Does your parent teacher organization offer after school enrichment programs? Are they in great demand? Do they sell out quickly?

Earlier this week a parent teacher group that we support prepared to open their after school enrichment classes. They usually set a specific time to open the registration so that their parents can prepare and be ready for the registration. The list of classes is very impressive and every parent wants to sign up their students. The only problem is that there are a limited number of students that are allowed to register for each class. In an attempt to be fair to all parents and students, the classes are set up on a first come first serve basis. We like to call it a shotgun registration.

Our helpdesk assists them in setting up the classes on their website and in the School Directory App, and we also monitor the event as parents get ready to register. This time the classes opened up at 7PM. It is interesting to see hundreds of parents jockeying for position hoping to be one of the first to register. However, it quickly turns into a stressful event as many students wind up being shut out and our helpdesk then starts fielding complaints.

What some parents do not foresee is being shut out at the last second. They visit the site and find the class they want. They add it to their cart and then checkout. Next comes the time to make their payment. They key in their credit card details with a feeling of satisfaction as it seems they are able to register. However, what often happens is that someone else paid for the last position in the class seconds earlier. They wind up missing out on the class.

Anyone can make an argument to say that once they add it to their cart it should be reserved. But this method also opens up potential issues. There is no guarantee that the parent will eventually pay for it. If they don’t a rule will need to be set to dictate how long they can hold the reservation. Regardless of the time determined, this will also cause angst among parents who try to register later and cannot. When that unpaid reservation is made available again, the parents that missed out may not get a chance to register again in time.

What can be done to make the registration fair for everyone? Is a lottery an option? Perhaps all parents should be allowed to indicate their desire to register their students. Once all parents have put their names in the hat, a drawing should be held that is completely random and can be watched from the website. In the end some students and parents will still wind up not being selected.  Perhaps a lottery may soften the blow when compared to losing out at the last second.

This is a feature our development team is exploring now. Many times in the past we have begun to work on features and new ideas continually surfaced as the feature evolved. I will revisit this blog entry with updates as progress continues.

Michael Kerin is the founder of Paperless PTO, one of the first providers of e-Commerce websites and mobile apps for schools and parent teacher organizations.

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