Our journey to E’s educational future is officially under way. And it’s a nightmare already.
For months, we’ve been thinking and stressing about schools. E. is only going into kindergarten and I’m already exhausted by the whole process.
As much as we’d love to send her to a couple specific private schools, a private school just is not in our budget. Sure, at first, it’s not that much more than we’ve already been paying in preschool tuition. But that number goes up — significantly — every year. And yeah, we would like to have lives other than just sending her to school, not to mention college.
So we narrowed our search and short list to three options — the public school we’re zoned for and two charter schools.
Before this whole process, I knew nothing about the differences between charter and magnet schools. To be honest, I’m still not much of an expert but I do know that both charters and magnets are tuition free since they’re part of the public school system. In a nutshell, though, no one is zoned for charter schools and magnet schools are made up of a combination of zoned kids and those who were able to come in via lotteries.
So, for example, the elementary school in your neighborhood may be a science magnet (as is the case in our neighborhood). The majority of students at the school will be the kids who live nearby and are zoned for it, but a certain number of slots will be available to those who show an aptitude or interest in science, in this example. So you throw your child’s hat in the ring to enter the lottery for those available slots.
In our specific case, we love the school that is a magnet but it recently underwent major renovations and they’ve temporarily stopped the magnet program while they adjust to the new building. Bummer.
Charter schools, however, come with less of a neighborhood feel since all of its students come from across the area. And it’s seemingly impossible to get into one.
On Wednesday night, I attended my first-ever school lottery, or draft lottery as I keep calling it. For whatever reason, all I keep picturing is the NBA Draft Lottery, particularly the year Pat Croce, the former president of my hometown Sixers, went NUTS when the Sixers got picked first. Click here if you’ve never seen it. He goes CRAAAAZY.
I totally predicted I’d have the same reaction if our name was picked. Spoiler alert — I did no fist pumping.
The event was held at the public library. After I picked E. up at school, I met my friend and her daughter there because we’d both entered the lottery. The
twins girls settled in for the long wait.
The first thing we were instructed to do was to check the list to make sure our child’s name and correct grade for the upcoming year were properly listed.
I’m not going to lie. This afternoon, I had a momentary panic attack thinking maybe I’d forgotten to fill out the lottery application online. I realized I never got a confirmation email, so I thought the chances that I’d actually done it were maybe 80/20.
Thankfully, E’s name was listed.
Phew. So far, so good.
The charter school’s principal started by welcoming us, explained the process and gave us the bad news, followed by some more bad news.
Bad news number 1: 720 names were in the lottery, a new record for the school.
Bad news number 2: there were only 14 guaranteed openings tonight — 3 for 4th grade and 11 for kindergarten.
Everyone else would be assigned a wait list number. Your number might be called in the next week or so; it might be called in the summer; it might even be called during the school year; or it may never be called.
OK, this would be painful, but at least as kindergarteners, we’d go first, right?
In what I’m sure is my first of thousands-to-come frustrations with how the school system is run, they started with 8th graders and worked their way down.
Totally makes sense. Why not keep the families there with 4 and 5 year olds held captive as long as possible?
dream-crushing lottery begin!
(Note: I’m not using the cute animals to disrespect the school officials. But I also would like to protect their identities and cute cartoon animals seemed less To Catch a Predator-y than pixilated faces).
Each child’s name was put on a card, and all of the names for each individual grade were dumped into a box. Cat lady would pull a card and pass it to Bunny. Bunny would read the name out loud and Puppy would assign the wait list number to the card.
Grade by grade, my friend and I waited as they called out hundreds of names. When it got to the 4th graders, the first three names were called and there was some of the Pat Croce fist pumping from parents — those students were guaranteed spots at the school.
During the lottery, the administrators said wait-listed families shouldn’t be too discouraged because typically, the first 30 names on the wait list eventually end up with a spot.
One by one, families started leaving. Some seemed encouraged by their wait list numbers and others moped out of the room. One poor mom asked the administrators to repeat her daughter’s wait list number — it was somewhere in the 40s. Tears immediately sprang to her eyes and her voice caught as she said, “This is our third year trying.” I felt so sad for her and her daughter as they despondently left the room.
It’s amazing that your child’s entire academic future comes down to how the Cat Lady pulls out the cards.
Finally, about an hour after we started, it was time to pick the kindergarteners. We all nervously wished each luck, but without really meaning it. Yup, I totally felt like I was at a Reaping.
Before she got started, Bunny told us there were 212 names in the kindergarten pool. Cues the groans from the parents.
Cat Lady pulled out the first name and we all waited with bated breath. Would we be the lucky ones? As names 1 through 11 — the guaranteed spots — were called, we all strained to hear her clearly, even though the room wasn’t very big. Was that my kid’s name? What number are we on again?
There was some celebrating. But mostly, there was a lot of sighing.
After the 11th name was called, and neither E nor her friend were on it, we started joking that we were pulling for numbers 200 and 201.
Sadly, we were almost right.
Once we got into the 40s, we debated leaving. We could always call the school to find out our number. But since we’d already invested so much time already, I was committed to staying until the bitter end.
So we waited. And waited. Name after name was called and it was never our girls’ names.
Finally, I heard my girl’s name.
“What number was that?” I shouted out (they told us we could do that at the outset)
“Number 76,” Puppy answered.
Awww, lucky number 76.
Then, we kept on waiting. And waiting. And still more waiting.
By this point, we were delirious and started laughing. Seriously, could K. be number 201? It was starting to look like a real possibility. I mean, I guess someone has to be last, right?
Family after family left, until there were just 6 of us left in the room (you didn’t need to be present for the lottery).
At this point, the girls wandered back in from where they’d be playing in the hallway and started cheering every time they yelled out a name that happened to be the same first name as one of their classmates. After a few cheers, I think the administrators really started rooting for us. They looked up anxiously at us after every name was called.
Finally, at long last, we heard the name we’d been waiting for … followed by “number 188.” As my friend said, fate has spoken and it has spoken loud and clear — neither of us will be going to that charter school. At least not this year.
And that’s OK. We’re both really lucky that we’re zoned for great schools. We entered the lottery to keep our options open and to explore all our choices. Now, the universe is just helping to make those choices for us.
Our friends’ decision is pretty set now; our family still has one more lottery to go, and the charter school is further torturing me by not holding it until May. That means I’ll have to go through the entire registration process for our local public school, then possibly go through it a second time and withdraw from our school.
Or, maybe next time I’ll be number 188 and that won’t be a problem.
Or maybe I’ll just homeschool E and avoid this whole mess.**
If this is what’s waiting me in the educational system, I’m ready to send E back to my womb. Why can’t she stay in preschool forever?
**Note: We all know that’s not going to happen. There’s not enough wine in the world to make that possible.
Have you ever entered a lottery for something?