Charter lottery: who’s in and who’s out

Joy Plaisance practically skipped out of Sage International Charter School on Monday night.

Graham Carter was cautiously optimistic as he calculated his kids were “on the bubble.”

Arthur Tyczka walked away defeated.

Each parent had kids signed up for the annual lottery to attend Sage, a unique charter school offering a International Baccalaureate curriculum.

More than 800 children were registered for 250 openings. About 20 parents attended the lottery with hopes of landing their kids in a different academic setting.

“We have a better chance than Powerball,” said Carter.

Michelle Taylor at Sage lottery
Michelle Taylor of the State Department of Education oversees the Sage charter lottery, pulling grade levels out of a bucket to start the process.

All parents watched carefully, mostly in silence, as school business manager Lisa Lechner conducted the lottery. As required by law, the State Department of Education’s Michelle Taylor witnessed the event. Taylor first drew grade levels from a bucket. Then students were randomly sorted by their grade and the names were displayed on a huge screen.

“You forgot one!” yelled out a parent, as Lechner accidentally missed a name while copying into an Excel spreadsheet.

“Oops, sorry,” she said, adjusting her actions based on the direction of a closely monitoring gallery.

A child with a high draw doesn’t necessarily get to attend Sage, one of 47 charter schools in Idaho. Children are first placed in one of five categories and then randomly ranked within each category:

  1. Children of charter founders.
  2. Children of staff.
  3. Siblings of students already enrolled.
  4. Children who live within the school boundaries.
  5. Children who live outside school boundaries.

In full-day kindergarten,  Sage has 44 openings and 20 children fell into the first three categories. They are the first to be offered entry, by category and then by ranking. That left 24 more openings for 118 students in the other two categories.

Tyczka’s daughter was No. 68, and probably won’t make it into Sage this fall. This is the family’s third charter school lottery loss.

“We just hope for the best for our daughter and we think a charter school would be a good fit for her,”  said Tyczka, joined by his wife, Maureen. “We’ll keep trying to get her into a charter and continue to leave it up to fate.”

Carter may have gotten lucky. His kindergartner finished poorly at No. 64. However,  third grade names were sorted before kindergarten. His third-grader finished high enough to get an invite. That invite would allow a sibling (the kindergartner) to get bumped up into that category. It’s all still up in the air as Sage officials start calling parents — in order — and offering admission. A parent has 48 hours to decide. It takes at least a week to get all sorted out.

“I’ll stay close to my phone,” Carter said. “But I’m real excited.”

Plaisance’s fifth-grader ranked ninth in the “sibling” category with 24 open spots in that grade so she left confident her second child would be getting a phone call.

“We love Sage,” she said. “We’ve never been to a lottery before so this was pretty great.”

In legitimizing Sage’s lottery process, administrator Don Keller pointed out that his neighbor drew poorly for the fourth year in a row. “It really is random,” Keller said.

Sage International  is expanding its school into a mall on ParkCenter Boulevard in Southeast Boise, which paves the way for enrollment to grow this fall to 820 students in grades K-11, up from 550. Currently, the lower school operates in an office building close to the proposed expansion site, with the upper school housed in a downtown facility. Construction is expected to begin April 15.

Sage boasts some of the highest reading scores in the state. Click here to see Sage’s demographics and academic and financial information and how it compares to other schools and charters in Idaho.

Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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