Two parents slapped a high-five in the hallway.
“You got into Elm City, too?”
It turned out they were talking about two different schools, as parents cast their luck in an annual lottery that included four new schools of choice.
The high-five took place outside the Board of Education hearing room at 54 Meadow St., where 150 parents gathered Wednesday morning to learn first-hand the results of an annual school lottery. This year, for the first time, the school district combined the lotteries for magnet and charter schools with the lotteries for kindergarten seats in neighborhood schools where the number of applicants exceeds the number of seats.
Some parents yipped with joy. Others walked away in disappointment.
In total, 8,130 students applied for 2,394 open seats—a decrease in demand from years past. In addition to some neighborhood schools, the lottery included 24 magnet schools, six charter schools, plus Elm City Montessori, which is a combined magnet and “local charter” school.
Parents filed in and waited nervously for the event to begin. A mom named Wendy bounced her 8-month-old in a baby carrier. She said she had applied for her 4-year-old to kindergarten at only one school, popular Worthington Hooker in East Rock.
Ed Linehan (pictured), a retired school administrator who assists with the magnet lottery, announced some changes this year, the 20th one conducted by the school district. The district switched to a new web-based program, Smart Choice, to streamline the process. Parents had the option of signing up online instead of mailing in papers. And they can receive an email alert with their school placement instead of waiting for a letter to be sent home. The new system allows the school district to manage the waiting list for schools much more efficiently, because it will be partly automated, Linehan said.
This year’s lottery had four new options. Three are traditional public schools—Strong School, Quinnipiac School, and Celentano Museum Academy—that are converting into magnet schools with the help of a federal grant.
505 Compete For 63 Montessori Sports
The fourth is Elm City Montessori, which plans to open this fall with 69 students from ages 3 to 5, then grow to serve grades pre-K to 8. The school will be the state’s only “local charter,” which means it will operate within the New Haven school district, with unionized teachers. It’s also a magnet school, which means it will get extra federal money for staff, equipment and professional development. Of the 69 spots, 63 are set aside for New Haven kids, according to Eliza Halsey, a parent activist and founding member of the school. The other six spots are set aside for suburban students—a requirement of a federal magnet mandate to reduce racial isolation.
A whopping 505 New Haven students applied for the 63 spots, Halsey said. (The magnet office declined to provide numbers for other schools as of press time.) That high demand is common for pre-K and kindergarten seats. The high demand—and the high number of parents who walk away from the lottery disappointed—motivated Halsey and a group of moms to found the school.
Resha Cardone, of Beaver Hills, put in one of those 505 applications for the Montessori school. Her daughter Aurora currently attends a modified Montessori program at Gateway Community College. The Montessori method, invented a century ago by Italian physician Maria Montessori, involves mixed-age classrooms and letting kids pace themselves and discover how to do an activity on their own. Click here for a peek at what it looks like.
Cardone said the Montessori approach is “working really well” for her daughter. And she knows some of the parents who are involved with starting Elm City Montessori.
“I like that it was an initiative by parents,” Cardone said. “I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity to build the school community up from the ground up.”
After a school administrator clicked “go” on the computerized lottery, parents lined up at stations around the edges of the room, where school staff used laptops to search their names and tell them their children’s fate.
Diane Guffey (pictured at the top of this story) grabbed the first spot line line along with her 2-year-old son, Wilfredo. Guffey, who speaks English and Spanish at home with her kids, was hoping to get Wilfredo into John C. Daniels Magnet School, which has a dual language immersion program. Guffey said she has two older students in the school and loves it.
She clapped her hands when she learned that Wilfredo got into his top choice.
William Muniz Jr. and Christine Ayuso were not so lucky with their daughter Paris, who just turned 3. The couple lives in the Annex neighborhood. They were hoping to get her into pre-K at the nearby Ross/Woodward or Benjamin Jepson schools. Ayuso said Paris has been home with Mom for her whole life and would benefit from a pre-K experience.
“I’m ready for her to start as soon as possible,” Ayuso said. “She needs the time with children, and to grasp onto other adults.”
Ayuso walked away “disappointed.” Paris didn’t get in anywhere. The couple went home to await an email, which would tell them where Paris sat on the waiting lists.
The admissions email would also include key information for all parents, Linehan announced: After learning their placements, parents must accept or deny the placement by April 25, or risk losing their seats. Parents who are new to the system have to physically visit the registration office to fill out paperwork before they secure the seat, he added.
Wendy, who was hoping to get into Hooker School, also struck out in the lottery. She said she was surprised, since she lives on the same street as the school and had already enrolled her child in a HeadStart program, which is supposed to give her student admissions preference. She said her plan B is to home-school her child until a seat opens up at Hooker, which often happens as transient East Rock families move.
Across the room, another mom yelled out “yippee!” upon learning she got her child into Davis Street School.
Cardone emerged smiling, too: She got one of 63 winning tickets to Elm City Montessori.
In the hallway, Cardone met Zecolia Welch, who had also gotten into an “Elm City” school.
They slapped each other high-five. Then they figured out they were talking about two different schools: Welch was talking about Elm City College Preparatory Elementary School, a charter school run by Achievement First. Welch said her 5-year-old daughter has been attending MicroSociety Magnet School in West Rock, and “needs more of a challenge.”
“She’s the type of kid you’ve got to stay strict on,” Welch said of her daughter. Welch rejoiced when she found out her daughter would be able to transfer to Elm City College Prep. She said she planned to drive to MicroSociety to pick up her daughter and tell her that day.
Welch then revealed that she may be a fellow parent with Cardone after all: Welch’s youngest child is on the waiting list at Elm City Montessori.
Parents whose students are admitted to the school will be invited to a parent orientation in the spring, and will receive home visits from staff in the summer, Halsey said. The school has already hired a principal and magnet resource coordinator, who will start work in two weeks, she added.
Schools Superintendent Garth Harries said the flood of applications for Elm City Montessori “is reflective of the energy and enthusiasm for the school model—which is one of the reasons the school district supported it.”
“Now,” he said, “they’ve got to deliver” on the quality education they promised.
Students who didn’t get into pre-K can still apply for spots in Head Start by calling 203-946-6950 and making an appointment to register at 80 Hamilton St.
There is still time to apply for one new school of choice, Booker T. Washington Academy, a new charter school that just won state approval to open this fall with as many as 300 students in grades pre-K to 3. The date for that lottery has not yet been determined.
Meanwhile, hundreds of other families participated Tuesday in a lesser-noticed program called Open Choice, which allows New Haven kids to opt into suburban schools and vice versa. Lynn Bailey, who directs the program through Area Cooperative Educational Services, said 158 New Haven students applied for open seats in suburban schools, and 212 suburban students applied for seats in New Haven schools. Applicants will find out their placements by mail, she said.
Harries said his long-term goal is for families to clamor to get into all city schools, not just the magnets and charters.
“We want all of our schools to be high-demand schools,” he said.