My son is in first grade at the public school across the street from our house. It is a "good" (meaning high test scores) public school in Chicago and it is a math and science magnet cluster school. He likes it alot. I have problems with it and I have been seriously looking into other schools and I would love to get some perspective from other MDC mamas.
Here are my issues/ concerns:
1) Class size: There are 34 kids in his class - one teacher, no aide. Several kids do not speak any English and are assisted by other classmates. It appears that a few kids have (mild) learning disabilities and are in the regular classroom without an aide. The school has a good ESL program and resources for LD kids, but those kids are in the regular classroom most of each day. I think that is hard for the teacher, but it seems like she makes it work okay.
2) Discipline: Due to the large class size the teacher is fairly strict in terms of no talking, wiggling, goofing around. That makes sense, since she needs to maintain order. My son is a wiggly talkative kid. He is making progress in terms of regulating his behavior, but he has had a fair number of time-outs and consequences for his disruptive behavior. The teacher told me that my son has have a few tantrums at school. He does have a low frustration threshold, so that makes sense to me. I think the teacher probably handled things okay, but I hate to think that school is making him so frustrated that he has tantrums. He occassionally has tantrums at home.
My son just turned 6 in August, so he is the youngest kid in class. He is very bright, very tall and ready for school in most ways, but he is still emotionally developing social skills. I didn't want to hold him back, since I think he would be bored. And since he is very tall he would probably tower over classmates if we held him back a year. He attended half day kindergarten at the school last year and it would be a waste of time for him to repeat kindergarten.
3) Academics/ Testing: Academically, the school is VERY challenging. He is expected to write in complete sentances; he gets tested in math, spelling and phonics regularly; and he gets at least 1/2 an hour of homework every evening. We actually choose the school because they seemed very strong academically, but now I think it may be too much too soon. He is doing very well, in MY opinion, but he gets actual grades on in-class work that are very low. He doesn't know what it means, but alot of his classwork is coming back with scores of 15-60% correct. He will actually get letter grades when report cards are issued.
His teacher said that she is not concerned. She believes that with practice he will get the phonics, the reading, etc. What irks me is that he is even EXPECTED to be able to do this work so early on. It is the second month of first grade and he an emerging reader. How can they be testing him like this???
I blame the testing on No Child Left Behind. It is insane the expectations the schools have. I totally believe that the teachers are forced to teach for the tests. I think my son has a really good teacher, but she has alot to deal with.
4) Communication: Another complaint that I have is that the school is AWFUL in terms of communicating with parents. I attend school board meetings and PTA meetings and I still don't know what is going on half the time. I like our principal, but I think she is totally overworked. She seemes to be doing a good job of meeting the needs of MOST of the kids, most of the time, but she has to work within a crappy system. I have talked with her on numerous occassions and she is open to new ideas, but implementing better communication does not seem to be her stong point. She is very good at working with the Chicago school board to get the basics that our school needs, but our school is overcrowded and she is doing the best to just keep things working.
5) The school doesn't meet MY NEEDS: I have not totally found a group of like-minded parents that I really click with. I have found a few, but most parents seem to be okay with things that irk me (Disney, weapon play, sugary snacks, alot of homework, testing our kids). I feel like I'm fairly alone in my concerns. Also, the school (this is ALL Chicago public schools) has no formal before or after-school programs, so if I ever want to go back to work I will have to piece-meal childcare. I really worry about that - especially since I an not finding other parents that I would trust to do childcare.
Okay, still reading?? Here is what I LIKE about the school:
1) My son loves it. He is very social and school provides a social outlet for him. He also likes all the special things they do - fire safety month, art projects, field trips, etc. He does not seem bothered by the fact that he is tested all the time. He does not seem anxious about school at all. I have more anxiety about it than he does!
2) The school has alot of resources - a great library, a great computer lab, a full time art teacher, a new gym, a music program, a speech therapist, an OT, a full time nurse, etc.
3) It is across the street from our house, so we can be very involved, very easily. We also have no crazy morning or afternoon commute/ carpool/ etc. I knew this would be handy, but I realize that it is wonderful.
4) I like the diversity of the school - kids of various backgrounds, religions, and languages. Our other option is to send our son to a parochial school and there would be almost no diversity there.
5) I believe in public schools and making public education work for all kids.
6) It's free. We could afford a Catholic school (about $3,000 - $4000 a year for grade school) and we are practicing Catholics, but we have already paid for the public schools with our taxes. Also, I anticipate that we will send our kids to Catholic highschools - so I would kind of like to save money for that (the Catholic highschools in our area run $7,000-10,000 a year right now).
WHAT WOULD YOU DO??? I have a call into a nearby Catholic school, but not our parish school. Our parish school is not very strong academically and they first grade class that is 31 kids, 1 teacher and an aide. Our son attended that school for preschool and I saw some problems at that school.
The school I am looking at is another Catholic school that is about 15 mintues away - the first grade class is two classrooms of 21 kids each. It is the school that my husband attended when he was a kid. It seems like a great school, but I don't know that I want to pull my son out of the school he really likes (across the street from our house) to have him start at a new school.
Okay, what do you think?
Thanks for reading all this!!