Friday, September 30, 2011

School of choice

We are entering the thorny thicket of school choices. I use the word "choices" broadly, because what I really mean is "desperate hail mary attempts to get our child into a school where he won't be maimed, mentally, physically, or otherwise".

We bought our house a few months before Jack was born. We had the sunny belief that we'd be sending him to the French school when it came time for his little mind to be molded into a good little citizen. But then we met him, got to know him, realized we're pretty partial to him, and oh yeah, visited the French school. No cold Gaullist was going to reprimand my baby for mixing up his etre with his avoir. We lucked out with his preschool, because all they required of us was a reasonable amount of money. But now it's time to get him into an elementary school, hopefully that he will be in with the same (ish) kids until he graduates from High School. In Los Angeles. I KNOW. What kind of 1970's midwestern fantasyland am I living in?

Here's the problem. Our neighborhood public school is bad. Not so bad that it's on the list for schools you can opt out of in the, school of choice, program, but bad enough that we wouldn't send him there for one day. There's another school nearby, that needs bodies. I mean children. It's a BEAUTIFUL school, so pretty, they used it in an episode of MAD MEN, because it looks like a beautiful mid 20th century learning heaven, where older ladies who maybe still wore girdles under their tweed skirts, taught the youth of tomorrow, to conjugate verbs, and dream about space. The houses surrounding the school are estates. Not just mansions, estates. Long rolling green lawns leading to 8000 square foot homes in every style, with guest house, and pools, tennis courts with lights. But guess what. The school sucks. None of the kids in that school live in those estates. Everyone who lives in the neighborhood is 112 years old. There are no children. I don't know which came first the bad school, or the no kids, but now it's an ever worsening cycle. So depressing.

This is Arroyo Vista, one of the schools, in one of the 3 good school districts in all of Los Angeles. Even kids who live IN this district, have to lottery into the school. INSANE.

So, that leaves us with neighboring schools that we would have to get an inter-district permit for EVERY YEAR (read, we can be happily sailing along in the 8th grade after years and years in a school, and they can give him the boot), private schools we can't afford (if one more person tells me $19,475 a year really isn't that bad for Los Angeles...murder), magnet schools, (museum science anyone?),and charter schools. We walked out of a meeting for a charter school this morning that everyone has been saying is THE BEST, when we read that they have temporarily ended their music and art classes due to budget cuts. For elementary school. No music. No art. For little kids. That's a deal breaker for us. What are they going to teach them ALGEBRA? CHEMISTRY? What a disaster. Have we lost our minds?

No Child Left Behind should be called America Left Behind. We're such idiots. I don't want to get into some political discussion here, (so please don't write me some libertarian rant about educating our own), but seriously, dudes, in terms of brain trust, we are like the grasshopper who sang all summer.  Except that instead of singing, we just binged ourselves on suvs, subprime mortgages, dancing with the stars, and fat. I'M A COMMUNIST! You didn't know. I told you I went to Cuba in college. You were confused by all the Marc Jacobs, and stories about fancy cookies. Well, now you know.

We're not alone. Sandra Tsing Loh, wrote a whole web page about this very topic after navigating the impenetrable maze of middle class school options in the LAUSD. It's called "Sandra Tsing Loh's Scandalously Informal Guide to Los Angeles Schools". It's an easy read, and if you know STL, you can imagine her saying the words in her funny cadence, and it makes it, just that much more entertaining...and depressing.

I don't know what we're going to do. Deadlines for tours are coming and going. Lotteries, application dates, move by dates (yes I said that), are upon us. In the last 5 days we've even discussed bribing (I mean paying, PAYING) Nipper's sister, who is an amazing, and dedicated school teacher to come to Los Angeles, to teach our kids, and our friend's kids. You know, sort of like a private tutor, home school, one room school house sort of thing. At least for elementary and middle school. Why not? When you start looking at the real options, it doesn't seem so far fetched. I know, communist. It's not your fault, you thought I was some kind of Target loving dilettante who just flitted from one half finished glamor project to the next. I am, but I'm also a pinko. I put kale in my smoothies.

I'd love to hear some of your stories about school placement anxiety. Just to make myself feel better. Oh, and for those of you who live in Portland, and your kids walk two blocks to the AWESOME neighborhood public school where they have a spring musical, and an organic farm, you know where you can stick your story. 


  1. I'm sorry to tell you that I do not have a school placement story. However. I couldn't not comment because I laughed all the way through this post, except for the parts I cried. Education (and arts and music and libraries and all the REALLY. IMPORTANT. THINGS.) is my thing, and if wanting those things for my kids (imaginary) and your kids (real) makes me a pinko too, so be it. Wishing you the best luck, and maybe a few miracles.

  2. Hey Marija. You don't know me directly - but I'm Tricia - Steven Miranda's wife. :) Hi! Don't know if trying to get into Pasadena USD is an option for you, because you're so close to Pasadena, but we've been real happy with McKinley School - and they have a commitment to that arts/music thing that seems to be disappearing from other schools. And, through 5th grade, we've had awesome teachers, plus they have great parent involvement. My 2 cents - but I know the inter-district transfer thing is a pain in the butt!! Would love to meet in person sometime!

  3. welcome to the maddening, disheartening, and completely fucked system that is modern american education. lesotho is starting to look like a swell place to raise a kid.

    p.s. when ellis is of age, i might start a one-room schoolhouse. there will be constant music, lots of art, and singing to learn new skills. jack and charlie need not apply to enter.

  4. We are already thinking about our "5 year plan" knowing we'll have a kid jacks age by then. If you wanna use our address to "be in" pasadena let us know ;) it's only slightly illegal/scandalous. But parents always did that when I was growing up, otherwise I'd be a lot harder and fucked up then I am now from being forced into a certain school based on "districts." lol Good luck!

  5. You can always opt out of the rat race entirely -- sending your kids to school is a choice, not a requirement! We homeschool, and love the freedom it's given us. We just took a family vacation, and had the place to ourselves, it was awesome. Lots of normal (and I use that word loosely) people do it, and you know who it's perfect for? People partial to their kids. ;) Just sayin.