Nervous parents packed a South Los Angeles church Thursday hoping that they would win the lottery.
The jackpot: a spot for their child at one of Green Dot Public Schools’ new charter campuses.
Several hundred parents and students came out to Victory Baptist Church and waited through the evening to see if they would get into one of the five charter campuses that will open in the fall in South Los Angeles.
Green Dot Public Schools founder Steve Barr praised those who came out.
“You are all revolutionaries,” he said. “The whole city is watching tonight.”
The lottery is the latest salvo in Barr’s campaign to establish a series of charters surrounding the troubled Jefferson High School campus -- one of the lowest performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The lottery is the culmination of months of efforts by Barr and his staff to raise awareness among neighborhood parents about the new schools and to persuade them to apply.
Charter schools are publicly funded but independently run schools that are allowed to try innovative teaching techniques in exchange for promises of improved student performance.
“This is a message to the [school] district that reforms aren’t happening fast enough,” Barr told the crowd.
For months, Barr has sparred with L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer over reforms at Jefferson. Romer dismissed Barr’s initial demand that the district allow Green Dot to take control of the Jefferson campus. Barr then began planning to open charter campuses around the high school.
He has since campaigned aggressively to pique parents’ interest -- sending thousands of mailers and holding frequent community meetings.
Barr has said he wants to highlight the growing influence of charter schools on public education by enrolling hundreds of students who otherwise would have attended Jefferson or nearby Santee High School, which opened last year.
Both are troubled campuses that have seen highly publicized student brawls in the last year. Jefferson has struggled for years with low test scores and graduation rates. And despite having opened in July, Santee is already overcrowded, with students shuffling among the school’s small learning communities to attend the classes.
More than 1,000 students applied to be part of Green Dot’s inaugural 640-member ninth-grade class.
When there are more student applications than available slots, California charter school law requires the school to hold a lottery to determine who will attend.
Thursday’s lottery took about 90 minutes, but only 531 slots were chosen. That’s because 109 of the slots were promised to families who helped start the schools.
Parents sat tense and quiet as names were picked from a basket.
“This is very important, that’s why I’m here,” Jesus Rosales said after 500 names had already been called. “I have hope. I’m not worried.”
Parents and students who attended the lottery were motivated in part by Barr’s promises of smaller classes and by events at Jefferson and Santee over the last year.
“I live close to Jefferson High School. There are fights, there are gangs,” said Geraldo Ramos, whose son, an eighth-grader, won a place at Green Dot. “We think this is a better school for our son.”
Still, Barr’s campaign has rankled A.J. Duffy, president of the district’s teachers union and a vocal critic of the largely nonunion charter movement. Duffy dismissed the significance of Thursday’s large turnout.
“All it shows is that Steve Barr is a good salesman. He knows how to sell his product,” Duffy said. “And Jefferson, which is making strides, does not. But we’ll get there.”
Critics contend that draining Jefferson and Santee of their ninth-grade classes will upset the district’s enrollment projections at the two schools and complicate plans for staffing and funding.
But those concerns didn’t sway the parents and students at the lottery.
“I feel great that I got chosen. I want to get a better education,” said eighth-grader John Perez, who would have gone to Jefferson or Santee had the luck of the draw not gone his way. “They’re not doing that well. There are fights. I saw them on the news.”
Times staff writers Sam Quinones and Joel Rubin contributed to this report.