Young Families Growing More Frustrated with School Lottery, Wait Lists

More and more families are growing anxious as the public school kindergarten lottery grows more competitive, and the wait lists for seats grow longer and longer.

A group of about 30 families who recently went through another year of strain and pain regarding the lottery have approached Supt. Brenda Cassellius to talk about issues and changes to the system – which they said ranges from a systemic issue of not having enough seats to a practical issue like letting families know results faster using better technology.

The result has been a confirmed meeting with the superintendent on Oct. 15 at 7 p.m., location to be determined.

“The waitlist issue is stressing people out,” said Janelle Bruno, one of the lead parents in the initiative. “There are not enough seats and we need to reform this and solve the issue. However, the wait list lottery has been really frustrating to families as well because it doesn’t run in real time. Families are making serious, life decisions on info that isn’t updated or done quickly enough…It’s been very frustrating for a long time and with the growth of Charlestown and the fact that families now stay here, it’s gotten worse. We know of four families that have moved out already since March because of the pressure and anxiety with the school system.”

The problem with the lottery is sort of the pains of success.

A short time ago, few people in the Town enrolled their kids in the public schools and they were underperforming. Over the past 15 years, and particularly in the last five years, many families that used to leave when their kids hit school-age, are opting to stay and enroll in the public schools. That has increased now that there are three, high-performing options at the elementary level in the Warren Prescott, Harvard Kent and Eliot (in the North End).

However, like whole milk and Wonder Bread in a snowstorm, those options are running out quickly.

The lottery is for a seat in one of the schools for kids going to K1 – whose ages would be around 5. Each year parents can choose their preferred school and enter the lottery. In Charlestown, most parents pick the above referenced schools. If they aren’t chosen, which many aren’t, they are put on a wait list, and many find themselves on multiple wait lists and there’s a situation where names and numbers are shifted around like cards in a deck as parents jockey for the right position at the right place.

If they don’t find themselves on the right side of that numbers game, they have to look at private options and, potentially, an assignment in faraway East Boston or on the other side of downtown Boston.

That is the stress that plays out as families try to decide to stay in Charlestown for the duration, or leave for another neighborhood – or a suburb – where such number jockeying is completely a foreign idea and seats are in ample supply.

A key part of that discussion is ironing out when the Edwards Middle School will come online as a Charlestown school to alleviate the growing kindergarten seat problem.

“We were glad to hear they had a plan for the Edwards to help out with this, but there was no follow up and we’ve heard little about it,” Bruno said. “Our families want to have the Edwards in use by 2020 – next fall. There are so many families that are depending on that to get into K1. We don’t want to say to East Boston families, ‘Get your kids out.’ We want this to be respectful and we know they are happy to get them back in East Boston.”

Bruno said this problem has been boiling for quite some time, but this year things were particularly worse than before – and next year there are a lot of families that will be looking for a seat and for a good number in the lottery.

“It’s hard enough to stay in the City and raise kids here,” she said. “You want to support the public schools, but if you can’t get into the public schools, how can you support them…We feel like this is the time. There are so many this happened to that we could no longer turn a blind eye to it.”

The estimates by the group are that there needs to be about three or four more kindergarten classrooms in the three schools to accommodate all of the children looking for seats in the coming years. They hope the Edwards can be used for a neighborhood-wide middle school, allowing more space at the Harvard Kent and Warren Prescott for elementary classroom space.

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