Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Not-so-light decisions

This past year with Owen has been wonderful and challenging, and one of the biggest challenges I continue to grapple with is our educational and financial future (the two are intimately intertwined). Making choices about schooling and housing (also intertwined, to be explained) has been very difficult for me. I find that I yearn for a second opinion from someone who has the same issues at stake...a partner in other words. But I don't have that, obviously. It's hard for me to be confident about decisions of this magnitude when I don't have anyone saying "this is absolutely the right decision" in the background.

The problem: I have a great career and I wouldn't trade it, but it's in the arts, and let's face it, I'm never going to make the big bucks. My budget is a struggle each and every month. I also live in a very high cost of living part of the country (the Northeast) and pay $225/week for daycare (started at $250 when he was an infant). Suffice to say, I've been looking forward to getting Owen into public school to relieve some of the financial burden.

Here's the rub. The public schools where I live are mediocre at best and I am finding it difficult to commit to this course. To complicate matters, I bought a condominium 3 years before TTC while I was still in the optimistic "I'll meet someone, get married, buy a house, and have a kid" stage. I didn't even look into the elementary school in the neighborhood I chose, and it ain't good. The condo itself is also not what I would have envisioned as a place to raise a child and has been a real pain in the neck in many ways. I planned on selling it after about 5 years even without a child...well, here we are, 6 years and one major housing crisis later and I find myself stuck in this place and unable to unload it, a place inadequate in many ways for child-rearing but most importantly, for schools.

Thing is, my city doesn't present many options at all for good public schools. My choices are basically to suck it up and make it work for Owen at a less-than-standard school, pray that he gets into one of the charter schools (very bad odds), send him to a private school (goodbye financial future), or move to a suburb that will add to my commute and logistical headaches. The last option is something I am seriously considering (assuming I can sell my condo within the next 1 or 2 years). But if I do move to said suburb, I'll be removing myself from a community in which I feel at home, one loaded with the kind of people who are presented with the same challenges and struggles as I am, but who make it work. The suburb---beautiful place, great schools---is known for being very wealthy (it is) and has that air of entitlement such riches entail. Not only am I not keen to have Owen be the only kid in school without a BMW with a bow on his 16th birthday (I exaggerate, but you know what I mean), but I am also not sure how much I will like living there. Aside from a house with a yard and a 10/10 school, is it worth it? I think many people would say yes....I am still not sure.

Strangely (I say this, because I am surprising myself), I believe I am tending toward options number 1 and 2---trying to make it work either with charter schools or the public schools or a combination thereof. I would love any feedback on this, but my feeling is that the test scores at a given public school do not tell the whole story. There are several elementary schools where the test scores are rather low but where there is a very strong PTA and lots of enthusiasm for trying to make it a good learning environment. I would be ok with Owen at a school like that I think, but I still need to move to be near those particular schools. My dream is for him to get in (by lottery) to the bi-lingual charter 'international' school. To make this happen, though, I still have to move, because the lottery favors kids from particular neighborhoods. I know, crazy to move just be in a neighborhood that may or may not get us into a lottery!!  But at least in this case I would be moving to an actually very wonderful neighborhood where I have lots of friends and colleagues who "make it work" with families.

I'm seeing a trend here: I have to move, but where?? Now let's pray for the condo market to recover!!!


Heather said...

These do sound like tough decisions! Please, please, please don't let the test scores of a particular school tell the whole story for you! There are SO many dynamics that factor much testing is done throughout the year there and the demographics of the student body, for instance. The students at my middle school are very much over-tested (sadly, I have NO control over this), and they really hit the burnout stage with testing once March rolls around. Our students also come from very diverse backgrounds, and they often fall behind early on for reasons out of our control--divorce, absenteeism, moving frequently, custody issues, family tragedies, you name it. I think what counts more (to me, at least) is their improvement from year to year. You're definitely on the right track with wanting a school with a positive learning environment, invested teachers, and like you said, a strong PTA which encourages parental involvement. I would feel the same way as you about the wealthier, more entitled district...we have a few of those in my city, and it's not a good scenario (very high drug usage, for one). What a wonderful thing it would be for Mr. O to get into the international school! My cousin's daughter attends one, and she absolutely loves it. I will cross my fingers that it works out for you and O! Moving is challenging, but friends and colleagues making it work (and being fantastic resources for you!) sounds heavenly! Best wishes!

Ali said...

I plan to sell my house and move in the spring. One reason is I would like to have a larger house (an additional bedroom) prior to T42...but the other big reason is educationally based. I am a public school teacher in the district we currently live in, but I want my son to have a better education. Which means we will be moving to the "wealthier" area (were I grew up), even though we will be on the low end of the wealth spectrum in the new neighborhood, and he won't have all the things the other kids will have. It is hard to decide, especially because I never want my son to feel "less than" the other kids simply because we aren't as wealthy. Educationally speaking, he will be far more prepared for college/life in the wealthier district, and as a teacher I NEVER want my cild to deal with the crap that goes on in my district.