Central Jersey College Prep Holds Enrollment Lottery

Namik Sercan, Central Jersey College Prep Charter School’s CEO, speaks to parents before the start of the enrollment lottery.

More than 200 prospective students and their hopeful parents crowded into the Central Jersey College Prep Charter School’s auditorium March 7 for the school’s annual enrollment lottery.

The reality was that most of them would go home disappointed; although the school received more than 1,000 applications, there were fewer than 130 slots open for next year.

Most of the openings in grades 1 to 3 and 7-12 were taken by current students rising a grade and siblings of current students, who are given priority in admissions.

Kindergarten and 6th grade had the most open slots – 72 each – because the school has no pre-K or 5th grade. But even in those grades, siblings of current students took precedence: 28 in Kindergarten and 21 in grade 6.

This year’s lottery at CJCP took on added significance because of the controversy swirling around it and the other charter school housed in the township, Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School. A local parents’ group and a civil rights organization have filed civil rights complaints against the schools, alleging that they employ “segregative” enrollment practices. The groups have also asked the state Department of Education to shut the schools down.

The schools have denied the charges, saying that they have no control over their applicants. Earlier this year, TEECS held its enrollment lottery, including a state-mandate weighted system designed to increase the chance of admission for students from low- and moderate-income households.

The charter schools have also come under fire from the Board of Education, whose members say they are worried about the ever-increasing amount of school taxes that must, by law, be diverted to the schools.

Both TEECS and CJCP eschewed the usual automated lottery system for something more old-school: picking names out of a bucket.

At CJCP March 7, names of applicants were written on slips of paper, then placed in envelopes by grade. The sealed envelopes were then opened, the names dumped into a silver bowl and picked singly before being placed on a chart.

When the available slots for the grades that had them were filled, the remaining names were picked and placed on the waiting list.

CJCP’s “district” encompasses the township, New Brunswick and North Brunswick. Students in those towns were next in line, followed by any applicants from towns outside the “district.”

CJCP’s principal, Namik Sercan, said the school decided to hand-pick the lottery winners so as to be as transparent as possible.

“We invited all parents to come and watch the lottery,” he said. “We wanted 100 percent transparency, that’s why we changed to the old system of selecting them one by one.”

Sercan said the names of the lottery winners and those placed on waiting lists will be posted on CJCP’s web site sometime March 8.

CJCP last week received approval from the state DOE to increase its class sizes over the next three years. The school will add grade 3 for the 2017-18 school year, grade 4 for the 2018-19 school year and grade 5 in the 2019-20 school year, at which time it will be a full K-12 school.

Sercan said they won’t consider asking for another enrollment increase until 2020, when they have to apply to have the school’s charter renewed.

“In 2020, we’ll have to go through renewal of our charter and we can consider increasing the capacity or just keep it the same,” he said. “Let’s see what kind of demand we’re going to get from the community and see what the state is going to prescribe us to do.”

There has also been criticism over how CJCP markets itself. The school sent out fliers to addresses in the towns, using a third-party marketing firm, Sercan said.

Sercan said he supplied the company with the ZIP codes they wanted to target. He said the only qualifier was that the mailings were targeted to those households which contained children between the ages of 5 and 16 years.

“That was the only criteria that I used,” he said. “There was nothing demographic, nothing about ethnicity or income.”

“There’s a lot of interest, a lot of excitement,” he said. “I’m happy to see the parents so interested.”


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