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Navigating The Magnet-Open Choice Lottery System

Special To The Courant
Sheff vs. O'Neill created a lottery system to increase school choices for are children

The Sheff vs. O'Neill lawsuit of 1989 created many diverse public education options for local families. Now is the time to investigate opportunities. The Magnet-Open Choice Lottery, operated by the Greater Hartford Regional School Choice Office (RSCO), opens mid-month, giving Hartford-area students potential access to 40 schools. "I really felt for my boys that they needed a more structured intensive preschool program," says Carolyn Venne, a mom of twins in South Windsor, who entered a past lottery, targeting a Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) magnet school in Bloomfield. Education officials admit it's a complicated process. So, they are increasing communication about these no-cost options hoping to address questions and confusion.

"Our motto at CREC is, make an informed decision and find a perfect fit," says Debra Borrero, director of School Choice Programs. Last year, 20,000 kids applied for 5,000 seats, pre-K through 12th grade, at 40 schools. About half of those are CREC's themed magnet schools, including the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and the Medical Professions and Teacher Preparation Academy. The remaining are part of the Open Choice Lottery, where Hartford students can apply to non-magnet public schools in suburban towns, and vice versa. First, parents should study options at choiceeducation.org and crecschools.org. "Take the time to go to the RSCO fair, meet all of our school representatives, decide, 'What's a good theme for my child? Does my child fit here?'" suggests Borrero, noting an upcoming fair on Nov. 15 at A.I. Prince Prince Technical High School in Hartford. "Then, you go to the school, meet parents at the school, look at the beautiful rooms we offer."

Parents say choosing favorites is the hardest part. "It's very easy to apply itself. It's a couple quick questions and an address online," says Venne. Parents list their 5 top picks. Borrero says the "blind lottery", administered through the state Board of Education, includes "protocols", such as preferences for siblings or children in certain neighborhoods: "We're trying to make sure the classrooms are multi-cultural, you have different ethic backgrounds, social backgrounds, economic backgrounds." After applying between mid-November and late-February, parents often wait until April for an answer.

Venne's sons were accepted at Museum Academy, a school they now love. "When I tell people who live outside the area, or don't have children yet, what my boys are doing and the opportunity they have, they're just stunned," she says. Borrero believes the system caters to "the whole child", in an integrated environment, that promises a bright future: "You are meeting kids who can make you think differently because their experiences are different. All of that comes together in the classroom on a daily basis. That's amazing."

For more information, watch Monday's Fox CT Morning News.

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