TEECS Holds Enrollment Lottery Under Cloud Of Civil Rights Charges, State Citation

Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School principal Olguz Yildiz, left, assists with dumping names of applicants into a bucket prior to their being picked in the annual enrollment lottery.

Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter School held its 2017-18 school year lottery Feb. 18, albeit under the cloud of civil rights complaints and calls for its closure.

The school was looking for students to fill its Kindergarten class, as well as determine the order of the waiting lists for First Grade through Ninth Grade.

For the 2017-18 school year, TEECS is limited to 50 students each in grades Kindergarten through 6, and 42 students each in grades 7 through 9.

The school’s principal – known as its “lead person” – Olguz Yildiz said 21 of the Kindergarten slots will be filled by the siblings of current students, leaving 29 slots open for other students.

Grades 1 through 9 will ostensibly be filled by students rising, so there are as yet no openings there, Yildiz said. The waiting lists come into play when a student decides to not return or leaves the school during the year, he said.

TEECS – as well as Central Jersey College Prep Charter School, the other charter school located in the township – is under fire by a parents’ group and civil rights organization for what the groups say are its “segregative” policies. The groups want both schools’ charters revoked, and a federal inquiry into the effect of charter schools on the New Jersey public education system.

And early last year, TEECS was cited by the then-commissioner of the state Department of Education, for what the commissioner called the school’s “lack of diversity” in the school’s student body.

To remedy that, then-Commissioner David Hespe told the school’s Board of Trustees chairman that TEECS had to “develop a comprehensive school recruitment plan to further diversify the school that includes the implementation of a weighted lottery.” The recruitment plan, Hespe said, “must demonstrate that the school is committed to serving a cross-section of the school’s community age population.”

Yildiz said Feb. 18’s lottery was weighted by including the names of low-income students twice.

“That’s what the state told us to do,” he said.

Yildiz emphasized what he said was the transparency of the process.

The names of applicants for each grade level were sealed in an envelope, overseen by a Notary Public. Each grade level was given a bucket, into which the names were dumped, mixed and chosen singly by hand before being put on charts corresponding to each grade level.

Yildiz said in past years, the lottery was conducted by computer and took less than 10 minutes. This hand-picked lottery, he said, would take closer to an hour.

The entire process was watched by two more Notaries Public, and was videoed. The video, Yildiz said, will be sent to the state and posted on YouTube.

Dozens of parents and prospective students attended the lottery in the Pierce Street school’s gym; township resident Ayana Blocker was one of them.

Blocker applied for her daughter, currently a Hillcrest Elementary School students, to attend 3rd Grade next year, she said.

“I didn’t een know there was a charter school here” until she drove by it while going to work, she said. “I knew about the other one.”

Blocker said she applied mainly to see what would happen.

“It’s just to try something different,” she said. “Some of the schools they say here in Franklin aren’t the best, I just wanted to try a charter school to see if there’d be a difference.”

“I just wanted to see if there would be a benefit,” Blocker said. “I’m not going to be totally upset if she didn’t make it in, she’s totally OK with where she’s at, but I just wanted to see.”


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