My School DC Common Lottery: A First Timer’s Guide

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The My School DC common lottery, aka the DC public and charter school lottery, closes March 1, 2021 for PK-3 — Grade 8. I knew about the DC school lottery before my twins were born. And when I say I knew about it, I mean that I had heard how insane, nerve-wracking, and all-around terrible the lottery was. Basically, I understood you were making or breaking your child’s entire educational future on how you handle the lottery—unless you are also considering private schools or moving. After participating in my first lottery, I firmly believe nothing could be further from the truth.

The My School DC common lottery brings an enormous amount of anxiety, especially on first-timers vying for the limited numbers of PK3 and PK4 spots. Had I known the facts and tips below before taking on the DC school lottery, I am confident that I would have had (at a less a slightly) less hectic few months fretting about it. Take a few deep breaths, educate yourself, and try not to stress too much about the DC school lottery.

The My School DC common lottery close date—not open date—is what matters.

The My School DC common lottery opened on December 12, 2020, but closes March 1, 2021. There is NO advantage to completing the lottery application early. I repeat: You will NOT get a better or worse lottery number depending on what day you complete your lottery application. I filled out our lottery applications the day before they were due and successfully got two kids into PK3.

There is an in-bound school guarantee for kindergarten and up, but not for PK3 or PK4.

You are guaranteed a spot in your in-bound DCPS school for Kindergarten and above. However, there is no in-bound guarantee for Pre-K3 or Pre-K4. To me, this made the My School DC common lottery make so much more sense. I previously really grappled with why there was simultaneously so much pressure to try to live in a good school district and get a good lottery number.

Location, Location, Location.

While considering schools for nearly three-year-olds, location was a major factor in how I ranked schools. But, I had very little awareness of the schools near me other than my in-bound area. School Finder is an easy way to know what schools are near you. You can type in your address and then filter by grade, ward, STAR rating, and a number of other options, e.g. whether the school has before or aftercare or requires uniforms. I searched far and wide for a resource showing all schools, DCPS, charter, parochial, and other private schools on a map, but alas—this still eludes me.

Some schools don’t participate in the My School DC common lottery.

The lottery is for DC Public Schools and public charters schools. Most, but not all, public charters participate. The full list of schools that do not participate in the My School DC common lottery is available here on the My School DC website, and this DC Area Moms Blog post explores some additional pre-school options that are not a part of the lottery. Things change year to year, so make sure you check the My School DC website and the websites of the schools you are interested in instead of going by word of mouth. For example, LAMB (Latin American Montessori Bilingual School) used to have its own lottery but now participates in the My School DC common lottery.

You do not have to visit dozens of schools.

One of the resources available to parents participating in the lottery—at least before COVID—is school open houses. You can get a real sense of the school—meet the principal, tour the facility, and some offer tours while school is in session. Some parents run themselves ragged going to lots and lots of open houses. I have friends who went to almost two dozen. Personally, I approached school visits differently. I went to one school fair where a number of public, charter and private schools were present, then only went to the open houses for a very small number of schools. Other than the temporary feelings of mom guilt for not going to more, this was the right decision for us.

There is a twin preference—but few schools have it.

Be nice to parents of multiples. While there is a twin preference, very few schools offer it.  There are numerous stories on local twin listservs of twins being separated in the lottery. But, for my fellow parents of multiples, take a deep breath. One of my twins got a decent lottery number and the other clearly did not. However, once one kid got into a school the other then rose to the top of the waitlist. We got lucky. And the month of not knowing whether the other twin would get into the same school was rough. But, we survived. And, you will too.

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Born and raised on the bayou in South Louisiana, Angelle moved to DC for undergrad at Georgetown. After working on the Hill and Disney's government relations office, Angelle traded-in her Mickey Mouse ears for law school at GW. An election law and white-collar defense attorney at Covington & Burling, Angelle's other full-time job is mom to twin toddlers Emma and Evan (2016). She and her husband Jordan live on Capitol Hill/H Street, where the twins excitedly yell "choo choo" every time they see the streetcar. In her spare time, Angelle scours the internet for coordinating smocked clothing for her twins and dreaming about the international family travel she will do once Emma and Evan learn to sleep or watch feature-length movies on a plane. All posts are her own views.