Parents fight for spot in 'right' school A LESSON IN WAITING

March 09, 1994|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun Staff Writer

Craig Lurz is on the telephone, trying to explain the anxiety -- some might call it torture -- of waiting to hear whether his children have been accepted into their private schools of choice, when his call-waiting kicks in.

He returns to the telephone line after about 30 seconds. "That," Mr. Lurz says with a light laugh, "was another parent, wanting to know if our mail had come in yet."

It hasn't. The wait continues.

Mr. Lurz and his friend aren't the only ones who have been setting their clocks by the U.S. Postal Service in recent weeks. Throughout metropolitan Baltimore, parents and children who've applied to both private and some public schools have eagerly awaited the letter that will put an end to their anxiety.

But there's not only a waiting game being played here. There's also a numbers game.

Bryn Mawr School received 591 applications, up 28 percent from last year; Roland Park Country School received 623 applications for kindergarten through grade 12, including about seven for every opening in grades 6 and 9. At Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, about 300 students applied for 200 open spaces; at Cardinal Gibbons High School, 200 young boys tried out for the 55 to 60 openings in grade 9.

For Mr. Lurz and his family, waiting has been the hardest part. John, 13, already knows he's heading for Loyola High. However, Joanna, 10, has been ripping through each day's mail, hoping for a letter from the good folks at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson saying she can spend the next seven years at their campus.

"I don't know that she realized the mail was delivered once a day," Mr. Lurz says. "Now she goes out and checks every day. I don't think she's cared about anything in this way."

"You find the perfect place and you want to fit your child into that perfect place," says Mary Anne Sattler, whose daughter, Mary Beth, 11, received her letter of acceptance from Notre Dame Prep Friday. "If we didn't get in, I didn't know what the heck I was going to do."

And the waiting isn't restricted to high schools. For every Everett Jackson, an East Baltimore security guard whose daughter, Tameka, applied to Bryn Mawr, Friends School, Notre Dame Prep and Roland Park Country School, there's a John Naiman, who found getting into Harvard Medical School easier than finding a kindergarten for his 4-year-old son.

Mr. Jackson, who is still waiting to hear from Friends School and Roland Park, called the wait "excruciating." Mr. Naiman was "jumping up and down, ecstatic," when word came that Matthew had been accepted by the Park School, according to his wife, Ina.

By now, most schools have sent out their letters. The 101 schools operated by the Archdiocese of Baltimore mailed theirs Feb. 18. Schools belonging to the Association of Independent Schools -- 85 in Maryland and Washington -- agreed to mail their notices no earlier than March 1. At Bryn Mawr, a member of AIS, the director of admissions, Elizabeth Cromwell, drives to the main post office every year at midnight Feb. 28 to mail her school's letters.

But the wait is not entirely over. Many students have found their names put on waiting lists, their acceptance contingent on someone who made the cut opting out, perhaps in favor of another school.

"They're anxious to know if everything is OK, if there's a chance their child can get in," says Ruth Allen, admissions secretary at Archbishop Spalding, which has a waiting list of 50 names -- the first such list in at least four years. "I tell them not to give up hope."

Offering comfort

Private school officials say they regret the anxiety parents face throughout the admissions process and do what they can to alleviate it -- talking to them when they call, meeting personally with parents, trying to put a positive slant on rejection letters.

"We understand. Most of us in this office are parents also," says Geordie Mitchell, director of admissions and financial aid at St. Paul's School. "Many times, especially with the younger children, it's the first time they've heard the word 'No' about their child."

For many parents, whether their children are applying to kindergarten or high school, "yes" or "no" will end a process that has been dragging on for months, involving applications and interviews, tests and essays, school visits and grades and, perhaps, more interviews.

In fact, says Diane Rosenberg, director of admissions at the Park School, parents are beginning to call now for the 1995-'96 school year.

The Naimans began scouting schools for their son in October. The search included school visits, three- or four-page applications ("It's about like getting into a college," Mrs. Naiman says), recommendations from his pre-school and two hours of "play group observation" at each school -- to see how young Matthew got along with others.

A matter of academics

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