LOWELL -- Julie Avelino and Yohanna Santos could barely contain their excitement March 11 upon learning that their children were accepted into Collegiate Charter School of Lowell.
At 10 a.m. that Saturday, the school held an enrollment lottery, made necessary by a large number of applications for its open student spots.
Avelino's daughter, Ana, and Santos' son, Renan, both 5, were called early in the lottery and will attend kindergarten at the charter school in the fall.
Avelino and Santos said they have friends whose children are thriving at CCSL, and the families rave about the school, its teachers, programs and the new building on Middlesex Street.
"I don't even have words for it right now," Avelino said.
"I'm so ecstatic."
Her niece, Rebecca, 5, wasn't as lucky. She was placed on the wait list.
"They really wanted to go together and it's so sad," Avelino said.
"We'll wait and see what happens," said Rebecca's mother, Mary Ribeiro.
CCSL Registrar Chanphaly Ouk said there were 308 total applicants for open seats across all of the grades during the Oct. 1 to Feb. 28 application period -- nearly double compared to last year. In the lottery, 118 of those students were accepted, she said.
Further applications came in after the deadline, Ouk said. Those names get placed on the wait list after those who made the deadline, she said. As of Saturday, the total wait list stood at 260, Ouk said.
CCSL Director Frederick Randall IV attributed the increased interest to greater visibility and knowledge about the school, which is in its fourth year operating.
Greater interest in charter schools has been seen in other parts of the state. The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association reported last week that applications to Boston charter schools more than doubled for the upcoming school year: 35,000 compared to 13,000 last year.
Executive Director Mark Kenen attributed the growth to a new online enrollment system that allows parents to apply to multiple schools at once, as well as interest in the ballot measure, handily defeated by voters in November, that would have lifted the state's charter school cap. Opponents feared it would financially devastate already cash-strapped traditional public schools.
"These numbers show a continued high demand for charter schools that has increased since the ballot question," Kenen told Education Week. "So, we think this demonstrates that there's still a need for more charter schools in Massachusetts."
Randall said he wishes CCSL could accept everyone who applies, but the school must abide by established parameters and procedures.
One requirement is to have a neutral member of the community pull names for the lottery to ensure fairness in the enrollment process, he said. This year, CCSL called upon Joe Hungler, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell, to pull names out of a box for both admission and wait list placements.
According to school lottery procedures, prospective enrollees who are siblings of current students get first preference for admission. Residents of Lowell come next, followed by non-residents.
As the names were pulled one at a time by grade, families waited with bated breath in the school's gymnasium. For some, the experience brought a sigh of relief when their children were accepted. For those wait-listed, it meant hoping that enough families ahead of them would decide to enroll their children elsewhere to give them a chance.
Johanna Monsalve gave a small cheer when her daughter, Alessandra, 4, was called early in the kindergarten lottery. She said she's learned a lot about the school and feels Alessandra will receive a better education there than at a traditional school.
Holly Keraghan was hopeful about her 12-year-old daughter Jocelyn's fourth place on the wait list for seventh grade.
"At least she's close," Keraghan said. "It's better to be closer to the top than further to the bottom."
Now a student at Lowell Community Charter School, Jocelyn became interested in CCSL because of the school's plans to eventually add high school grades, Keraghan said.
CCSL currently has 645 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, according to Randall. Enrollment will rise to 747 next year with the addition of seventh grade, he said.
The school is permitted to add eighth grade the following year, and will seek state and local processes to add further grades in subsequent years, Randall said.