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Students aching for a spot in top charters sweat out lottery season

Photo: Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

Anastasia Ratkova draped an anxious arm around her 14-year-old daughter. That arm was wrapped in a blood-pressure monitor.

It was the night of the MaST charter school enrollment lottery, and people were anxious. Really anxious.

Mother and daughter sat on folding chairs in MaST’s auditorium on Tuesday, listening as the school administrators randomly pulled 96 of the more than 5,000 names of students who had applied for admission to the popular and successful charter school in the Somerton section of Philadelphia.

In the state’s new School Performance Profile scoring, MaST (short for Math and Science Technology) earned an excellent rating of 90.0 – the highest score of any city public schools other than the selective-admission magnets.

As Anastasia heard her daughter’s name – Nicole Ratkova – called over the speakers, her heart pounded and tears welled in her eyes.

Nicole had been selected for the top spot on the 9th-grade waiting list – an outcome tied in part to the fact that her younger brother attends kindergarten at the school. Siblings of MaST students get a boost in the lottery.

The waiting list was the best news for which the pair could hope. The only new students that MaST admitted in the lottery were those applying for kindergarten. For the 4,219 students hoping to get into grades 1-12, the ride on the waiting list was predetermined. The parents were there to jockey only for order.

Anastasia, a native of Belarus and a chemist by trade, later said her blood pressure spiked as she awaited her daughter’s fate.

Afterwards, Nicole, who hopes someday to become a lawyer, flushed with excitement.

"I’m actually really happy. I was really nervous at first, but I’m really, really happy," she said. "If one person comes out, I’ll be in the school."

Nicole now attends another charter school. She spent seven years at St. Christopher’s Catholic elementary school. If MaST doesn’t work out, Anastasia hopes Nicole will be selected in the lottery of another city charter school. The Ratkova family doesn’t consider traditional public schools operated by the Philadelphia School District to be an option.

"No Philadelphia school district," said Anastasia in a thick Russian accent, "She will go to Catholic school."

That decision is driven in large part based – rightly or wrongly – on perception.

"She’s afraid I might change because I was a little reckless when I was small," said Nicole. "So she’s a little afraid of the kids there."

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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