Full of hope, Lafayette parents, students wait on school lottery

More than 100 parents and students crowded into the Lafayette Parish School Board office Tuesday evening, full of hope as they awaited their chances of hitting the “lottery.”

This computerized lottery is held every year to select students for open spots in the district’s popular schools of choice program.

The lottery for elementary schools was held Monday, and the lottery for middle and high schools was Tuesday.

About 6,000 of the district’s 30,000 students are enrolled in the schools of choice program, which offers specialized curriculum to students to explore the arts; science, technology, engineering and mathdisciplines; health; foreign language immersion; business; and legal studies.

High school students also have the option to earn an associate’s degree through the Early College Academy at South Louisiana Community College.

The lottery results — presented school by school — are posted on the wall-length paned windows in the corridor outside the board room.

The lists sometimes produce tears, warned Randall Domingue, the district’s schools of choice marketing and recruitment coordinator. Tuesday’s lottery draw for the first school of the night — a draw that produced the largest crowd — was L.J. Alleman Middle School’s Performing Arts Academy.

As students and parents crowded around the list, the results often showed on their faces. Some students cried, as Domingue promised, and were consoled by a nearby parent.

Jersey Revere clasped her hand over her mouth after viewing the Alleman list. When she released her hand, a giggle escaped.

She attends Alleman, but her family is moving out of the attendance zone and she applied to schools of choice so she could remain there. She’s enrolled in the school’s talented program for theater, said her mom, Natalie Revere. Jersey’s older son, Brandon, 13, attended the academy at Alleman, and his name was drawn in the lottery for Lafayette High’s performing arts academy.

“We made the switch from private to public and a friend told us about schools of choice. It’s made the transition from private to public school easier,” Natalie Revere said.

As she waited for the lottery results, Revere said she tried to prepare her children for the possibility they may not get a spot in their school of choice or that only one of them would.

“We had the talk that it’s OK if they don’t get in,” she said.

This year, the district received more than 4,000 applications, but there aren’t enough spots in the program to place everyone, Burnell LeJeune, the district’s schools of choice director told parents prior to the lottery.

The district would like to expand popular options, but financing and physical capacity to add more students has limited growth, LeJeune said later.

“There’s not a lot of additional space in the district right now,” he said. “We’d love to start an elementary STEM academy, but we don’t have the space.”

LeJeune encouraged students and parents to visit the schools of choice website following the lottery for updates on programs that may still have open spots and for students to consider other opportunities if they didn’t get into their first- or second-choice schools.

Sharelle Gboro, an assistant in the schools of choice program, consoled fifth grader Gania Robertson, who hoped to attend the David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy next year.

“It’s not your fault you didn’t get in,” Gboro told the girl. “It doesn’t mean you’re not a good student. The computer randomly picks names.”

Gboro ran her finger down the list of the sixth graders who got into the Thibodaux academy.

“Don’t get discouraged, because some of these kids may decide they don’t want to go to this academy and your name could be the next one on the waiting list.”

Robertson’s mom, Chastity James, hopes Gboro is right. Her older daughter, Gabrielle, also applied for Thibodaux to enter as a seventh grader in the academy and was also wait-listed. James said she was disappointed neither daughter got a spot.

“It’s hard because you wanted something better for them. I’m looking into private schools,” James said.

The district’s schools of choice programs start as early as kindergarten and some preschool options are also offered in foreign language immersion.

Maela Warlet, 14, began her schools of choice path as a preschooler in French immersion. The eighth grader has continued her immersion studies at Paul Breaux Middle. Next year, she will continue her studies at Lafayette High, the designated site for students to take advantage of advanced French classes. However, she applied to Lafayette High for its health academy to explore her other interest — psychology.

Tuesday she learned she was wait-listed for the health academy, but was still hopeful, even if she didn’t make it off the waiting list.

“There’s always next year,” she said.