Tension, smiles at charter school lottery

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | (L-R) Melanie Leathers and her sister Vanessa Wigington moments after the charter school lottery ended.
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Melanie Leathers (left) and her sister Vanessa Wigington moments after the charter school lottery ended.

Vanessa Wigington leaned forward in her chair as the man at the front of the room continued to pull slips of paper from the bowl in front of him. There were just twelve charter school kindergarten spaces available now. Her 4-year-old son James would have to get in. He had to.

“Number 36,” the man said, “James -”

Ms. Wigington’s eyes widened.

“-Marlules,” he finished.

She sank back into her chair. The wrong James. Not her son, who suffers from hearing loss and could benefit from the charter school’s smaller class sizes.

Ms. Wigington turned to her sister in the chair next to her and mouthed, “I’m going to throw up.”

The Riverhead Charter School held a lottery at the Riverhead Free Library Wednesday evening to fill open positions in the school’s kindergarten, grade 1, 2, and 6 programs.

Charter school executive director Raymond Ankrum said the lottery was the first of its kind at the school, which saw more applications before the deadline this year than ever before.

Normally, the school will put students on a waiting list if they apply after the April 1 deadline, but this year the school received more applicants before the deadline than they had spots to fill, he said.

“For us to have that many applicants, it’s pretty good,” Mr. Ankrum said.

Students who had siblings in the school or were from Riverhead were given preference, then out of town students were called. The dozen or so students who didn’t get in will be placed on a waiting list based on the date of their application, school officials said.

Some parents smiled as their child’s name was called, others whispered a quiet “yes” in celebration. Some high-fived their kids fidgeting in the chairs next to them.

The basement meeting room where the lottery was held was mostly empty; parents who did not attend the lottery will be notified if the child made it into the school or not.

Steve and Shirley Burgess of Middle Island were at the lottery with their three grandchildren, whom they care for. The oldest, 6-year-old Vitali, was placed on a waiting list for first grade, while his younger sister, Amya, was accepted into the kindergarten program.

Ms. Burgess said the family isn’t happy with the quality of Vitali’s education, and were hopeful he would get into the charter school off the wait list.

“That’s all we can ask for right now,” she said.

About 6:45 p.m., the man pulling the names from the bowl, auditor Elliatt Di Lieto, made the announcement for the kindergarten applicants.

“There’s three more seats left,” he said.

In her seat, Ms. Wigington was perfectly still. Her sister, Melanie Leathers, held her hands over her mouth. Another name called, not her son. Two spots left, and three student’s names left in the bowl. The last student called wouldn’t get in and would have to be placed on the waiting list.

Mr. Dilieto pulled a yellow slip from the bowl and read the name.

“Number 46,” he said. “James Wigington.”

Ms. Wigington threw her hands into the air, her face frozen in shock, and her sister clapped and started laughing. The two hugged, and Ms. Wigington sighed. After the lottery, she couldn’t stop smiling.

“I was freaking out,” she said. “I was just nervous it wasn’t going [to happen]. I was thinking of how much I would have to pay for a private school.”

James is now a student at Cleary School for the Deaf in Nesconset. He’ll join his cousin, Ms. Leathers’ daughter, at the Charter School this year. Because he’s enrolled, his 2-year-old sister will get preference when it’s her turn to join the school two years from now.

“Just complete relief and excitement,” Ms. Wigington said. “I’m very excited.”

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