Several anxious parents sat as patiently as they could last week at the Wauwatosa School District's administrative offices as names were called in a lottery for the limited slots for Montessori and STEM school enrollment.
STEM had more than 60 applications and only about a third of that many slots at the school, which focuses on science, technology, engineering and math. Availability was even tighter at Wauwatosa Montessori, with 70 applicants vying for 12 slots.
Kara Andersen may have been the most disappointed parent.
"This is our third time around," Andersen said.
Disappointment and delight
In fact, Andersen could have enrolled her daughter in STEM's second grade three years ago.
"We were all set to have her start when I went to an ice cream social shortly before the school year and I realized she would be the only girl in the class. I have an education background and I can cite you studies of why it is positive to have a mix of boys and girls in a classroom."
Andersen's effort for third grade was unsuccessful and, after skipping fourth grade, she tried again for fifth grade.
Linda Walsh also failed to get her son into a fifth grade STEM class.
"Of course, we are very disappointed," Walsh said. "As a parent, you want to give your kids the opportunities that match their interest."
Walsh, a Milwaukee resident, had enrolled her four children in Milwaukee German Immersion School before transferring them to Washington Elementary.
Better news met Jackie Onan, whose daughter won a spot at STEM. She was not deterred by what she anticipates will be a mostly male class roster.
"Our daughter Kelly came to us and wanted to do this," Onan said. "Kids are tuned in to what is available, so it's not just the parents who want this."
Administrators weigh in
Administrators said the ups and downs of a lottery system are palpable, but those who are not selected still don't lose out.
"The fact that parents and students want to get into these schools is both a blessing and a curse," said Michael Leach, principal of STEM and Wilson Elementary, which share a campus. "These are great opportunities, but by no means the only ones the district provides."
Leach said he talks to many parents before and after the lottery and his message is always focused on the quality of school programs across the district.
"I think parents realize that," Leach said. "They know the achievement levels are high" across the district.
Opportunities to enroll at STEM may grow over the next few years. Leach noted that the school's five-year growth plan takes into consideration an anticipated lower enrollment at Wilson.
"I can't pinpoint many exact factors for that," Leach said, except that the area surrounding the school seems to be an aging population. "We keep communicating with our parents and track enrollment trends."
As Wilson enrollment shrinks, slots will open up, starting with the younger grades.
Montessori, a new program this year at the Fisher administrative building, also is looking to the future. Dean Heus, Montessori principal and the district's supervisor of student services, said he anticipates a continuation of the school's healthy enrollment. He noted that the School Board is scheduled this month to begin hearing the high interest for possible consideration of future expansion.
"We didn't always have these kinds of opportunities," Heus said. "There are many fine schools throughout the district, so I would hope parents feel good about that.
"Parents of younger students in particular are very involved in how their children start out in education, so it is natural to see the high level of interest and the reaction if someone doesn't get to their first choice.
"I think we are in a position to look at how we can expand possibilities, but we need to do so in a controlled growth that takes into consideration space and other resources."
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