I’d watched the movies so I thought I knew what to expect. The lottery for the 250 places at two, about-to-open New Visions charter schools in the Bronx was going to be emotional. But when I made it to the auditorium inside the enormous John F. Kennedy Educational Campus on the evening of April 15, it was all a bit, well, anti-climactic.
Waiting for Superman and The Lottery, two films that tracked the progress of families trying to get their children into charter schools, had shown that for those who throw their hats into the ring for such things, everything – their children’s futures, their personal ambitions – was riding on a winning outcome. In those films, we see tear-stained mothers clinging to their kids, stoic fathers sitting quietly as their numbers never get called and little ones looking up at their mommies and daddies, apparently wondering what they’d done to get them so upset.
But in the Kennedy auditorium that April evening, the scene was one of patient curiosity, perhaps even occasional boredom. A brightly laid table of snacks greeted parents as they walked in to the vast space. New Visions staff milled about answering questions and along the walls were lists of student names next to their corresponding lottery numbers. On stage, staff cranked the handles on bingo barrels of paper and out of these came the names and numbers of those students who’d been picked at random to attend the New Visions Charter High School for the Humanities and the New Visions Charter High School for Advanced Math and Science, due to open in the fall. One hundred and twenty-five students were called first, then a further 34 were placed on the waitlist. More still were waitlisted from neighborhoods outside of school district 10.
Jose Perez was among those whose names were not called out in that first round. His older sister seemed more concerned about this than he did – she went to another school in the north of the borough and didn’t want to see her little brother on the same campus every day. When his name was eventually drawn in the second lottery for the school of Advanced Math and Science, it was his sister who whooped for joy.
“He likes math,” his mother said, clearly pleased. Not sure what else was expected of them as more names were called and her son’s name was pushed up and off the projected screen, she then asked, “Can we leave now?”. They made their way out the row of seats and over to a school official. After they left a few more shrieks could be heard from the audience as families celebrated their lottery wins, their laughter punctuated by the flash of a professional photographer on hand to record the moment. But for the most part there were few open displays of happiness or heartbreak. Just the voices of the two new principals as they quickly read through the hundreds of names of prospective and waitlisted students.
Within two hours it was over and many in the auditorium had left. Toni-Naki Miller had missed out on a place in both schools but both she and her mother were nonplussed. Miller had got in to another specialized math and science school that had been her first preference and the mother and daughter had come to the lottery mostly out of curiosity.
“It’s not like we are left out in the cold now,” the older woman said.
No, it seems not.