Updated: Oct. 2, 2011 -- By September, Betty Legendre had resigned herself to an unsettling reality: She had done everything she could to improve her sons’ school assignments, but she was not fully satisfied. Still, she bought their uniforms and sent them off, 5-year-old Jeffrey to kindergarten at Holmes Elementary in Dorchester, and Olivier, 13, to UP Academy Charter School in South Boston.
Two days later, a call came from Boston Preparatory Charter School in Hyde Park. They had a seat for her ambitious older son, who hopes to attend Harvard. Legendre, who had favored Boston Prep, was thrilled.
She never dreamed such a stroke of luck could strike twice. But a few days later, she received another phone call. This time it was Bridge Boston Charter School on the line. The Jamaica Plain school had a kindergarten slot for Jeffrey. Was she still interested?
Legendre, who moved to Mattapan a year ago from Atlanta, was so excited she showed up an hour early for her appointment at the school the next morning.
“He is doing great, he loves the school. I feel like I am dreaming,” she said. “For the whole year, this is the best thing that’s happened to me.”
Update: March 28, 2011 -- Her mailbox rattled, loose against the wall, as Betty Legendre dug her hand inside.
"I'm laughing, but it's not a good laugh," the 43-year-old said as she struggled to pull apart the letter.
Snow fell behind her as Legendre stood on her front porch in Mattapan on Monday. She had two children in the lottery. Jeffrey, 5, was assigned to Marshall Elementary. Legendre had ranked it fourth of five schools because its school day ends at 1:30 p.m., and she needs to work full time.
The news for Alexa was worse: the little girl had not lucked into one of the city's coveted K-0 slots for 3-year-olds. Legendre, who cannot afford day care, had hoped both children would be placed in schools.
On Tuesday, she went to the BPS office. She told them she had filled out her paperwork the first day of registration. What had gone wrong?
"They told me about the lottery," she said later. "I did not know that. ... If I had known, I would have been more prepared."
Now, she said, she is considering leaving Boston.
"Maybe God is trying to teach me something," she said. "Patience? Humility? I don't know what to think."March 13, 2011 --
Legendre, 42, had no idea what she was getting into.
She arrived last summer. Her son Jeffrey was 4, turning 5 in November. She assumed it would be easy, as it had been in Atlanta: She would fill out some forms and send him to pre-kindergarten.
"In Georgia, you go and find a school and enroll," she said. "I thought he should be able to start school in September."
Instead, Legendre learned for the first time about Boston's public school lottery. She learned that she had missed the deadlines, that no spots were left at the schools she had requested, and that her son would be placed on a waiting list.
Eventually, she enrolled Jeffrey in a Head Start program, but it bothered her that he was not in school. A college graduate who moved to the United States from Haiti to seek a better life in 1994, she was raised to prize education.
"Where I come from, it's all we can bank on," said Legendre, whose oldest son, Olivier, 12, attends a Catholic school on a scholarship and aspires to Harvard. "We don't have any other assets."
Unable to afford day care or find a spot in Head Start for her 3-year-old daughter, Alexa, Legendre has been unable to look for work. She saves money by sharing a Mattapan apartment with relatives and shopping at thrift stores, but she is running out of ways to stretch her savings.
Desperate for work, and determined to do everything right in this year's lottery, she waited in line for more than three hours on the first day families could register, because she thought it might improve her chances. She chose five schools for Jeffrey, picking the ones with the longest hours, because that would allow her to take a full-time job.
"To be frank, for now, I just want to get them into school," Legendre said. "Maybe later, when they're in the system, I will be picky ... But I'm putting my faith in the system, because the schools are supposed to be good."
Waiting to see whether the city will find a place for her children with the hours she needs, Legendre is sometimes overcome by worry.
"It is hard, but I'm a positive person," she said. "I have three kids, so I have to survive."