8,130 Apply For 2,394 “Choice” School Seats

Melissa Bailey PhotoTwo 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.


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posted by: ProUnion on April 10, 2014  8:42am

This is disgusting! EVERY child should be given the opportunity to attend pre-k. Every school should have pre-k and it should be made mandatory that children attend. If you really want to close the educational gap we need to start early. All of my children attended full day pre-k and were able to start very basic reading and do very basic math.

posted by: Wooster Squared on April 10, 2014  9:03am

This right here is why so many middle class residents leave New Haven the moment their children hit school-age.

Parents in places like Woodbridge, Cheshire and North Haven don’t have to go through some arcane process involving lines, lists and lotteries just to have their child enrolled in a decent school.

With the sky-high property taxes people pay to live here, they shouldn’t have to depend on the results of a “lottery” just to make sure their kid gets a quality education. A lot of middle class residents are smart enough to know this and leave New Haven to get their kids into decent schools. 

For those of you who think this situation is not a complete disaster, just try explaining the process of enrolling your kids in NHPS to someone else in Connecticut living outside of New Haven and watch the expression on their face.

posted by: A.T. on April 10, 2014  9:15am

Message to Wendy (mom of the child trying to enter Hooker Kindergarten): if you child’s wait list number is called and your child isn’t registered in a public school, he will lose his place in line. Your child must be registered at a NHPS in order to be seated in a K class. In fact, the kids who don’t get in for K at all, but are attending a NH school- their spot on the wait list will be rolled over for first grade (also a difficult grade to get seated in). Info is so hard to obtain. Just thought you might want a heads up in case you don’t know.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on April 10, 2014  9:30am

Herein lies the tragedy and the lunacy of this 21st century policy called “School Choice”: “8,130 Apply For 2,394 “Choice” School Seats” which means 5,736 people leave the lottery disappointed, devastated and desperate because they now have no choice but to go to what they and others consider an inferior public school.
Equal access to a quality education for all is a basic American right, a foundation of our democracy and the purpose of our public schools. Now we have these “elite” schools which require admission by lottery. Losers at the lotto are told: “Sorry your kid didn’t win this time. Your child must go to one of the “other” schools.
There should be no “other” schools in a public school system. There should be no “elite” or “choice” schools. There should be no lottery winners or losers.  Every school should be a quality school with all the resources, human and material, needed to provide all of our young people with a first rate education! If we all cannot win, something is seriously fundamentally wrong with our public school system.
This is a fraud, a sham, and a shame that some parents are reduced to taking a chance on their children’s future and then sometimes feel the need to resort lying and cheating and pulling political strings in a desperate attempt to get a better education for their children when they fail to win a slot. All taxpayers have a right to equal access to the best public education for our children.
New Haveners, don’t be hoodwinked or bamboozled by the Board of Education. “School Choice” transforms the democratic public school system into an oligarchic public school system. “School Choice” is no choice for the majority of our children and their parents.
We should leave no child behind.

posted by: OccupyTheClassroom on April 10, 2014  10:15am

Why does this remind me of the movie “The Running Man”?

posted by: FairHavenRes on April 10, 2014  10:19am

I must be missing something; I hope I am.  What happens to all of the kids who didn’t get into ANY school??  Do they just sit it out another year and hope to get in next year?  That’s a bit absurd, no?

Just for the heck of it, I applied for my son to attend pre-k to see if he could get into Elm City Montessori, although I wasn’t optimistic.  I also picked three other schools as requested by the online system.

Lottery results put him on the waiting list for ALL four schools.  1st choice: 40-something place; 2nd choice: 53rd place; 3rd: 6th place; 4th: 114th place.

No wonder parents go crazy over trying to get a decent education for their kids.  This is insane.

[Editor’s note: Students who don’t get into schools of choice are guaranteed placements in neighborhood schools.]

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2014  10:56am

“The magnet office declined to provide numbers for other schools as of press time.”

When will they release this information? Does it have to be FOIA’ed?

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2014  11:19am

2013 Lottery Results data are posted online, for some schools.

For example, at the popular magnet schools linked below, there were more than enough spaces to accommodate everyone who applied from the “neighborhood” to the school for Kindergarten.

As these schools get more popular within their respective neighborhoods, though, this may change.  There are more and more families moving into areas like East Rock and Westville. 

If the limit is reached, the school district should consider immediately adding an extra Kindergarten classroom to accommodate the overflow from the neighborhood. Otherwise, they are going to start seeing a lot more upset parents.

Pre-K is a different story, of course, but most residents recognize that there are simply not enough funded spaces at our Pre-Ks, and that the situation in the suburbs (where there are often no Pre-Ks at all) is potentially even worse.

East Rock Magnet






posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 10, 2014  11:24am

NHI can we get a number of how many of the pre K spots went to New Haven kids vs out of town kids?

posted by: Brutus2011 on April 10, 2014  11:31am

to all parents:

My suggestion is to decide that you will use the energy expended to “stand in a lottery line” and use it to consistently participate in your child’s education—regardless of the school he or she attends.

I taught in New Haven and I know that there are many dedicated and competent educators here. The facilities are excellent for the most part.

Contrary to what some opine, public education in not a fundamental right. However, public education is guaranteed under Conn. fundamental law. For proof, see Art 8 Sec 1 of the Conn State Constitution.

Parents need to converge on their schools en masse and offer to help educate our kids. Volunteer, join the various PTO’s, visit teachers, ask questions, clean up the grounds on the weekends, or whatever it takes to support the effort to educate your child and his or her classmates.

Public education is vital to our republic because it prepares our future citizenry to take their place as guardians of our republic. There is nothing that says we must remain a “free” society.

Stop giving the power make educational choices to the moneyed class and their management lackeys. Take local control of your schools through getting involved and through voting for candidates that you feel would best represent your interests.

Above all, instill in your kids the idea that they are not to go to school and interfere with their fellow student’s learning. After all, would you allow your child to disrupt a Sunday School class at church?

One child’s rights end where another child’s right begin.

Everyone wants choice?

How about everyone choosing to take responsibility and get involved. Then watch how things will change for the better.

Don’t give away your power to the elites who will only profit off of us and our children.