Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Great School Debate

I have been wanting to write about the process to get The Boy into a good kindergarten for a while now. It's a tough subject to tackle. Of course we all think that our children deserve the best education, but actually making that happen is hard. And when I think about it I tend to go into a rant and I really wanted to write a post that was more informational rather than bitchy. But let's face it, I am totally bitchy, so if that comes out a bit in this post? Well...reality people.

I live in the "Bay Area" section of Northern California. Silicon Valley, if you will. And while the charming economic climate of late has really slaughtered things here (like everywhere), those of us that were fortunate enough to keep our houses and stay current with our mortgages are paying an INSANE amount of money for the privilege of living where we do (it was 72 degrees outside yesterday so admittedly we have fantastic weather). But if I told you the amount of money it takes to simply pay my mortgage and my property taxes each month, most of you would lose your shit. I even flirted with the idea of actually putting that amount on my blog just to make my point, but really, even I don't need to get that petty. But what I am trying to say is that those of us that live where I live pay a pretty high amount of money to live here. You would think that would translate into some awesome schools, right? Wrong. So, so wrong.

The schools in California are, for the most part, complete crap. I am not taking the time to look up numbers and be all official, but I know we are amongst the lowest scoring schools in the entire country. And I have heard that on the news for YEARS now, but see things have changed around here. After years of attempting to get pregnant, and then being THRILLED that I was able to have a real, live child is now of the age where he must enter those schools. And when I bought my house, back in 2004, The Ex and I had been trying to get pregnant for just a year and it would be another two years before The Boy actually arrived. We were feeling pretty smug, back in 2004, after having lived in our first house for two years and then sold it for enough of a profit to "move up" a notch into the current house. And back in 2004, the plan was to do the same with this house. Live here for no more than 5 years and then sell, make a profit, and buy into the REAL house. The one where we planned to stay and raise our kids etc... So all that to say that when we bought this house we weren't overly concerned about what school district it was in. It was, after all, just a temporary house.

Well, fast forward to 2006 when we had The Boy, and then later in 2006 when The Ex left me, and it became a huge challenge for me to simply stay in my house. And like I said above, I feel hugely grateful that I was able to do that. I am proud of myself that I worked hard and was able to buy The Ex out and now "own" my own home (quotes because we all know that the bank technically owns my home). So here I sit. In a house that is great and that works well for my family. But. (And this has turned into a HUGE "but"). The school district sucks. Super, super sucks. As in scores in the 400's when 1000 is a "perfect" score.

Most of the people I know (save one friend who ALWAYS makes good decisions and was able to sell her house and buy into the school district of her dreams thus ensuring her children's fabulous education at little to no cost--I hate her BTW), send their kids to private school. In fact in my son's parent/teacher conference back in October the first thing she said was, "Where are you planning on sending [Boy] to kindergarten?" I told her I would love to send him to Harvard, but that he would most likely end up at the neighborhood school down the street. She then proceeded to tell me all the reasons why this was NOT the best option for him. (She wasn't being snotty at all, btw, just super informative. We all know my kid has some issues and she is probably right that neighborhood school is not a good fit for him). So...what to do.

I have a couple of options. First, I petition to get him switched from his neighborhood school to another school in the same district. Second, I apply (with many, many other people) at an out of district charter school, and cross my fingers and toes and hope.

I have done both of those things. When I turned in his paperwork for his current school district along with the petition to have him moved to another school I...had a really bad experience. The guy accepting my application was answering some questions (when do I find does the lottery work...etc...) when it became clear to me that he viewed me as some pretentious lady who only cared about scores and race. Yes, he played the race card. This is such a touchy subject I'm not sure I should even go there but...I asked him if my son did NOT make it into the school of our choice this year, was I able to petition again next year? He said no. He told me if he doesn't get in this year, he is going to be at his neighborhood school until middle school. I was shocked. I only have one try? That's it? He said to me, "We don't have any interest in moving kids all around the district simply because you don't like the scores of your neighborhood school and want your kid to be around all white kids." Yes, he actually said that. An employee of my son's future school district.

Do I even need to explain? I LOVE the diversity that my son experiences on a daily basis at his current school. I love that they celebrated Chinese New Year and Diwali Festival and Cinco de Mayo at his school. I LOVE that he looks around and sees kids of all shapes and sizes. I do NOT want him surrounded by "all white kids." Quite the contrary actually. But what I do want? I DO want him in a school that will provide him with an excellent education. Plain and simple. And no, I don't think I am a monster for wanting that. So I left the school district feeling like an asshole. And feeling like HE was an asshole. And feeling like the entire situation is just an asshole situation.

Last night I attended an informational meeting for a charter school nearby my house (but in a different school district) that I simply LOVE. This school would be PERFECT for my boy and his unique situations. Absolutely perfect. But will he get in? You be the judge: Last year they had 225 applications for kindergarten. They have 55 spots. 53 of those applications were from people within the same district. So essentially there were 2 spots open for roughly 175 kids applying. They are expecting about the same this year. Fuck.

So that's where we are. I am beyond frustrated. And I am trying not to get ahead of myself (after all, there is a chance that we will either A) be granted our petition to get into another school within the district, or B) be one of those TWO lucky kids that gets into the charter school of my dreams). But the chances are pretty great that both of those options are going to fail and he will be admitted into his neighborhood school. And once he's there, the only way to change anything before middle school is to either move, or else shell out the bucks for private school. Moving isn't a realistic option right this second because, although I am not "underneath" in my house, I would simply break even and not be able to pay Realtors etc... so moving probably isn't going to happen.

I've done all I can for now. I have filled out all the paperwork, I have gone to all the required meetings. I have turned everything in. And now I wait. And hope. And then, come August, perhaps have a REALLY freaking big decision on my hands.

This is what The Boy thinks about all this school nonsense:
I agree with you buddy. This just simply sucks. I SO want the best for him...and to live in one of the most expensive places in the US with one of the worst school systems in the US just seems so wrong...


Laraf123 said...

I'm in the same boat. I thought I'd move well before my son started kdgn but now there's little hope of selling my house and getting into a better district. I hate to think of him going to our neighborhood school. I can't believe you were told that it's now or never (at least til middle school) when it comes to attending another school. I really hope some other options open up for both of us.

Anonymous said...

Have you checked out the neighborhood school in person? Test scores are often poor measures of what (I, at least feel) makes a school a good place. For example, our school got an A on the city's "report card" two years ago. Then the city changed the way they futz with the numbers and we got a C last year. Same exact school. Nothing terrible happened. We did not get worse (except for the fact that our funding was cut a LOT.) So if you haven't been there, I'd stop buy and take a look. It may not be as bad as you fear. I love my school, C or A, for who the teachers are and the caliber of their work.

Billy said...

Hope The Boy does get into the school you want.

Amy said...

We actually bought our house 5 years ago in an amazing school district... Blue ribbon schools, 99%+ PTA participation, etc and there's all kinds of threats to shut the school down or do a whole bunch of re-districting. It's a very small neighborhood school and has a total private school vibe that the administrator's are not a fan of. We'll know in a couple of weeks but it just goes to show that even when you think you have a grand plan, somethings are beyond our control. Needless to say, we're looking at private schools just in case but it would definitely be a burden if we had to go that route... Good luck on your quest!!