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Charlotte school choice: Tips, apps and fairs to help with that other shopping season

Most students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ popular Montessori magnets are admitted as prekindergarteners.
Most students in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ popular Montessori magnets are admitted as prekindergarteners. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

You may be focused on holiday shopping, but the 2017 school shopping season also looms.

Choice is bigger than ever in Charlotte and across the state. There are some things you should know now to make sure you’re ready to meet deadlines.

1. There’s a new school search app to get you started.

If you’re curious about private, charter and traditional public schools, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina’s new “NC Schools Around Me” website will show options near your home. Go to www.ncschoolsaroundme.com and enter an address to get a list and map.

For district and charter schools, the list includes the state’s letter grade, which is based on the previous year’s test scores. Private schools aren’t graded, and the site doesn’t include every private school. But it does list 431 of the more than 700 schools that participate in the Opportunity Scholarship program, which offers public subsidies for low-income and disabled students to switch from public to private schools.

The site is helpful because it pulls together three databases for mapping. But it’s only a start in checking out schools. Check N.C. school report cards, www.ncpublicschools.org/src/, and the state’s list of growth ratings, https://ncdpi.sas.com, for more information about public schools.

2. Two school fairs are coming up this weekend.

The Observer is hosting regional school choice fairs in Mecklenburg’s north and south suburbs this weekend, with information from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and private and charter schools in the area.

The south fair is 1-4 p.m. Saturday at South County Regional Library, 5801 Rea Road. The north fair is 1-4 p.m. Sunday at Lake Norman YMCA, 21300 Davidson St., Cornelius. Both are free and include children’s activities; visit CharlotteSchoolFair.com for details.

3. If you have preschoolers, it may be time to sign up for CMS.

CMS will hold its first 2017-18 school options lottery from Jan. 6 to Feb. 14. To take part, students have to be registered with CMS by Jan. 24.

That’s important for parents of rising kindergarteners who want to consider magnet programs. Students who will turn 5 by Aug. 31 are eligible for kindergarten.

But families interested in the popular Montessori magnet schools need to start a year earlier, because most of those seats are filled in prekindergarten. That means if your 3-year-old will celebrate a birthday by Aug. 31, it’s sign-up time if you want to compete for Montessori seats.

For more information about CMS enrollment and the lottery: www.cms.k12.nc.us/cmsdepartments/StudentPlacement

Admission periods for many private and charter schools also fall early in 2017, and many private schools also admit students in prekindergarten. Open houses are already under way at some schools, so it’s time to start checking those sites as well.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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