In just a few days, I’m expected to select the elementary school for my child that will educate, mold, nourish, and enrich her for the next 5-6 years. So far, this has proven to be quite the exhausting undertaking. Because, to begin with, I didn’t even realize it was time for this just yet. This is my first time around the block with all this school registration business. I have only lived in this county since college so this is not the same school system that I came up in, and most of my friends have kids that are older, so I didn’t have much guidance on how to prepare for Kindergarten enrollment. I thought I was doing good thinking that I would probably need to enroll her by springtime and made a mental note that I would look more into it at that time. Imagine my surprise to learn that registration actually began this January. And not only that, schools have been offering tours since this past October. I had no idea. A part of me feels so behind and like I have seriously dropped the ball on this whole ordeal.
I’ve had to take a crash course over the past two weeks on our local school system. We have what is called “school choice” in which you have one elementary school that you are assigned to based on your residential address. It may be either a traditional calendar school with summers off, or it may be a year-round option school with multiple 2-3 week breaks throughout the year. If you’re pleased with your base school assignment then you’re all set. But if your base school is a traditional calendar and you prefer year-round school (or vice versa) then you may elect to send your child to the closest neighborhood school that offers the alternate calendar. And that would still be easy enough if that’s all there was to it. But of course, there is more.
I’ve been using http://www.greatschools.org to find out the basics on my neighborhood schools and to my dismay, discovered that my base elementary school is rated a 2 out of 10. The website reviews aren’t great and neither are the reviews I’ve received from actual acquaintances familiar with the school. But I know numbers and online reviews aren’t everything and I take them with a grain of salt. I know they don’t always tell the full story and I like to make up my own mind. So I made this the very first school that I visited and found that I was rather impressed with the young Principal whom has only been there the past two years. I realised most of the web reviews were from before this principal was even there. And since he has been there, in just these past two years, he has rolled out enrichment programs (chorus, soccer, debate team, etc ) that they simply did not have before. I was astounded to find that it was only in the past year that they established a Parent Teacher Association. I was the only parent that showed up for the tour and he seemed genuinely appreciative that I had. He sat down with me one-on-one and leveled with me on all the things he felt were issues with his school that needed improvement and told me precisely how and when he planned to achieve those outcomes. Learning these things did not make me want to run. It actually made me feel like I wanted to join his team and help push to get the resources that these students are deserving of. How else is a Principal supposed to get the things he needs to make his school great without that strong parental support backing him? It’s almost like your civic duty to help in any way possible to make your schools better.
I’m still wrestling with this conundrum. Because it’s definitely a strong belief that I have. But truthfully, as I’ve visited other schools (and found myself liking many of them) I’ve found myself becoming more conflicted over which way to go.
Our county also offers a myriad of both charter and magnet schools that have risen as a direct result of parents being unsatisfied with the base schools such as the one to which we’ve been assigned. These schools offer any number of foci, from Montessori, Gifted and Talented programs, engineering, math and science, arts and the humanities, and local museum partnerships. This is just to name a few. Several of them are rated among the best in the state and some have even received exemplary status recognition on a national level. There are schools that offer Spanish, chess, and drama to Kindergarteners and others that encourage enrichment by scheduling up to two electives per day which are changeable by the quarter. All of them are free, public schools that any child has equal chance of attending. Seats are awarded via a lottery; there is no admission criteria other than being a county resident. And more and more, I’m feeling like I want my kids to attend one of them.
And I feel guilty for this.
I can’t shake the sense that pulling your kids from the main public school is not the answer on how to best improve that school. We just moved to this suburb a few months ago, but I feel like had we already lived here and been a part of this community pre-child, or even as soon as Lila was born, I may have looked into the school system much earlier, and had I learned of the school status at that time, I would have immediately become an involved parent and done whatever I could to help push the school to its potential by the year that it was time for Lila to enter. I know that school has plenty of promise, but the honest truth is that it’s not there yet… Do I send my kids there now and lobby for change that likely wouldn’t take place until they are exiting, and do so at the expense of them attending a school right now that has repeat high test scores and a multitude of excellent opportunities and resources that I would be thrilled for them to have access to? It is such a tough decision…but I’m starting to feel like we will not opt for the base school. The activist in me can’t help but feel like I’m letting that principal and my community as a whole down with this decision, but ultimately, I think it is the one we are going with.
Not that it helps narrow things down any! That eliminates one elementary school, and still leaves over 115 more. I have seen schools that run the gamut from the massive, shiny and bright, to the equally (if not more so) charming school in the 100-year-old building with no cafeteria and a shoebox (but well-stocked) library. Having so many great schools to select from is a wonderful blessing that I fully appreciate but on the flip side, so many choices can be completely overwhelming. I have been running around like a madwoman this past two weeks trying to cram in as many tours as possible, and of course this would also be an extremely busy time at work. We are currently slammed and it’s been so hard to get the time off that I need, so that’s half the stress right there. I just feel so rushed and wish I had known a long time ago that I could have already been visiting these schools over the past 3 months. That certainly would have made life much easier right now, but alas.
I’ve whittled it down to my short list which is still like six strong. They all have pros and cons and their own set of unique perks and characteristics that just makes it all the harder to choose. How do you decide when they all seem great? But when I calm down and breathe, it allows that thought to sink in even more: they’re all pretty good. Not one of them will have the full package; there will always be one school that has something the other doesn’t, but none of them are greatly lacking in any way. I’ve left them all with a pretty good feeling of “I could see my kid going to school here; I can see myself being a part of the parent community here”. And as long as I have that feeling then I really can’t go wrong. Even if there’s something that I’m missing and it just doesn’t turn out to be the school that I thought it would be, and /or I find concerns about my kid’s ability to thrive there, then it really wouldn’t be the end of the world to just have them change. I’m putting too much pressure on myself to find a forever school, because ideally, that would be great. But if it becomes necessary to change then that’s just what we’ll have to do. I had to change schools a few times as a kid, and while I can’t claim that it was ever pleasant having to leave schools and friends that I had grown accustomed to, it certainly didn’t destroy me. And it was definitely much easier when it occurred in the early part of grade school.
So this has all become just a bit easier to deal with now that I’ve given myself permission to breathe and have wrapped my head around the realization that this decision doesn’t have to be set in stone. I can enroll her in any one of the great schools that I’ve visited thus far and can give myself even more time over the entire next school year to visit any other schools of interests so that I can make the most informed and comfortable decision possible by the time it’s Matthew’s turn for enrollment. And most of all, I can let go of this exhausting stress and allow myself instead to feel the more pleasing emotions of excitement and anticipation for this new and exciting chapter in our lives.