Last year, I thought about putting my kids in a charter school.
There was a question about whether full-day kindergarten would be offered in our district school. My daughter was completing her last year of full-time preschool and I felt she should continue with full-day kindergarten to keep the momentum going.
But after attending orientation and putting our names in a lottery, I got the e-mail: Sorry, your children were not chosen.
As it ended up, our district did offer full-day kindergarten and we stayed put in our neighborhood school.
But this spring, thousands of other parents across Arizona received similar emails or phone calls.
Though as many as 12 percent of Arizona’s public school students attend charter school, many more families are holding their breath for a spot to open.
Charter schools in Arizona operate independently of school districts, but receive public funding.
The charter school movement in the country continues to grow. The education film “Waiting for Superman” shows images of parents and children sitting in large rooms waiting for their names to be drawn for spots in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles charter schools.
Arizona lawmakers were invited to a screening of the film this week.
While those public lotteries aren’t widespread in Arizona, the passion of some parents to get their kids into East Valley charter schools like Edu-Prize, Great Hearts Academies, ASU Preparatory Academy and Mesa Arts Academy is no less emotional.
Chandler’s Lisa Russo is one of them.
With two children with very different learning styles, she sought a common ground. Russo believes she’s found it in Chandler’s Archway Classical Academy, a member of the Great Hearts Academies.
About six weeks ago, Russo learned her 9-year-old twins have spots at the school for next year’s fourth-grade class.
But it took more than a year to get to this point, Russo explains.
Russo entered the lottery for the academy last year and the kids’ names came up. But she turned the school down, thinking a friend who was also trying to get into the school had also changed her mind.
“After I told them I wasn’t going to accept, she took it. I couldn’t get back in so I had to start all over in the waiting list,” Russo said.
When the call came again in February, Russo said yes.
“One of the big reasons I chose this school is I’m a planner. They’re going to go into fourth grade. I have to start thinking ahead. I’m thinking about junior high already,” Russo said.
Children in Archway Classical Academies can seamlessly move into Great Hearts’ preparatory academies.
More than 8,000 applications have been turned in since November for Great Hearts Academies’ existing and soon-to-be-open campuses, CEO Dan Scoggin said.
“That doesn’t count the rollover applications from grade to grade,” Scoggin said. “There is incredible demand for high-performing charter schools here,” he said.
And while there isn’t a public lottery for spots, Scoggin said, “I hear people crying at home. It’s the same type of earnestness.”
At Gilbert’s Edu-Prize, parents reapply each year to get into the lottery, superintendent Lynn Robershotte said. For next year, the waiting list is about 1,000.
“We have parents clamoring to get in. We have districts, states and others clamoring to have us do our stuff in their cities,” Robershotte says.
Three-year-old ASU Preparatory Academy Polytechnic is expanding its Mesa offerings next year and opening a high school.
Because of building changes, the school added 110 spots for kindergarten through eighth grade, said principal Donna Bullock. But even that’s not enough: The elementary school is full for next year, with 200 people on the waiting list.
In a downtown facility partnered with a Boys & Girls Club, Mesa Arts Academy quietly draws students from its surrounding neighborhood – and miles and miles away.
“We are finding that we are never operating without a waiting list,” said principal Sue Douglas.
The school has no funding for advertising.
“Even without that we are finding our numbers are growing in terms of population. We could easily expand except that we’re land locked and can’t,” Douglas said.
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