hill at Fifth and C streets NE and Jefferson Junior High School at Eighth and H streets SW.
Both Peabody and Jefferson enjoy reputations of having strong academic programs, and students at both schools traditionally score above their grade level on standardized tests.
Margaret Smith, for example, applied last year for a transfer for her son to Peabody but was rejected because the kindergarten class was filled.
She applied Monday for the first grade.
"Peabody has a good reputation, they have high test scores and it's a good environment for children," said Smith, who wants to transfer her son out of Watkins Elementary School, also located on Capitol Hill, at 12th and E streets SE.
Ronald Parker, administrator for schools in Ward 2 and 8, said of Jefferson's popularity, "It's basically because Jefferson has received a lot of media attention and they have been recognized nationally for their excellence."
Schools located in Wards 3 and 4 began accepting applications last October before the new rule went into effect and are not included in the new guidelines this year.
School officials from those schools could not be reached for comment on transfer applications.
Schools in Ward 3 and some in Ward 4 have traditionally attracted many students from throughout the city because of their reputations for high test scores and special classes.
School official Julius Glover said the school system is trying to make the time period for transfer applications uniform because "it seemed unfair that some schools began accepting applications earlier than others.
Glover, who works in the regional office for wards 6 and 7, said on Monday that "We were here early this morning prepared to handle a large crowd," but only 35 parents applied for transfers.
"Last September we had several hundred parents show up on the first day of school and we expected to have a similar situation this morning," he said.
Students who live outside a school's boundary are accepted on a first come, first served basis only if space is available, school officials said.
Glover said most of the reasons stated on the 30 applications he received for Peabody cited the school's "convenient location."
"Parents said they have younger children in day care nearby and it would be very convenient to have their schoolchildren in the same area," he said.
However, most of the parents interviewed after completing their applications gave different reasons: the school's good reputation, high test scores and unique programs.
Karen Ross and Barbara Ochmanek, both of whom live just outside the Peabody boundary, said they wanted their 3-year-olds at that school because of its "science center," the "performing arts" program and because of the "overall curriculum."
Lisa Kelly said she was unsure what elementary school was nearest her home at Sixth and K streets NE, but added that she wanted her 5-year-old daughter at Peabody.
"Peabody has the best setting, a nice mixture of children and a great playground," said Kelly. "I have two more under her and I hope to get them all in Peabody."
Fifty parents applied to send their children to Jefferson.
"I want the best for my son and I think Jefferson has the best to offer," said Pam Glenn, after completing her application.
Elizabeth Mitchell, who works with Glenn at the Department of Defense, said she also wants the best for her daughter, Kathy, who is an honor student at Randle Highlands Elementary School, 30th and R streets SE.
"My daughter is coming from a highly academic school and she is very motivated," said Mitchell. "I want to keep her motivated and I think Jefferson is the best place for her."