Toddler Mayhem

Preschool Lottery – Panic Time

I haven’t published anything in the last week. It’s not writer’s block as I’m still full of opinions. I even have a few posts on draft about important topics like milk supply and boob care. The last few weeks of my life have been completely consumed by last minute research for our city’s preschool lottery.

The Preschool Lottery – At Least The Odds are Better than Powerball

Nearly all of the schools, both public and charter, participate in city-wide lottery. There’s an unbeatable algorithm that assigns everyone a random number and then matches your ranked preferences, one through twelve, with open seats at your selected schools. In-boundary preference is given at the public schools, as well as sibling preference. The charters get to do what they want, but it’s generally sibling preference and then staff or founding staff preference. We only have in-boundary preference for our neighborhood school and nothing else going for us.

There are a handful of schools that don’t participate in the lottery and run their own, using mostly sibling and some staff preference. We entered two of those as well, even knowing that the wait list for one school was over 800 last year for about 32 seats, before siblings are factored into who will fill those seats.

The competition, aka other kids who also are trying to get into Prek3, is fierce. It’s not about the intellect of the other preschoolers. There is a limited number of seats available across the city at schools of varying quality. We obviously want a high quality preschool. Parents are also restricted by how able and willing they are to travel across the city to fill a vacant seat. We are limiting our search by the nightmare of commute factor, and we are a family with a car which isn’t the rule where we live.

Then there’s the not insignificant matter of which niche you want for your kid or if you want to go to your in-boundary public school. There are choices here: do you want bilingual with a 50/50 target language split? Immersion, with 90-100% of lower grades in the target language? Do you want that language to be Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese or Hebrew? What about a Montessori school? Montessori and Spanish? What about play-based versus literacy focused? Do you want your preschooler to have an iPad or would you prefer they go to a green, sustainability focused Spanish immersion? Extended school year charter focused on social justice with a data analyst on staff that also offers Arabic? Reggio-inspired? Expeditionary learning, project-based learning or inquiry based learning? International curriculum or IB? These are just the choices we considered; I’m sure there are more offerings available that fell outside our search parameters.

Even if if you want your neighborhood school, a child isn’t entitled to that school until Kindergarten, two years after they could be enrolled there or elsewhere. If you want to go to the school in your zone you have to enter the lottery, even if that school is across the street.

My blood pressure is rising along with my anxiety.

We knew that our son would be eligible for the lottery for the 2016-2017 school year and that we would have to start planning around December when the application opened. I was ready to start looking at schools and attending open houses in November, but we figured, eh, let’s wait until the deadline is closer.

Between snow storms, sick kids, and general scheduling difficulties the last month has been a sprint for me – as the work from home, allegedly flexibly scheduled parent – to get to as many open houses and school tours as possible. It’s messed up my work hours. I’ve had to push meetings and appointments to try to tour as many schools as I can.

The research, aside from visiting the schools, is taking over my remaining waking hours. I am checking school websites, comparing the notes I took when I talked with some of the schools at the education fair we attended, then there’s the neighborhood listservs, moms groups, and even playground chatter that has to be taken into account.

It seems insane that I’m this consumed with where my three year old will go to school. My brothers – one childless and one with a kid in Catholic school – think I’m insane. But here’s the thing – the school that our kid gets into at three can guide the course for the rest of his primary education years. It’s not just preschool, but the whole feeder pattern we want to get him into.

If I pretend that middle and high school don’t matter, as we might move to a different or better school district, then I just have to deal with all of the speciality choices I mentioned earlier.

How do I decide the future for the king in his snow chair? The lottery leaves it up to chance.

 I don’t have an education background or one in statistics and I’ve felt like I needed a background in both to make our choices.

My husband and I looked at the demographics of the schools to see if the population of English language learners was so high that it worried us. I don’t know what that number would have been, as we ranked schools with anywhere from 47-64% ELL. Free and Reduced Meals ranged all the way to 99%, and we ranked those schools too. We looked at how many kids were on the wait list last year, and decided not to apply to one charter with over 1,300 people wait listed. We did roll the dice at schools who had lists from 200-800.

At first I only wanted schools I visited, but last night just before we submitted our list I made some last minute, blind additions. Today I went and did additional research and I’ve resubmitted our list three additional times.

There is a local consultant that makes her living advising parents like me on how to pick schools for the lottery. I never met her in person, but I dislike her on principle. My ill feelings toward her are not her fault, but I’m aware that what she’s peddling isn’t going to make my lottery number higher, or tip the scales so that we magically get our first choice school. Under the guise of information she sells a false sense of control over the process to parents like me that wake up thinking about if our number seven was the right pick. I’m not buying her expertise – I’m buying the idea that I can do something to change our fate.

I’m not going to change the list anymore. We have a mix of the fairy-riding-a-unicorn leaping-over-a-rainbow-school at the top, the more attainable but my real first choice school as number two, and a mix of public and charter schools filling out our list. We didn’t rank charter schools exclusively as there whether or not they’re universally better than a traditional public school hasn’t been demonstrated, and I didn’t even like some of the highest performing charters I visited. We went for mostly Spanish immersion and bilingual schools, several expeditionary learning models, a couple Montessoris and one Reggio-inspired school. We put our neighborhood school on there as well as our safety school, though there’s really no safety to be had, and I’m not sure I would send him there even if he got a spot.

Now we wait. The first results from the two separate lotteries will be out a week before the common lottery. I may have stressed for nothing; I may get an email for a seat in a high performing, bilingual Montessori charter school that runs its own lottery. Or, we could be part of the 12-15% of city families that don’t get a match anywhere in the first round. If that happens, we can apply to get on more wait lists and see if we get a call over the summer or even into the start of the school year.

I want us to win the lottery for my son’s sake.




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