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Environmental Charter School admissions lottery raises, dashes hopes

| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Three-year-old Eleanor Moyer, left, of Shadyside, sits with her sister Abby, 5, while they wait at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library to hear if Abby was picked in the lottery for new school admissions to the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Abby is home schooled now, and will be going into kindergarten in the upcoming school year. She, along with many other students from both inside and outside the city of Pittsburgh, was placed on a waiting list of over 100 students.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Environmental Charter School at Frick Park board member Leanna Plonka (right) of Duquesne, hands a slip of paper to board member Rebecca King (left) of Observatory Hill to read in the lottery for new school admissions as wait-listed students are announced at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. The lottery included the names of 500 children in the drawing to get picked for admissions into the school.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Priya Tyer, 10 months, looks over the shoulder of her mother Jenee Tyer, of Point Breeze, as she checks for her son Jack's name on the rows of waiting lists for kindergarten admission to the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park posted on the wall at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Families of more than 500 students were eligible in the lottery for new admissions for the popular school, reaching from grades kindergarten to 8th.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Melissa Mason (left) of Shaler, and Mandy Cribbs of Peters Township, attach a new sheet of paper to a easel to mark the names of kindergarten students wait-listed for new school admissions to the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park as the lottery for new students chugs along at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Cribbs is Vice Principal of the upper school at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park. The popular school is seeking an expansion of its charter from Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Environmental Charter School at Frick Park board member Rebecca King of Observatory Hill reads the name of another wait-listed student in the lottery for new admissions to the school at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. The popular school is seeking an expansion of its charter from Pittsburgh Public Schools.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Katie Reisner, 4, of Squirrel Hill, bundles back up to leave after hearing she was wait-listed in the lottery for admissions to the Environmental Charter School at the name-drawing at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. Only 15 spaces were available for the incoming kindergarten class.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Environmental Charter School at Frick Park board member Jim McCarthy (front) of Shadyside pulls envelopes with names of students in the lottery for new school admissions as wait-listed students are announced by board member Rebecca King of Observatory Hill at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. The lottery included the names of 500 children in the drawing to get picked for admissions into the school.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Melissa Mason, of Shaler, attaches the names of kindergarten students wait-listed for new school admissions to the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park as the lottery for new students chugs along at the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014.

J.C. Craven left the Carnegie Library in East Liberty with some hope that his young son Dartanyan has a shot at getting into kindergarten next year at Environmental Charter School.

His wife had a more realistic outlook after the Regent Square charter school's admissions lottery on Tuesday evening.

“He's 18th on the waiting list, so I know he does not have a chance,” said Lorraine Craven, 32, of Mt. Oliver.

Most of the families who filled about 70 chairs and the spaces between left with the same results. The privately run but publicly financed school received more than 500 applications. After awarding seats to siblings of current students, it had only 28 spots available for the lottery.

“It's a reminder of our need to grow,” said Kate Dattilo, the school's chief operating officer.

To meet demand and follow students through graduation, the school wants to expand its charter to grades 9-12 and add a second K-8 charter. It notified Pittsburgh Public Schools in the fall.

The district, which awarded the initial charter, said it is awaiting a full proposal. CEO Jon McCann said the school plans to submit it in May.

As a charter school, ECS gets tuition reimbursements from districts in which its students live.

Josh Reisner and Kaira Cooper of Squirrel Hill heard from neighbors about the school's progressive curriculum and focus on environmental literacy.

“We're looking for that extra edge for her,” Cooper said as she held their daughter, Katie Reisner, 4, before board member Rebecca King began reading names of those admitted, then the waiting list. “It's the focus on the environment and how to be a responsible global citizen.”

They left before Katie's name was called, knowing that very few students on the waiting list will get in.

The Cravens and many other parents said they applied to several charters and city magnet schools.

The state school code requires charter schools to randomly select students when the number of applicants exceeds available space, state Education Department spokesman Tim Eller said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools will do the same for its magnet schools on March 12. Spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the numbers of applicants and available spots were not available.

Propel Schools, which operates nine charter schools around Allegheny County, has experienced increased demand even as it opens more schools, said Director of Operations Richard Snyder. For example, more than 130 students applied for 40 kindergarten spots at Propel Braddock Hills, according to results of its lottery in January. Sixty-five students are on a waiting list for kindergarten at Propel Northside.

“People are looking for alternatives,” Snyder said.

Nikole Sheaffer, academic director at ECS, said the school is planning public meetings to discuss creative designs for expanded schools if the city district approves.

David Conti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-580 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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