Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Kindergarten Conundrum

Lately my wife and I have been going crazy. Our daughter turned five this year and is headed off to kindergarten. The problem is, we have no idea where.

Here in the Los Angeles Unified School District, things are, well, to put it mildly, fucked up. Between budget cuts and failing schools it’s a maze that we really didn’t want to enter.

When we bought this house eight years ago we asked our realtor about schools and he said they were good in this area. Turns out he was partially right. The thing is, before you have kids school is not really a huge concern. It’s not really a concern until you actually have to use one.
We can’t really afford private school and to be honest, I don’t feel I should have to pay for school. What the hell do we pay taxes for if we don’t see any benefits. I want good schools and my trash picked up. My needs are simple. Oh, and I don’t want to get shot. That too.

So we started our school tours and looked into all the tricks of sending your kid to a school you are not zoned for. As it turned out, we are surrounded by good public schools EXCEPT for the one we’re zoned for, which is crap. How’d we win that shitty lottery?

So we toured our “home school” just to be sure. You have to see things for yourself. I mention this in my book and it is important. NEVER go solely on what other people say, good or bad. Go see things for yourself. So we did a private tour to see everything. It amazes me how there is “spin” and salesmanship in everything, even in elementary schools.

So we went with a slightly open mind and began the tour. We asked how many neighborhood kids were going to this school and our tour guide with a smile said it was mostly a neighborhood school with some “open enrollment” where they accept kids from other areas. Bullshit detector went off. I live in this neighborhood as do some of the other people I know and we didn’t recognize any kids from our neighborhood. I also know our neighbor, who is a teacher, made sure her kid went somewhere else. Nice try, tour guide. We started with our questions:

“Is there parent involvement?”
“Yes, but not the way it is at some of the other schools”
“So the answer is really no.”

“Are there any enrichment programs?”
“We have to focus on the basics here, because most of the kids here, for various reasons, don’t have the support at home that other kids have.”
“Well, the fact that we are standing here talking to you right now, means that’s not us.”

Our daughter already knows the basics. She’s been doing great in pre-school and is just starting to read. Obviously she would be bored there.

“Is there an advanced studies program?”
“Well, we’ve decided that’s not really the way we wanted to go as a school.”
“That’s the worst answer you’ve given yet.”

As we were growing less and less impressed, the principal came over to talk to us. Now I hadn’t been in school in a while so I always think of principals as old, proper men or women in cheap suits. This principal came over with a low cut blouse and was fairly young. For a minute I was quite distracted. Her tactic worked! But I recovered. She told us a little bit more about the school and how the neighborhood is coming back to this school. OK, sure, it might, in 5-10 years. Our daughter starts in a few months. Sorry, we can’t wait that long.

Finally, I asked the most obvious question my wife and I had:
“Why hasn’t your website been updated since 2006?”
“We have a parent working on it.”
“For four years?!”

After a little more spin the Principal and her breasts excused themselves and pretended they had somewhere to be.

We left the school, disheartened and talking about our options. I’ll tell you, it really made me wonder what makes one school fail and another succeed when the neighborhoods are so similar. Is it parent involvement? Sure, that’s an important factor. But interestingly, the teachers we talked to put the success or failure of a school solely at the principal’s feet. Like the captain of a ship.

So now it’s a waiting game. We’ve turned in our permit applications, open enrollment/lottery applications, magnet applications and Charter applications.

We’re hoping we get one, which is all we need. Otherwise we’ll have to sell enough blood to afford private school or be forced to move a few blocks down the street.


Mala said...

WOW! That's crazy. You make me happy that I live in rural New Hampshire where all I need to do is shuffle my kid to the end of the driveway where the bus picks them up and takes them to school. You know, the only school we have. Ahhhhh, Sweet choice-less-ness!

Ann Imig said...

Good luck. We go to our neighborhood school. It has it's problems, but nothing like you described. That IS a hard ship to turn around.

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