Here Comes Kindergarten – Which School To Choose?

My son Liam is five and in his last year of preschool at the most wholesome little schoolhouse I could have dreamed of. He has been going a couple times a week for almost three years now. His teachers are amazing and bright, both in their teaching styles and attitudes! His experience has been stellar except for a few kids being naughty sometimes but that’s how it goes. I would love his entrance into kindergarten be at another wonderful place. Like any caring and loving parent, I want him to be happy and flourish in his learning during his formative years. I just want his school experience to be as wholesome and positive as possible during his elementary years. This goes with wanting to keep him little and keep him safe. I know to cherish this time. 🙂 I always wanted him and his brother Gavin to think that school is a wonderful thing and that learning is something to be enjoyed. I don’t want them to ever think to themselves that they don’t like school or see it as a chore, or something we are just making them do. So to make dreams come true, first I had to learn about the different types of schools available and see what made sense for Liam and for us. If you happen to be a teacher and see anything here that is wrong, please clarify it for me! I want to understand every bit of this and make an educated and confident first step. If you a parent reading this, know that I have been as factual as possible – especially with any numbers here. If you are looking up anything yourself there are many outdated resources out there. So as of December 2017, everything here is accurate to the very best of my knowledge.

What is a public school?

Most children go to the neighborhood public school closest to where they live (zoned schools). In some cities or smaller towns, there may only be options for public or private. However, in urban areas there can be more choices such as magnet schools and charter schools. I’ll go into what I’ve learned about public schools. It sounds kind of weird to say that because I went to a public school myself but I am still learning about it. We never stop learning I guess. 😉

When a parent researches their zoned neighborhood schools, they’ll take a look at test scores and teacher performance, as well as the teacher to student ratio. They may feel worried that there is a better option for their child’s education experience. When you have options, curiosity takes over. We all want the best for our children and by the time they reach kindergarten age we have an idea of how they learn best and we have a feel for their strengths and weaknesses. As parents, we know their personalities best so it can help us figure out where they will excel the most and feel comfortable. For many kids, the zoned neighborhood public school choices might be just fine and work perfectly. But I think if it’s possible, you should research every option available in your area. You’ll feel confident and empowered when you make your decision and it will feel even more empowering to know that your child is off to the best start for him or her!

There are over 90,000 elementary schools in the US – about 70,000 are public (zoned, charter, magnet and 20,000 are private. For us, we are not interested in softly padding our kids’ ideas of school by sending them to a private one, plus it’s expensive. We want them to have a regular public school experience like we did (I think). But we would like the student to teacher ratio is smaller. I think our ideal would be 15 students per teacher. Also

Liam’s preschool teachers recommended that he go to a school where there is a focus on math and science – they think he would be a very good fit for that. There happens to be a magnet school in our neighborhood that kind of fits the bill. So let’s get into what magnet schools are.

What is a magnet school?

There are about 4,300 magnet schools in the US. Magnet schools are public schools which draw in students from different neighborhoods because of specialized curricula and teaching styles. Many magnet schools focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or the arts. The most attractive part of a magnet school is that you can choose a school based on a unique philosophy and teaching style with the benefits of attending a public school. There is a belief that the specialized focus encourages teachers and parents feel very committed to the school and the success of the students.

If parents aren’t happy with their neighborhood public school ratings or do not want their child to go to a private school, due to price or education preference, a magnet school is a good option.

The trouble might be getting into the magnet school. It can be very competitive to secure a spot in one because of their promise to deliver a unique academic experience beyond that at a regular public school. There can be an entrance exam or a lottery system where entrance is also not guaranteed. Instead, there may be a point system depending on the current capacity of neighborhood public schools, or simply open enrollment (with the addition of waiting list) if there is enough space. Magnet schools also might only accept students from the school district or accept from other districts as well.

Magnet schools receive additional state funding to supply the resources needed at the school. Estimates are an additional $200 per student per year.

What is a charter school?

There are about 6,700 charter schools in the US. Much like magnet schools, charter schools can focus on certain curricula. However, a charter school, while still a public school, is independently operated. They have their own private board of directors and do not answer to all the rules and regulations of the public school system. They do abide by the basic curricular requirements though. A charter school can decide on its own textbooks, courses and may hire teachers that do not meet all criteria for being hired at a public school or magnet school. A charter school can be closed by its board and authorizing agency if performance is not ideal. These last two facts are concerning to me – it seems like things can either go very well or very badly from year to year.

Charter schools have open enrollment and waiting lists.

The majority of charter schools are actually 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations so all financial information must be made public. Charter schools still receive funding from local, state and national taxes but each school may have its own funding sources through private means as well. From the National Charter School Resource Center website:

“Governance is a core element of any charter school’s operation. The most common model of charter school board governance might be thought of as a sort of combination between school district boards of education (without local elections) and non-profit boards (though not generally private).  In nearly all states, charter schools are required to be not-for-profit and abide by open-record laws during board meetings.

Charter schools can be authorized by a variety of entities. Performance contracts with authorizers govern a charter school’s operation and covers issues such as academic goals and includes a description of how student performance will be measured pursuant to required state assessments. Authorizers hold charter schools accountable. 

Local school boards, public post-secondary entities, and the state boards of education are the usual authorizers. They review applications for charter schools and then supervise the charter school if approved. States vary in authorizing structure, and some allow only for the state board of education to authorize charters.”

More of My Thoughts

I remember for the most part during my elementary, junior high and high school years, we would usually sit in desks that were in rows with old school slanted desks. (I wonder if those kinds of desks are even around now?) But some classes would have clusters of four flat-top square desks. I remember how sitting in the clusters was probably best for developing social skills and working in groups. But I also remember how one kid kept stealing stuff out of my desk since it was so convenient. And another put a sharp pencil under me as I sat down once. (I still have the mark on my rear end.) And the one girl who decided to just grab my ponytail one day and yank my head to one side as hard as she could – I remember hearing my neck crack and it hurt! And the one who decided to write with a black pen on my new jacket knowing that it wouldn’t wash out. There’s plenty of other tales but those are just a few examples from second to sixth grade. It seems like after sixth grade kids started to calm down with being mean and developed cliques and just knew how to behave better towards others. I cringe at the thought of my own kids going through problems at school – especially during the youngest years when life is supposed to be blossoming and special like childhood should be. Maybe that is one reason I am trying to find the best place for them to fit into. I want them to have precious memories and a wonderful experience. I know I can’t expect school to be perfect through the years, but I would like to know that I’ve done all I can to make it the best it can be the whole way through!

Other People’s Thoughts

I saw this comment on a post about magnet schools by a user named Boldhawk. This was a very well put statement that really resonated with me.

“A stable home, interesting and challenging past times, actively involved parents in interesting hobbies and good grades in any school in my opinion provide a far more interesting and rounded education and social maturity. Parents still should be raising and challenging their children, and schools should be providing the teaching materials and the environment for children to flourish. Instead we have parents that treat schools as babysitting services so they can go to work, and we have schools trying to raise children, instill morals and fix socio-economic challenges. America needs to wake up.”