September 5, 2012

Winners drawn in Cornville charter school lottery

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — Parents in the bingo-style lottery determining which children could attend the new Cornville Regional Charter School fist-pumped the air Wednesday night, but nobody yelled "bingo."

click image to enlarge

Heidy Mullen, center, reacts after her son's number was picked to fill one of the limited spots in the Cornville Charter School first grade during the lottery at the American Legion hall on Waterville Road, Skowhegan.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

Kevin Mack, center, sits with his daughter Avery, 6, during the lottery to fill 60 slots at Cornville Charter School at the American Legion hall on Waterville Road, Skowhegan. The Macks did not have their number selected and are fourth on the waiting list.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

They could have.

"I'm nauseous," parent Linda Rairdon of Skowhegan laughed as the nervous tension broke and her children in first and second grade were selected.

Rairdon's children attend the Canaan Elementary School, where they like their teacher; but she said they both are ready for life in a charter school.

"They're very flexible children," she said. "We had a family discussion, and they were on board."

Cornville Executive Director Justin Belanger said the charter school board anticipated about 45 students would be enrolled when the state application first was submitted earlier this year.

That number later swelled to as many at 90 students in kindergarten through grade 6.

State charter school law allows only 60 this year, so a lottery using the American Legion bingo machine was the only fair way to determine which pupils got in and which would be placed on a waiting list, Belanger said.

"We are making history," he said as 80 people filled the Legion hall and the bingo machine bubbled, bouncing blue and red Ping-Pong balls. "We are the first elementary education charter school ever in the state of Maine. It's historic. It's a big deal."

Classes open Oct. 1.

Names were written on the back of a slip of paper. On the front was a number.

When Legion post Commander Steve Spaulding received a bingo ball from the hopper, he called out the number.

Each number corresponded to a name of a prospective student, and the number was posted on the wall.

The kindergarten class drew just the right number of applicants, so the lottery was not needed for it. The same held for fifth-grade students. The rest were up to the luck of the lottery.

The first numbers called Wednesday night were the two children of Jennifer Archer and her partner, Matthew Cyr, both of Skowhegan.

"I couldn't believe it was the first number picked. We were so full of excitement," Archer said. "In a charter school they'll get the help that they need or the opportunity to excel if they can."

Cyr agreed.

"It just sounds like a way better school than public school," he said. "At the charter school, the program sounds awesome; the children can just advance at their own level. If the child is at a third-grade reading level, they do third-grade reading. They're not held back with the other children. They're always advancing forward.

"It feels great. I'm super-excited. I can't wait for them to get in."

Parent Lisa Kimball of East Madison said she was disappointed when her child's number was not drawn, but said there is always next year and always the possibility of expansion at the Cornville school.

"It's OK, because I can wait until next year, or if enough people drop out, I'm kind of close," Kimball said. "I think this is a great way to do it, but it's heart-breaking for some people who really, really wanted it. These folks have great intentions, and I think it's going to be a great thing."

Selected families have 14 days to complete the application forms for enrollment, but most did so Wednesday night after their numbers were called.

Students chosen for the younger grades automatically made their older siblings eligible, too, Belanger said. That applied to the four sets of twins applying for spots in the new school, he said.

Belanger said the children of school founders and staff are allotted 10 percent of the openings -- six spots, all of which were filled.

Cornville residents do not get special treatment under the law. Twenty-six of the students applying to the school are from Cornville. The rest are from 10 other area towns, including distant Bingham, Anson and Smithfield.

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