So, you want to send your child to a Montclair public elementary school? You’re touring the schools this week. Perhaps you’re just like me and my wife and you moved here for the public schools. Yet, choosing one is more difficult than choosing which frozen yogurt shop in town to patronize. (And there are as nearly just as many of each.) Funny thing is we asked for this whole school tour song and dance by choosing Montclair to begin with. So I, veteran of my one and only school tour of duty just last year, am here to help you.
First, prepare for five months of unmitigated angst. It’s unavoidable. Why we get ourselves so worked up over something we can’t control is a question I am not trained to answer. But you’ll sweat the Montclair School tours. You’ll find something to love and not to love about each school. You’ll sweat over your top three, and where to place them. You’ll then stop sweating for a month or so, until you run into a parent from daycare over the summer and inevitably and involuntarily you both start sweating again together. But at least you’ll have each other. The angst will most definitely come… and stay. All the way up to when the Board of Ed letters get sent out. Then you’ll get mail angst because half the town will get their letters the day before the other half.
I know it’s difficult, but try to relax. Take a deep breath, and keep a few things in mind…
1) Your child will end up where he or she belongs. Trust this. Even if they don’t, they’re still going to be at a really good school. If you’re still not convinced, you can always transfer them.
2) You will get a lot of advice. (You’re reading this blog post aren’t you?) You will ask for a lot of advice. Other parents, teachers, administrators, students, neighbors. Here’s who you need to listen to, in this order: Your child and your spouse. That’s it. Remove yourself from the equation. Choose the school that is right for your child, not necessarily right for you. Imagine your child there, walking through the halls, sitting in a classroom, eating lunch in the cafeteria. Does she fit? Will she be happy? Will she be engaged? Inspired? Whatever criteria your consider, consider it from your child’s perspective. Not yours. It worked for us.
3) A lot of your decision may come down to logistics. Which school’s start and end times work best with your schedule? If your family is like mine and has two parents who work, this is very important. Some schools start too early and thus end too early for one of us to be home when she gets off the bus. Is bussing even available for the school you’re looking at? Maybe you have a younger child in daycare, and the schedules might not mesh. This will depend on your unique situation, but it’s something to keep in mind.
While I’m on the subject, the Montclair school tour process is not conducive to families with two working parents if at least one of them doesn’t work in town or nearby. We were worried about this. There was no way either of us could take off to attend tours during the day. So we were basing our judgments solely on night visits. Several parents TOLD us we SHOULDN’T do that. (Because they knew what was best for our child.) We had no choice. Turns out, we were comfortable with that choice. Like I said, our daughter ended up where she belongs. If you must, the schools do offer personal tours by appointment after the tours are over. We were going to take one day off and visit our top three to see them in action. But that also didn’t work out logistically. Still, we felt we saw enough at night to make an informed decision.
4) The people are very important. And I’m not talking about the parent tour guides. They’re good for nuts and bolts information.. sometimes. Don’t judge a school based on whether you get a bad parent tour guide. (Don’t judge one based on a good one either.) I spoke to students. If a school didn’t have students there at night, it threw up a red flag for me. Were the students who were assisting on our tours excited to be there? Were they passionate about their school? What was their favorite thing? Their least favorite? What do they like about their school’s magnet? I also observed them interact with the teachers who were there. Did they love their teachers? Were the teachers invested in the conversation? Were the teachers there? We also put a lot of stock into the principal, knowing full well principals come and go. We got a really good vibe from our principal. So we took the chance that she’s staying.
By now, like me, I am sure your head is swimming. I was in your position just last year. Now look at what an expert I am. If I can leave you with one final piece of advice, let it be this: keep this in perspective. This is public elementary school. Kindergarten. Our children just recently learned to control their bowels. Whether they’re learning through the Lucy Calkins method or the Sadie Hawkins method, they’re going to be getting a great education. You should know. You’re paying for it. And remember, we as parents are their most important teachers.
So relax. Focus. And manage that angst as best you can. That is until you have to decide which Middle School your kid will go to.
Justin is a husband, dad, and writer who also blogs about his daughter’s Kindergarten adventures at Daddy Knows Less.