April 1, 2009
Last week, most eighth graders in the city found out which high school had accepted them. Tonight, hundreds of eighth graders in Brooklyn learned whether they would be lucky enough to have a charter high school choice for this fall as well.
I joined hundreds of the hopeful eighth graders for an admission lottery trifecta held in Greenpoint tonight, the first time charter schools could legally conduct their lotteries. The students had all applied for one or more of the schools in the brand-new Believe High Schools Network. The first school in that network, Williamsburg Charter High School, opened in 2004, and two more, Believe Northside and Believe Southside, are set to open this fall. Before the lottery, WCS founding principal Eddie Calderon-Melendez told me that over 700 students had submitted applications for the 500 available spots, some applying to two or even all three of the schools.
“I can feel how nervous you are,” said City Council member Diana Reyna, who ceremonially drew the first names in the lottery, to a chorus of agreement. “My heart is racing as much as yours.”
The first two names drawn were for students who weren’t present. But when Steven Taveras heard his name called to be the first student selected for Believe Southside, he leapt from his seat and bounded to the front of the auditorium, where he was immediately pulled into a round of handshakes and photographs.
A few minutes later, the IS 318 student was still beaming, but he said he wasn’t sure why he’d be giving up his seat at nearby Progress High School. “Mommy picked everything,” his mother, Maria Taveras, interjected. She said her younger son was thriving at his charter school, Williamsburg Collegiate, and she wanted the same kind of disciplined environment for Steven. “It’s a better beginning for him,” she said.
Alida Mayer was the next student selected. The eighth grader at St. Nicholas School came with two close friends to the lottery, which she said she entered after attending a WCS information session. She said the teachers all seemed to have a good sense of humor, unlike the teachers at her Catholic school. She told me she had been accepted to a vocational school in Queens but would most likely have been headed to St Joseph’s, another parochial school, if she hadn’t gotten lucky in the lottery tonight.
As the numbers neared 300, the limit for how many students will enroll at the flagship school in the fall, an anxious silence settled over the remaining families. Those whose names weren’t drawn will be placed on a waiting list, which Calderon-Melendez told me has stretched in the past to 2,000 names. The waitlist rarely moves, he told me, but parents still call every year to make sure their children are still on it. ”Those are sad phone calls,” he said.
The 350th name called tonight was Ruth Igbayo’s. The eighth grader at MS 61 was accepted to the well regarded science program at Abraham Lincoln High School, but she said she would hold out for a seat in one of the Believe charter schools. “I heard they are for more gifted students,” she said. “I want to take more accelerated classes.”