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Schools, wait-lists, and freaking out - Elizabeth Unexplained
Lots of data but no answers
Schools, wait-lists, and freaking out
I'm not sure exactly where I left the long bloggy freak-out over schools, but to summarize: the Somerville public schools have terrible test scores and seem to be really surprisingly bad for a town where you can bike to MIT and Harvard. Private school is alas, not an option. Private schools in these parts start at $21k a year, and we just can't afford that. (Catholic schools are somewhat cheaper, but I would never send my child to catholic school.)

Margaret got into our second choice school in the district, which is the one that is a block away from our house. The thing is, there is a huge difference between our first choice (Brown) and our second through fourth choices (West Somerville, Kennedy, Healey). The Brown is the only one with reasonable test scores, and also the only one not teaching to the test. When Margaret didn't get into Brown we immediately put her on the waiting list for it. She's third on the waiting list, with no movement so far. I have no real clue as to whether or not there is likely to be any movement on the list, but I suspect that there is not likely to be enough movement before September. Of course if she does get in, sibling preference should help the boys get in when the time comes.

Meanwhile Duncan is on the waiting list for a Cambridge Montessori which we may be able to spring for just for pre-school with help from Warren's father. Bedford Montessori is a good school and the price is right, but the commute out there and back, even just two days a week, is a killer. We may have news on that front in another week, but they can't say where he is on the wait list because they are trying to balance the classes by age and gender. (I suspect they also want to balance the classes by race, which is I clicked 'mixed race' on the admission form. Of course we all know if there is any thing any selective school seeking diversity wants less than a white male it's an asian male, but 'mixed race' was the technically correct answer. Gods I hate the categorizing people by race thing, but if people will insist on doing it I will game the system if I have to.)

But back to Margaret's waiting list. If she does not get into Brown, then she and both the boys are almost certainly stuck in West Somerville. The commute is right, and the teachers seem to really mean well, but then there are the test scores. Yes, one high-stakes test is probably not a good representation of any single student. But I think the aggregated data is a fairly reasonable picture of student achievement in the school. Like it or not the other kids that our children go to school with are going to be an influence on them, we want to do what we can to make it as positive an influence as possible. This is why we are thinking of moving to a better school district.

When people talk about the Somerville schools and try to put things in a good light, they talk about the large transient population, and the large number of English language learners, and they say that given those limitations the schools and the teachers are actually doing a pretty good job. I'm not going to debate that. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that it's quite probably true. They also talk about what a culturally rich, diverse community it is, and that is true too. The thing is, what I care about is that my three children get the best education possible. Are my kids going to get their fair share of the teacher's attention if the teacher has to spend extra time helping a large population of disadvantaged kids who don't even stay in the school system for more than a few years? Also at the risk of sounding even less politically correct than usual, I like diversity, but I like academics even more, and I will happily sacrifice diversity for academics whenever it's a clear choice between the two. As a parent it's my job to see the little picture, the picture of 'is this good for my kids?' and the big picture explanations of what is going on in the Somerville schools is not making me feel any better about the little picture.

For the past year Margaret has been taking ballroom dance lessons at Dance Fever, a ballroom studio that happens to be located in Newton. We chose it because it was clearly producing the best child dancers in the area. (We had concerns that they were clearly better at teaching latin than standard, but really no studio in the area does a good job of teaching little kids standard, so it ended up being an easy decision.) Newton is also top on our list of towns we might move to in order to get a better school district. Hanging out at Dance Fever has been a good indication as to why. Dance Fever shares the building with the Russian School of Mathematics, and this does not seem to be a coincidence. In fact, there's a fair amount of overlap between the two. I'm one of the few parent's at Dance Fever who doesn't speak Russian, and I'm one of the few parents there who isn't local to Newton. A lot of people in my community think that everyone in Newton is well-off, and they don't have a lot of children of immigrants in that district, and that's why their results are better. Newton is a wealthy community, but the parents I am seeing at Dance Fever aren't wealthy, and their English isn't fluent. What makes them different is that they are putting what resources they have on the line to better their kids. Their kids are getting dance lessons, and special math classes, and the parents are drilling their kids in math while they wait for their dance classes to start. These are the type of kids I want my kids going to school with. I want my kids to grow up thinking that all parents give their kids extra lessons. I want my kids to grow up having to work to be at the top of their classes. I want my kids to be challenged and inspired, and to value being smart. I'm worried that they won't be getting that where we are, and if that's the case we need to fix that in a way that works for us.
6 comments or Leave a comment
aite From: aite Date: June 28th, 2013 08:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
We have a lot of Russian-speaking friends who live in Newton and take their kids to those places. I am fairly surprised to hear about less than fluent English. Although I realize that our MIT-grad friends don't form the entire Newton Russian-speaking community, I do wonder if you are seeing a fair number of grandparents (some surprisingly young) and nannies. Towns like Newton and Lexington do have good schools, but they are also widely known to have good schools in various immigrant communities, and there is a slightly hysterical/competitive edge to it all. I am not sure you have a full picture to be so certain that's what you truly want: a substantial percent of parents hell-bent on their kids' being "at the top of their classes", for example. It's a tough question. I do relate to wanting a solid good school.

Edited at 2013-06-28 08:32 pm (UTC)
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: June 29th, 2013 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Now that you mention it, mistaking grandparents for parents is a mistake I routinely make. Intellectually I know that I'm bordering on ancient as a parent of such little kids, but emotionally I still feel like 'parents' are older than me.
aite From: aite Date: June 29th, 2013 02:49 am (UTC) (Link)
It's almost unbelievable how early my parents' generation had us back in the USSR. My parents were extremely sensible and waited until my mother finished college (got married after her second year in college though), and by then there were rampant rumors of her infertility!

Newton is really quite expensive. Some smaller older houses are somewhat more affordable, but I don't know anyone who bought anything there in the past 10 year and wasn't a professional with an advanced degree.
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: July 2nd, 2013 04:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
There are apartments available for rent. We know one couple who live in the area where the husband is still in med school. Overall you are right, though, it is a very expensive place to live with few properties selling for under $1M
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: July 2nd, 2013 03:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
if that's the case we need to fix that in a way that works for us.
Yes, definitely. What works for different families is different.

I am curious (and you are under no obligation to answer). What did you think about the Somerville schools before you started looking at numbers? Did you always assume you would move out of the city, or did you not think about it much because the house was part of the package deal?
greyautumnrain From: greyautumnrain Date: July 2nd, 2013 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I didn't really have a strong opinion until we were trying to have kids. Warren bought the house in 1990, before we even met and a full decade before we married. I had kind of vaguely assumed that the schools were gentrifying with the population and that by the time my kids were in school there would be enough youngish techie type families in the area that there would be plenty of nerd-spawn in the district schools. It wasn't until we actually managed to procreate that I really looked at the schools and had to revise my initial assumption.

Now that I'm taking a harder look at the situation, I realize that there are a number of things I failed to take into account. There is more turn-over of housing than I expected. I really notice this at the playground. I'll see other mothers & kids there frequently, and get to know them, and then they disappear. I've been taking Margaret to 'our' park since she was tiny, and none of the parents I got to know then are still coming, even those with similar-aged children. In fact, I don't think there is any one I know there from even two years ago. I may be an introvert, but the one place I really talk to strangers is the playground, and the churn in the parents is just unbelievable. I think I also underestimated the size and impact of the low-income housing near us. I had a talk with a lovely Portuguese man who lived there just last week, but he's sending his kids to Prospect Hill Academy and is looking to move to the 'burbs as soon as he can. I get the impression that the parents who live there and who care about their kids leave to elsewhere fairly quickly. Meanwhile on the playgrounds my acute hearing has not made me happy about the older kids in the area.

This has started to ramble. Maybe we could chat sometime while the girls play.
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