The Lottery Mom: Decisions, Decisions…

Credit: morguefile

by Erin Tarr

We’ve over-thought, over-talked, over-analyzed, over-everything… so, I finally just stopped talking about it. My husband and I stopped, our friends stopped and we just pretended there wasn’t a decision to make. But now March is here and I have to RANK my school preferences for my child (or risk being “unassigned” gasp).

There was a part of me that longingly read through the private school listing published on chambanamoms a couple of weeks ago. Since before my children were born, the plan was to send them to the BEST private school in this area, but plans changed. The change has been a welcome one for our family, but has resulted in a distinct lack of disposable income to afford any type of long-term private education for two children. I still have distinct thoughts and preferences regarding each of these schools, but that’s for another day.

So, here I was feeling stuck. Honestly, apart from the “balanced calendar” vs. “regular calendar” – there just isn’t enough different in the 13 Unit 4 elementary schools that would truly make me more or less worried/excited/anxious/happy to send my child to school there.

Sure, there are rumors of the “good” vs. “not so good” schools. Better principal, better facilities, better teachers, better neighborhood… etc. etc. etc. but for my purposes of choosing a school that my family will stick with for the next nine years these aspects of the schools are all transient – you can’t count on any of these things to remain the same at any given school.

The amount of time spent on math and reading are roughly the same at each school. They all have (in my opinion) way too little music, art and PE, and don’t get me started on the 15 minutes to eat lunch, 15 minutes to play. They all (probably) have some great teachers, good teachers and not-so-good teachers… bell curve right?

So, what’s a mom to do?

This mom decided to suck it up, stop moping about the perceived lack of choice, and just.made.a.decision. So we ranked and will request sometime this week.

And then when we receive the school assignment, we will decide to get involved. We will encourage our child and take responsibility for her education regardless of which school she attends, because at the end of the day I truly do not expect any school system to be able to teach her everything she needs to know. It is my responsibility facilitate this – no one else – and I choose to do so in conjunction with Unit 4 schools.

Part of me has always wanted to create an ideal environment for my child to grow and thrive and discover the world through rose-colored glasses. But this is not to be her reality, and I sincerely believe she will be a stronger, smarter, more resilient child at the end of each day, week, month and year. Not because of or in spite of the school she attends, but because of how we choose to communicate with her about the not so rosy aspects of life – that she would encounter no matter where she went to school. And because we will choose to discipline her, encourage her, challenge her and support her the way every child deserves to be disciplined, encouraged, challenged and supported.

We will also decide to support, encourage and love her teacher, principal and school staff. As an educator, I firmly believe that children learn best when they see the adults in their lives on the same page – working towards the same goals.

So, in spite of the fact that I truly, truly, truly hold disdain for the “Everyday Math” curriculum, I will make every effort to withhold these feelings from my child as we work through the “home-links” together, all the while praying that the district changes curricula soon.

At the end of the day – even though my protective mama gig sometimes gets in the way – I truly do want to be an agent of change and improvement in our community and world. If there are things I can do as a parent, big or small, to help make my child’s class, school or even district better for all the children, this is the commitment I make as a parent and a citizen of this community, because it isn’t only my child that deserves the best we have to offer, it is all of our children – the entire next generation of Champaign-Urbana – that deserves the commitment of their parents and their community.

I recognize the loftiness of these statements – trust me I do. Wish me luck and say a prayer for all the Kindergarten parents this month – I think we all need it.

Erin (Trent) Tarr made the three-hour drive from Southern Illinois to Champaign in 1997 to attend the University of Illinois and never left. Mother of two beautiful girls (2 & 4 years old), she is currently working at the University of Illinois and enjoys reading non-fiction, listening to leadership podcasts, singing, taking pictures of her kids, and blogging at The epitome of an extrovert, she is an active participant at Quest UMC and loves getting together with strong women for book clubs, writing clubs, and wine tastings. You can often find her (with two kids in tow) at Champaign Centennial sporting events where her beloved husband of nine years, Adam, works as an athletic trainer.

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  1. Erin – I want to thank you for all of your posts in this series. As a chambanamoms reader for a few years and as a parent who is not currently going through this lottery process, I honestly wasn’t feeling motivated to read another post on this subject. I know it is still completely relevant to a lot of people, but I just thought I wouldn’t currently find it interesting. But for some reason, I did decide to read your posts. And I want to thank you for your perspective. I feel like there is so much negative energy in our community regarding this lottery process and I understand why many feel that way. But it was refreshing to read your perspective that was extremely thoughtful, honest, and positive. You recognize the challenges and the heartache and the potential problems of this system, but you also have hope and are willing to take action and I applaud you for the way you have handled this decision – both personally and publicly in this space. If a system like this is ever going to improve (even a tiny bit), then we need confident, caring people like you who are willing to be honest, realistic and committed to our children. Thank you.

    • Thank you and you are welcome, Lara! It has been quite a process and now I can tell we are just getting started! In the end, I think choosing will be the easy part. :) I am eager to join with other likeminded parents as we tackle this endeavor together!

  2. Mary Beth says:

    Love this piece. Having just entered publics from private, we love our choice — you will, too. And you MAY even find yourself converted to the Everyday Math, which we have come to LOVE. You never know . . .

    • LOL :) Thanks Mary Beth! You are always the optimist!

      In truth, Everyday Math will likely be fine for my daughter (and your son), but overall – long term, for the majority of students (especially those whose parents don’t have time to work with them) it is not proving out to be the best preperation for higher levels of math.

      Glad to hear everything is working out well for you, who knows… maybe I will see you around school next year!!

      • Mary Beth says:

        That’s what I’m not so secretly hoping! I love being involved at his school — super engaged faculty and admin — lovely parents. I trust you on the Everyday thing — but we do love it and he’s very engaged with his math work! Wherever you land, you’ll be an engaged parents and your kids will thrive!

  3. Can anyone tell me how long it takes to hear back which school our child will be assigned to? I submitted his school choice online but they sent no confirmation that they received it. I suppose this kind of worries me! Also, are there any places I can take my son to get his hearing test without having to go through another doctor’s visit? I called the family learning center and she was not helpful. Her response was “maybe the pre-k school.” I just thought maybe there was a quicker in and out type facility rather than having to schedule an appointment to see an audiologist. Any tips?

  4. FYI – the online registration form closes at 8:am Friday morning, March 28th. To register after 8:am, you will have to go to the Family Information Center (FIC), which is open until 7:pm March 28th.