Reflections of a CPS lottery loser

We lost the lottery.

My daughter has been attending a tuition-based preschool for two years. Three years ago, I toured 10 different elementary schools and identified the one that I felt best met our daughter’s needs. It has a robust arts and music department, is fun and friendly, is earth-conscious, and had a blend of parent involvement and community service. And it’s close to our house – the school boundary line is 57 steps away from our front door.

My daughter has flourished there. I have been a regular volunteer at the school and we have forked out wads of cash at fundraisers. I have served as a room parent, and I am friends with many of the other parents.

During the whole lottery process, I kept my cool. We were paying about $1,000 per month – for preschool – and yet I was prepared to go to school board meetings and declare that the principal had never guaranteed us a spot for next year. I continued to be involved in the school and still sing the school’s praises. Perhaps I was not preparing myself as well as I could have, but we only applied to two schools — both neighborhood schools, neither one our assigned public school.

Proving that no one had any control over the situation, we lost the lottery. My daughter’s wait number is around 500, leaving us with only three options: private school, our neighborhood school or a run for the ‘burbs. We could afford to send our children to private schools if we shifted our finances around a bit, but ultimately, I don’t think that private schools are right for my family. I believe in the public school system. I believe in taxpayer resources going to the future of our communities.

We just don’t like our neighborhood school. I re-toured it two weeks ago. It’s not a bad school and the tour included dozens of excited parents who won a slot into this school. But my neighborhood school is not OUR school. It’s not the one that we have devoted ourselves to and have grown to love.

So we’re planning to move. Not today, but soon. My husband just changed jobs and I am finishing up a graduate degree program, so moving now is terrifying. I cannot force my 5-year old into a program that I am not happy with, and we have made the commitment that we will not go through this same process with our 2-year old.

I have lived in Chicago longer than any other place in my life, my children have ONLY lived in Chicago, and now we are making the run for the burbs. I feel like we have become part of the problem and that the city needs families like us to stay and continue to contribute to the city that we love so much. But I won’t do it at the expense of my daughter’s education and our own level of comfort with the school she attends.

I still haven’t told my daughter that she can’t go to her school next year. I’m planning to do it over the summer, hoping that will lessen the blow of losing her friends, her routine and the school she’s gotten to know and love. My family might have lost the lottery, but my daughter will lose a lot more.

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