Kindergarten Is Not Supposed to Be This Hard: Agonizing Over School Choices

They could barely contain their excitement, and the backseat was a raucous party. Bedtime last night was an ordeal. Neither of them wanted to go to sleep, but both wanted the morning to come as fast as possible. We sprinkled the Ready Confetti from their teachers under their pillows, and that helped. My son bounced off the walls once we got to school. He made a new friend before he even went inside he building. When the teachers opened their doors, both kids went running in to place their lunches, water bottles, and backpacks. My daughter ran back to me for one last hug. My son barely glanced up to say goodbye. They were off!

A year ago, I started researching Kindergarten. My twins are September babies, so they miss the cutoff by a hair. Both are bright, energetic kids. My son tends to become a discipline issue when bored, which is often. I wanted a school that would encourage my daughter’s artistic spirit. So I knew that picking a school was going to be a long journey.

First stop was private school, but this was really just a road bump. I respect what private schools offer in terms of education. But, we were really excited about that “daycare raise.” So, although I found a couple that I was impressed with, ultimately financial issues meant we were looking in the public sphere. 

Next up was our “assigned” public school. When I was a kid, this wasn’t even a discussion. You went to the school down the street from you with all the other neighborhood kids. Very few parents even considered anything else; and any options available were pretty limited (and expensive). I’m a big supporter of public education. Our assigned elementary has a dual language program, and it’s about a mile from our house. Win-win, right?? Wrong. A bit of research showed the school had some serious issues in terms of safety, teacher turnover, test results, etc. I had serious heartburn at this point. On one hand, I believe that parent involvement dictates much of children’s success in school. It’s our job as parents to fill any gaps in their education from the classroom. And great teachers can be found even in underperforming schools. On the other hand, I have a son whom I know is in danger of hating school if he doesn’t get a good start and could easily become a discipline issue early in his educational career. Reluctantly, I started to look elsewhere.

We are incredibly fortunate to live where we do, as there are two other excellent elementary schools within a two-mile radius. Within five miles there are three excellent charter schools. I spent a lot of time researching websites, asking for advice from other moms, reading blog posts, and searching Facebook for reviews. Families Empowered holds a fair that various schools—public, private, and charter alike—attend, allowing you to ask questions and get more information. I joined the San Antonio Charter Moms Facebook group (@SACharterMoms) and read voraciously. We narrowed our options to Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C:

Plan A. We filled out the Parent’s Choice form in our district for another nearby elementary school. Basically, Parent’s Choice works like this: you can choose to send your student to any other school in your district, but you are responsible for all transportation. And you only get in if there is room at the school. I spoke with the registrar and was told our request likely would be approved. This was our fallback plan if all else failed.  

Plan B. We filled out forms to get into another elementary school via a “lottery” system. This program takes place year-round and follows slightly different procedures for allowing kids to enroll outside of their assigned area, so we could get on the list for more than one public school if we desired.  

Plan C. We applied to all the charter schools in which we had even vague interest. Applying was free and easy. But application deadlines were generally a year BEFORE we planned to enroll, so I was very glad I had started my search so early.

Ultimately, we got in to our top two choices of charter schools and our Plan B school. Ironically, the school district put us on a wait list for our Parent’s Choice transfer. 

If I thought I was in knots before, I had no idea what was coming once we had more than one “yes” from schools. I literally made a list of pros and cons. For about three months, I asked anyone who talked to me about ANYTHING for their experiences/advice/input on the issue. The charter schools were highly demanding, and I heard some negative comments about how they dealt with kids who needed different learning models. But, they offered amazing extras (martial arts classes!), including more recess time than anywhere else. Plus, looking forward,  students at those schools generally excelled in high school and beyond. The public school was more socially welcoming, and we got the benefit of being in the school district. But, they are a modified year-round program, and both of us work full-time, so childcare during the odd times off would be an issue. What if the public school didn’t challenge my kids enough? What if the charter didn’t address my son’s needs?

Ya’ll, the angst. THE ANGST. Over something that, 35 years ago, my parents didn’t even think twice about. Ultimately, we made a choice. My kids likely will never have a clue about just how much their parents worried and thought and agonized over this choice. But we dropped them off, and they are so excited they can barely contain themselves. I am going to take that to mean we’ve made the right choice. Our kids are headed into a place that values education and cares about the children they are teaching. My kids are excited about learning. As a mom, I’m going to call that a win and take a moment to drink a congratulatory glass of wine before the next crisis comes.

Shanti is the product of recovering hippie parents. She’s a lifelong Texan, born in El Paso, with stops in Lubbock and Austin for college, before settling in San Antonio. She met her husband when she was 18. They both married and divorced other people before they realized it was meant to be. She now owns a firm with her partner in crime and together they practice family law in San Antonio and the surrounding area. Her husband works for a multi-national company making sure the cold stuff stays cold at your local HEB. They are raising twin tornadoes affectionately known as the Aliens, along with a rotating menagerie of dogs and cats. In her free time, she is involved in local nonprofits, runs, and serves proudly on the Broad Board.