Thousands of Palm Beach County school children won the educational lottery this week — though they and their parents won’t know it until next month.
That’s because the county school district ended its annual Choice Program lottery on Wednesday, awarding seats to students for next school year in the district’s highly coveted 237 magnet school and career academy programs.
While students already attending those programs are automatically in, students trying to get in have to go through the competitive lottery process. About 17,500 students applied for roughly 8,500 new Choice Program slots.
For about 10 hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, district officials communicated via phone with Joseph White, a consultant in Connecticut who has run the school district’s computer-based choice lottery since 1992.
For each choice program, White and the district’s choice department walked through a computer coding process of entering the number of applications and the number of seats available for students who do not live in that school’s attendance boundary.
Then up to 25 percent of those seats are weighted toward students with various preferences — such as having a sibling at the school, or applicants who are special needs or non-English speaking students.
Finally, the remaining seats are awarded through a random lottery.
Pete Licata, district Choice and Career Options director, said everything is done using student identification numbers that only White can see.
“We have no control over it,” Licata said of school district officials. “We don’t see any numbers or any names.”
Licata said each student’s chance of getting into the program of their choice depended heavily on the popularity of the program they were applying to enter. For example, all six students who applied for the early childhood development program at Santaluces High School got in because they had six open seats, while 43 students vied for six open seats at Santaluces’ visual arts program.
District Choice Programs Manager Sandra Wesson said parents should not expect to get a letter until at least April 8 telling them whether and what choice program their child made it into.
Licata said Suncoast and the Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts received the most applications among high schools, while Bak Middle School of the Arts and Don Estridge High Tech Middle School were tops among middle schools. Morikami Elementary School received the most elementary applications.