Tamara Willis did not know what to expect Thursday.
An assistant superintendent at the York City School District, Willis said she showed up at New Hope Academy Charter School's two-hour "school choice fair" braced for raw emotions and a tepid reception.
New Hope parents and students — whose school will close in June after a failed legal battle with the district — are indeed emotional, Willis said.
But they also have a big decision to make. Judging by the dozens of people who moved among booths gathering brochures Thursday, New Hope's parents are taking that decision seriously.
Willis said she fielded many questions about the district's academic, sports and performing-arts programs. Parents took business cards and cellphone numbers.
Some parents even asked if they could enroll their children right away, Willis said.
And some told Willis the story of why they left the district for New Hope in the first place.
"I think a lot of parents just want to be heard," Willis said. "We are listening."
Closing: New Hope's fate is sealed. Its board of trustees voted Wednesday to officially close the school and liquidate its assets.
The future of the school district, on the other hand, will depend largely on whether parents who have enrolled their students elsewhere — including charters like New Hope and Helen Thackston — decide to give York City a second chance. Without increased enrollment, the district's financial recovery plan cannot succeed.
Roughly 700 students attend New Hope in grades 5-12. Except for graduating seniors, all will need to enroll in different schools next year.
Choices: There's no shortage of choices. Representatives of at least a dozen schools — cyber, private and charter — attended Thursday's fair.
Samantha Johnson, an assistant principal at a cyber charter school based in Harrisburg, said she noticed some anxiety among New Hope parents about the stability of charter schools.
"They're in one right now that's folding," Johnson said.
She said she spent some time reassuring those parents that New Hope's situation is unusual. Charter schools like Commonwealth Connections Academy are here to stay, Johnson said.
Heather Hoffman, admissions director at York Catholic High School, said many parents asked about the affordability of the private school. York Catholic does offer financial aid based on need, she said.
"We would love to be able to help the students out," Hoffman said.
District: Of course, district officials are hoping many students choose the district.
Willis said she understands why some students might be a little anxious about returning.
That's one of the reasons she pitched the new Bearcat Cyber Academy, which combines a cyber education with the social and extracurricular activities of a traditional high school. Bearcat cyber students can play sports, join the band, attend prom and walk across the stage at graduation, for example.
"We didn't want parents to feel obligated or pressured to come back," Willis said. "Cyber kind of gives them a chance to ease back into it."
Quan Smithson, 15, likes that idea.
The soon-to-be junior said he wants to play football and basketball next year. Smithson said the cyber program sounds flexible, giving him a chance to balance a job with academics — and sleep in.
His mom, Kia Bell, said she's still weighing the options. But she said she's encouraged by the district's plan to resurrect its performing-arts program next year.
"He's a good student," Bell said. "I just don't want him to lose focus."
— Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.