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School Choice, Judgement, and Blame

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DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a blog about Vouchers. While I believe that parents should be able to choose the best school for their child, I do NOT believe that vouchers are the answer, and you will not find any discussion about vouchers in this article.

There’s a LOT of talk lately about our school district and who should be doing what. Recently, several students in our district petitioned to be transferred to another district to attend a new arts focused charter school. (It’s a long story that I won’t go into.) I will say that I’ve had to hold my tongue while reading post after post of angry parents upset with these parents for leaving our district.

My own daughter is going to this school next year. The difference between my daughter and the other kids is that my daughter is starting high school, and in grades 9-12 the school is solely charter, which isn’t part of another district. Grades 7-8, however, have to attend a middle school in another district before being bused to the new school for their arts conservatory.

Parents are upset because kids are leaving the district. Parents are upset because our middle school arts magnet is being maligned in comparison to an arts focused school. Parents and teachers are feeling defensive about our district and its programs and schools. People are upset because some parents don’t think the arts magnet in our district is “enough” for their kids. The thing is – the arts magnet is a great start for kids interested in the arts who haven’t been studying for years already. At the new school, they audition to be in their conservatory, which takes up the entire afternoon (2:30 – 5pm). It’s not really serving the same students at the same entry level.

Part of the problem is that in the 3 cities that make up our district, People are feeling upset because 46% of families in our district ALREADY send their kids to private or charter schools. Parents are upset that not everyone in our district chooses their homeschool, even though the Parent Education Network and the district itself promotes CHOOSING any school in the district for their children. Parents are upset because their children in the Dual Language Immersion programs aren’t getting the full immersion experience in middle school, so they want more periods in the day so their children can have an elective. Basically, parents are upset.

I have 3 children. All 3 of them have been attending schools in our district since kindergarten – that’s 11 years. They all went through 6 years of public elementary and 2 of them have completed 3 years of public middle school. My oldest is heading into his 3rd year of public high school, and my youngest still has 2 years of public middle school ahead of her. In addition, I teach in the district.

When my now 16-year-old was in pre-school, I attended informational meetings and went on 6 school tours. I weighed each school on a) what I saw happening IN the classroom b) the school environment and feel c) what the school’s priorities are d) did it seem like a place where my children would thrive? Things I didn’t look at were 1) race/ethnicity of the students 2) what “neighborhood” the schools were in (granted, other than one arts focused school, we stuck to schools within a certain distance from our home – solely based on how far we were willing to drive at the time).

Even though my children went to a school in the district, I’ve still gotten flak from other parents AND teachers about where I sent my kids. I heard it’s “almost like a private school” and “they get more money from the district” and it’s a “white school.” (That’s the tip of the iceberg, honestly. I’ve heard some pretty nasty things about this gem of a school in the district.) First, if it feels like a private school, it’s because there is literally an ARMY of parent volunteers who are ready to do whatever the school needs. True, many (though not all) families are upper middle class and have the time and money to be able to donate to the school. They do not get more money from the district. They aren’t a Title I school. They DO have a full enrollment, which I suppose gets them more money solely based on having more students, but that’s not getting special treatment. Finally, we have friends at the school who are Asian, Latino, African American, and Middle Eastern and yes, white. But as I said, I didn’t spend any time looking at the ethnicity of the students.

Here’s a thought.

How about we worry about our own kids and stop judging everyone else?

Some people choose to have their kids in private school. While in a perfect world, they would send their kids to the public schools and give their time, money, and energy to those public schools, that’s not the reality. I’ve heard several parents saying that sure- go ahead and send your kid to private school, but you ALSO have to be responsible for the public schools and do all you can for these public schools where your kids DO NOT attend.

Look. I understand the idea, but its not realistic to expect people to not only donate their time, money, and energy to their own kids’ schools, but on top of that to do the same for schools their kids do NOT attend. Do some people do it? Perhaps. SHOULD everyone? No.

I spend time and energy and money on my children’s schools. I am also a teacher, and I do not expect to get help from sources outside the school community. Honestly, I don’t expect to get it at the school where I teach, because I know how hard it is for many parents to give ANYTHING extra. If they can help, great, but I don’t expect it. I spend my own money for the classroom and sometimes generous friends help me out. I can’t even imagine asking local parents whose kids go somewhere else to come give their time, energy, and money to a school they have no connection to.

Perhaps the point is that we should ALL be connected and invested. It is a nice thought, but not realistic. A great start would be parents from each school helping out in whatever way they can. Some schools have more volunteers and assistance than they can handle. Some schools have almost no volunteers or assistance. As much as I wish it were more equal, it’s not. We need to start at each school site and do what we can to get the parents to be invested in any and all ways possible. Beyond that, build partnerships within the community. Get friends of friends – people who have a genuine interest and investment in the students and teachers at each particular school.

And how about this… I won’t judge you for the choices you make for your children and you don’t judge me for mine.


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