May the odds be EVER in your favor….

I never thought that my child’s education would become a game of chance.  We’ve submitted all of our Kindergarten applications for Emma, and the final tally is:  two private schools, one charter school and six Boston Public Schools (BPS) via lottery.  Over the next few weeks, we will continue to have a number of school visits, parent/child interviews, parent meet-and-greets with current parents and spend many anxious days waiting and wondering if we will be lucky.  Whereas many other parents carefully plan their preschool strategy since the day their child is born, or simply fill out a registration card for their local public school, I feel like someone has thrown a deck of cards into the wind, and now I’m trying to catch an Ace and not the Joker.

We had to drive all the way to Roxbury to register in person for the Boston Public School lottery.  For those of you not familiar with the current system, Allston/Brighton (which is pretty much separated from the rest of Boston by Brookline) is part of the same zone as Downtown, Back Bay, the South End, Roxbury and East Boston (?).  You need to travel to your assigned Family Resource Center, in person, with all of your child’s documentation.  There once was a Family Resource Center just a few blocks away from us in Allston, but unfortunately, that was shut down due to budget cuts. Now families from Allston/Brighton have to drive well out of their way to register for schools in their own neighborhood.

The registration process was fairly painless since I preregistered online, and the person who assisted us was extremely sympathetic as a fellow BPS dad.  He did not do well in the lottery the first year, but eventually got his child into a better school.  Good to know that BPS employees do not get preferential treatment!    We put Bridget in the lottery too because if she does get in to a “good” public school, we may need to apply her daycare money to Emma’s private school tuition.  Yes, our life is that complicated right now. Oddly, while Bridget has fewer choices at the moment, her chances of getting into a good school are actually better than Emma’s as there are fewer available seats at Emma’s age.  Lesson learned – if your children will be going into the BPS lottery, enter them as early as possible as they’ll be guaranteed a spot at their school for years to come.

As part of the process, we had to rank order all of the schools in order of our preference, and I resisted the urge to ask our BPS staffer his opinion of our school rankings.  I’ve learned that the BPS staff will not opine on schools, but will instead encourage you to look past test scores and state rankings.  I’ve also learned that other Boston families don’t like to share which schools they’ve applied to – especially the lesser-known charter schools –  for fear of adding one more child to the lottery.  It took me several weeks to learn which schools were the “good” ones, and which ones are ranked among the lowest performing in the state.  And as I was so pressed for time between the holidays and busy season that I could only make it to a few open houses.  I really wish our local elementary school had potential, as I am a big believer in community schools, but every visit was awful.  I wandered around aimlessly trying to find the kindergarten with no one to direct me and the school was just dirty.  Really dirty.  That, and it gives the feeling of an abandoned industrial warehouse.  When I met the Principal, I had to resist the urge to say, let’s get some Clorox Wipes and a steam mop going in here! Interesting aside:  Not sure when I became so judgemental – I went to a very good public high school that featured open air “classrooms” in building much like a warehouse, separated only by partition walls.  You could hear lessons on Geometry at the same time as US History – talk about efficient.  If Emma does end up going to that school, my new part-time job may be as a school janitor after hours.

When our BPS Staffer wished us luck on the way out, I couldn’t help but feel that I was in the Hunger Games, or Shirley Jackson‘s “Lottery.”  Ok, so no one is dying, but it feels like there are very few winners in this lottery, and the process feels suspect to start.  We did, however, enjoy the free swag bags for the girls (including a new Curious George book) and were surprised to receive a new Hess truck and race car for Owen (who is not even in the lottery).  I only hope these aren’t consolation prizes when we receive the lottery results in a few weeks!