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Columbus district begins lottery for school selection


Jason Browne



Today begins the one time of the year elementary students get to play the lottery. 


Columbus Municipal School District will take applications beginning today through March 26 for its annual school lottery; the process by which kindergarten through fifth grade students are assigned to one of CMSD''s five elementary magnet schools. 


Parents can visit Brandon Central Office at any time over the next month to submit an application prioritizing their top three school choices for next year. Each school will begin its third year of offering a "magnet" focus. 


The choices are: Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School, Fairview Aerospace and Science Magnet School, Franklin Elementary Medical Sciences and Wellness Magnet School, Sale Elementary International Studies Magnet School and Stokes-Beard Elementary Technology and Communication Magnet School. 


Parents unfamiliar with what each school and magnet program has to offer will have the chance to attend an open house at each prior to the March 26 deadline for applications. All open houses will run from 5 p.m. - 7 p.m. 


Open house dates are: March 1 - Stokes-Beard, March 2 - Sale, March 3 - Franklin, March 4 - Fairview, March 8 - Cook. 


Dr. Martha Liddell, CMSD assistant superintendent of elementary education, says the open houses are designed to model a typical school day for parents. 


She adds that 91-96 percent of parents are able to get their kids in their first choice school if they participate in the first lottery, which will be held April 30. A second lottery will be held in June. 


Letters are mailed the day of the lottery to notify parents of their child''s assignment. 


Students who are already enrolled at a school are guaranteed to have a spot there next year. However, if parents wish to reenter their child in the lottery, their child is not guaranteed a spot at his or her current school. 


The lottery has been expanded this year to apply to fifth graders. 


In the past, Fourth graders moved on to Hunt Intermediate School, but Hunt will be closed soon and its sixth graders will move on to the new Columbus Middle School. Fifth graders will be distributed among the five elementary schools. Construction is under way at several schools to accommodate the increase in students. 


Pre-kindergarten will still be offered at Stokes-Beard, but only 60 seats will be available. Forty spots will be awarded based on testing and 20 will be drawn randomly through the lottery. Children exhibiting the greatest need will be assigned to pre-kindergarten. 


The pre-kindergarten tests will be offered March 23 and 24 at Brandon Central Offices. March 22 is the deadline for Pre-kindergarten applications. 


An elementary lottery has existed in CMSD for the past five years, but the magnet focuses initiative was recommended by Superintendent Dr. Del Phillips two years ago and implemented by the school board. 


Staff at each school received specialized training to offer additional instruction in the magnet subjects. 


"All our staffs had the summer before the first year for training," said Janet Lewis, director of public information for CMSD. "We sent teachers do different places or had training at the school." 


Cook was chosen as the fine arts school because it has an auditorium and because it is the biggest elementary school. Liddell says the fine arts magnet program is very popular among parents, but all schools are filled to capacity. 


Teachers at Fairview received instruction from members of the Stennis Space Center, which is affiliated with NASA.




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