The mail last Saturday made it official: we know where Caitlyn will go to kindergarten next year. This process has been agonizing for a number of reasons but I think things can be reduced to (a) difficulty finding the answers to our questions and (b) free-floating societal pressure.
There’s an absurd amount of pressure regarding school choice and enrollment. The free parenting magazines that periodically show up in the cubby at preschool are packed with ads from schools and camps and programs as well as articles (vague, overly-generalized articles) on how to get the best for/from your kid. There’s a fog of expectation out there (kind of like how movies encourage eating disorders) that insists that if you aren’t applying to the exclusive schools and stretching your family budget to pay for them, you are compromising your child’s future. A good job and prosperous career path require a good college record, which requires excellent high school marks and lots of extracurricular activities, which require the same from the middle school, which requires a strong elementary school, one that teaches “readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic” but balances the academics with music and art and field trips and cultural activities and social justice and ecological awareness, which you just can’t do without the right preschool. It probably goes on further, like in order to get into the right preschool, you need to have a whole collection of Mom-n-Me classes under your three year old’s belt, which means you probably should have been reading Plato aloud to your belly before your pregnancy started to show. The child’s personality is entirely left out of the equation, as are all the other variables (economics, family stability, frequency of relocations, learning styles, etc). Not to mention that if something doesn’t work at some point on this path, you can change something or try a different path entirely.
I like to think that I march to my own beat most of the time, but it was difficult to avoid feeling like if I messed up Choosing The Right Kindergarten I would be Screwing My Kid For Life.
And that made evaluating and sorting through our options that much more important. I would be Judged By The Future on how I did this now. So, I asked questions. I collected recommended questions from friends and family. I compiled a list of questions ranging from basic statistics (class size? ethnic balance? free lunch percentage? teachers with masters? average daily attendance?) to school ideology (graded homework for lower grades? recess for upper grades? how do you handle diversity? playground conflict? parent involvement? different student abilities?) and probably terrified the principals to whom I sent them all.
Finding the answers felt much more difficult than I thought it should. In an ideal world, there would have been one place that would have answered at least most of the questions. But I was all over the Internet. The Seattle Times has a School Guide that has some information in it. Seattle Public Schools has Annual Reports. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction has a Compare My School tool. There are review sites tucked into various cyber-corners, blog posts if you can find them. Each school has a website in various stages of care or neglect. Of course there isn’t the budget anywhere for it, but couldn’t all these be pooled somewhere, or indexed so you can find them?
To add to the confusion, the school district has decided to transition to a neighborhood school assignment plan. While generally I think this is a good thing, I’m not crazy about being in on Year One. We are a start-up kind of household, but this is one place where I don’t want to be the one inventing the systems. And getting clear information on how the new plan will work and it’s levels of implementation has been like trying to get a drink from a faucet that only drips: time-consuming and unsatisfying. Shouldn’t How to Enroll in Our Schools be an easy thing to find? But apparently the district likes to release information on their website incrementally. I couldn’t just go there once and get a good handle on how to proceed; I could find out what step the system is on this month (“early registration” information is available in December, assignment process info becomes available in January, open enrollment process information in February, I might be able to learn Caitlyn’s bus stop sometime in August), but getting an overview of the whole process – that I never found. Simply knowing the landmarks on this trek from the get-go would have made the whole process much more pleasant.