When moving into my neighborhood, my husband and I never considered our neighborhood school a viable option for our children. It wasn't "good" based on any list we consulted when choosing schools. The scores were all over the place and honestly, it just wasn't special. It was just a regular school. That attitude almost stopped my younger daughter from receiving an excellent education. Our neighborhood school’s test scores are barely OK, and it has never been ranked as a "top public school" on any chart. However, based on my personal experience of working with staff to meet my younger daughter’s special needs in preschool, we found that our neighborhood school is absolutely amazing! As I see it, they are achieving above and beyond any other school that makes the "top-schools" list. My youngest daughter has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and a speech delay. She requires a significant amount of support in order to be successful in the traditional class with her non-disabled peers. And my local public school is providing my daughter with an amazing implementation of her rather complex Individual Education Plan (IEP).
This Is What It Looks Like to Work Together
In the beginning, it was a struggle to work out the IEP and how it would be implemented, but the struggle was worth it. We’re now in our third year of her IEP, and the entire special education team at her school is truly working with each other, with our daughter, with her outside providers and with us as parents, to create an environment most conducive to her learning at school. For example, my daughter is a very picky eater and only eats a handful of things for lunch. Her IEP providers implement multiple strategies to address her diet. On her daily log, every provider that she works with will say if she ate the daily snack or not. In addition to letting us know about how she is eating at school, our occupational therapist and social worker, send us food suggestions for kids with SPD. Also, she has a one-to-one paraprofessional to help during the day. One of the things the paraprofessional does is sensory monitoring, which means she looks for clues in changes in my daughter’s behavior, notes the time and if there were any special triggers, (like school rally, change in routine). If not, she, and the entire IEP team look to see if her changes are around a consistent time, such as after lunch, and actively try to provide an intervention to her sensory breakdown. Lastly, her grandmother takes her and picks her up from school everyday. All the providers know “Nana” and give her daily updates on my daughter’s day and suggestions for tools (like books or activities) that might help at home! Most importantly, in addition to telling us what techniques they use at school, all the providers listen to the concerns and suggestions of her personal IEP team: my husband, my mother, our pediatrician, personal therapists, and also, “Nana.” We are truly working as a partnership to create synergy in both our home and school environment which is a crucial aspect of her success at school and home. I would not have believed that this level of quality, attentiveness, and love for my child, was possible at my neighborhood school. I would have been wrong.
I Believe in School Choice and Still Love My Neighborhood School
I still believe in school choice, charters, and even private schools for those who can afford them, but I also can't deny the amazingness of my local public school. The services provided for our daughter go above and beyond what any private school could offer. Plus, they are legally mandated to provide IEP accommodations, which is not true for private schools. My eldest daughter attends a private school. It is a "good school" by reputation and test scores. And my husband and I love it. She loves it. And it is great fit for her. However, as good as the private school is that my eldest daughter attends, it is not a good option for our youngest daughter now. The level of services and the personal relationships we have with our local public school, cannot be met by a private school with limited access to special education programs and providers. The lesson I want to share with everyone: Don't judge a school solely by a "good-school list" in a newspaper and rumors you hear from people. Visit the school, meet with the principal, teachers and staff, and see what is going on at the school yourself. And, that is best way to decide if a school is a “good school” for your child. I think this is what school choice should look and function like for all students.
ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson is the mother of two free-spirited, strong-willed girls and has a husband who should be appointed a saint for co-existing in the madness that is their life. She writes on politics, education, current events and social justice. She is also a taco enthusiast, a proud member of the Bey-hive, and truly believes that she will be receiving her letter from Hogwarts any day now.