Monday, November 5, 2012

Playing the CMS lottery

Nicole Meacham,  whose son is approaching school age,  sent a timely query about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools assignment lottery.

"Does CMS offer any workshops or a single web site that explains what to do?"  she asked.  "We are still 1-2 years from our son entering kindergarten, but want to be prepared.  Based on your knowledge of the school system, where is the best place to start?  I’ve visited the CMS web site and it’s a complete maze."

Late fall is a good time for parents of preschoolers to start thinking about the coming school year.  Not only does CMS hold its magnet lottery in January,  but many private and charter schools take applications around the same time.  Children who will turn 5 by Aug. 31, 2013,  are eligible to start public kindergarten,  and in some cases children who turn 4 by that date might enter public school next year  (more about that to come).

So where to start for CMS?  First,  locate out your child's neighborhood school and check it out.  If you decide to send your child there,  you won't need to enter the lottery.  Just enroll your child before school starts.

But if you want to consider a magnet school,  you need to enroll your child by Dec. 7 to be eligible for the lottery.  Parents can check out the magnet offerings online,  and there will be a magnet fair on Jan. 21 with representatives from all the schools.  You can also check out previous years' lottery results to get some sense of the chances of getting into any given magnet program.

Here's the part that catches some parents off guard:  If you want to get kids into the popular Montessori magnets,  it's best to apply for prekindergarten.  There's a fee,  but it's lower than most private prekindergarten programs and it guarantees a spot in those programs for kindergarten and beyond.

CMS also offers Bright Beginnings prekindergarten at several schools.  It's free,  with admission based on a screening for kindergarten skills (children who need extra help get in).  That's not done through the magnet lottery;  find details about that screening and registration process here.


Anonymous said...

Welcome back Ann,

Anonymous said...

Yes, welcome back. We missed you. Please don't do that again without letting us know you will return. We were all worried.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Thanks! Yeah, hate to deflate all the interesting theories, but it was plain old vacation -- no furlough (huzzah!), no whisking away by Project LIFT or anyone else. I thought about explaining in advance, but it never seems like a great idea to tell the world you'll be gone. As is, I had this preset to post when I returned and startled myself because I'd forgotten!

Anonymous said...

Or if you want your child to go to a certain school you can plead your case in front of the BOE. Simply demand they go to the neighborhood school and they cannot say no. Judge Manning can help as well. The lottery is a joke at best.

Anonymous said...

This question gets posed every year and there are tons of knowledgeable Mommies that have BTDT before.

Rev. Mike said...

Does it not speak volumes that an involved, engaged parent who by all appearances appears to be of average or better intelligence, struggles to comprehend this labyrinthine mess?

Anonymous said...

Ann, you're back!

Playing the CMS lottery;

I remember my son landing #158 on the kindergarten "White" wait list at Myers Park Traditional. I can't remember how many kids landed on the "Black" kindergarten wait list that year. 15 years ago, Mexicans, Hmongs, Vienneses, Vietnamese, Inuits, American-Indians, gays, lesbians, Republicans, Independents, tall people, short people, red haired people, and so forth didn't contribute to federal court ordered busing mandates designed to ensure "diversity" at this particular school. When someone figures out what distinguishes Myers Park as a "Traditional" magnet worthy of cross-town busing costs, do let me know. Ah, the good old days!...

I hope this mom has a private school back-up plan.

Ann Doss Helms said...

9:34, thanks for a good tip. Though in loyalty, I'll also note that the CO has a Moms site too:

Mike, I was a bit surprised at how much work it took me to round up all those links. The CMS site has a truckload of great info if you know how to find it, but it's not always easy. I bet they'll consolidate the lottery/assignment stuff and make it more prominent as that date approaches.

To clarify on 9:56's memory, race-based lottery lists are about 15 years old and don't happen now. If I'm remembering right, the catetories back then were "black" and "non-black."

Anonymous said...

This Omnibudswoman Crystal Ball Rankings:

K-6 (8) magnet schools worth considering:


1. Smith/Waddell Language Academy.
(Sure bet)


1. Park Road Montessori
(Sure bet)


1. Myers Park Traditional
(Not because it offers anything unique but because it weeds out the riffraff who are too lazy and disengaged to apply. Sure bet.)

1. First Ward Creative Arts
(Up and coming?)


1. Any overcrowded neighborhood school in south Charlotte, a few neighborhood schools in the Myers Park/Dilworth area, and a few neighborhood schools located in north Charlotte.

2. Socrates Charter School
(I think this is the name. Have to have a minimum IQ score to get in).

CHARTER SCHOOLS: (Free public schools. Lottery to get in)

1. Lake Norman Charter
2. Queens Grant Charter

I recommend avoiding most K-6(8) magnet schools with the name "Academy" in them. "Academy" is a code word for high-minority/low-performing schools located in Charlotte's "urban" areas. Smith/Waddell and, perhaps, First Ward are the only exceptions.

PRIVATE SCHOOLS (The 5 Biggies):

1. Mecklenburg Area Catholic Schools.
(Best bang for the buck. Basically, a good public school experience without all the testing insanity madness and CMS problems associated with diversity issues, endless upheaval and head-banging bureaucracy).

2. Charlotte Latin, Charlotte Country Day, Providence Day (Sure bet. Fat checkbook required. Fancy job title a plus).

3. Charlotte Christian (Sure bet. Bastard child of the "elite privates". Might want to consider taking your "Hope and Change" bumper sticker off the back of your vehicle during the interview process).

4. Smaller private schools: Carmel Christian, Trinity Episcopal, British-American School, Charlotte Prep., Covenant Day, etc... (Sure bets)

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...

Many if not all magnet schools host tours. You may have to register with the school prior to the tour (especially popular programs) as they tend to fill up. Call the school if you are interested. I always encourage parents to visit schools a year prior to having to make a decision to help narrow down choices so they can focus on a smaller list the year they will have to make a decision.

Anonymous said...


"Black" and "non-black". That's right. I wish I had kept that CMS rejection letter. Myers Park Traditional wouldn't allow me to take a tour of the school until I had an acceptance letter in my hand. That was their policy because the wait-list every year was so long.

Didn't a father sue CMS because his Hispanic daughter couldn't get into Olde Providence Elementary through the magnet lottery? She was considered "non-white", I think.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Bill Capacchione sued -- his daughter was half Hispanic and half white, thus classified as non-black. I couldn't find which school she tried to get into.

Anonymous said...

1994--arrived here with a high IQ 4th grade son. Called CMS about gifted programs and was told no need to apply--no "white" slots left. My first thought--what in the world have we done to our children by moving to Charlotte? As the school year progressed I checked on the gifted magnet we had wanted our son to attend--"black" slots remained unfilled but non-blacks did not qualify for them no matter how gifted they might be.

However, Ombudswoman is absolutely correct. South Charlotte neighborhood schools (well, they weren't really neighborhood schools back then--"our school" was 8 miles up the road at Billingsville) provided a great education for our son. He luckily had principals who were willing to bend the rules a bit to make sure really high achievers were well served.

Anonymous said...

10:58 - Your incorrect. I asked for a tour last year at Carmel and Randolph. Neither is granted however you can go to a open house were they shine the school up real nice and sell you.
Very poor way to build trust by not showing parents the "real school day" prior to making a decision. I did make a decision along with many other parents sent my kids to Country Day School. I am also in the process of working with the state legislators to have private school tuitions credited towards county tax bills for failing school districts. CMS with its poor track records would fall into this category.

Anonymous said...

I would NEVER send my children to a school I wasn't allowed to visit during the day while school was in session. This is a BIG RED FLAG! I remember just showing up unannounced at South Charlotte Middle School because I wasn't interested in sitting through a useless "Open House". I was able to talk to several teachers who had nothing but great things to say about the school and their jobs. Most were thrilled to be there and very happy they weren't assigned to a different CMS school. A chorus teacher told me she had tons of parental support which is a great sign. When fine art teachers are happy, well-funded and feel supported, it's generally a good indication that the Science Dept., Social Studies Dept., English Dept. and the Math Dept. are also doing well. Many doors were left wide open to the hallways while teachers taught - which is another great sign - and a couple of teachers allowed me to observe their classes which was the final winning sales pitch and all that I needed to see. Hearing the orchestra play a Bach piece on the stage that echoed through the building almost made me cry. It was beautiful. And then my son got an ISS in 8th grade for 8th grade antics but such is middle school. Reasonable disciplinarian practices were enforced.

- Omnibudswoman Crystal Ball

Anonymous said...

I sent my son to private school after 3 good years at South Charlotte Middle because I felt he wasn't prepared to "Save South Meck!". At the time, South Meck. had "S.O.S (Save Our South)" banners flying resulting in a hostile 24-hour without notice takeover of my neighborhood which was reassigned out of our closest and most logical home school to here. I assume the 17 students from my neighborhood who were reassigned to South Meck. have raised the standards and bar for everyone exceeding all of CMS' expectations.

Anonymous said...

Oops. I guess its ombudsman. This word wasn't on my SAT test. Thanks, Ann.

Ombudswoman. I like it.

Anonymous said...

About Bill Capacchione--I'm pretty sure he wanted his daughter to go to Olde Providence, which had a magnet at the time. For newbies to the area or to CMS--his lawsuit (which several other families joined) led to the court case which finally ended mandatory busing based on race (black and white) in Mecklenburg County. The Observer was not in favor of ending busing--in fact they were downright hostile to it and anyone who supported changing assignment plans. We still have some local activists and a chunk of "old Charlotte" who long for a return to (in their minds) the glory days of forced busing.

Anonymous said...

Once again if CMS was trusted this conversation would not be taking place. What is a magnet? A place to "draw folks into" a inner core. Why would not all CMS schools be equal and why do parents want to send their kids across town for a hypothetical better school? These parents sending their kids to a language academy when they cant speak english yet is beyond me.

csawyer said...

Ann, do Montessori magnets hold pre-k seats for Bright Beginnings students? Since about the only way to get in to Montessori kindergarten is to pay for pre-k, are there any scholarships available? How would parents know about them?

Wiley Coyote said...

2. Visit the Magnet Schools

The best way to determine if a school and program are a good fit for your child is to take a look for yourself. Contact the school for open house dates or schedule a visit. A listing of Open House dates can be found in the Magnet Programs section of the CMS website. Open house events for the first lottery will be held from October 2012 - February 2013.

If they won't let you schedule a visit, raise hell.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Update: After seeing this blog, a parent emailed to say the CMS student placement office had twice told her a student had to spend a year in his/her neighborhood school before being eligible for the lottery. I double-checked with Scott McCully and that's just not true. Students can enter kindergarten (or Montessori pre-K) in a magnet. Anyone else been given this bad info?

Carol, I recall being told there's some kind of sliding scale for Montessori pre-K, but I don't think there's any overlap with Bright Beginnings. And it's a good question how parents find out in time to apply.

Anonymous said...


This is what is desperately needed


Anonymous said...

Wiley 4:11
GREAT advice!

SRR said...

There is a new charter school opening in 2013 - Cameron Creek Charter School. It will have impressive classroom technology, bilingual faculty, and its Board has a bold community agenda.

Anonymous said...


Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy

Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy (MRSA), located off Tyvola Road, is the only charter school that enrolls students who are certified as highly intellectually gifted. MRSA opened in 2000 and adheres to the same admission criteria used by the CMS Horizons Program, also a program for highly intellectually gifted students. The average IQ for these students is 145. MRSA serves approximately 360 students in a K – 8 grade level configuration and has a wait list of 125. The school has a 1:20 teacher student ratio, and less than one percent of the student population is EC. Students come to MRSA from Gaston, Union, Mecklenburg, and Cabarrus counties. The school’s curriculum is accelerated, and students take Spanish and Chinese every day. MRSA administration emphasizes teacher training, which follows the principles of gifted education. The school does not provide transportation but does provide food service one to two times per week from an outside vendor. For more information, visit

EOG proficiency : >95% Reading, Math, 5th Grade Science, 8th Grade Science
EOC proficiency: >95% Algebra I, English I, Biology
ABCs Status: Honor School of Excellence, High Growth
AYP: Met Annual Measurable Objectives
Per-pupil expenditure: $7,641
Student demographics: 57% white, 38% Asian, 7% black, and .55% American Indian

Anonymous said...


1. Fletcher School (specialized private)
2. Charlotte Christian (private, mild to moderate LD)
3. St. Ann's Catholic (MACS, downs syndrom, other)
4. Beverly Woods(CMS)

Anonymous said...


1. *Charlotte Christian School (additional fee - around $4,000 a year - for full educational therapy services. Highly recommend if you can afford it. Mild to moderate LD's only)

2. St. Ann's Catholic (I don't know if additional fees apply. God bless Sister Helene).

3. There are some other private schools that also offer mild-moderate LD services.

4. Beverly Woods - not an expert on LD services offered here but the school has always had a great reputation in this area with lots of administrative support. Dr. Gorman's daughter attended this school.

Anonymous said...

Also, if a school, program, or class isn't working for your child, getting a doctor's note is the easiest way to navigate CMS bureaucracy. CMS won't mess with a letter from your child's pediatrician - medical, stress, bullying, whatever it is. Finding a program that is offered at one school but not your assigned school is another way to get around the system.

Anonymous said...

Dems / minorities now rule Meck Commission & CMS BOE.
How do you all think that will work out?