Jody and Tom Cook put their son Luka Jovic's name into a charter school lottery seven years ago, eager to look into options other than a standard public school.
"Once we started looking outside the realm of our neighborhood school ... we felt [a charter school] was an obvious choice to give our children a better education," said Tom Cook.
Jody Cook also set up interviews at parochial schools throughout Lodi. But the day before the first meeting, Jody Cook got the phone call: Jovic would start kindergarten at University Public School.
Several years later, the school is now called Vincent Shalvey Academy, and all three of the Cook family's children attend Aspire schools.
"We feel very fortunate that we got picked, and that it exists." she said. "It's been a good fit for our family."
Tom Cook sees a charter school education as a hybrid of public and private schooling. He compares his time in public schools with the years his wife spent in Christian schools, and finds features of both at his children's schools.
Jody Cook echoed the sentiment.
"It's about having choice. It's the possibility of having a great education and not having to go bankrupt over it," she said. "It's a great service to the community."
When word got out at work that Tom Cook's son was headed for a charter school, his buddies wanted to know how many hours a week he would have to spend volunteering.
He says he doesn't feel any pressure from school staff to help out, though any time spent is welcomed.
His wife Jody Cook is a little more involved. She serves as the president of the Community Council and volunteers weekly in the classrooms of her two younger children. When she can, she works as a substitute teacher for the school.
The couple say the myth that charter schools are for wealthy families with high-performing students is unfounded. Jody Cook sees a wide diversity in the classrooms in which she works.
"It's good for our kids," said Jody Cook. "Everyone is there."
There were a few things the family had to get used to. First, kids won't bring home any letter grades until they're in the sixth grade.
"It was a little weird. Why are all my friends getting letters when I'm getting numbers?" Jovic said. The recent extension to a 3:10 p.m. dismissal was cause for complaint, too.
Also, teachers expect a lot of work from their students.
"The jump in workload to middle school is what I was expecting to see in high school," said Tom Cook.
But at 12, Jovic is now learning the skills he needs to manage a heavy load. His parents are glad to see him building a strong foundation in time management and organization, even with the cost of stressful late-night homework sessions.
What about the "College for Certain" Aspire mantra, and the college-themed classrooms?
Little Kate Cook can list off her classroom's college (Arizona State) and mascot (Wilbur the Wildcat), though she hasn't quite nailed the fight song.
"I don't feel like it's ingrained to the point of the kids feeling like less of a person if they don't choose to go to college," said Jody Cook. "It's more about letting them know what college is, right from a young age."
Jovic will leave the Aspire system after he completes the eighth grade. He'll enroll at Tokay High School, where he is hoping for a more traditional high school experience. Basketball tryouts are likely in his future.
As for the younger brother and sister, Tom and Jody Cook aren't sure yet.
"We try to make choices for each kid on a case-by-case basis," he said.