Parents Face 2nd Lottery For Hooker Seats

Melissa Bailey File PhotoAs the number of families seeking coveted spots at Hooker School again hits an overflow, parents are lining up for another high-stakes sweepstakes.

Parents will try their luck in an admissions lottery at 7 p.m. Thursday at the second-floor Board of Education hearing room at 54 Meadow St. The lottery is for students who “pre-enrolled” in kindergarten, meaning they attended New Haven Public School-affiliated pre-K programs and live in the school’s attendance zone.

Those students get preference over regular applicants. At the other 10 schools that have attendance zones—Bishop Woods, Roberto Clemente, Clinton Avenue, Fair Haven, Hill Central, Lincoln-Bassett, Troup, Nathan Hale, Truman, and Wexler/Grant—all the kids who pre-enrolled this year will be guaranteed spots in the fall.

But at Hooker, that preference may not prove enough: 61 kids pre-enrolled for 52 kindergarten spots at the popular East Rock school, causing an overflow, according to Assistant Superintendent Garth Harries. Thursday’s lottery will determine who gets in as well as the order of the wait-list.

The lottery is technically for all schools with attendance zones, but the stakes are high only for Hooker. That’s because Hooker is the only school that didn’t have enough seats to accommodate all the kids who pre-enrolled, Harries said.

Lottery entrant Anna Festa (pictured above), a Hooker mom, said she is crossing her fingers that her third son will be able to join his two brothers at the school.

“Everybody’s a little bit on edge,” Festa said. “Especially the parents that have kids at the school already.”

There will be no sibling preference in the lottery.

The lottery came in response to a growing enrollment, and in response to input from parents on how to make the process more “fair and transparent,” schools Superintendent Reggie Mayo said in a press statement.

The requirements for getting into Hooker haven’t changed. The main change this year is that instead of wondering how the district picks the 52 lucky kindergartners-to-be, parents can see the process unfold in a public lottery run by an outside vendor.

The lottery comes on the heels of the annual magnet school lottery, where 9,333 kids competed for 2,677 seats. Thursday’s lottery will be for the non-magnet schools, where admission is based on where you live. Any student who doesn’t fare well in the lottery will still be guaranteed a kindergarten seat somewhere in the district, likely at the Strong School.

Like the other parents trying to get into Hooker, Festa lives inside the boundaries of the school’s district. People are known to buy houses inside those district lines—and even stake out the superintendent’s office—just to get into Hooker, which serves many Yale-affiliated families. The K-8 school is perceived as one of the best public schools, if not the best, in New Haven.

Over the years, parents have called the admissions process opaque, confusing, and unfair. Outrage ensued in 2004 when out-of-district kids, including the daughters of state Rep. Cam Staples and then-school board President Brian Perkins, snagged early spots in an over-enrolled kindergarten class.

In response to parents’ objections, the school district has made changes to the kindergarten admissions, where competition is typically most fierce. Last year, the district rolled out a new lottery for kindergarten spots that weren’t already snatched up by pre-enrolled kids. That eliminated a torturous first-come-first-serve process whereby parents had to show up every day to the Board of Education to see if a spot had opened up.

Parents of kids who did not pre-enroll no longer have to camp out on the eve of May 1 to get their kindergarten applications in. They can apply anytime from May 1 to June 12; all those applicants will then face a second lottery to fill any open seats and determine the order of the wait-list.

Last year, those watching the process flagged a new problem: There were too many pre-enrolled kids to accommodate in Hooker’s 52 kindergarten seats. Students in public pre-K programs or in private pre-K programs that accept federal dollars to serve low-income students are all considered NHPS students, so they are supposed to be accepted as “roll-over” students at Hooker as soon as they fill out a registration on May 1. (click here to read more and see a list of participating pre-K programs.)

Since not all kids could snag seats at the time, the lucky winners were chosen based on when the director of their pre-K program turned in applications. So the kids whose applications were turned in last had to sit on the wait list. (Those kids eventually got in before September.)

Now, for the second year in a row, Hooker faces an overflow of pre-enrolled students. 

East Rock Alderman Justin Elicker worked with the district to come up with a fairer way to handle that crunch.

Elicker (pictured) met with directors of pre-K programs to come up with a process that would avoid pitting them against each other in the high-stakes admissions battle. They suggested that all “roll-over” applications be placed in a lottery.

The district agreed to adopt that suggestion. That led to Thursday night’s lottery.

Elicker said the district adopted a second neighborhood suggestion concerning parents who apply for magnet schools earlier in the year, but whose top choice is attending a neighborhood school. Before, they had to choose whether they’d take the magnet seat before they even learn if they got into Hooker. Now the district has fixed that problem by extending the magnet school deadline.

The district did not adopt a third suggestion from East Rock parents: that kids be given sibling preference in admissions to neighborhood schools. The district gives siblings preference in the magnet lottery but not in the new lottery for kindergarten.

Festa, who already has two sons at Hooker, said she wishes the district would weigh that factor in admitting her youngest son. She said it’s much easier for active parents like herself to focus energy on one school.

“They want parental involvement, but how can I split myself?” she asked.

Schools COO Will Clark said the district chose not to allow sibling preference this year because it did not want to make a dramatic change to the qualifications to get into the school without letting parents know in advance.

Clark said the district made the process easier this year, but “we did not change the qualifications on how to get in.”

He said the district would consider sibling preference for the upcoming school year. Overall, he maintained, the process has been made much more transparent and parent-friendly.

Parents are invited to see the lottery take place Thursday night. It will look a lot like the magnet lottery, all triggered by the click of a mouse. All parents will get a letter in the mail announcing their child’s place as determined by the lottery.

“There’s no more camping out, no elbowing,” Clark said. “We’re taking that stressful, first-come-first-served element away.”

Alderman Elicker said he’s “really happy that they’ve addressed some of the issues,” though “it always feels like it goes more slowly than one would like.”

“It’s been frustrating, but they have been responsive to some of the problems and seem to be making a good faith effort to try to fix them.”

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry


posted by: MrRay on April 26, 2012  12:09pm

Instead of holding a lottery for one school shouldn’t all schools be as well run and supplied as Hooker? I was raised to believe we are all in this together. Guess not.

[Editor’s note: The lottery is for all attendance zone schools. However, Hooker is the only one where the number of applicants exceeded the number of spots this year.]

posted by: streever on April 26, 2012  12:11pm

It is problematic that we have a lottery at all. Why isn’t every school in New Haven a school that parents are excited about?

Research suggests that parental involvement is the key to student success and Finland has certainly shown that a model focused not on institutional excellence but on equality for every citizen can produce results that are exceptional on a global level.

The reality is that a child of highly-motivated and involved parents is going to do well—even at a sub-par school.

The city and any would-be “reformer” should highlight this and encourage parents to send their kids to the same schools together, to provide a real network of engaged and active parents.

Make a real dent on the serious behavioral problems by supporting teachers with actual administrative powers and discipline for children who crave it and act out.

Have engaged administrators who are responsible for discipline and who actively do this job—not just suspending a kid, but putting a kid in in-school detentions, calling their parents (not sending a letter—calling, until they get them on the phone), and providing a real support network in AND out of school for children with behavioral problems.

Administrators need to put in the same hours teachers do. I know too many who clock out and check out, and think it isn’t their job to communicate with parents, but the teachers are—the teachers are working on weekends and evenings to engage the parents.

If the schools had administrators who were actively addressing the serious behavioral issues, I can’t imagine that our “lower performing” schools wouldn’t see more students from more parents coming in. The teachers are absolutely qualified and capable at many of our “low performing” schools, and micro-managing them isn’t going to help them deal with extremely disruptive behavior from a small number of children.

What will help them is investing in good administrators and around-the-clock programs for the small percentage of students who crave and need follow-up and discipline.

posted by: anonymous on April 26, 2012  12:12pm

This may be even more of a “problem” going forward.  Since 2000 the number of kids under age 5 has increased by about 70% in Wooster Square, 40% in Westville and FH Hts, and up 20% in both East Shore and East Rock.  It has stayed flat or dropped in other parts of the City, and has dropped by 10% in other parts of the State, including 15-30% declines in many of New Haven’s suburbs.

Edgewood also has a “neighborhood preference” and, like East Rock, the number of young children in that neighborhood has risen in recent years.  Is it approaching capacity as well? What about Bishop Woods? 

Of course, some of these families may move out as their kids get to school age, but that seems to be becoming less likely as a result of changes in the housing market.

posted by: PH on April 26, 2012  12:33pm

Thanks for the informative story.  I’d like to see the district also take into consideration the length of time a child has lived in-district.  Priority should go to families who have lived in the area longer, those who have contributed to and comprised the neighborhood for more time. Sibling preference is also just common sense.

posted by: anonymous on April 26, 2012  1:10pm

PH, are you suggesting a homeowner “fairness” preference?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 26, 2012  1:54pm

posted by: streever on April 26, 2012 12:11pm

It is problematic that we have a lottery at all. Why isn’t every school in New Haven a school that parents are excited about?

Research suggests that parental involvement is the key to student success and Finland has certainly shown that a model focused not on institutional excellence but on equality for every citizen can produce results that are exceptional on a global level.

The real reason why Finland schools work.

Why the U.S. Can’t Compete Educationally
Tue, 04/24/2012 - 21:23 — Glen Ford

Teachers in Finland are respected professionals, with the prestige of doctors and lawyers, and a masters degree as a minimum. It is because they are so esteemed by society that Finnish teachers are the “sole authority in monitoring the progress of students.” There are no standardized tests in Finland.

Yet, here in the United States teachers are relentless hounded and degraded, made the scapegoats of society’s inequalities by sharing low scores with their students, whose families and communities are cut off from America’s wealth. Obama’s corporate privatization campaign relentlessly seeks to de-professionalize teachers, to replace them with young, essentially temporary employees who have no intention of making teaching their life’s work. With that kind of self-destruct mechanism, the U.S. will be lucky to remain in the global second tier of education also-rans

Read the rest.’t-compete-educationally

posted by: Eva G on April 26, 2012  2:47pm

Anonymous: I’m genuinely curious—why do you think fewer parents of young ones will be moving to the suburbs because of schools? I mean, what changes in the housing market are you observing that lead you to think this?
PH: a very interesting idea. No idea how it would be implemented, but an interesting idea. I bet it would piss off vast numbers of people, too, though….

(I am the mother of a child who will be starting school SOMEwhere (no idea where) in 2013 and reading all these articles, and the endless conversations I have about schools in New Haven, make my head spin. It is so fabulously unpleasant.)

posted by: anonymous on April 26, 2012  3:34pm

“There are no standardized tests in Finland.”

That pretty much says it all.  But it’s not as simple of an issue as it seems.  Finland has far more social cohesion.  Address social cohesion, by enacting better urban policies and reducing wealth inequality, and you will address every other problem in society.

posted by: anonymous on April 26, 2012  4:10pm

Eva G,

Mobility has plummeted nationwide.  Fewer people can qualify for a mortgage. 

According to UConn, these are the number of single family homes sold in the New Haven region by year, 2000-2011:

2,460 (2000)
2,129 (2002)
2,560 (2005)
1,901 (2008)
1,658 (2011)

There are signs that mobility continues to decrease, both among families as well as among “boomers” who are stuck in the ‘burbs without kids. Very little new housing is being built, especially smaller more affordable units.  Transportation costs are rising even faster than household/utility expenses. 

Kids are going to be crowding into the cities.

posted by: HhE on April 26, 2012  9:14pm

Anonymous, I take issue with your over simplification.  “Address social cohesion, by enacting better urban policies and reducing wealth inequality, and you will address every other problem in society.” has a few flaws that I can see.  One is that social cohesion in this country, or rather the lack there of, is not just about urbanization and wealth.  We are a multiethnic culture with urban, suburban, and rural populations, and with great variances in wealth and education.  Our diversity, which is our strength, is also a weakness.  Even after all the years to reflect on the failure of car centric urban renewal Of which New Haven is the case study par excellence, our city continues to pursue a car centric solution.  So good luck with that (sigh).  Wealth distribution is also problematic, as people with money usually do not care to give it up, and are rather good at holding onto it.  Finally, and most critically, even if we had the best urban policies possible, and a system to address wealth inequity that did not do more harm than good, I doubt it would solve the problem altogether as you so optimistically predict.  If simple solutions were easily to implement and totally effective, we would be living in utopia already.

posted by: HhE on April 26, 2012  9:20pm

Never underestimate the value of parental expectations.  Ten years ago, I taught in a school where the parent teacher conferences included the student and their portfolio.  The conferences were conducted through the homerooms.  In my homeroom, half the students were on the honor roll (all As and Bs).  In every case, the parents of the Honor Roll students’ message was “as good as these grades are, they could be even better, so we expect improvement.  In every case but one of the students not on the Honor Roll, the parents’ message was “All is well.”  The one exception?  “Gee, it would be nice if you did better.” 

Also, never doubt the value of being surrounded by good students.  At another school I worked at, the building principal claimed that while their National Honor Society students were on par with Greenwich High School’s top students, the mid range students were not nearly as good.  Having taught at Greenwich HS, I knew he was right.  What he failed to grasp was why.  High performance is the norm at GHS where the grading mantra is “The only grade a student has a right to is failure.”  At that school, the mantra was “We don’t fail seniors.”  In a town like Greenwich, excellence, high performance, and the wealth that generates is the norm.  While it would not come so naturally to a semi rural, suburban, middle class town, that culture and commonality of high performance could have been achieved in some measure. 

I think politicos have done the calculus of “there are more parents than teachers, so I will bash teachers rather than tell parents they need to up their game.”  So expect more teacher bashing, more testing, and more decline.

posted by: formerNhresident on April 27, 2012  7:51pm

1. I rent in Branford after growing up in New Haven. My daughter is in a free preschool program and will enter kindergarten in the fall without the need of a lottery system.
2. What about East Rock School? I’ m sure strong parental involvement can turn that school int a great school.
3. What preschool programs qualify for the pre-enrollment requirements?

posted by: eastrocknew on May 1, 2012  12:23pm

As a new East Rock neighbor and a teacher I am surprised that nobody comes up with the easiest idea: add seats to neighborhood schools in high demand. We can ignore the reality in the name of fairness, but I don’t know that the current school policy is attracting the homeowners in the city who stay and make a neighborhood viable. Parents don’t want to fight for neighborhood schools when kids are young. Magnets are fine as an additional choice, but a neighborhood school invites parental involvement and commitment.
Offer more choice at the middle and high school level. At least have siblings preference. The whole process seems to be designed to drive young families out after a short stay.