Editor’s note: In each of the last few years, we’ve had a parent write about the process of going through the Champaign Unit 4 kindergarten lottery. Today we introduce Katie Blakeman, our 2016 “Lottery Mom.”
By Katie Blakeman
Do you live in Champaign and have a 4- or 5-year-old?
If you do, chances are that you will be participating in the Champaign Unit 4 kindergarten lottery this winter. My oldest daughter Mary Ella will be 5 in August and will be entering kindergarten next fall. I have conflicted emotions about this: on one hand, I am incredulous that my baby could possibly be old enough for elementary school (though she’s been in preschool for two years). On the other hand, as a self-described nerd, I am so looking forward to sharing my love of learning with her on a new level.
I should state up front that I am a townie and a very proud Unit 4 graduate. Fear not, transplants – your children can get a truly excellent education here. My Centennial High School graduating class includes an Olympic athlete, the chair of the Illinois State Board of Higher Education, the executive director of a global non-profit, college and university professors in both the hard and soft sciences, and several doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, accountants and social workers. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to name a friend from high school who does not hold at least one graduate degree. I have to think that love of learning started somewhere!
So I am entering this process knowing that I have never really considered anything other than public schools as an option for my own children. My husband and I are both products of a public school education, and my mother taught at MLK Jr. Elementary in Urbana for more than 30 years. But things have changed since I was a kid (an unnamed decade in the last millennium). I attended Westview because I lived a block away, and I walked to school from first through fifth grades. Now we have Schools of Choice, which sounds like a great thing, but judging by the conversations I’ve had with friends who have older children, it can generate a great deal of stress leading up to the initial registration.
Would you like to follow along with me and stress together? Are you (like me) stressing already because registration opened Jan. 4, and you are nowhere near making a decision? I’ll share what I’m doing, and we can all take a deep breath and dive in together.
First things first: Have you read this chambanamoms article? It gives a great basic overview of the process, and provides links to several excellent resources. Next, plan to attend one of the upcoming forums. I plan to attend the forum next week, and use it to help me decide which schools to visit during the scheduled open houses/tours. Ideally, I would like to visit each of our top choices during the school day, since it’s much more difficult to get a feel for a school after hours. However, with two working parents, that is not always feasible. The district is offering an evening open house on Feb. 23, but I can’t see visiting more than one or two schools in the two hours provided. Did you know that you can arrange a tour outside of the scheduled times? Choice Liasion Jennifer Peddycoart can set up a visit for you at any of the 12 schools. She can be reached at 217-351-3800.
Have you downloaded this excellent Welcome to Kindergarten booklet? Seriously, they did a great job with it this year. Also, if you love data like I do, check out this cool new feature on the choice website: when you click the data tab, you can access data from the 2014-15 school year and the 2015-16 school year, showing how many families selected each school as their first choice, followed by the priority attributes (sibling or proximity) and the number of students assigned in April. So it may help you make decisions about your rankings. If your top choice is historically over-chosen, and you don’t have proximity or a sibling priority, you may want to start researching other options.
Did you know you also have the option to CHANGE your mind? I spoke with Stephanie Stuart, Unit 4 Director of Communications and Community Relations, and she shared with me that the longer registration period allows for a more relaxed registration process, giving Unit 4 staff more time to answer in-depth questions from families. So if you register your child in February, and have second thoughts about your decision, you can call the Family Information Center any time until the close of business on March 31 to change your rankings. Obviously, it would not be ideal for everyone to do that, but it’s an option if you’re agonizing over your decision.
Finally, I’m going to try to remember the most important voice in this decision – my daughter. Whichever school we choose, she will be able to make the experience her own. And as she said to me tonight, “Mommy, I’m really good at learning things. When I go to kindergarten, I am going to be GREAT!”
Katie Blakeman is a proud townie, married to Champaign City Planner T.J. Blakeman. Katie and T.J. consider themselves the Champaign welcome wagon, telling everyone they know how awesome it is to live in Champaign. Mother to Mary Ella and Juliana, Katie also serves as the Champaign County Circuit Clerk.