Lottery used to fill magnet high schools 250 eighth-graders vTC picked from 607 applicants

March 06, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Yesterday was Michael Heinbauch's lucky day, but his friend Daniel Hanson didn't have the same good fortune.

Michael, an eighth-grader at Mount View Middle School, was one of the winners and Daniel, also a Mount View eighth-grader, was one of the losers in the lottery for the Howard County school system's new, wildly popular technology magnet program.

"I'm happy I got in, but I'm disappointed that my friends didn't," said Michael, who was picked for the 92nd of 100 slots at River Hill High School, one of the county's two sites for the program.

Daniel, who was No. 114, said, "Right now I guess I'm going to Glenelg [High School]. But I'll just see what happens and see if other students decide not to go."

Yesterday marked the first systemwide lottery in the history of Howard schools, deciding which 250 eighth-graders of 607 applicants will be allowed to enroll in the magnet program next fall.

The program, designed for students of all abilities, is meant to be a rigorous, high-tech replacement for the county's vocational-technical program.

Student interest in the program for next fall far exceeds the space available at the two high schools that offer the program, Long Reach and River Hill, both recently built schools.

While some students have applied to the program because they say they hope to attend high school in a new building, most interest seems to be generated by the focused nature of the program, its technological orientation and its emphasis on internships.

"It's a lot more focused, especially in computers," than the regular high school curriculum, said Joel Ord, an eighth-grader at Burleigh Manor Middle School who was picked to enroll. "I also think the opportunity to get work experience while in high school will be helpful."

The school board settled on the unprecedented lottery to decide enrollment after narrowly rejecting a plan to accommodate all those interested by adding two high schools to the program.

Only 125 eighth-graders will be allowed to enroll in the program at each of the two high schools -- 100 from outside the schools' districts and 25 from within their districts.

That meant that 174 out-of-district applicants living east of U.S. 29 and 98 living west of U.S. 29 weren't selected yesterday.

It also meant that 57 in-district applicants for the Long Reach program and 28 in-district applicants for the River Hill program did not get in.

Yesterday's lottery lacked the flair of a carnival raffle. No Ping-Pong balls were used, and no students names were called out.

Instead, a school official generated four lists of random numbers on the school system's mainframe computer -- one list for each of the four categories of applicants. The lists were placed in sealed envelopes before the lottery.

Students in each category also had been assigned numbers in alphabetical order. One school official called out the numbers, and another entered it into the computer, matching students to the numbers.

"I wish this could be more exciting for some of you, but I don't know any other way," said Eugene Streagle, the school system's K-12 instructional director who specializes in high schools, to the three dozen parents and students who came to learn the results. Streagle had the task of reading the numbers aloud from the random list.

Still, as the numbers were called, muffled cheers could be heard -- and disappointment could be seen on the faces of those whose numbers were never called.

"Yes!" exclaimed Grant Okin, 14, an eighth-grader at Mayfield Woods Middle School, after learning that he had been the 13th stu- dent picked among the 25 available slots for in-district Long Reach students.

Burleigh Manor Middle School eighth-grader Michael Marx-Gibbons also managed to be among the lucky ones -- even though his mother's connections had no effect on the lottery. His mother, Sandra Marx, is the school system's director of special education.

"I just got lucky," said Michael, who was the fifth student selected among out-of-district students living west of U.S. 29.

But Eileen Roth, whose daughter Jennifer is an eighth-grader at Clarksville Middle School, was among the disappointed. Jennifer was picked No. 27 among in-district River Hill applicants -- two spaces out of the running.

"We just moved into the River Hill district, and part of the reason we moved in was because we'd been told she would automatically get into the magnet if she wanted to," Roth said. "It's disappointing, because she wanted to be in the biotechnology program."

Jennifer and the others who weren't selected will have a chance to follow the magnet program with the potential for enrolling in it later. While the school board rejected expanding the magnet program, it also voted to guarantee that the program's introductory courses would be offered at the eight other county high schools, ensuring that students interested in the program can transfer into it in the 11th grade if room is available.

Like the defunct military draft, the lottery numbers assigned yesterday to students will remain with them throughout high school. As others decide not to attend in the fall -- or drop out along the way -- the students next in line will be offered spots.

Letters are expected to be mailed today to all students who were selected in the lottery, giving families two weeks to respond, school officials said. As students decide not to attend, their positions will be offered to those next on the list.

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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