Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Tough Choice

I've been very busy the past few days. Sunday was our Super Bowl party and yesterday I took my daughter on Kindergarten visits. In our school district you get to pick which school you'd like to send your child to. There is an lottery to determine who goes where. The schools on the wrong side of the tracks* have lower enrollment, while the other schools are competitive to get into. *As perceived by the community. The boys went to a school that is 1/2 mile from our house. We've always liked the convenience of a neighborhood school. The middle & high school are approximately a mile away.

I never thought I would consider anything but the neighborhood school, but I am being swayed by another. Our district is pouring money into 2 of the lower enrollment schools and making big changes for next fall. One is being completely rebuilt and will become a science & math magnet. I used to teach at the other school which is getting a HUGE addition and the rest remodeled. This is going to be an international studies magnet. They will be offering Mandarin to ALL students! Now if you've been reading my blog for very long you know that our daughter is adopted from China. Chinese language and culture is very important to our family. This international magnet is 4 miles from our house.

Our children do not ride the school bus to school. Besides obvious issues with unsupervised children, we had an incident where our oldest was dropped off at the wrong house when he was 3. The district preschool has door to door busing. Our son would fall asleep on the bus each day before getting dropped off at (in-home) childcare. A substitute driver read the address wrong and just dropped him. They are supposed to make sure an adult comes out to get the child, but when they honked and someone looked out they assumed it was OK and let him off and drove off. FORTUNATELY the spouse of the person home worked at the bus service center and he called her right away to get it straightened out. My son did make it to childcare safely, but they did ask him why he didn't tell the bus driver it was the wrong house. WHAT??? A 3 year old is responsible to get to the right place? Not to mention that he was woken up to get off the bus...and the houses in that neighborhood have similar features? Needless to say, busing isn't for us! Yes, the boys have ridden the bus for field trips but when they were younger one of us went along. On my 2nd son's first field trip in preschool, the bus got in an accident. I saw the whole thing and the driver could not avoid it (other driver's fault), but that just reiterated the no busing thing with us. I still get nervous every time the boys are on the bus for field trips. Anyway, I digress!

So, international magnet vs. neighborhood school. What are we going to do?

Our neighborhood school is well respected and has minimal teacher turn over. When we were on the tour yesterday we saw so many staff that we know well and they were surprised that it was already time for Kindergarten. Many remember me going in the school with my daughter in the front carrier when she was a baby! Neighborhood has nothing dynamic going on as far as focus. They have TONS of parent involvement and do reinforce good behavior/expectations of students. There is a diverse mix of students, so my daughter would not be the only Asian student. It's so close and convenient with just houses between here and there...no busy streets to cross! The start time is the same as the middle school, so both kids can be dropped off on the same trip. Yup, just 2 kids because our oldest will be in college locally while living at home and responsible for getting himself to school! Right now there are 4 classes per grade at this school, but next fall they are taking away one of the Kindergartens and moving it to the science & math magnet. This will it harder to get into the school. We have proximity working for us, but their main criteria for determining who goes where is income. I am not really worried about that because our income is not high, but there is a possibility of us not getting in. If you don't get your first choice in the lottery, then they go down your list until you get a spot. Supposedly all computer generated.

The international magnet which is sort of dumpy now, is going to be a fabulous building. They are actually moving the Kindergarten classes out to the new section of the building before this year ends. A lot of the students are already bilingual in Spanish & English, so the district decided to focus on a different language and picked Mandarin Chinese. They won't get Mandarin instruction everyday, but it will occur 1-2 times a week. There will be lots of new curriculum infusion of foreign cultures and traditions brought into the school overall. The population of the school is quite diverse. They have 4 Kindergarten classrooms now and the # of students per class is virtually the same as our neighborhood school. We met the Kindergarten teachers yesterday and they were super enthusiastic and fighting among themselves for who would get our daughter and the other adorable little girl on the tour. One of the teachers has a child adopted from China, so I might request her. This school does house several of the district's gifted classrooms. The start time of this school is an hour after the middle school, so I could have 2 drop offs in the morning, but I could fetch both kids on the same trip. I plan on being involved in the classroom quite a bit, so there would be lots of trips back and forth. It is 4 miles, but it's a very direct route. We were unable to tour the new part of the building yesterday because they were painting the concrete, but the principal invited us back for a private tour next week. Just one other family was there for the tour, compared to about 15 at the neighborhood school. This other family was drawn to the school due to the international/Mandarin theme.

I woke in the middle of the night and this was heavily on my brain. The international school has never been a desired school. Parent involvement is low and many kids come from troubled homes. I had no issues with the population when I taught there 16 years ago. All the kids were friendly and well behaved yesterday. Not sure what time I was awake, but I was worrying about people being nice to my daughter...would they make fun of her, would she feel a part of the school, would the teachers be sensitive to her. BUT you know what...those are concerns no matter WHERE she goes to school. Those mama bear concerns exist with my boys too. Yes, I have an extra sensitivity due to her being adopted and the general ignorance that exists out there, but that concern will probably always be there.

There is a community forum being held tonight that will showcase all schools in the district with principals, teachers, and district administrators there to answer questions. Both my hubby & I, along with our daughter will be going. I've got a list of questions that I will take along. I hope we are able to make a decision soon. The school district is not holding a lottery for the magnet schools, but are already taking sign ups and will continue to do so until full and/or the general lottery occurs. Sign ups for the lottery are in March, which placements announced in early April. So if we go with the magnet, we are in immediately!!

I asked my daughter what she thought and she said the neighborhood school because their PE class was funner! LOL~ They were doing a version of Dance, Dance, Revolution while the other was doing some rhythm and movement. But she did like the sparkly vests that the line leaders wore at the magnet school. I guess we can't lose either way!