SCS Optional Schools Guide

Spots in some Optional Schools are in high demand, so if there’s one you have your heart set on, you’ll want to pay close attention to all of the application deadlines and admission requirements. And take note — just because you’re zoned to a school that has an Optional program does not necessarily qualify your student to be in an Optional classroom. All students have to qualify based on the school’s Optional eligibility requirements. Make sure you know what they are by checking the current year’s “Optional School Flyer” on each school’s profile on the SCS website. SCS usually publishes new ones around the first of the year.

Even among all of your Optional choices, there can be a lot of variation between schools, so make sure you’re picking the one that’s right for your student.

  • Both Memphis School Guide’s school profiles and the SCS Optional Schools website provide good info on each school.
  • Optional Schools’ open houses are in January. Dates will be posted on each school’s Memphis School Guide profile page when available. It can be important to attend the open houses of the schools you’re interested in to get the dates that the school will be giving its Optional admittance tests, as this info doesn’t tend to be published elsewhere. See the special note on kindergartners below for more info, but be aware that many Optional Schools will have a separate open house for prospective kindergarten families.
  • Admission to Optional schools is usually merit-based, and is generally based on a student’s report card, standardized test results, attendance and behavior records.
  • Each Optional School has its own separate requirements. Some require higher test scores than others, some have multiple Optional programs within the same school with different entrance requirements, and others do not have academic requirements at all. So you’ll want to check the SCS Optional Schools website to confirm requirements before applying.
  • For neighborhood schools that are all Optional (not a school-within-a-school), zoned students are automatically in the Optional program, whereas transfer students must meet any eligibility requirements.
The Frequently Asked Questions section of the Optional Schools site does a good job of explaining the application process, so read it thoroughly, but here are a few things we want to highlight:

  • In-Zone Students: If you want your child to be in the Optional program of a school you’re zoned for, you should contact the school’s Optional coordinator directly to get an application and to find out application and testing dates and any other requirements. Be proactive and ask about it early.
  • Out-of-Zone Students: If you are not zoned for the Optional school you want your child to attend, you should pick up a bar-coded application to hold your place in line at the school board office (SCS Coe Board of Education Auditorium, 160 S. Hollywood) on the first day that they are made available – Monday, January 23, 2017. The only thing you need to have with you to get a bar-coded application is your child’s social security number. The officially recognized line doesn’t start until that morning, but many parents start lining up on the sidewalk much earlier than that — in recent years it has been days, or even up to a week, before — so you may want to consider that if you are hoping for admission to a school with limited available space, or that has high demand for the spaces available. (This can change year to year, but in 2016, most of those camping out early were hoping for spots at White Station Middle or Maxine Smith STEAM Academy). The SCS Optional office tells parents every year that lining up isn’t necessary — that the vast majority of students with eligible scores will get into one of their choices — and also that parent-sponsored lines won’t be honored, but that doesn’t seem to dissuade many parents from lining up in the cold (and SCS does honor the line-up). If you plan on participating in the line-up, it pays to keep your ears and eyes open in the days approaching the official date they begin handing out applications because things can change quickly. You can watch the news or follow us on Twitter and we’ll keep you posted as we hear developments. Bar-coded applications are also available for pick up the rest of that week following the start of the line up. But once you have the application in hand, you’re not done – you must submit it either in person or online before the stated deadline. (Check Optional FAQs to see who can submit online.) After that time, applications (bar-coded or not) are taken on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Testing: At most Optional Schools, your child must test in. For students who are old enough to have taken the TCAP the previous year, those scores will be used to determine eligibility (see the SCS Optional Schools website for a list of other tests that may be accepted as proof of eligibility). For students who don’t yet have TCAP scores (usually those entering 1st or 2nd grade), your child will need to take the Optional admittance test offered at the school to which you’re applying. Testing typically happens after the enrollment window opens, so go ahead and submit your Optional application, even if you’re not sure your child will test in. Testing dates are generally announced at the school’s Optional Open House, or can be obtained by calling the school. Test schedules vary by school, so it pays to speak directly to the Optional coordinator at the school you’re interested in to get the school’s official policy. If you’re listing two choices on your Optional application, your child only has to take one test.
  • Choices: You can put up to two choices on your Optional application. But know that if your first choice is full and there’s space in your second choice, your child will be placed in your second choice, and NOT on a waitlist for your first. If you are put on a waitlist for either choice, you may receive notification of available space in the school any time before (or even up to a week after) school starts in the fall.
  • Notification: You should receive word about 6-8 weeks after submitting your application, but if you need to know sooner (to know whether to put down a deposit at a private school, for example), check in directly with the school’s principal, or notify the Optional Schools office in writing about your situation.

A Special Note on Kindergartners

With a few exceptions, most Optional programs don’t start until 1st grade, so if you want your rising kindergartner to start school at the Optional School that you hope they’ll attend in 1st grade, you’ll need to secure a spot in the school’s non-Optional kindergarten via the General Choice Transfer process. Be aware, however, that getting a spot in the school’s kindergarten program via a General Choice Transfer does not guarantee your child a spot in the school’s 1st grade Optional program. You’ll still need to jump through all of the above hoops to secure an Optional seat the next year.