By Anne Robinson*
Last week, we watched the nation get caught up in the Powerball lottery pandemonium. Office pools were created. Jokes were made about the probability of being a winner. Some had genuine hope that maybe this would be their lucky day. Many of these actions and reactions are not unlike what D.C. parents go through in preparation for the MySchool D.C. common education lottery. The anticipation is palpable the night results are posted online. Parents across the city are feverishly refreshing their internet browsers with the high hopes that their child “matched” to the public school or public charter school of their choice. And in that moment, when the results are revealed as a parent you feel like a total winner or a total loser.
The Committee on Education understands the MySchool DC experience is intimidating and feels like a random sweepstakes with little to no chance of winning. Some of us have personally been through the process, while others have crafted oversight questions each year to understand the process better. With the lottery deadline rapidly approaching, the Committee cannot guarantee to make you a winner, but we do have some thoughts and tips to make the experience feel less like a game of chance and more like a secure investment.
1. So Many Schools, So Little Time. Many parents have a lot of questions. Give yourself ample time to do research about what schools are out there and what is a good match for your child’s needs. MySchool D.C. only lists the schools, so without a pre-selected list the process can be overwhelming. Submitting your school selections two weeks after the lottery opens does not increase your odds of matching, so take your time. Look at schools in your neighborhood, analyze your commute routes, and weigh other personal factors. This will help you narrow down hundreds of schools to your top 12.
2. What am I looking for? Check important information about the school and what it offers. Do you need before or aftercare for your child? Does your child thrive in large classroom settings or smaller ones? These are all important questions to ask yourself and your child when looking for school settings that you desire. It helps to call the school if it is not evident what your child will get in a typical day. For example, that dual language immersion school might not have any spots, but the public school next door offers Spanish twice a week as part of their curriculum.
3. The Popularity Contest. Just because a school has a waitlist of hundreds does not mean it is the right match for your child or your family. Reputation is important and we understand that, but we also encourage families to assess what is best for their child and how that translates into a school that matches their needs. Check the schools performance management framework scores and the Tier (1-3) number they have been assigned. Better yet, go take a tour of the school and speak with some other families who are already there.
4. The Principal! Make an effort to connect with the principal either at a pre-scheduled open house or during another morning or afternoon. The Principal will give you a sense of the direction the school is headed under his/her leadership. It helps to see how magnificent our schools are inside when their facades leave little to be desired.
5. All My Eggs, One Basket. We cannot emphasize this point enough. FILL THE BASKET. You will have the option to pick 12 schools. For many parents who attended one school district growing up, this sense of choice is very overwhelming. It is time consuming to research and vet that many schools. Please, fill the basket and go out on a whim. It might get you that coveted Pre-K 3 slot and more importantly, it will likely lead to a school community you and your family are excited to be a part of.
The Committee on Education is a resource that you can use during this time. We can talk you through some of the more difficult questions you may have and will also connect you to the staff working at the MySchool D.C. help desk. Please do not hesitate to connect with us at any point during this process and please mark your calendar for some very important dates below:
February 1, 2016 (Application Deadline for High School Grades 9-12)
March 1, 2016 (Application Deadline for PK3-8)
April 1, 2016 (Lottery Results Released)
May 2, 2016 (Enrollment Deadline)
*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.