When Melissa McGrane was looking at kindergarten options for her daughter next fall, she was leaning heavily toward private schools. Then she fell in love with Hynes Charter School in Lakeview, one of the city's few A-rated public schools.

So, like hundreds of other parents, she put in an application through OneApp, the lottery enrollment process for most New Orleans public schools.

But prospects don't look all that promising.

This year, 829 applications came pouring in for Hynes' kindergarten class, which last year had only 54 open spots.

"That just makes my stomach fall," McGrane said. "I'm just kind of freaking out."

According to data provided to The New Orleans Advocate on Tuesday, thousands of applications have been submitted for a handful of high-performing elementary and high schools where demand far exceeds supply.

As it did last year, Hynes topped the list for the most coveted elementary schools available through the first-round deadline for OneApp, which closed in February.

But hundreds of applications also poured in for other high-performing lower schools, including Audubon Charter, Benjamin Franklin Elementary and Bricolage Academy.

For applicants looking to land at a competitive high school, the numbers are even worse. Warren Easton, for example, led the pack with an eye-popping 2,482 applications for its ninth grade alone. Last year, the A-rated school had just 185 spots available.

Also leading the list of sought-after high schools are Edna Karr High, Eleanor McMain Secondary School, Abramson Sci Academy and Livingston Collegiate, according to the data from the Orleans Parish School Board.

OneApp, run through a centralized enrollment process called EnrollNOLA, was established in 2011. It now manages admissions for 92 percent of New Orleans public schools, 78 of which are overseen by the OPSB, and 84 percent of the students.

Families can apply to up to 12 participating schools anywhere in the city during two rounds. The "main round" results will become available in April. If parents are unhappy with the school their child is assigned to, they can try for another school during a second round.

Due to an increase in applications last year, only 67 percent of families received their first, second or third school choice — the lowest figure in seven years, according to an August report by the state legislative auditor.

OPSB officials stressed that the number of applications listed by school include all ranked preferences, whether parents listed the school as their first choice or their last, and that it could include possible duplications.

Most prospective students apply to multiple campuses, meaning the application numbers far exceed the number of actual students seeking spots in the city's public schools. The OneApp algorithm is designed to find the best matches between students and the participating schools. 

Two of the city's most highly rated, competitive schools — Lusher Charter School and Benjamin Franklin High School — don't use the OneApp system.

Data released Tuesday also show that fewer than half of all OneApp applicants for the 2019-20 school year are seeking schools in their own neighborhood, meaning that families are still willing to trek across town to get access to the most competitive charter schools.

"If you look at the ratio of requests for every available seat in these in-demand schools, you very quickly realize that despite the system claiming to be truly open and equitable it really is not," said Julia Ramsey, a spokeswoman for the Orleans Parish Education Network. "There’s not really choice at all. The desirable choices are effectively barred."

In recent months, OPSB officials have tried to address some complaints about the computerized enrollment system, including that many students were unable to gain admission to schools near their homes.

In October, the board voted to revise a geographic preference policy to increase seats for students who live within a half-mile of its elementary and middle schools. 

“This is the very beginning of a new system, but the commitment from this board and my administration is that we’re going to continue to hear from our families and implement policies and procedures that are very responsive to each and every one of them,” OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis said at the time.

But data from this application round showed that of the 2,508 kindergarten applicants, only 36 percent ranked a school in their geographic zone first. Just 9 percent ranked a school within a half-mile of their home first.

The geographic priority policy doesn't apply to high schools.

In the meantime, parents like McGrane are waiting anxiously to hear which public school their children have been matched with. So far, McGrane's daughter has been wait-listed at two private schools.

"I just have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach," McGrane said. "What happens if she doesn’t get into any of these places I applied to? She has to go to school."


Follow Della Hasselle on Twitter, @dellahasselle.