Kindergarten Tour Drama: Pt. 1

BY  |  Tuesday, Mar 29, 2011 8:30am  |  COMMENTS (32)

It’s not a big deal. I know this intellectually. But these are my preschool twins who are going into public kindergarten next fall in Montclair. My heartstrings are being pulled in six different directions in the following order: Nishuane, Northeast, Bradford, Bullock, Watchung and Edgemont. Emotionally, sending them into the wilds of kindergarten is monumental. So choosing the perfect academic setting has become, for me, all consuming.

I want to pick the perfect school that fits three criteria: It’s best for them; it’s best for me; and it jives with our family’s interests and schedules.

I am giving up three mornings this week to visit all six elementaries. (I’ll visit Hillside on April 12.) Each school hosts two tours per morning. The first and second tours start so closely together that it’s difficult to see two schools per day. But yesterday through Wednesday, I’m pushing through two visitations even if I have to leave the first one early. (I skedaddled out of Bullock on Monday). Every school is open all week, see the schedule here, but I can’t devote five days to this endeavor. It’s too overwhelming. Anyway, I need to work, go to the gym, and like, have a life.

So I strategized. I’m seeing two schools that are close together on the same mornings: Bullock and Nishuane on Monday, Northeast and Bradford on Tuesday, Edgemont and Watchung on Wednesday. Before I started this process, Nishuane was my favorite, so I saw it on Day 1. Bullock was low on my list–until I toured it. Now I think it’s amazing, too. In need of more tips, I asked seasoned parents. They told me to visit my favorite schools during the day when the kids are there and do night tours of schools on the bottom of my list. Secondly, they advised me to keep my mouth shut around PTA members because even before you get into a school, they’ll start recruiting for volunteer projects. (After just two tours, I can attest that the latter is true, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m just saying.)

Everyone who’s been through this process tells me the same thing: “All the schools are great.” It’s true, and I’m lucky, but this standard platitude offers me little comfort. I still have to do the research and make some choices. These choices will determine the direction and location of my twins and their little brother for the next eight years.

Once I’ve seen all of the schools, I’ll post how my favorites have changed and why. Then I’ll bite my nails until July 15 when I find out which school we get into. Read about the Board of Ed’s school assignment system here.

Sure, we’ll be fine wherever we land. My head knows that. But these are my first-born children. It’s difficult to grasp that they’ve almost reached this milestone (which means I’m five and a half years older, too). Anyway, in preschool, I got to make the rules. MMO Programs let me keep my kids home whenever I needed to, and homework was optional. In public school, parents and kids must follow all rules. It’s so, for lack of a better word, institutional.

So off I go today to Northeast and Bradford. They are among my favorites. Granted, my favorites are based on hearsay, friendships and start times. This is why I’m going to all the schools. I need to get my choices straight based on the right reasons instead of gossip. So while I keep telling myself that the kindergarten tours aren’t a big deal, my emotions are telling me quite the opposite.

32 Comments

  1. POSTED BY Debbie Galant  |  March 29, 2011 @ 8:52 am

    Ha! Wait until it’s time to pick a college.

  2. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  March 29, 2011 @ 9:17 am

    Kristen, take comfort in knowing that you cannot make a bad choice. ALL the schools are great, with amazing professionals with (many) parents who care and all having to meet the same State curriculum (despite what some believe).

    For most the real decision has to do with proximity to home, start time and school size. The fake “themes” are taken WAY TOO serious by some parents (but that’s expected as parents seem to overplay everything about their kid’s education). Everything else is window dressing.

    So, sit back, go have some ice-cream from the nearby truck at pick up time before ice-cream is declared a Class 1 Narcotic, and know that the MOST important detail is one you cannot control: classmate(s) and whether or not your kid’s teacher likes him or her.

    Because your kid can be in THE BEST school in the world, but if he or she HATES his or her classmate(s), or the teacher hates them (or you), you and your kid will be miserable and looking to transfer.

    Likewise, your kid may have an AMAZING kindergarden teacher and class, and a TERRIBLE first grade teacher and class. It happens all the time.

    And there is nothing you can do about it.

    (Because the best educational advantage you can give your kid is TWO educated parents, who are around to spend time with them. No school can compare to this simple and easy fact!)

    Good Luck to All!!!!

  3. POSTED BY Erika Bleiberg  |  March 29, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    I’m with Debbie. This is the beginning of a long road, and before you know it you’ll be traipsing off to look at far flung campuses, thinking of things like SAT scores, GPAs, dorm life, etc. Enjoy the milestones and congratulations on reaching this one.

  4. POSTED BY tarkus697  |  March 29, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    If I’m still living in Montclair by the time I have kids, they’ll follow the same route my brother and I did: Nishuane, Hillside, Glenfield, Montclair High.

  5. POSTED BY CMEinmontclair  |  March 29, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

    This whole thing is so rattling — I am in the same predicament with a child going into kindergarten. A women on a tour today told me a friend of her’s got her SIXTH CHOICE! That’s ridiculous — we should be able to go to the school we want — not ‘randomly assigned through a computer system.’ We certainly pay enough in taxes to get the school of our choice! This is the one thing I hate about this town.

  6. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 29, 2011 @ 5:38 pm

    People getting their 6th choice are few and far between. We got our first choice last year, as did every family we knew.

    We did know one family that got their 6th choice in the previous year’s lottery, and they wound up loving their school and did not make a request to transfer this year.

  7. POSTED BY hollykorus  |  March 29, 2011 @ 6:05 pm

    There is no reason at all that this process should be rattling. All of the schools are great. Stop listening to rumors.

    My goodness the rumors I heard from the ladies in my hood last year during this time made my head spin.

    When the placement letters went out everyone was buzzing about who got “into” this school or that. My next door neighbor pointed out that this is not college they are placed into schools. Nobody gets into a school based on merit.

    Enjoy all of the choices. Forget entitlement.

  8. POSTED BY saras  |  March 29, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

    I love our magnet system, but hate the way the schools seem to compete against each other to get you to rank them first. I don’t intend on changing schools, but there was one school that I never got a chance to view initially, so I went this morning. The principal said a couple of things that I knew to be misleading. I’m sure it was in the interest of making the school sound enticing, but it bothered me. It’s a real dog and pony show.

  9. POSTED BY tallahassee  |  March 29, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

    “We should be able to go to the school we want — not ‘randomly assigned through a computer system.’ We certainly pay enough in taxes to get the school of our choice! This is the one thing I hate about this town.”

    CME, the school assignments are not “randomly” assigned through a computer system. http://www.montclair.k12.nj.us/WebPage.aspx?Id=165

    Were you not aware of how the system worked when you decided to move to Montclair?

    There are many towns where children automatically go to their neighborhood school. By the way, even in those towns, I don’t think you get to choose your school per se. In those towns, you can’t just choose to go to another school in town if you don’t like your neighborhood school.

    For better or worse, Montclair’s system is what it is. If school “choice” is that important to you, then Montclair may not be the town for you.

  10. POSTED BY Kristen Kemp  |  March 29, 2011 @ 6:48 pm

    saras,

    Your comment makes me wonder if this system is kind of like rush week in college. That’s a ridiculous horse and pony show for the even more ridiculous Greek system. Anyway, the thought of it helps me put things into perspective.

    One school in particular did a spectacular, stand-out kindergarten tour. My friends and I agreed that this school blew the others away. I wonder what it’s like on a normal day there.

  11. POSTED BY Georgette Gilmore  |  March 29, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

    saras,

    I like your comment. You’re right. Sadly parents get so caught up in which is the “best” school, rather than which school will be the best for their child. Schools want to be the one with the most 1st choice requests, but that doesn’t mean that every child and parent will be happy there.

    When I toured two years ago I looked for the following things:

    Did I like the schools philosophy to see if it fit ours. For instance, I didn’t want Edgemont because I’m not a fan of Montessori. However I think Edgemont is a very good school and very successful, but it just wasn’t right for me. I didn’t care about state test scores, because I don’t think they truly reveal how a school is doing.

    I also looked at the principal. Being a teacher and having worked in five schools, I know that a good principal can motivate a staff to work really hard. A bad one can do the opposite. I told my husband a principal is like a good coach, motivating his team to win.

    Then I thought about my daughter. Where would she do her best?

    In the end, we chose Nishuane and have been very happy. My daughter loves her school too.

    However, if we didn’t get our first choice, we probably would have been happy with where we ended up too. Maybe not all of the schools, but most of them.

  12. POSTED BY CMEinmontclair  |  March 29, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

    Tallahassee –
    of course we knew about the magnet system, but we love the town and it fits our life style perfectly. You aren’t going to love everything about your town, and this happens to be my pet peeve. I’m entitled to my opinion! I think you should be able to go to the school closest to your house if you so choose.

    As for random, from what I’ve read in the literature it is a computer based system that randomly selects what school you end up in based on what section you live in — are they sitting down reading these applications? Going through individually deciding what school is best for each kid?? I don’t think so! they just want everyone mixed up and that annoys me. I read this line from the website ” The decision is made with input from the parents with the assistance of the Board of Education staff.” Oh really? What input? We send in a form telling them about us, where we live, income, etc and THEY decide with this computer system where our kids go — just for the sake of mixing everyone up. I don’t think that’s fair — sorry.

  13. POSTED BY CMEinmontclair  |  March 29, 2011 @ 7:30 pm

    I also want to say, I am willing to give this whole process a try — I really hope I am nicely surprised after I tour all the schools and feel like so many do, that I ended up at the right place. I have just never heard of such a thing that you can’t send your children to the school by your house, and all my friends who live in other parts of the country have the same reaction, “what do you mean you can’t go the school by your house?” What will be, will be, but I just wanted to join in this conversation and share my feelings about it all (it’s definitely been stressing me out)

  14. POSTED BY perryhaber  |  March 29, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

    Personally, I chose my son’s school (my number one choice) based on the fact that it is within walking distance to my house. I, too was told all the schools were wonderful
    thus our decision was fueled mainly by our desire NOT to partake in Montclair’s ridiculous 2 million dollar a year transportation program. In my opinion it is a total waste of taxpayers dollars to bus 3000 kids (I am sure many who would prefer a local school) for a sum of $2 million. This town talks about being GREEN (hell, we built a ‘green’ multi-million dollar school) but the real way to reduce our carbon footprint is to actually use our footprints, and walk to school (like we did in the old days). For those that decry: Not fair to kids in poor neighborhoods, I say, let kids that ‘qualify for school lunches’ as our school district puts it, choose which school they want to go to. START with the freedom to choose your neighborhood school, THEN, permit exceptions to those who want to go outside of district. I think this town would be shocked at how many people would choose to stay in their neighborhood school. Think about how easy it would be to attend school functions (WALKING, not parking in other peoples driveways) think about how easy drop offs would be if there wasn’t a line of busses AND cars as there are now. Think about the cleaner air we would have (no more idling) .Think about how fit our kids (and parents) would be if everybody walked. We could then solve the problem of the ice cream trucks. They could stay of course, cause everyone would have ‘earned’ that ice cream by walking to a from school. Not rocket science. Just common sense.

  15. POSTED BY perryhaber  |  March 29, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

    Kristen
    And while I am at it, don’t be sucked into the dog and pony show. Last years tours reminded me of some weird cultish recruitment exercise. At one school they pulled out all stops, with coffee and brownies and overly friendly parents promising a whole new set of friends. Fine if you need friends I guess. Another school’s principal actually told prospective parents that she was competing with another school’s principal to be the school with the most #1 spot requests. Also weird. Don’t get sidetracked. Look at the walls and read the children’s writing. Look at the artwork. Do the kids look happy? Look at the older grade projects. Look at the enrichment programs (after school) and visit playgrounds after school lets out, when nobody is ‘on’. Lastly, tune out the ‘Forum’ like chanting from the recruiters. It is like a religion. Don’t dismiss the schools that don’t try and sell you anything. They really sell themselves.

  16. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  March 30, 2011 @ 8:53 am

    perry-

    You need to re-read that section of your history books on segregation. From your writing, it seems like you don’t understand the nature of segregation in housing, and how THAT influences the racial makeup of a “neighborhood” school.

    Your idea of letting “kids that ‘qualify for school lunches’ as our school district puts it, choose which school they want to go to,” immediately stigmatizes a child that might already be stigmatized because of his or her socioeconomic background or place of residence in this town. (For a simple understanding of how children are stigmatized, I would suggest you re-read the Brown Case and Dr. Kenneth Clark’s work with Black children and dolls.)

    Moreover, it’s a dumb idea that fails to address the racial history of the Town, which I’m sure you’re aware of.

  17. POSTED BY tallahassee  |  March 30, 2011 @ 9:10 am

    - perry and CME

    The goal of Montclair’s magnet system is laudable. If you don’t realize what the goal is, the readings suggested by profwilliams will help explain it to you. If you don’t think the magnet system is needed “in this day and age” to achieve that goal, then I suggest you take a look at a demographics map of Montclair.

    The goal of the magnet system may not be of importance to you, but it is important to many Montclair residents.

  18. POSTED BY profwilliams  |  March 30, 2011 @ 9:28 am

    (And didn’t you know this when you moved here? Or was the smell of all the great restaurants so great that it fogged your mind?)

  19. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 30, 2011 @ 9:35 am

    The magnet system is absolutely needed. I’m a Northeast parent and just took a look at the auction items donated for our big PTA Mardi Gras funraiser this weekend. We’ve had parents donate: 3 hour private jet flight, VIP tickets to Good Morning America, a weeklong rental at the Jersey Shore, 4 tickets to a Yankees game with limousine transportation, weeklong rental in the Hamptons, 2 tickets to Saturday Night Live, 2 tickets to next year’s Super Bowl, trip for 4 to the Baseball Hall of Fame and all that doesn’t even include the expensive items in the raffle baskets.

    How much money do you think this is going to raise for the school? Now tell me exactly how a neighborhood zoned Bullock or Nishuane will ever be able to compete with that? Socio-economic integration is a must for our school system!

  20. POSTED BY sprungli  |  March 30, 2011 @ 11:44 am

    I took a weird tour at Rand last year with a highly dramatic tour guide. I literally left mid-tour. The whole thing seemed weird. I also heard the Gail Clarke comment about having her school picked as the first choice. Presumably, they must receive accolades at Central Office for that? She seemed extremely eager to beat out other schools. I thought it would be a given considering they had significantly more spots than any of the smaller schools. Of course more people will pick it, right?

  21. POSTED BY CMEinmontclair  |  March 30, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

    Tallahassee –

    I think the idea of giving people the CHANCE to go to their neighborhood school absolutely makes sense. There should also be options for people living in other sections of town, to choose outside if they want. But to absolutely insist people bus across town to go to a school you don’t like is completely unfair!

    I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I worked very hard my whole life to afford a nice modest home in a good neighborhood. To be almost punished by not giving me freedom of choice to send my kids to the school by my house is reverse discrimination plain & simple. If you’re not of color, poor or down-trodden your feelings don’t matter to people like you. Sorry to tell you, but people like me pay our fair share of taxes in this town & it is unfair to disenfranchise our concerns from the process.

  22. POSTED BY njgator  |  March 30, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

    CME – Attending your neighborhood school has not been a “right” in Montclair since the 1970s. If you were so against the concept of a magnet school system, you shouldn’t have bought a home here. There are plenty of nice leafy suburbs in train towns in this area that would offer you the neighborhood school option.

    That being said, there are plenty of people, rich and poor, who are placed in their neighborhood school in Montclair through the lottery.

  23. POSTED BY sprungli  |  March 30, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    CME- ewwwwwww

    You sound very entitled. I think you moved to the wrong town, seriously. The desegregation is great, as long as it doesnt affect me?

  24. POSTED BY Tudlow  |  March 30, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

    Every year there are people who complain about the magnet school system and yearn for neighborhood schools but this is the first time I have ever heard somebody say that people who are “of color, poor or down-trodden” are the only ones whose feelings matter re: school choice while depicting a person living in a “good” neighborhood as disenfranchised. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up.

    Montclair is proud of its magnet school system and advertises it accordingly. If you did not realize that you did not necessarily go to your neighborhood school, CME, then I’m thinking you didn’t do your homework and should consider changing your username to CMEinmillburn.

    Also, there are many families who live in an area in town that do not have a school within an easy walking distance. My kids go to the elementary school that is farthest from our house compared to the other schools and we are thrilled with this school.

    The tours are exhausting and as easygoing as you try to be, it is difficult not to agonize, even a little bit, over how to rank the schools but really, it will all be okay. If it is not a good fit, and this happens very rarely from my understanding, you can request another school. Also, don’t chose the school based on the rumored stereotypes of the parents who send their children to school there. Look at the programs/instructional methods and philosophy of the school. Yes, everybody needs to follow the same curriculum mandated by the NJ DOE but there are different ways to teach these standards. It’s not you that will be going to the school–and this is not rush for a sorority/fraternity–it is your child that will be there every day learning, laughing, playing. I was impressed by all the schools when I toured–the level of commitment of the teachers, the principal and the parents was really inspiring. But it’s true, practical things like start times really do matter.

    Don’t worry, Kristen, this too will pass. Hope it goes well for you, though!

  25. POSTED BY tallahassee  |  March 30, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

    CME

    Obviously you don’t place much stock in the value of having an economically and racially diverse student body. That is your right and I’m sure many share that view.

    Also, I’m sorry you feel that you are the victim of reverse discrimination, but you knew what the system was when you moved to Montclair. If it truly was of paramount importance to you to be able to send your child to your neighborhood school, then you probably shouldn’t have moved to Montclair.

  26. POSTED BY saras  |  March 30, 2011 @ 6:23 pm

    Sorry CME, but that is one of the most offensive posts I’ve read. I’d like to believe that few people actually wish for more segregated schools. You may also want to consider the idea that desegregation is beneficial for the affluent children too. Learning to live and work with people unlike ourselves is valuable.

  27. POSTED BY CMEinmontclair  |  March 30, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

    You people are really thwarted, that’s all I can say. To call my posts “one of the most offensive” you’ve ever read doesn’t even merit a response.

  28. POSTED BY CMEinmontclair  |  March 30, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    Oh one more thing…keep drinking the kool aid, jones town really worked well

  29. POSTED BY Vivannreith  |  March 31, 2011 @ 4:10 am

    @Kristen
    If one school blew you away, than put it first! I can guarantee that not everyone shares your sentiment and that is the beauty of the magnet! My little ones are in first and fourth at Northeast and I can assure you that what you see is a typical day at these schools. Aside from the fact that every now and again the classroom door opens, they are oblivious to the touring process. I am sure this is true for most kids in most schools. Don’t overthink this whole process. Everyone has a different idea of what is right for their child. Best of luck.- Vivann

  30. POSTED BY ginadcnj  |  March 31, 2011 @ 2:00 pm

    Kristen, I’ll be interested in reading your reactions after all the tours! Like you, I realize intellectually that our kids will do well wherever they go, as all six of the kindergarten/elementary options are excellent schools, something that was reinforced for me by the tours.

    But our three kids have been at Over the Rainbow since the oldest was 7 months old. We didn’t do nearly as much research on the day care/preschool topic as we should have, and fortuitously stumbled into a rare open place in one of the finest and most extraordinarily family-centered nursery schools we could have ever imagined. Over the Rainbow been “home” for five years and has nurtured our kids so lovingly and so well, that it’s hard *not* to be apprehensive about the transition to a new place and to want to find the perfect “next step” that will feel as much like home as OTR has.

    After doing the “full circle” just as you did–in fact, *exactly* as you did, down to the same schedule–and seeing Hillside as well, I think I’m pretty certain of our first choice. But I’m still angsting. Yet, at the same time, I am reassured that all of these six schools are excellent and would serve our kids well.

  31. POSTED BY kay  |  March 31, 2011 @ 2:06 pm

    I toured a couple schools but left out the one whose model I wasn’t interested in (Edgemont) and a couple whose timing or location didn’t work with my commuting schedule.

    I got such a bad vibe at one school that I crossed it off my wish list as soon as I got out the door. It was weird, and palpable!

    I visited Nishuane based on the suggestion of my girl’s pre-k teacher (love her still!) and was thrilled the minute I walked in. Had it not been for that teacher’s advice, I may not have visited because of the timing and location. (thankfully there is the Y before-care program!) We endured some familial mockery for choosing it over the “premier” school with the “best test scores”!

    One mom I know was incensed because she didn’t get her kid into that ‘premier’ school (it was in her nabe) and made enough racket to get her choice after all. Lo and behold she showed up at Hillside 3 years later because the premier school hadn’t been all it was cracked up to be.

    My advice: keep an open mind and try to stay objective!

  32. POSTED BY es2v  |  March 31, 2011 @ 8:04 pm

    Kay – That is great advice. Keep an open mind! I was sure that I would want the rumored ‘premiere’ school, but after visiting all of the schools it was lower on my list. I drove myself a bit batty last year but felt good about my top 5 choices. There is something positive at all of the schools.

    I look forward to reading more, Kristen.

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