school lottery santa cruz
July 2019

Your Letters and Thoughts: July 2019

Denied Heaven or Saved from Hell?

My daughter’s lottery number appeared on the screen! She had gotten one of the 12 spots available in the kindergarten class at the Tierra Pacifica Charter school lottery. There had been 350 applicants to the school! “Welcome to our school, you will love it here, congratulations!” I was assured by a school administrator as I left the room where the lottery was held.

school lottery santa cruz

They had told me to prepare vaccination reports to send in and proof of living in Live Oak. I bolted out of the school and into the parking lot and staggered to my car. It was all starting to sink in. I cried tears of joy and relief in my car. It was real. I felt so fortunate. For the next 9 years my daughter would be nourished, loved, and grow in a school I had heard many great things about. Over the next hour, I had told my husband, pulled myself together, and was starting to plan for the future, when the phone rang. It was Tierra Pacifica calling, “there was an error, we need to re-run the lottery to ensure it is fair, I’m sorry, but you understand.” It turns out the error in the lottery was that 6 people had slipped out of the kindergarten lottery. Later to be discovered to be an error on the part of the people who ran it who had practiced running the lottery computer program (that they paid thousands of the dollars for) for months, never bothering to count that the right amount of kindergarteners were showing up in the final tally, an obvious error they blamed on the computer software – that had put people applying for kindergarten a second year in a row, as first graders. They were running a new lottery to ensure that it was fair. Sorry, but you are not in our school anymore.

I can only equate the level of deep hurt I felt after that phone call to the miscarriage that ended my first pregnancy. This was on the same caliber and the hurt felt deeper because it was tinged with a strong sense of injustice, because it seemed there was another option. It seemed that things could have been done differently, something that made it fair not only to me and the 3 other families that were assured on the day of the lottery we had a spot in the school and to the 6 people who had didn’t have a chance.

I requested a board meeting before the second lottery to share my perspective along with the other families that had been given a spot. The meeting was long, perspectives were explored, but only as lip-service, as the result was the same. A new lottery would be done the next morning at 8am to be fair to those 6 people, discounting the 4 that had been assured a spot, as we shuffled to bed at 11pm after the meeting. None of the 4 of us had a spot after the second lottery. I got a letter from the school a week or so later. It wasn’t an apology. It was a slap in the face. My daughter is now #34 on the waitlist. For weeks I had been waking up in a sweat of anger at night. My husband suggested we sue, I was concerned about shutting down a good school and the tenuous climate for Charter school’s. He called the school instead and they asked us to come in to meet. They were not offering any new information, they thought processing our feelings and emotions would help, they felt bad for us, but life goes on.

Ultimately, my child will be fine wherever she ends up. She will adapt and we will adapt. I can’t seem to stop cringing though every time someone asks me where she will go to kindergarten. On the one hand, charter schools are under tremendous pressure and scrutiny to follow the letter of their charter. On the other hand, the human touch seems to be missing from Tierra Pacifica, perhaps with the mounting levels of pressure coming down the pipe. Who knows if I denied heaven or saved from hell.

Maya Ray

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  • LA

    As an alumni of Tierra Pacifica and a mother myself, I understand the pain you must feel. But I’d like to say a few things..

    Keep entering the lottery, keep trying. I started there in 5th grade and just those 3 years changed my life. Don’t give up just because she isn’t starting kindergarten there…It’s not that hard to find a decent kindergarten. But the middle school years can really make or break the path they lead afterward.

    The teachers and mission are what create the schools environment..not the way the lottery is ran. I know you’re hurt now but again, don’t give up. Be more determined.

    -From a mother whose life changed because of a school

  • Patricia Brower

    I completely understand the frustration you feel. It does feel very unfair. I would say that it was unprofessional of the school to make that kind of error because the emotional fallout for families. I am sorry you experienced this. I can’t say that the answer is simple. As with disappointments in life it takes time to adjust to, and time to reimagine how things will be. I’m so sorry for your disappointment. It hurts. The school needs to learn from their mistake and not put parents through that pain.

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