The Right School for My Child

 

Meeting parents from Fort Greene and Downtown, Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill I’m constantly struck by the beautiful diversity of languages, backgrounds and family history in the neighborhood where the International Charter School hopes to open. The grand children of Danish sea captains playing with the children of more recent immigrants from the Caribbean, India, Japan, Israel and Morocco. Some of you are even 5th generation Brooklyners! And as your personal histories vary, so too do your expectations for your child’s school. As I have said before, the idea that there is one parent voice is silly; I’m suspicious of anyone who says they speak for parents (or at least all parents).

Group Of Elementary Age Schoolchildren In Art Class With Teacher
Group Of Elementary Age Schoolchildren In Art Class With Teacher

One thing we do have in common is the struggle to find the right school for our child. Not the best school on some absolute scale, but the school that best fits our child’s individual needs.

On Saturday my son was accepted into two good public high schools. He’s worked hard in middle school and we’re quite proud that this is reflected in his options. One is a well-regarded school in Chelsea. He knows a bunch of his friends will be attending, it’s across the street from Google, and I’ve met a few very polished grads who went on to good colleges. Another is in Bushwick; we visited it only once, but the leadership, students and the curriculum are fantastic and the school's reputation is growing. Nevertheless, I understand where he is coming from when he says, “I don't know anyone who’s going there!”

Complicating matters further, our 10-year-old is awaiting news of her middle school options. Our first choice for her school is the same building in Chelsea as her brother’s high school. If we pick that one. But we won’t find out about her options ‘til after the deadline for his choice.

I wish I could tell you that once you sort out kindergarten, you can stop the constant thinking and assessing and worrying. But you can’t and you won’t.

We put this energy into school decisions because we naturally want to give our kids "the best" of everything. But your definition of "the best" school depends on what it is you're seeking. Small classes, sports, chemistry, fine arts? My parents encouraged me to apply to boarding schools for 9th grade. I went to a fine prep school in Connecticut at considerable expense to them. But it was not the right school for me, I did not thrive there. When I came home to my local public high school I did pretty well.

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One dad in Bed-Stuy told me his son attends Uncommon Collegiate a ‘no excuses’ charter in the Boys High School building on Marcy, while his daughter goes to a Montessori program. Of course he knows both of them are learning to read and write and add, but he also knows they respond differently. Some kids thrive in a more structured setting, others need a looser environment. Some respond to athletics, others to arts, still others to creative writing, or debate, or chess. As my own experience with my two older children shows, the school that helps one child to achieve her American dream might not be the right one to help her brother.

Unfortunately many traditional neighborhood schools offer the same thing. It's like a shoe store with sneakers, flats, high heels and boots, but only size seven. You can get red, or black or brown but not size eight or size six. Having a monopoly, districts, for the most part, are not highly motivated to offer parents a distinctive set of educational offerings so that they can select the school that best fits their child's needs.

We recognize that each of our children is distinct and special; we don't demand that an older brother have the same interests, abilities and achievements as his younger sister. Our educational system needs to reflect that as well, and allow parents to match their child to the school where he or she is most likely to succeed.

We have seen some movement to "all choice" districts in New York (District 6 in Manhattan, for example). The challenge has been that within those districts the few schools that were desirable to parents are oversubscribed, and the Department now fears they will end up having to 'force' parents into schools they did not want.

Like peace, love and understanding, we’d all like to have great schools everywhere. But the real challenge is finding the “right” school. Independent school parents, home schoolers, parochial school parents, all of them are looking for the right fit for their kid. They don't leave it to a third-party, however trusted, to decide which school their child will attend.

Schools like ICS are part of a movement that returns power to parents. You decide, no one else.