Winning the Lottery

Typically, when a group of people walk into Community High School’s room 222, they carry college pamphlets. On Feb. 10, 2015, at 9:00 AM, they carried 962 slips of paper, each determining whether or not current middle school students would ever experience Community.

Each year, CHS receives far more applications than it has spots in the school. This year, even though CHS has expanded its class size to 132, the acceptance rate still hovers around 27 percent. Since CHS is a public school, a lottery system is necessary to determine who gets these coveted spots.

The process of the CHS lottery is fairly simple and completely physical, even though there are many technological innovations that would make it much faster. One box holds 481 slips of paper, each reading the name of one of the applicants to the class of 2019. The other box also holds 481 papers, each representing a number from 1 to 481.

CHS Counselor John Boshoven draws a name out of the first box. Next, Brian Williams, the other CHS Counselor, pulls a number out of the second box. This number becomes this person’s lottery number, the only factor determining whether or not they are accepted to Community.

Chris Hicks, the Secretary to the Dean, staples the two slips of paper together, the name and newly assigned number. Finally, Dean Marci Tuzinsky, Community Resource Secretary LaTonya Mayfield and Counseling Office Secretary Gretchen Ebey find the name of the 8th grader, and record their lottery number. This process continues until all 481 names had been paired with a number.

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The CHS staff members were not the only people present at the drawing. Tuzinsky explained that every year, CHS is accused of rigging the lottery process in many different ways. This year, in order to confirm the random nature of the lottery, Ann Arbor Public Schools’ writer Jo Mathis was invited as a witness to the drawing. Additionally, a Parent Teacher Organization representative, Nancy Dean, was also present.

The lottery continued without breaks for over two hours. As long as the process takes, it is necessary in order to protect the integrity of the lottery. It also diminishes myths about the process.

Tuzinsky believes that the lottery is a fairer system than the first-come, first-served system of CHS’s past. Back then, the kids whose parents could afford to wait in front of CHS for days tended to get in, and the student body skewed affluent. A lottery prevents this socio-economic bias. “I totally believe in the philosophy of having a lottery because I want to make certain that Community High School has the opportunity to have a cross section of students from all over Ann Arbor,” Tuzinsky said.

A lottery also eliminates the possibility of unreliable computers picking the students. “A lot of people say, ‘Why don’t you do it on a computer? It could be done in 30 seconds on a computer,’” Tuzinsky explained. “But this makes it very transparent to have people in the room.”

“And behind every name is a real kid,” Tuzinsky said. “So it does feel like we owe it to them to do it the personal way and draw their name versus using a computer, because it’s a very personal decision.”