Some parents cried for joy. Others shed tears of sorrow as they crammed a hearing room for the most competitive lottery in the history of New Haven magnet schools.
The occasion wasn’t the set of Waiting for Superman, though you could be excused if you were confused. It was the annual lottery to get into New Haven’s magnet and charter schools. A whopping 9,333 students applied for 2,677 open seats at 29 schools covering grades pre-K to 12.
Most parents will learn their children’s fate through letters set to arrive home early next week, or by calling the magnet registration office.
Some 170 parents wanted to find out in person. So they showed up at 10 a.m. Tuesday to the second-floor hearing room of Board of Ed headquarters at 54 Meadow St.
Ed Linehan (pictured), who created the city’s magnet school program in 1996, has returned from retirement to help guide the lottery. Parents who showed up Tuesday had applied, either online or in paper, to their top three choices. The lottery includes five charter schools and two major high schools that accept kids from other neighborhoods. The rest are magnet schools—public schools, organized around an academic theme, that accept students only by lottery. New Haven has 17 interdistrict magnet schools, which serve kids from surrounding towns and get state money to add staff and beef up the curriculum. The other magnet schools, which don’t get state money, accept kids from all across New Haven.
In a district with so many schools of choice, the lottery determines whether a student can go to the school down the street—and whether parents will have to scramble to find another pre-K option before fall. Before running the lottery, Linehan warned that there are “no guarantees”—students can get into a school only if there is an open seat in that grade level.
Seats are assigned by a computer using a randomly assigned number. Those choices were not made before Tuesday, Linehan assured the crowd.
“The lottery is for real. It’s happening now.”
With those words, Linehan pushed a button on a laptop computer hooked up to a projector.
Parents watched with rapt attention as the number of available seats in each school flashed before their eyes and their students’ random numbers were assigned to those seats.
The computer system first runs through all the students’ first choices for open seats, Linehan explained. In the schools with neighborhood preference, which now includes Amistad Academy, students who live nearby get first priority. Next priority is given to students who already have siblings at the school.
If two students have equal standing in neighborhood and sibling status, the one with the lower randomly assigned number will snag the seat.
After the system fits as many kids as possible into their top choices, it assigns students to their second and third choices. If there aren’t any available seats, kids will be put on up to three wait lists, depending on the number of schools they applied to.
The lottery took no longer than two minutes. Then came the long wait—about 20 minutes—for the district to print out the results.
“Some of you will be pleased. Some of you will be disappointed,” Linehan cautioned. “And we’ll be here to take the slings and arrows.”
Parents then stood into three long lines based on their last names to learn their children’s fate.
“She got in!” declared Kattie Konno-Leonffu as the magnet office staffer handed her the news at 11 a.m.
Konno-Leonffu (at left in photo) of Branford was one of thousands of suburban parents vying for spots in New Haven schools. (The lottery also includes ACES - Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School, which is over the town line in Hamden.) A total of 3,749 applications came from the suburbs; 5,584 came from the New Haven residents.
Konno-Leonffu’s daughter snagged a spot in the 5th grade at the Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School on Kimberly Avenue.
Many other out-of-towners were vying for spots in the city’s nine free pre-K programs, often because their towns don’t offer free alternatives. Suburban parents snag half of pre-K spots in New Haven magnet schools, according to data released by the district at parent activists’ request.
Linehan noted that in the lottery, there are more seats set aside for New Haven parents than for out-of-towners. In the city’s 17 interdistrict magnet schools, two thirds of spots go to New Haveners, one third to the suburbs. Many other schools, including Amistad and John Martinez, are just for New Haven families.
One of those New Haven parents, Melissa Jones (pictured at the top of this story), smiled wide as her two eldest children got into pre-K and first grade at Beecher Museum School of Arts & Sciences Interdistrict Magnet. The school is closer to her house than is Wexler/Grant, where her kindergartener goes, she said, and she likes the “school atmosphere.” She said she hopes the school provides a “better opportunity” for her kids.
The day was emotional not just for parents but for a handful of students who took the day off from school to learn their fates. One boy left in tears.
Emily Wilson and Lincoln Wilson, Jr. (pictured) headed out to celebrate at IHOP.
The siblings, who live in Fair Haven, go to Conte/West Hills. Emily, a clarinetist, got into 6th grade at Betsy Ross, where she looks forward to a rich arts curriculum.
“My school doesn’t have much to do with the arts,” she explained.
Lincoln is headed to Common Ground High School, an environmental-themed magnet abutting West Rock Park. Lincoln said he was attracted by the school’s working farm, the environmental curriculum, and the farm-fresh food.
Since the city rolled out its first magnet school in 1996, nearly all of its 11 high schools have shifted to magnet models. Only James Hillhouse and Wilbur Cross remain as traditional, comprehensive schools. Students are sent to one or the other based on where they live; they can choose to switch by applying through the magnet lottery.
Still Hope For Christopher
Monica De La Cruz and Cristobal Gutierrez (pictured) met with confusion Tuesday as they tried to get their 4-year-old, Christopher, into the school across the street from their house, John S. Martinez Magnet School on James Street.
Christopher already goes to Martinez for pre-K; he’s been there for two years. They said they chose the school because he has had a good experience there—and it’s so close to home.
When they got to the head of the line Tuesday, they learned their child was put on the “wait list.”
The pair, who speak Spanish, didn’t understand at first. Then they gathered that their child was not chosen.
“I’m sad,” said De La Cruz in Spanish. “I wish he could have gotten in.”
They were surprised in part because Martinez gives preference to neighbors, and they live so close by.
After they left, Linehan explained that Christopher didn’t automatically get into kindergarten because the pre-K he attends isn’t technically part of the magnet school. It’s run by Head Start. So kids who want to continue to kindergarten have to reapply.
Then Linehan offered some extra info that may reverse their fate: He said at Martinez, one of the two 26-student kindergarten classes is reserved for Spanish-dominant speakers. Because the lottery doesn’t sort students by the language they speak, only one class gets filled by the lottery. Twenty-six seats remain for Spanish-speakers like Christopher—with preference given to kids who live nearby.
De La Cruz wasn’t the only one who struggled to follow the English-only instructions given Tuesday. While one of three magnet office staffers did speak Spanish, only the people with names from I to P were assigned to that line.
Linehan later apologized that the district did not offer translation services. “That would’ve been the right thing to do.”
Strike 3 For Saidan
Eliza Halsey, who’s become an expert on New Haven pre-school admissions as the leader of a new parent group, still found herself out of luck Tuesday.
For the third year in a row, Halsey (pictured) found her daughter, Saidan, relegated to a wait list at Davis Street School.
Halsey, who lives in the Hill, tried twice to get her daughter into pre-K at magnet schools when Saidan was 3 and 4 years old. Both times, Saidan remained on the wait list while suburban kids got in. She then hustled to determine what her other options were. She found the system difficult to navigate—even for a Yale-educated mom experienced in dealing with civic institutions and bureaucracies.
After studying the system, she came up with a new strategy this year: Put the school that’s easiest to get into first on the list. Halsey ranked the Hamden interdistrict school Wintergreen first, then Edgewood and Davis Street schools, which are harder to get into because they give preference to kids who live nearby.
As she approached the magnet official, she described the process as “nerve-wracking.”
She shed a tear when she found out Saidan was wait-listed at all three schools.
“It’s really disappointing,” she said.
If she doesn’t get off the three wait lists, Saidan would be sent to her neighborhood school, Truman, which is ranked in the district’s lowest-performing Tier III category.
Halsey and budget watchdog Tim Holahan have spent the past year leading a parent group tackling the transparency of pre-K admissions. In a recent appearance at the school board, parents asked the district for a list, by school, of how many kids applied to each magnet school and how many were accepted. Making that data public would give parents a better sense of the chance their kid has to get in—and would help them make backup plans as needed, Halsey said.
Halsey said the fact that most parents get wait-listed in the lottery means that “we don’t really have a broad system for choice.”
The district has “a charade of choice,” agreed Holahan.
Holahan, who got his kid into Edgewood, said the system needs more transparency around the “distribution of a scarce resource”—seats in the city’s top schools.
The timing of the admission process is difficult for families trying to get into pre-K, Halsey added, because many private programs ask parents to sign contracts in February for seats in the following year. Parents who strike out on the magnet seats can try to get into the Head Start and school readiness programs, which Halsey and Holahan are working on making easier to navigate. (Click here for an explanatory web guide they made.)
The process was made even more difficult this year, Halsey said, because the district delayed its magnet lottery by two weeks.
Linehan said the process was delayed because the computer programmer the district hires, Bob Oliver, was “unresponsive” to the district’s request to merge online applications into the database. By the time Oliver responded, it was too late to send letters home to parents to verify their online applications had gone through OK.
The Silver Lining
Linehan said the disappointment that many parents experienced Tuesday is an affirmation of the magnet program—and a directive to do more.
Fifteen years ago, he said, no one was scrambling to get into Edgewood, Davis Street, Barnard or Beecher as they were on Tuesday. When schools reorganize themselves around a theme and become magnet schools, it creates a new energy, he argued.
“Providing families with choice and not locking them into the school where they live has proven successful,” Linehan said.
The magnet lottery has grown in popularity every year, according to Linehan. Last year, 8,008 students applied on time to a similar number of open seats.
Families can still submit late applications to magnet schools, as they were doing Tuesday morning. Even after the lottery took place, there are still some open seats, Linehan said. The biggest vacancies are at Brennan/Rogers, which debuted as a magnet school last year. That school has about 30 openings in kindergarten, he said. He reckoned that’s because the school is a new magnet, and is located in an isolated part of the city. The neighbors who used to send kids to Brennan have been scattered across town as the housing authority rebuilds the Brookside and Rockview projects, he added.
I don’t understand how the city of New Haven can turn away its own. We are long-time residents and our child is entering kindergarten in the fall. At yesterday’s lottery he was wait-listed for the 3rd year in a row, even after listing our “attendance zone” schools as our 1st and 2nd choice (supposedly the giving us the best shot at a seat) in addition to a 3rd choice.
The point of the magnets is to increase diversity - well, what about the higher socioeconomic status families living right here in New Haven? Where is the incentive for us stay here if our child can’t attend the schools? As we wait to find out whether our son will make it off the wait lists or be sent to the “overflow” school, we are considering the possibility of putting our house on the market and leaving our beloved city.
I have totally lost faith in the fairness of the system. I’d like to see the city post some data on the children who were lucky enough to obtain seats yesterday (town, street address if in New Haven, preferences given, and whether it was their 1st, 2nd or 3rd choice). It was interesting to learn that the applications are entered into the system by magnet office employees - not an independent contractor. Mr. Linehan’s response to a parent’s question was ‘If people really want to cheat, they will find a way’.
posted by: Noteworthy on March 28, 2012 9:31am
The lack of real choice for New Haven families is the result of the devil’s deal DeStefano/Mayo did with the state in exchange for all that money for new schools. Converting neighborhood schools to inter-district magnets gave New Haven premium pay for student and gave it access to all that construction money. Nothing is free and we’re paying the piper for the decisions made by the top leadership in this city.
posted by: westville on March 28, 2012 9:49am
And why I am I paying almost 9,000 in tax’s so children from Branford can go to the school down the street from me and we cannot?
posted by: goatvillemom on March 28, 2012 10:10am
The unwritten rule , that was mentioned by a NHPS official in 2 meetings I attended this year, is that if you want your child to go to a specific school, you should list ONLY that school—no 2nd or 3rd choice listed. Why they don’t make this broadly known, I don’t know.
posted by: goatvillemom on March 28, 2012 10:12am
Although what Noteworthy says is true, the more noble goal behind the magnet program is to diversify the schools in New Haven. Research shows that if middle -class, majority children are represented in the schools, quality goes up.
posted by: Joe Schmoe on March 28, 2012 10:33am
If a child can’t attend their school of choice within their neighborhood, then the system needs to be fixed. If a child is denied attendance at a school they can walk to and is instead forced to be bused across town to a different school, then something is wrong. The city and school officials should be prioritizing children walking to school, which, broadly speaking, is in line with such societal goals as increasing health and reducing pollution/congestion. A system based in large part on luck creates resentment and does nothing to retain families from moving.
posted by: anonymous on March 28, 2012 10:38am
“And why I am I paying almost 9,000 in tax’s so children from Branford can go to the school down the street from me and we cannot?”
If the State fully funded PILOT, to cover the City’s loss of tax revenue as a result of providing all these school sites, this wouldn’t be as big of an issue.
“I’d like to see the city post some data on the children who were lucky enough to obtain seats yesterday”
The City could easily have hired an independent contractor to gather the student data and use it to create aggregate maps that show this distribution while protecting individual student confidentiality. This would cost about 500 dollars. Why they haven’t done this yet is anyone’s guess.
posted by: anonymous on March 28, 2012 11:08am
“The city and school officials should be prioritizing children walking to school, which, broadly speaking, is in line with such societal goals as increasing health and reducing pollution/congestion.”
Neil is correct. If you look back 20 or 30 years, almost all kids in New Haven walked to school. Nowadays, that number is unbelievably low except in a few cases such as Edgewood and Hooker.
New Haven should able to have a neighborhood-based school system that allows suburban kids to apply to neighborhood schools. I don’t see why the schools act as magnets for city residents, too. The suburbs currently pay into the New Haven school system based on how many kids from their towns attend school in New Haven. However, that doesn’t take into account the added costs of things like busing city school kids around town, which is apparently required under a magnet system.
Sandra, The goal is noble, but horribly misguided. By focusing on school diversity, we are ignoring, and therefore condoning, neighborhood segregation. Our focus should be on creating diverse neighborhoods, because then the neighborhood schools would automatically be diverse.
posted by: Noteworthy on March 28, 2012 11:42am
There is nothing noble about selling out the educational slots of your own children for money. The state pays a 35% premium for the out of district children and since these same families don’t like our upper level grades, the lower level ones, particularly the FREE pre-k slots go disproportionately to them in order to achieve the percentages the state requires for all that construction money. The formulas used to project enrollment were also extremely lopsided which causes long term issues.
If there was a noble idea that diversity in the schools would raise the ship of the state of education, it has not worked as we all know which is why, now that that has nt worked, we are rolling the dice on a new course.
One more note about PILOT. New Haven’s problem is not, and has never been PILOT payments from the state. We are one of the few states who dole out PILOT payments. It was done for no other reason than to shovel state money to urban centers. Having a large number of non-profits in an urban center is not new or unique and as is the case with Yale, the economic benefit from the university in conjunction with its own voluntary PILOT payment go a long way in off-setting a “property tax” loss.
State funding of PILOT and the entire argument that the lack of full funding as originally envisioned is a canard of gigantic proportions used as a convenient fig leaf for why New Haven is always between a financial rock and a hard place. Unfortunately for taxpayers, the city’s top leadership has always chosen to roll the dice and defaulted to quick and easy financial schemes and debt over the difficult decisions and choices a far more prudent path would have required.
That’s largely why you have a lottery and why your children’s children will have a lottery too. Choices have consequences.
posted by: junebugjune on March 28, 2012 12:12pm
Something stinks in New Haven and I mean that literally.
In addition to concerns that tax paying residents of New Haven are being denied slots in some of the best schools in town that may be right in their neighborhood, I’m concerned about how all this busing is affecting our environment and our children’s health.
Has anyone else had an opportunity to be blasted by the exhaust from these school buses lately? It smells and feels toxic. I wouldn’t want my child anywhere near it, much less riding it every day to school.
Maybe the NHI can do some research on this.
posted by: Threefifths on March 28, 2012 1:06pm
May be some one can answer this for me.Because of the Sheff v. O’Neill case is this how magnet schools got there start.
Noteworthy, PILOT represents the more politically acceptable solution to the very real regionalization problem that does exist. New Haven county is no longer made up of self-sufficient towns, villages and cities - it is an economic region. New Haven’s institutions grew from small, local establishments into regional ones without New Haven’s tax base expanding. New Haven’s political boundaries never expanded, so the way to remedy this was through PILOT because forced annexation is less acceptable because it would force suburbs to give up their 60 year old sweet deal.
posted by: anonymous on March 28, 2012 1:36pm
junebug: Diesel fuel is incredibly toxic even in very small amounts. But it is obviously not a big concern in our town—look at the new gas station planned for the corner of Elm and Orchard for example. In other places, you literally are not allowed to build gas stations within a few hundred feet of buildings where dozens of infants live. In this case a huge gas station is going in right across the street.
posted by: junebugjune on March 28, 2012 2:12pm
“Research shows that if middle -class, majority children are represented in the schools, quality goes up.”
Does the research show a reason for this? Do school districts care less about and invest less in low income minority students than they care about and invest in middle class majority students? Why is the answer to bring more “majority” students into our schools and not to make educational options better for the lower income minority students who are already here?
What scares me is that, even the most diverse schools in this country often track students into categories based on their perceived intelligence and these tracking systems are, more often than not, just another way of segregating by race and socioeconomic status. The resources given to students in the top categories are often much higher quality that those given to lower performing students so you get the same inequality within the school walls. The only thing that changes is that, from the outside, the school looks diverse and the average achievement level goes up. Is this just a cosmetic solution?
posted by: Brutus2011 on March 28, 2012 5:19pm
to “Threefifths:” In answer to your question, I would have to say that yes, Sheff v. ONeill is the catalyst as to how the NHPS got into the magnet school thing.
And, even though I am critical of NHPS, our magnet school system is a good start and is probably the best one in Ct. In addition, the new schools are a positive move although I believe that smaller neighborhood schools would have been a more efficient choice both in terms of cost and impact on New Haven children.
But back to Sheff v. O’Neill, you probably want to look up Gov. Rowland’s Executive Order#10, Public Act 97-290, Public Act 93-263. You might want to view Rowland’s Education Improvement Plan.
Sheff v. O’Neill is, in my opinion, a necessary evolution in education. And, NHPS has done a relatively good job in implementing its spirit even if the 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill decision was only binding on the City of Hartford.
I hope that helps.
posted by: David S Baker on March 28, 2012 5:56pm
“Seats are assigned by a computer using a randomly assigned number.”
Does not compute. Computers cannot behave randomly without an impartial feed from a chaotic variable. I would like to know how this lottery software works in a future article. And don’t say, “It’s complicated, but….” If Powerball worked this way, no one would play. I realize the results are a tad more complicated, but I want to know where the “random” comes from.
And I say all this while awaiting the result of my child’s application to Pre-K. Bias revealed.
posted by: goatvillemom on March 28, 2012 9:04pm
@junebugjune, Richard Kahlenberg is the one who has done the most work in this area. Summary from an NPR interview: three reasons: 1. A given student who gets to go to a more affluent school is going to be surrounded by peers who have big dreams, expect to go on to college, are academically engaged, less likely to cut class and cause discipline problems. 2. Affluent parents are about four times as likely to be members of the PTA as low income parents. So they know how to hold school officials accountable. 3. The third advantage has to do with the teachers. The best teachers are attracted to most favorable working conditions, really. And that’s more likely to be found in middle class schools. And the problem is that, nationally, we just push this issue entirely aside. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130647610
The problem isn’t a lack of diversity in our schools but in our neighborhoods.
We have poor and rich neighborhoods in New Haven, but if we really want to address serious inequality and systemic poverty, we need to have “neighborhoods”, made up of different folks. Working class, academic, unemployed, all living together on the same streets.
Diversity in our neighborhoods would naturally create diverse schools, which would absolutely improve the performance and lives of every student at the schools.
Unfortunately, we only see panaceas—school choice, vouchers, magnet schools, teacher merit pay bonuses, standardized test nonsense.
None of this is going to solve the real problem, which is systemic poverty and segregation at the deepest levels of our society.
posted by: Curious on March 29, 2012 11:07am
This article and these comments have convinced me that when I buy a house in the next year or two, it will NOT be in New Haven.
Why deal with the crime and taxes and terrible school system when I can tap New Haven for the best of what it has to offer without suffering the worst?
posted by: formerNhresident on March 29, 2012 3:46pm
i find it ronic if your child attends Leila Day Care she/he automatically is accepted to Hooker School but Delacruz and Gutierrez’s child who attends Head Start which is located inside Martinez School does not automatically get accepted into that schools kindergarten program.
posted by: formerNhresident on March 29, 2012 3:48pm
@formerNhresident—no it is not just test scores. It is various measures of student success, in several different locations around the US. High school graduation rates in Cambridge, MA, to give just one example. Read Kahlenberg.
posted by: Bruce on March 30, 2012 11:42am
I have a hard time understanding the complaints about the percentage of “outsiders” vs city kids. These are REGIONAL schools, not city schools, and they were built with 80% state funds. Top dollar was expended to make them exemplary—otherwise there’d be no incentive for someone to ship their kids 30 minutes into town and back from a school district that already pretty good.
I now live in the suburbs and I was thrilled to get my daughter into a magnet Pre-K program last year through the lottery system. We pay for the program and we are encouraged to participate in it. We don’t have Pre-K in our local district. However, since our schools rate pretty well, we may later choose to have her walk to school next door. This would free up a spot for some other child and reduce emissions. What’s wrong with that?
posted by: Josiah Brown on March 30, 2012 1:11pm
“Junebug” and “Anonymous” commented on bus exhaust and health issues, and Junebug expressed interest in more information.
Kathleen Rooney—who teaches math at Career H.S. and is also a parent of two NHPS students—prepared a curriculum unit that addresses related health questions while teaching statistical reasoning to high-schoolers.
Bruce- I don’t quite understand your comment that you pay for the Pre-K, unless you mean you’ve “paid” for the building through state taxes.
You are right that state money was used to build suburban schools. That was part of the deal. It’s just troubling to me as a New Haven school parent, that I shelled out significant money for Pre-K while a free spot was taken by someone who was there just for the free part and not in for the long haul. I also saw many kids in my children’s classes that really would have benefited from a Pre-K program. We all would have benefited.
To improve New Haven schools, there needs to be more than an investment in the building.
posted by: Bruce on March 30, 2012 5:13pm
Hi Ali, that’s correct, I meant that we pay into the program through state taxes. We are not costing the city anything by participating and, again, we are encouraged to do so. That’s the whole reason that the magnet schools exist—to draw in families from beyond the city.
Yes, money was a huge factor. Just because we live in the suburbs doesn’t mean we’re lighting cigars with twenty dollar bills. I doubt we could afford a decent private pre-k. That said, we didn’t enter the program with the intention of leaving, but the fact of the matter is that we have to weigh the value of the commute. We love the school but it’s well over an hour a day for two trips into the city. That’s a burden on all of us.
In any case, we put our names in the hat just like everyone else and we got the luck of the draw. I truly sympathize with you and everyone else who didn’t get picked in the lottery. I really do. I wish there were enough slots for everyone. But the notion that these slots are “taken” by suburban families is what baffles me. My daughter has just as much right to go to her school as any other family in the magnet region.
posted by: Ollie on March 31, 2012 12:05pm
Mrs Halsey would be lucky to her her child attend Truman kindergarten! Just ask a Truman parent
posted by: oscarct on March 31, 2012 4:26pm
Thank you for your sympathies, Bruce. Unfortunately, the system does not work exactly as you say. This is not a a random lottery. Actually you put your child’s name not in a “general hat” or in a “New Haven hat” but in a separate “suburban hat”. This means, that in your specific case the applicant pool is smaller. However, what is more problematic is the perverse use suburban parents do of the system. They see magnet schools, basically, as a short time investment in free day care. And, by taking the kids out eventually in higher grades, it means that to maintain the mandatory ratios of the program, suburban kids have by far many more chances of getting in at pre-school grades than New Haven kids. Let’s say that they are not “taking” but, rather, “occupying” slot in greater numbers because of the way they are using the system. And that’s completely unfair. Of course, you child has the right to attend the school, but you can not deny that the system as it is implemented now is by far biased against New Haven kids. Did you pay for it? So did I. So, either the system implementation changes to accomodate the true objective of the magnet program or it will be abused every single year by parents who do not have any interest whatsoever in those schools when their kids grow.