As I’ve mentioned again and again and AGAIN over the past year (I bet y’all are getting sick of reading about our kindergarten angst, and guess what? It’s over!), after much research and gnashing of teeth and scouring of budgets for extra $$$, Jon and I finally came to the conclusion a few months back the only reasonable option for us when it came to C starting kindergarten in the fall of 2012 would be a public elementary school.
My three oldest children have all mostly attended private schools through the years, although J has now been very happily enrolled as a student at a public high school for the past three years, and E will likely attend the same public high school as his big sister next year as a freshman in the fall, after having spent spent the previous 8 years as a student at the same awesome Episcopal k-8 school that Henry and J were also lucky enough to attend.
Because C’s three older siblings have primarily attended private school, my own knowledge about our local public school options was pretty poor when I began researching where C might start kindergarten in the fall. Despite having been a parent living in the same community for 20 years now, with three kids having already been in school for all those years, I was really kind of starting from scratch, just like any new parent would be in learning about our local public school system before her child started elementary school.
What I learned is that our school system offers two elementary school options to parents:
- Option #1 — your child can attend the elementary school for which he or she is zoned by street address. Some of the public elementary schools in our large, mixed urban/suburban school district are true neighborhood schools, with zones that are geographically distinct and defined by actual neighborhood boundaries, while other elementary schools serve a larger and less well defined geographic zone, so kids from many different” neighborhoods ” end up in the same school. This latter kind of school seems to be more prevalent in the faster growing suburban areas, where lots of different subdivisions feed into the same new, modern looking elementary school with a largish student population. The smaller, more traditional looking “neighborhood” schools are mostly found inside the city, where we happen to live. But there are exceptions in both directions.
- Option #2 – Parents can apply for a transfer into one of the county’s two public elementary magnet schools. One of these two schools has a specialized curriculum focused on technology, and the other has a curriculum focused on fine arts and museum studies. Both of the magnet schools are located in what most folks in town would consider very sketchy, rough neighborhoods that are far more racially diverse than our community as a whole (which by the numbers, is not very racially diverse at all). In addition to allowing transfers in from kids who live outside the magnet’s zone, the schools also serve as the primary zone schools for their own neighborhoods. All the kids who go to these magnet schools – whether they are zoned for them or they choose to transfer in from outside the neighborhood – get the benefits of the specialized curricula and “extras;” for example the technology-focused magnet school has very advanced tech labs, and the fine arts school offers high quality dance and music classes every week, which other local public schools are not able to offer. Friends of mine in other areas around the country tell me that the public magnet schools in their own districts are often so popular with parents that getting a classroom slot isn’t easy or guaranteed. But the few magnet schools in our school district really haven’t caught on in that way. In fact, I suspect that many parents in our county aren’t even aware that magnet schools exist, or if they are aware, they don’t have any clear idea what they are, where they are, or what benefits they offer. I certainly didn’t before I began looking at options for C. Because of this lack of awareness, demand for the schools isn’t as high as it could be, and that means that pretty much anyone who wants to request a transfer from their own zoned school into one of the two elementary magnet schools will get that transfer approved.
Our transfer options do also include being able to request a transfer out of your zoned school if it’s not meeting certain, very specific performance standards per the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). However, as I understand it (and I freely admit that I don’t understand this piece of the puzzle all that well), while you are guaranteed a transfer out of a NCLB “failing” school if you request it, there’s no guarantee that your child will then get a space at a specific NON-failing school. In other words, your child might end up at a school that’s not that much better than the one you left, and it would be farther away from your house. So to me, the NCLB transfer option doesn’t seem like it’s really all that useful; getting out of a bad school ultimately doesn’t mean all that much if you can’t then get into a specific school where you actually want your child to be .
As I researched all of this over the past year, I kept hearing about families whose child was zoned for a less desirable school simply being granted a transfer into a more desirable school (not a magnet school – just a school with higher test scores or in a nicer neighborhood or whatever) for some reason such as the preferred school had a special class or activity that the child needed for some reason. However, I have come to believe that these kinds of, “the Millers’ kid was zoned for awful school X and they got him switched to Super Fancy School in Posh Neighborhood” transfers may actually be like the unicorns or the yeti of our local public school system. Everyone will INSIST to you that they know someone who knows someone whose child was able to transfer out of their zoned school and into one of the swankier public schools for no particular reason, or because “they knew somebody” or something like that, but after a year of trying to actually connect with one of these parents who somehow pulled off one of these magical transfers, I’ve yet to actually speak to one myself.
So my research determined that Jon and I really only had three elementary options for C – the school for which our house is zoned, or one of the two magnet schools. We decided to look at and consider our zone school, as well as the magnet elementary school with the fine arts and museum curriculum. We ruled out the tech-focused magnet school because it’s too far away from our house, and tech/science don’t seem to be C’s strong interests at this point.
Because our zoned neighborhood school has the not insignificant challenge of serving a large number of at-risk kids, there are some areas where the school struggles. But overall, we were really impressed with how this small school is performing, and we heard some really positive feedback from parents who have children there. So it was definitely a possibility.
However, the more we looked at the fine arts-focused magnet school, the more we felt like it was exactly the right place for C. In addition to everything else we found appealing about the school, it happens to be located very close to our house, and a large number of our neighbors are also sending their kids there. This little magnet elementary school is actually just as close to our house as the school for which we are actually zoned. So that’s a fantastic “plus” because we really wanted C’s school friends to also be kids who live nearby. It’s also far more racially diverse than our zone school, which serves many low-income families, but has a much more homogenous student population overall.
Although we have two magnet elementary schools in our district, there’s one thing that the fine arts magnet elementary school offers that the tech magnet does not, and that’s an “honors” classroom within each grade level at the school. “Honors” is kind of a ridiculous word to describe little kids in kindergarten or early elementary school, but leaving that aside, basically this is an accelerated/enriched learning track for kids who test as “gifted,” and it’s available within the magnet school community and curriculum we wanted for her anyway. In other words,we would have wanted C to attend the school even if she had not tested into the “honors” classroom for her grade, but she did test in.
My understanding is that the test scores for the “honors” program within this unassuming looking little brick school of only 350 kids, located on the edge of a public housing project in what is considered one of our city’s worst neighborhoods are among the highest in the entire school system. And while test scores aren’t the whole story, they offer one measure for parents to consider, and on top of that, C will get to participate in this incredible arts curriculum with dance and music classes, and special partnerships with all the museums in the area.
So basically, after worrying for the past two years about what we would do when it came time for C to start kindergarten, Jon and I are absolutely pleased as punch with where she gets to go to school in the fall. And C is REALLY excited about starting kindergarten! She’s been going to preschool (same class as her cousin NC, and same little school that her older brother E and NC’s older sibs attended) two full days a week for the past two years, but she thinks of kindergarten as real, big kid school, and she’s talking about it more and more.
This morning, C got to visit her new school for the first time for what our district calls kindergarten round-up day. Kindergarten round-up is held in the spring of the year before rising kindergarteners will begin, and parents come in with their preschoolers and get all the enrollment forms filled out at the school they will be attending, and the excited 4 and 5 year olds get a little tour, and get to meet the principal and all of that. C was so excited that morning before we went that I thought her head might explode. She was literally VIBRATING with excitement about kindergarten round-up. She was very anxious in selecting the right outfit to wear, and she consulted her 16 year old sister for advice, and went with J’s recommendation.
When we got there, she did not stop grinning from ear to ear for the entire time we were there. When we got there, teachers staffing the sign up table basically made C as excited as I have ever seen her when they gifted her with a small backpack with things like crayons, math flashcards and – most exciting of all – REAL SCISSORS for her to keep and take home. While I filled out the enrollment forms at a cafeteria table, C happily did “homework with her new crayons and little notebook that came in the backpack.
After we were done with that, we met C’s new principal and assistant principal, and as it happened, the teacher who will have C’s class in the fall was standing right there, and she offered to take me, C and another little boy and his mom on a tour of the school. C got to see the kindergarten wing and classrooms, the instrumental music room, and her favorite part of the whole tour – the big, beautiful dance studio where the kids take their dance and movement classes, and put on performances. We met other teachers and parents, she acted like I’d taken her on a tour of Disneyworld. That’s how thrilling she found the whole thing.
All in all, kindergarten round up day was a huge success, and I am feeling great about where C will get to go to school this fall. I was not, however, feeling great when after leaving the school, I realized that I’d toured the school, met faculty and chatted with other parents, all with my skirt very obviously inside out. Yes, that’s right. I left the house that morning with MY SKIRT ON INSIDE OUT and I wore it that way for kindergarten round up.
As you might imagine, I took photos of C’s kindergarten round-up experience, and I wanted to share because they’re so cute. I think her excitement about the whole thing just radiates right out of each of these pix, which is pretty cute. Jon didn’t get to come with us, so the photos were also for him to see how excited C was.
IT’S KINDERGARTEN ROUND-UP TIME IN TENNESSEE!
(just click the arrow to the right of each photo to view the next one in the series)
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How do public school transfers work in your school district? Are they hard to get, or easy? Do you have public magnet or charter school options? How difficult is it to get a classroom spot at these magnet and charter schools? How did you pick your child’s elementary school, and have you been happy with your choice? Tell me in the comments below.
READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT MAMAPUNDIT (HER PERSONAL BLOG)