This is a guest post by Christina Simon.
Since I’m the co-author of a book for parents applying to private schools in L.A., and I blog about the same topic, it’s natural for parents to be curious as to why I chose private school for my kids. I’m a graduate of LAUSD public schools. Both my parents were LAUSD teachers and I’ve never attended private school. So why didn’t I continue with our strong family tradition of public school education and advocacy for public schools with my two kids?
When it came time to look for kindergarten for my daughter, I kept an open mind. We lived in a Los Angeles neighborhood with a top public elementary school three blocks from our house. This school has very high student test scores and seemed like a real possibility for my daughter. Our preschool director spoke highly of the school and parents I knew who lived outside the district were vying for permits to send their kids there. Still, I had some reservations based on my own public school experience that include bullying and overcrowding.
Another mom at our preschool and I set up an appointment to meet with the principal and tour the school. The day of our appointment we arrived on time just to learn that the principal was “unavailable.” So, we waited, politely sitting in the front waiting area. Finally, after about 20 minutes the receptionist told us the principal wouldn’t be able to meet with us. We asked if a teacher could show us the school. A very nice kindergarten teacher gave us a quick tour and told us the principal was now available to see us in her office. We sat down and introduced ourselves. The principal seemed uninterested in us and bored with the conversation. We asked about class size, hot lunch and homework. Waving her hands and practically shouting us down, the principal didn’t answer our questions. Instead, she aimed a pointed question at me, “is your daughter smart?” she demanded to know. She didn’t ask the other mom the same question. My response was, “I live in your district.” In other words, you have to enroll my kid, whether or not she’s smart. I refused to answer her question. I found it offensive. We asked to see a 1st grade class. The principal said no. As we were leaving, the kindergarten teacher told us, “just be quiet, I’ll show you the 1st grade class.” We peeked into the 1st grade class and I instantly knew why the principal didn’t want us to see it. It was a Korean-language immersion class. None of the kids in the class spoke English in a school that is predominately Korean and Korean-American. The principal was also Korean. Could she have been subtly trying to discourage me from enrolling my daughter in the school?
A few months later, I went back to the public school again during a school community fair. I tried to like it, but with nearly 1000 elementary students, I felt my shy daughter might be lost in the crowd. And, I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with the principal’s abrasive personality. The mom from our preschool who toured with me decided to enroll her child. Her perception of the school was vastly different than mine. Then again, the principal never asked if her white daughter was “smart.” That question was reserved for me, the African American mom.
Despite living in a “good” public school district, my husband and I decided private school would be the best option for our kids. And so began the hellish, ultra-competitive process to get our daughter into a top private elementary school in L.A.
Ultimately, the decision to send your child to public or private school is a very personal family decision driven by your own educational experience, finances, and geography. I believe I made the right choice for my kids. That said, private schools aren’t perfect. They have their share of bullies and elitism. Authentic diversity is difficult to find in many of LA’s private schools. These aren’t your neighborhood schools, so driving time can be tedious. But, what our school offers my kids is a small community where everyone knows their names. They are inspired by the progressive educational philosophy, taught by excellent teachers, on a wonderful urban campus that sparks creativity and imagination. The technology program is state-of-the-art and is integrated into other aspects of the curriculum.
Ironically, one of my longtime friends is a board member of LAUSD. My husband and I were proud to contribute to her first campaign and her subsequent re-election effort. I commend her for working incredibly hard on behalf of the kids in LAUSD. She respects my work helping parents navigate the competitive private elementary school admissions process. We each know that as moms our only goal is to find the best education possible for our kids, whether that is at public or private school.
Christina Simon is the co-author of “Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles.” She writes a blog on the same topic, Beyond the Brochure. Christina is the mom of an 8 year-old son and an 11 year-old daughter who attend The Willows Community School in Culver City. Her work has been published on Salon.com, BlogHer Syndication, Mamapedia, The Mother Company, Offbeat Mama, Macaroni Kids and other sites.