by Laura Weisskopf Bleill
I found out by text where my daughter will be going to school next year.
Don’t get excited, the Champaign Unit 4 school district hasn’t yet embraced technology. Our mail gets delivered late in the afternoon, and I was out with the girls having custard with good friends who were visiting from out of town. So my husband opened the letter and delivered the news via my smartphone.
We did not fall into the 85 percent of kindergarten lottery participants to get their first preference. We did, however, receive a seat at our second selection, and I’m thankful for that. I know of at least two of the 30-some families who received the dreaded “unassigned” letter. (more on that below).
Even though we would be happy if our daughter goes to the school we were assigned — we more or less predicted we would receive it — we are still going to investigate the waiting list process. The school that topped our wish list happens to be less than a mile from our house (it is our Proximity A for what that’s worth) and we pass by it more or less five times a day. Since we moved to this house in 2003, we had hoped that our children would be able to attend there.
Unfortunately for us, it also happens to be — at least by Unit 4 kindergarten lottery standards — the “most popular” school in the district.
So this weekend, we sat our daughter down and tried to explain what was going on. I wanted her to know that we are trying very hard to do what is right for her and for our family, but that we don’t always get what we want (as I explained in a previous post, she very much wants to attend our first-choice school). I also wanted her to know that the school she did get assigned to is a great option, and we know several families whose children are students there and love it.
I’m sure I did a terrible job. Many — dare I say most — grown-ups can’t make sense of the Unit 4 kindergarten lottery, so how in the world do I expect my 5-year-old to digest this?
I know I’m not the only one having difficult conversations about this highly-charged issue. I haven’t been quiet about how I feel about the way Unit 4 executes the kindergarten lottery process. And for some, the big reveal just added insult to injury.
I spoke to Lynn Peisker, the district’s community relations coordinator, on Thursday afternoon — and asked her about the timing of the mailing among other topics. I’ve heard from more than one parent expressing disappointment that they were sent out on a holiday weekend, forcing families who do not get their first choice (or worse, do not get assigned) to wait that much longer to get some resolution — or some peace of mind. (Friday was the district’s Spring Holiday aka Good Friday, with students, teaches and administration off from school; today, April 25, is an institute day for teachers so there should be staff elsewhere).
Peisker said it was an unfortunate coincidence, and I believe her; I have no reason to think there was any conspiracy here. Just my opinion — but the district would be much better off if it would set a realistic date by which assignment letters would be distributed, and leave it at that. All of the false alarms about the letters getting mailed “early” further eroded confidence in the district. And many first-time kindergarten parents like myself are dealing with enough jitters.
There is so much the district can do to improve this system, but I’m going to save that column for a later date. Today, I’m still trying to process the results. And I want to hear from you — did you participate in the Champaign Unit 4 kindergarten lottery this year? How do you feel about your child’s school assignment?
Laura Weisskopf Bleill is the co-founder and editor of chambanamoms.com. You can reach her at email@example.com.