Today’s news:

Kids selected in charter-school lottery

“The lottery has to be fair and open to everybody,” Buonasora...

By Dustin Brown

When the name Nicolas Buonasora was pulled second-to-last in the lottery held for the Our World Neighborhood Charter School last week, his father Mike took the disappointing news in stride.

“The lottery has to be fair and open to everybody,” Buonasora said.

He would know — he was the lottery’s organizer.

Buonasora is the treasurer for Our World Neighborhood, a charter school founded by a group of Astoria parents seeking to create an alternative to the overcrowded schools of District 30. The lottery, held at 6:30 p.m. April 17, determined which of the 419 applicants would gain admission to the school, which opens its doors for the first time Aug. 27.

“We knew going in that there was no guarantee that we would have our son in, so I guess we were being realistic,” he said. “But being almost last — don’t think we ever thought of that.”

Buonasora took a week off from work to design and compile a database listing the students whose parents had submitted applications to the school.

“He doesn’t even get the honor of being last — he was second to last,” said Lisa Caballero, a board member and the lead applicant on the school’s charter application. “There’s no one that more deserves to get into this school than him.”

Our World Neighborhood offers the promise of a free education with individual attention and a diverse curriculum that parents say is not matched by the city’s traditional schools.

While more than a dozen organizers sat by the stage at IS 126 to make sure the lottery Buonasora orchestrated went off without a hitch, about 100 parents and their children were scattered across the auditorium to listen as names were called out.

A maximum of 250 students will attend the school in its first year, when each grade from kindergarten through third will consist of two classes, while the fourth and fifth grades will each have one. Our World Neighborhood will grow each year until 2003, when it will house three classes each from kindergarten through the eighth grade.

Charter schools can be founded by any combination of parents, teachers, school administrators or community residents, and they operate independently of the laws that govern all other public schools.

To secure their children one of the 250 spots, parents had only to submit an application by April 11 and pray that luck was on their side. Although they did not even have to attend the lottery, Caballero estimated about a fourth of applicants did.

Students’ names were pulled from a box and announced to the audience, then taped to red slabs of poster board on which 25 squares indicated the 25 seats available in each class.

“We could do a random number generation on the computer, but we want people to physically see the names being called and the card put up on the board,” said Rita Hackel Chapin, senior vice president of Mosaica Education Inc., which has partnered with the parents to create the school.

Bruce Blaine was the first parent to arrive, although he claimed not to be especially anxious. A parochial school offered his daughter Kate a “good option” for kindergarten.

He will not have to use it, however. Kate’s was one of the first names called.

One couple that sat nervously clasping hands in the second row was not as fortunate. They immediately left the building when the last kindergartner was called, and were too upset to comment when approached on the street.

“All the smiling faces don’t make up for the sad ones you see,” said Caballero, who said the couple e-mailed her following the lottery to thank her and other founders for their work on the school.

“The parents always want what’s best for these children,” Chapin said. “When you put these names in a hat and pull them out and you don’t know if your child’s name will be first or last, there’s always tension in the room.”

The school will open on Aug. 27 on a site that will be disclosed once lease negotiations are completed, which Caballero expects will happen by the end of the week.

Buonasora was not the only founding parent who did not secure a spot for his child after devoting over two years to the project. But as the name implies, the parents did not establish the school for themselves, they are building it for the neighborhood.

“They’re a phenomenally committed group,” Chapin said. “It’s not easy to start up a school, especially in New York City, and they’ve just hung in there and said this is the dream we have for our kids.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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