By Kim Rivera, Massachusetts Parents United
This week marks a critical time for parents in Springfield and across the state of Massachusetts who are considering enrolling their children into a different school for next year: the application period and blind lottery selection process for many public charter schools.
You’ll hear a lot of different opinions on charter schools depending on who you ask, but what is true beyond a shadow of a doubt is that for any parent who is seeking an alternative to the current school their child attends this is both an exciting but equally frightening time for your family. And frightening is probably too nice of a word.
It’s widely known that many families, particularly those who are immigrants, people of color or low income, are often times not fully aware of their options when it comes to enrolling their children into an elementary or secondary school.
This information can be difficult to access and the enrollment process is not always user friendly for families who are new to school choice. Families who do not understand how this process works often end up stuck sending their children to their local district school, and for cities such as Springfield that could mean a Level 3 or 4 school that is underperforming and not preparing students for college or success outside of the classroom.
For those families who are able to navigate the application process and submit their information before the deadline, they are then left waiting for lottery day — the day when they anxiously await their number to be called for a coveted seat at the public charter school of their choice.
Blind lotteries are mercifully unforgiving. They do not know your family history or your struggles. They have no understanding of what your family has overcome to get to this point or how poor your child’s education may have been. They don’t acknowledge bullying, lack of support from school staff and they cannot create an IEP that would uniquely address your child’s needs.
They are simply a collection of numbers.
And those numbers are blindly chosen at random.
Can you imagine what that must feel like to a family?
Your child is represented by a number, competing against hundreds of other children who want the same thing: a chance at a better education.
Moreover, the number of available seats is dwarfed by the number of applications. It’s completely possible that 500 to 1,000 or more students could all be seeking just a couple hundred open spots for the next school year. Those odds certainly favor no one.
I know this process because I have lived through this process. As a mother of 3, I completely support school choice and the charter school option because I realized early on with my own kids that not all children learn the same. I struggled getting the support services I needed for two of my children with IEPs.
I knew that we needed a change. I remember having discussions with administrators about the lottery system and what it could mean for my daughter who was in need of extra support. I took a chance and entered the lottery.
We were beyond ecstatic when she was selected. And the results speak for themselves. My daughter was off of her IEP after two years and she would later graduate from 8th grade as valedictorian.
I was so grateful that I became a PTO member and served their school board for four years. This was the type of partnership that our family needed and I will forever be thankful that I utilized the lottery for my baby’s education. She will graduate with her masters degree this spring and we know the sky is the limit for her future.
If you are reading this right now and you are a parent in a city that has a charter school- do your homework. Learn the application process, submit your child’s information before the deadline and take your chances with the lottery. And if you are not picked that year, do not give up.
Continue to put your children into the lottery because their education and future will always be worth it. While the lottery selection process is scary, it also represents hope.
Hope that a better school means a brighter tomorrow for your child and all children that deserve the best education for their needs.