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Eagan: City kids take fall in charter school limitation battle

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Margery Eagan, Boston Herald

In “Waiting for Superman,” the famous documentary about charter schools, hundreds of parents and kids wait, rapt, in a packed auditorium. They’re hoping to hear their names in a lottery and be among the chosen few to escape bad district schools for better charters.

In the real-life lottery yesterday at the City on a Hill charter in Roxbury, there were just 100 openings for 940 applicants. But not a single parent, and only one applicant, showed up.

“It’s too hard. To sit there and hear all these names and your child is not called. And that’s it, it’s over,” said Natasha Brown, 38, of Mattapan, who’s gone to the lottery twice and filled out 36 charter applications for her three children. “But no luck, not once.”

Then Brown detailed her frustration, and it was heartbreaking. A Boston public school graduate, she said she expected the district schools to “still be OK.” But her children came home with ever more upsetting stories. And now she feels trapped, unable to afford to move from Boston and unable to do her “best by my kids.”

So this year she’ll wait for the lottery results in the mail, and hope for a miracle. There are 13,600 applicants for 2,200 charter spots.

You know there’s something disgraceful about all this — something made worse when you hear City on a Hill kids contrast their new school with the district schools they left. Chaos, fistfights, swearing, screaming, weed and even knives in backpacks. That vs. “more structure, more focus and 100 percent college acceptance,” said senior Aser Louissaint, 18, standing beside a trophy case where the biggest one is not for sports but for attendance.

The deadline is Wednesday to lift the cap on charter schools. But charter advocates aren’t hopeful. They blame Gov. Deval Patrick, Mayor Marty Walsh and most of all state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz of Boston, whose committee could lift that cap but probably won’t.

Yesterday, Chang-Diaz told me almost exactly what she tells everyone who asks: She’d like charters to expand “while not taking tools out of the toolbox of district schools.”

The fact that thousands are desperate to escape those district schools, tools or no tools, apparently does not move her.

But one who made her escape yesterday — at the urging, incredibly, of her district school teacher — is Asia Rose Winbush, 14, lucky No. 85. Smiling ear to ear, she said her teacher told her City on a Hill “would push me to do better and be a better person, and I want to get pushed.”