Last month, I registered Kelly for public school. It was remarkably stressful. In his kindergarten year, I vaguely remembered having registered Neil for school in February, and knowing he’d gotten into the district’s science magnet school in April. But this year when I called the school district in February, they told me I wouldn’t be able to register until April, but by the way, they’d been taking appointments since January, and now the only appointment I could get was in May. Oh, did I want Kelly to have a chance to go to a magnet school? Registration for that would end in April, so I’d have to drop in and hope I could get her registered in between other people’s appointments. I’d been told none of this, nor was any of this information on the district’s web site. And meanwhile, other people were telling me they’d already registered their kindergarten-bound children for the school before April, even though the district and the school itself denied it.
And things have changed since the year I blithely put Neil into public school. His magnet school now has a quota of Hispanic students from downtown it must enroll or face threat of closing, so every year a delegation from Neil’s school farms out to encourage the parents of such students to enroll. The school accepts less children altogether because the district says it has less students district-wide. When Neil registered for the school, there was a fairly good chance that those who’d been put on the waiting list would get in sometime during the kindergarten year. Now they waiting list reaches into the 100s, and the siblings of students (who are given the next priority behind those from downtown) don’t always get in.
And so, on the first day it was possible to register Kelly, I found myself in a long line of other parents who’d been skunked out of timely appointments. To my surprise, they weren’t there to try to get their children into a magnet school: they were worried they wouldn’t be able to even get their child into their neighborhood school! We were dubious about the district’s assertion families with children were fleeing the area a few years ago, because at the time, and since, we’ve been seeing loads of construction, as well as young families moving in to our neighborhoods. So now, if you move into the district and you have, say, a 2nd-grader to enroll, at some schools, she’ll be on a waiting list hoping someone will leave. We have a glut of students in some neighborhoods, but now three elementary schools are now closed, and it’s not that easy to reopen them. Reportedly, the same situation doesn’t apply to incoming kindergarteners, but parents were still understandably nervous.
Overall, I just felt stupid for putting myself up to the whole thing. I’d love for Kelly to get into Neil’s school. Neil had an awesome kindergarten teacher who would be a terrific influence on Kelly. She’d thrive on being in the living outdoor classroom the school has, and when Kelly saw the new science lab, she immediately dubbed it “the learning museum.” But my neighborhood school is only 1/2 a block from my house and I have to say it would be sweet to be able to walk to school and know my child is nearby. We go to their events already, and she’d get to know friends nearby. I think I’d have to pick her teacher, but then, after Neil’s bad year, I know I’d be careful about each year’s placement at any school she goes to.
Overshadowing the whole thing is that Kelly will be one of the youngest children in her class and that I’ve gotten into homeschooling, and Neil will be being educated at home. Both of my educational philosophies, classical education and Charlotte Mason, eschew kindergarten education, and Charlotte Mason doesn’t begin formal education until the age of 6. Until then, the philosophy goes, children should be playing, reading, exploring nature and talking about what they’ve seen and done. Kindergarten isn’t even mandated by the California State Board of Education. So by any yardstick, Kelly doesn’t have to go to school in August.
On the other hand, I know Kelly would have a good time being with other children. Kindergarten activities are all the things she loves doing most of all: singing, being read to, making crafts, putting together jigsaw puzzles, and running around with others her age. She’s already beginning to sound out and read short words, and given a few months, she’d have no trouble counting to 100 and doing simple addition. So it would be fun for her, and give me a break to work uninterrupted one on one with Neil. Furthermore, education in the lower grades isn’t all that different from the classical education, where a child has to learn the foundation of being able to read, write, and do mathematics. But the public school option also binds us to the public school schedule, and the downsides of public school which can vary from minor, like a classroom rowdy, to major, like a bad teacher or poisonous politics. On the other hand, a good teacher who can motivate in ways I couldn’t, is like gold.
So whither Kelly? This year or next year or never? As I said, I’d love for her to have the same early elementary education as Neil did. But she’s a different child, and the picture has changed a lot.
Update: Kelly received her school assignment letter on Saturday. She’s 126th in line for Hacienda, the magnet school. So I think we’ll be seeing how things work out with our neighborhood school, where she has a spot.