The man in front of the white board jotting down complex equations Thursday morning was no algebra professor.
It was Palo Alto schools Superintendent Kevin Skelly, attempting to do the math for entry into the district's limited-enrollment programs in the first-ever group lottery at the district office.
Instead of holding lotteries at individual school sites, Skelly responded to school-board and community requests to make the process more transparent by moving it to the district office, he said.
The tool used was simple -- a metal Bingo cage filled with numbered balls, cranked by Assistant Superintendent Scott Laurence.
Also present were elementary-school principals Susanne Scott of Hoover, Susan Charles of Ohlone, which will also house the Mandarin-immersion program, and Gary Prehn of Escondido, which houses the Spanish-immersion program.
Sharon Keplinger, director of the Young Fives program, school secretaries, Margie Mitchell from central attendance, school board President Dana Tom and a handful of parent volunteers from the schools also attended.
The lottery began with a quick sketch of application numbers, including how many applied and how many could be accepted. Skelly entered the numbers in little boxes on the board.
The most competitive program was Spanish immersion, with a mere six spots for 96 English-speaking applicants. The number was so small partially because 19 English-speaking siblings of current students are guaranteed admittance.
Competition also varied within programs. In the Mandarin-immersion program, a female, English-speaking kindergartener had a mere one-in-12 chance of acceptance, with three places reserved for 36 applicants. Yet a female, Mandarin-speaking first-grader had a nearly 50-50 chance, with only seven candidates vying for three spots.
After each school's data was mapped out on the main board, Laurence cranked the Bingo cage and began calling numbers.
School representatives had a numbered list of students divided by gender, except for Spanish-immersion, which is not regulated by gender to keep it consistent with the rest of Escondido's classrooms, Prehn said.
The first number Laurence called was 18.
The 123rd number that came rolling out the cage was number one.
Skelly made tick marks on the main board, noting when a program became full and needed to start a waiting list.
Meanwhile, school representatives consulted their lists, jotting numbers next to names.
Parents will be notified starting this afternoon, school officials agreed. They will have one week to decide before students are admitted from waitlists.
All parents with questions should call Laurence rather than individual schools, Skelly said.
Laurence can tell parents their number and when it was called, he said.
When asked by a reporter whether parents could be told their number beforehand when they register at schools next year to make the process even more transparent, Skelly said it was a possibility.
Holding the lottery publicly in the room where school board meetings take place is also a possibility, he said.
But publicizing a list of numbers and names is out of the question, he said, citing parents' right to privacy.
Making lotteries more open is a process, he said, noting parent comments on the Weekly's Town Square forum guided his set-up Thursday.
School board President Tom said he had urged Skelly to make the process more public.
"If you have nothing to hide, make it open," he said.
Yet he was unsure whether a completely public lottery would work, he said. The mixed atmosphere of jubilant, celebrating parents and disappointed parents might be inappropriate, he said.