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I am a public school educator.
I am a Harlem mother.
I am a charter school parent.
I am a private school parent.
I am a result of the bounce of the lottery ball.
I am New York, NY.
January 2006 was the best time of my life. After a difficult pregnancy my daughter was brought into the world, healthy and beautiful. I was excited about being a mom.
I was also thinking about her future. Where would she go to school? My husband and I both attended school outside of New York. He is a product of the Florida public school system. I’m a product of the Wisconsin private school system.
When my daughter was borm, I was working at the NYC Department of Education and I wanted to send my daughter to a public school. I believed that I should practice what I preached and find a public school that served the community and met our individual needs as parents. I began my research and saw that schools in my District 5 were struggling and in constant space battles with the ballooning number of charter schools infiltrating the neighborhood. If I wanted to stay true to my mantra, I would have to get my daughter into the district’s lone talented and gifted program.
During the summer of 2009, one of my teachers put an application in my mailbox for the charter school her children attended. I submitted it and my daughter’s name was called from the lottery.
Since fall 2009 we have participated in:
Full year Pre-K program
18 Saturday parent classes
5-week summer program
1 parent meeting a month
1 book a night
My daughter is kindergarten ready.
Unfortunately, because my daughter was labeled kindergarten ready the Saturday school and 1-on-1 support with new IPads were not offered to her. Instead, she helps the other students in her class instead.
I was not satisfied with this bounce of the ball.
I started the independent school process in September 2010. There were few independent schools that offered a progressive education and were diverse enough for my educational philosophy but I found three:
1 lottery-based independent school
2 application-based independent schools
The application process:
Financial aid application
Decisions letters: 1 no, 2 waitlisted
Wait some more
Financial package excellent.
In September 2011 my daughter will enter a private school. This school receives 50% of its population from a lottery from Districts 3 and 5 families. It has a commitment to diversity of race, class, sexual orientation and learning styles.
I am excited.
I am conflicted.
Although I have a commitment to improving public schools, I had to look beyond public schools for the best option for my child.
I know that I am personally blessed. My daughter has the amazing luck of from being picked for a school lottery TWICE. She is not trapped in her district school nor in a charter school that is not meeting her needs. Now if the independent school doesn’t work out we have a problem but for now all is good. But for many other parents of 5 years old in NYC, they don’t have choices or the luck of the bounce.
In NYC students have choices but the seats are competitive and process time-consuming. Since September 2010, I had to rearrange my schedule to accommodate the application process. Not every parent has this option. And the money you put out for application fees and time does not guarantee admittance into any independent school. The charter school lottery system is a game of chance and just because you get in doesn’t mean you will be satisfied.
Too many parents have to settle for what their neighborhood offers and in some neighborhoods those schools have waiting lists.
I recently watched the 2007 documentary “Getting In…Kindergarten.” It follows three NYC families in their pursuit of getting their 5 year olds in school. I believe it was divine intervention that I didn’t see this movie until after completing the process.
The movie glosses over something that differed from my experience. All families sit down with their child’s preschool directors before final decisions are made. The directors tell the families which independent schools are interested in their child and then deals are made.
I wish I was surprised that in city of privilege—the city of have and have-nots—the city of Wall Street that deals for kindergarten spots would be a part of this deal.
When Frank Sinatra sang, "If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," do you think he was talking about 5 year olds?
I guess it's up to you-New York, New, York.
This post is also available on The Education Traveler.