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Playing the School Lottery

Playing the School Lottery

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Giving Columbia residents a choice in their child’s education.

Lottery schools give Columbia residents options where they originally might not have had one. 

Which school your child attends is typically determined by the attendance area you fall into, but Columbia residents are also presented with the option to submit an application for their child to be placed in one of three elementary lottery schools (Benton Elementary, Ridgeway Elementary, and Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary) as well as one middle school (Jefferson Middle School).

“Lottery schools in the Columbia Public Schools system draw students from throughout the district whose families desire an education with a special emphasis,” CPS chief communications officer Michelle Baumstark says. “Benton Elementary specializes in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math], Ridgeway Elementary is an IGE [independent guided education] school, Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary focuses on the arts, and Jefferson Middle School offers STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and math].”

The Process

The structure of lottery schools is similar to the magnet school concept, with the exception of the requirements to attend — applications to attend a lottery school are not merit based.

“We don’t do that in CPS,” Michelle explains. “Anyone can attend by living in the attendance area or getting picked in the open lottery. However, Ridgeway Elementary School does not have an attendance area and their enrollment is 100 percent lottery.”

Lottery school applications happen every April, and those selected are typically announced at the beginning of May. The number of students accepted is determined by the total enrollment for the specific school’s attendance area. Those who are not immediately chosen will be put on a waiting list until a spot becomes available. The waitlist process is different from school to school — families on the waitlist for Benton Elementary and Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary that do not get accepted during the school year have to reapply in April to reenter the lottery, whereas families on Ridgeway Elementary’s waitlist remain on the list from year to year and do not need to reapply to be considered for enrollment.

Jefferson Middle School is a transition pathway for lottery elementary schools to a lottery middle school.

“Students accepted to Benton Elementary, Locust Street Elementary, and Ridgeway Elementary through the lottery are automatically accepted into Jefferson Middle School as sixth graders,” Michelle says. “The only requirement is that they submit a transfer request during the lottery application window. The school also accepts rising sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students each year through a general lottery process.”

Once students are accepted as a Jefferson Middle School student either through the elementary lottery transfer process or the general lottery process, they can remain at Jefferson Middle School for the duration of their middle school experience. However, those that reside within the attendance area and move outside of the attendance area would need to complete the lottery process in order to remain at the school.

Redistricting will not affect those accepted into the schools through the lottery process. However, students that are enrolled in the respective schools based on the attendance area may be affected, though it is unlikely because the attendance areas are typically close to the school buildings.

Breakdown of the Schools

Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary 
Arts Emphasis

The mission of Locust Street Expressive Arts Elementary School is to promote learning through the arts. Students, teachers, and parents work together as a diverse community to support high expectations and achievement for all students. Their current enrollment is 198 students with an additional 55 students on the waitlist from the lottery.

Ridgeway Elementary
Individually Guided Education

Ridgeway Elementary is an individually guided education school. Their mission is to help each student become a self-directed, self-motivated lifelong learner capable of meeting the challenges faced during a lifetime. Their enrollment is solely from the lottery applicants and is currently at approximately 245 students with an additional 162 on the waitlist.

Benton Elementary 
STEM emphasis

Benton Elementary’s STEM curriculum is for kids who enjoy challenges and investigating the world around them. They focus on hands-on learning experiences as well as providing a connection to real world experiences through guest speakers and field studies. Their current enrollment is 220 students, with an additional 41 students on the waitlist from the lottery applications. On average, 60 percent of their students come from the attendance area boundary and 40 percent of students are chosen from the lottery.

Jefferson Middle School
STEAM emphasis

Jefferson Middle School strives to provide a challenging, caring, and stimulating environment where children can achieve their fullest potential. They believe a school community that provides this type of environment will create the greatest opportunity for students to succeed academically, technologically, and socially. Their current enrollment is approximately 669 with an additional 65 students on the lottery waitlist.

No matter what curriculum or teaching style — STEM, STEAM, arts, or IGE — Columbia has options for you. There are currently no plans for additional lottery schools with CPS. However, CPS has partnered with the Missouri Department of Conversation to build a nature school, which will be open to fifth graders across Boone County. 

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