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When it came time to visit and rank schools, Matt and I began with the magnets. There are tons of them, but only a few interested us. Those were/are:

  1. The Brown School: A district-wide alternative, unstructured school that serves children K-12. Entrance is by lottery, and word on the street is that two children are selected per zip code. You must list this school first to be considered.
  2. Audubon Traditional: I went here for grades 1-3. The traditional program serves up a back-to-basics curriculum with an emphasis on discipline, patriotism, and morality. Like The Brown School above, you must list it first to be considered, and entrance is determined by lottery.
  3. Coleridge Taylor Montessori: This is a magnet/neighborhood school hybrid. Located just west of downtown Louisville, Coleridge Taylor is one of two public Montessori schools in the JCPS system. The school enrolls neighborhood kids from an A-Cluster area and accepts applications from children in roughly half the district.
  4. Brandeis Elementary: a Math/Science, Technology Magnet (MST). Located in Louisville’s west end, Brandeis enrolls children from the entire district. Entrance is by scored application. You don’t have to list this school first to be accepted, but you are unlikely to get in if you don’t.

Now, before I toured any of these, I engaged in a little research project. First, I looked up test scores and online parent reviews. And then, in pure Jessica style, I have asked every adult I have encountered for the last six months or so where their children go and what they think about it. And I do mean everyone: I’ve had this chat with other parents at Kazoing party zone, preschool teachers at KIP and AJ, adults at a church picnic across the street, anyone I know who teaches, other parents at Simon’s swim and basketball classes, and random check-out clerks. It’s amazing how much you can learn by asking questions and then shutting up.

I ended up touring just two of these schools. Brown and Audubon, the two most popular on the entire list, got struck down before we started out of the gate. The reasons why told me a lot about my educational priorities and personal values. Details after the break.

The Brown School:

Everyone wants The Brown School. Or, almost everyone. This school maintains a mystique that exceeds its admittedly high test scores. I think part of this is down to the fact that once you are in, you stay there for 13 years. I think another part of this is down to its exclusiveness. I have spoken to a few African-American parents who want The Brown School because it is diverse and serves up high test scores. But mostly it’s white folks from the Highlands that are disproportionately crazy for it.

My neighborhood, the most San Francisco-like (minus the diversity) in Louisville, is mad for The Brown School. It’s a school without walls! There aren’t any bells or buzzers! It’s a student-directed learning magnet! They have field trips to natural and cultural locations all the time! You can call your teachers by their first names!

It’s hippy-dippy heaven is what it is, high test scores or no. If I had a dollar for every neighborhood parent I’ve met who is putting The Brown School first and will be devastated by any other outcome, I could afford to put Simon into the most expensive private school in town, a fact I can illustrate with two brief anecdotes. First, there was the friend of a friend who moved to Louisville from Brooklyn, chose The Brown School for her daughter, didn’t get it, and had no back-up plan. She ended up home-schooling the next year.

Then there was the thirty-something hipster couple at our recent tour of Bloom, a couple who had a marital spat about school selection while waiting for the tour to begin. They had lots and lots of anxious questions for the Bloom’s principal about the selection and assignment process. At one point, by way of making a point about how the process works, Dr. Bobo referred to the hypothetical scenario in which someone gets a letter inviting them to Bloom Elementary after getting the same letter from Brown.

“I don’t think anyone really gets that letter from Brown,” I quipped.

Ms. Hipster immediately looked even more anxious, if not downright despondent, to hear this. I knew immediately that Brown was their first choice. I probably could have guessed based on Mr. Hipster’s glasses.

So, basically, the way I see it is that over a hundred folks from my zip code are going to ask for Brown, and one or two will get in. The odds may even be worse than that. To me, that’s a wasted spot in my rankings. Plus, I don’t think Simon would thrive in a totally self-directed, unstructured environment. But really, when you get right down to it, I just can’t handle being that much of a Highlands cliché. So Brown is off our list.

Audubon Traditional

Audubon is the second-most popular school on our original list. There are two district-wide Traditional Program elementary school magnets in JCPS. As stated above, the traditional program offers a no-nonsense curriculum and atmosphere that presumably calls back to days of yore.

The school is highly structured, discipline is tight, dress codes are strict, behavior is formal, and test scores are high. For parents fearing that other JCPS schools are hotbeds of uncontrollable and/or un-teachable kids, the traditional program is where it’s at. It’s like parochial school without the tuition or Catholicism.

I was really of two minds on it.

  • One the one hand, Simon loves structure.
  • On the other hand, this program might cross the line into rigid.
  • On the one hand, they excel at the basics.
  • On the other hand, they don’t offer an advanced program, which Matt and I rather obnoxiously think Simon will qualify for by fourth grade.
  • On the one hand, Simon would thrive in an atmosphere where everyone is well behaved.
  • On the other hand, he does not require a heavy hand to be well behaved himself.
  • On the one hand, I’m for respecting authority. I do not, for example, like the idea of kids calling teachers by their first names.
  • On the other hand, promoting blind respect for authority can and has led to some very bad things in history.
  • On the one hand, I am appalled by what a lot of kids wear to school.
  • On the other hand, many of the traditional program dress code rules actually anger me. I mean really, it’s 2011 and we’ve still got rules about how long a boy’s hair can be or whether a girl can wear nail polish? And what the heck is wrong with hoodies? And does the no-scarf rule apply to Muslim girls?

I’ve got questions… As it happens, a chat with a woman I met at the physical therapist’s office answered all I needed. She toured Audubon last month. Apparently, she was “greeted” by an office staff member who spent the first 5-10 minutes laying out all the rules about what parents could or could not do on the tour. No-nos included talking in the halls and going into any of the classrooms.

By the end of this chat, my decision was made. I’m too hippy-dippy myself for this program. Simon might not run afoul of the rules, but his parents sure are likely to. So Audubon, my own school from grades 1-3, is out. It’s too structured and old-school for my liking. Or, to put it in language many of my friends would understand, I may not want to be a walking Highlands cliché, but I did live in and love San Francisco for eight years for a reason. This is not the right program for my family.

That leaves Coleridge Taylor and Brandeis, schools I toured and will discuss next.

2 Responses to “Kindergarten Selection Part II: Ruling out the Favorites”

  1. tlalbaugh says:

    Oh, Jessica, I SO feel you here! I am definitely with you on the education spectrum–too hippie/dippy for mainstream but also annoyed by hardcore crunch (and I went to Oberlin College). I only wish, however, that I had any choice at all in our kindergarten. We have one public elementary school, and it is profoundly mediocre on every level. Even though our town is not poor or under-served (and the best district in the state is RIGHT NEXT DOOR), it is in the bottom twenty schools in the state in terms of test scores and has (supposedly) a very tired/boring/apathetic academic atmosphere and staff. Then add to that a community that does not care. (Your Audubon school received a 9 out of 10 on GreatSchools.com. Our school received a 3.) I have always been a big public school believer (and we don’t want to do private–not that there are many choices for those around here anyway), but I am so worried about this school/culture for my very bright, happy, enthusiastic kid who LOVES all things science (she says she wants to be an entomologist) and art. We have one public charter school in the area, and it’s supposed to be decent (at least they teach Spanish and music and are art-integrated), but four kids total from all grade levels get in by lottery from our town a year. And that school has a ratio of 1/22 and limited activities, plus would be a painful drive in the snow. I don’t know, I went to lousy public schools myself (way worse than this one), and I did fine. I understand that so much of this is about your home environment and your own personality. But still: The thought of my kid sitting for hours a day bored out of her mind while everything unique about her slowly leaches away is terribly depressing…

  2. Amanda says:

    I gotta say, Audubon did not sound like you guys–any of you guys- at all. There’s structure and there’s structure, and that sounds more like Nazi indoctrination camp, with Nurse Ratchett at the helm. (Well, I AM the hippy dippy type.) And as an objective outsider, Simon will need gifted classes if you don’t want him to be totally bored. But I can see you not wasting your first spot on Brown either, because chances are so long. And some kids do need structure. Man, have things changed. In the old days you just went to the neighborhood school. And I had a really decent public education. But achievement is mostly about the parents, I really believe that. A school can be crappy but the parents determine the quality of the education. So Simon will be fine no matter where he ends up.

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