This weekend, I had the privilege of drawing names for the E.L. Haynes Public Charter School enrollment lottery. E. L. Haynes is a high-performing charter school located in what a real estate agent might describe as a “transitioning” neighborhood in Washington, D.C. Its Board of Trustees is full of influential local leaders from the field of Education and beyond.
E.L. Haynes is a public school of choice, open to all residents of the District. But its enrollment lottery isn’t about choice. It’s about chance.
Few students choose to leave E.L. Haynes from year-to-year, and the school gives enrollment preference to siblings. That means there were no spots available for new families in Kindergarten, 1st grade or 2nd grade. In Pre-Kindergarten, after siblings, only 14 spaces remained. As I drew 154 names for those 14 spots, the E.L. Haynes staff dutifully recorded who was 98th on the waiting list and who was 105th. The school regularly enrolls some students from the waiting list, but can’t provide parents with much information about how many or when.
One woman and her toddler whooped and celebrated when they were chosen. The room buzzed when I drew a twin as #9, guaranteeing the sibling a spot. With one draw I had given away two spots! The pressure grew. I looked at the faces of the waiting parents and began to wonder which card in the box was theirs. Had I inadvertently buried it? Was it stuck against the side of the box? How much fishing was appropriate, or should I just draw whatever card was on top?
If you move to the block of Otis Place NW where E.L. Haynes’s shiny new building is located with a 6-year-old child, enrolling is extremely unlikely. In fact, the parents who lost in this year’s Pre-K lottery might have better odds of getting their child into E.L. Haynes if they have another child and enter the Pre-K lottery again, hoping to sneak the older child into a primary grade as a sibling.
When I drew the last name for an official Pre-K berth, a woman in the crowd drew a sharp breath. I had drawn her son’s best friend. She sat quietly as I started to draw the waiting list. When I hit #20, tears began to run down her face. Sometime after #50, she left the room.