Bored by school talk? Don't read this.
Kindergarten! Next year! For our little baby! And because she has an August birthday, she'll almost certainly be the youngest in her class. Somehow that makes me extra panicky.
In our city we have school choice, which is a special bonus for neurotics like us, providing us with lots of extra obsessing material. We even started going on school tours last year so that we could get a head start on freaking out about HOW MANY OTHER PEOPLE WANT THEIR KID TO GO TO THE SAME SCHOOL WE WANT AND HOW HARD IT IS TO GET IN OHMIGOD! etc.
Without going into nauseating detail, the whole deal basically works like this:
1) You take lots of time off work and tour a bunch of schools and/or go to Open Houses in January in February.
2) You fill out an exhaustive, zillion-page application, including several dozen proofs of residence, and list the schools you want in order of preference.
3) You wait for the Gods of the School District to work out their complex lottery and ranking system and tell you which school your child got into.
4) If you hate the school, or think the school district made a mistake (like someone I know whose second child was denied entrance into the school her older brother went to, even though there's supposed to be sibling preference, because someone forgot to key it in), you embark on an apparently hellacious appeals process.
5) You try to line up Before-and-After-School Care, either on the school grounds or somewhere else.
It's sort of like applying to college: you're advised to list at least five or six choices. You get preference (and school bus transportation) within your "cluster," which is a large-ish geographical chunk of the city with 6-10 elementary schools in it. You also have a "reference area school," basically your neighborhood school, to which I think your kid is guaranteed entry. Though I'm not too sure of that because I've heard rumors of kids in other clusters being bumped out of their Reference Area School and sent to the Scary School No One Wants Their Kid to Go To at the other end of their cluster.
But all the schools in our cluster seem to be at least decent. The one with the "worst" reputation is actually... our Reference Area School! Though I have a sneaky affection for it, on account of it's in a nice old homey building, and is just a few blocks away, and the 4th grader down the street goes there and could walk our girl to school. It also has the most Ethnic Diversity of the schools in our overwhelmingly white--not just white, but Scandanavian-- area of town. Until recently it was the magnet school for homeless kids: wherever they moved, all over the city, they went to that school so they could have some consistency. And because most people aren't clamoring to get their kids in, class sizes are smaller than the average.
So I really wanted to like it. Then I went on a tour last year and was underwhelmed. The principal and librarian struck me as pleasant, but unimaginative and hidebound. The place felt uncomfortably stretched for resources. Everyone seemed very focused on getting kids Up To Speed on reading and basic school skills. And I know that's important. And it's not like I want my kid to be constantly entertained and challenged, or like I think she's some kind of genius. I don't. But with two librarian parents, she's already pretty literary, and if all the attention is going to just getting kids up to grade level, she'll probably be bored and get cocky and obnoxious. (Just what the world needs: Mermaid Girl with an even more inflated self-image than she already has.)
Then there's the Groovy Alternative School that's also in our cluster: they do multi-age groupings, and innovative arts programs, and project-based learning, and it's a K-8 school so we wouldn't have to go through all this craziness again in 5th grade, and yada yada yada everyone we know wants to get their kid in there, including us. We hear it's about 50-50 whether you get in. I went on the tour there last year and boy was I glad it was last year and not this year because there were a TON of parents there. It seemed like about a hundred. For just one tour out of the eight or nine they ran over the winter! Whenever I started to hyperventilate I'd look at all the parents and remind myself "these people aren't our competition. Next year's people are our competition."
Aside from the Reference Area School and the Groovy Alternative School (let's call them RAS and GAS), there are two or three other neighborhood schools we've heard good things about, and one that runs a Montessori program, and another alternative school that's clear across town. They're all... pretty good. Not as much arts as we'd like, bigger class sizes than we'd like, but basically okay schools.
So of course this choice thing is driving us completely insane, because how do we choose which schools to list first? And no matter how we choose, and how much research we do, and how much we pore over the district web site and press our friends and neighbors for gossip and read PTA minutes and make lists of questions to ask and qualities that are important to us, it's almost totally the luck of the draw where Mermaid Girl ends up going, and whether she gets a teacher she loves or even clicks with, and what friends she'll find, the friends who are going to be her companions in the long passage from the tail end of toddlerhood to the cusp of adolescence. It seems like such a huge decision, all dependent on pure chance and a lottery number and whether her parents took a fancy to the school with the cool mural or the school that's near the zoo.
Aside from which, we might be moving to Canada in a couple of years. Then we could do it all again!