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Click … Refresh, Repeat. Playing the Charter School Waiting List Lottery

Ashara Baker

Ashara Baker. Provided photo

It’s become a regular part of my routine. Every morning I check the lottery wait list for three separate Rochester-area charter schools for a status update, hoping for a miracle.

But my numbers are still 127, 41 and 70; far too high to land a spot in kindergarten for the three schools. My family needs more school options, not less.

Watching these numbers rise and fall has become an incredibly frustrating experience for a first-time parent. My daughter is entering kindergarten and I would love to say I have a plan for the upcoming year, but I don’t. All I can do is hope and pray for those numbers to go down.

My daughter is a rambunctious and curious girl. My partner and I looked at a variety of school options in our city before applying to kindergarten. We want to continue living in the 19th Ward. We love our neighborhood, and have family and friends living within walking distance.

Unfortunately, the district schools near my house will not provide the education and life opportunities that we want for our daughter. The nearby schools have very low proficiency rates and a hard time attracting families. Low-enrollment and low-performance have plagued these schools for years.

It is well established that K-3 are the most important years in a child’s education, and we have no reason to believe that these schools will change before our daughter enters this critical period. We also felt important to offer her an educational program that best matches her personality. For this reason, we decided that a project-based learning model would be the best fit for her.

Private schools are not an option as they are far out of our financial reach. We decided to apply to three different charter schools because they offer rigorous programs and hands-on learning that will enhance our daughter’s talents.

Until this week, charter waitlists were a theoretical concept for me. I work for the New York Charter Schools Association and have seen countless families waiting for a seat at their preferred school. But they were just large numbers in a spreadsheet or in an education report. Of course it is personal now; my daughter is not a number on a spreadsheet.

I keep thinking how the debate around school options is detached from the reality in our city. Charter critics contend that Rochester has enough, or even too many charter schools, but so far we haven’t been able to land a spot in any of our three top choices. It defies logic that there are “too many charters” if my daughter is 127th on the wait list for the school that we think is the best fit for her. Moreover, based on her current placement on the lists of our second and third choices it seems unlikely that they will have a spot for her this Fall. That isn’t choice!

It is way too hard for families like mine to access the school that we think will offer the best start to our children’s education. I shouldn’t have to enroll in a lottery and now constantly refresh my computer, praying that my daughter won’t be another statistic. Until not one Rochester family has to go through this experience, there are not enough quality school options in our city.

Ashara Baker serves as community engagement manager for the New York Charter Schools Association. Most importantly, she is the mother of one daughter.