I Sent My Son to A “Bad School”

When my son was in his final year of preschool, a few of my friends began asking me what I was going to do about elementary school. “Are you going to send your son to OUR TOWN schools? I hear the schools are terrible!”

Nothing pushes a parent’s panic button faster than hearing the words “BAD SCHOOLS” and I’m no different.  We looked at several homes in neighboring school districts with better reputations, high test scores, and top rankings in “Best Schools” surveys, but with prices starting at $700,000 (!!!), we were simply priced out of the market in many of these communities.  Moving farther up the I-95 corridor or further west wasn’t an option as it would push my husband’s already intolerable hour and a half commute to New York City to a completely unacceptable two hour trip each way.  Plus, we loved our neighborhood and our house and really didn’t want to move.  But what about the schools?

Several of our neighbors had children in the district’s schools, so I thought I’d start there.  Were they happy with the schools? Did they feel their children were getting a good education? Did the teachers and principals seem dedicated and knowledgeable about the latest teaching techniques? Were the parents involved in the school? Did they provide a complete education – with classes in the arts? How about science and technology…did they have the latest tools?  Were the classes overcrowded? All assured me that I would be happy at our elementary school, one of nine in OUR TOWN’s large district, and suggested that I contact the Principal and have a chat with him.

So that’s what I did.  I phoned the Principal’s office expecting to leave a message and get a call from a secretary to schedule a date in a few weeks.  I was stunned when I was immediately put through to the Principal – who invited me to come in the next day.  At our meeting, he spoke to me about my concerns and walked me down to the kindergarten and first grade wing and introduced me to the three kindergarten teachers.  I loved what I saw – children moving around the classroom and working in small groups with an aide and teacher.  Classical music was playing while children wrote and drew pictures illustrating a particular idea in a story they just read. There was a SmartBoard in the classroom and baby chicks in the incubator that had just hatched. I loved that there was an air of calm in the classrooms and the (approximately 20) children all appeared to be happy and engaged. I was sold.  Anyway, we just have one child, I told myself, if worse came to worse, we would swallow the cost and send him to private school.

Six years later, my son is still there and getting ready to move up to the public middle school.  Needless to say, we’ve been more than happy with the education he has received in OUR TOWN.  The outstanding leadership from our Principal, the absolutely amazing and dedicated teaching staff, and the specialists (gym, art, music, psychologist, family resource staff, etc…) who work tirelessly for our kids are the backbone of the school.

I’m not going to sugar coat it and say that everything in the district is perfect – we’ve been through a number of budget cuts that have stung, our librarian was reduced to part time for one year, and we’ve had a number of changes in administration at the district level – but I’m pleased to see that with a new, highly regarded Superintendent who has a true vision and the skills to implement it, I’m seeing many positive changes on the horizon.

But the real benefit of a “bad school” has been this – I’ve learned not to follow the hype. I’ve learned that in education, it’s not about having the highest CMT test score ranking or perceived stellar reputation (because those districts have issues as well, they’re just better at keeping them out of the media) – it’s about the teachers and the administration. It’s about the parents working in accordance with the teachers to advocate for their kids. It’s about creating an academically enriching curriculum that embraces the whole child – providing arts, language, science, and community service. It’s about customizing learning for kids on all ends of the educational spectrum and providing accommodation for their individualized needs – from special education to academically talented – and not forgetting those who fall squarely in the middle. I’m proud to say that our elementary school did all that and more.

Plus there are benefits that I never considered, but have significantly contributed to my son’s experience; he’s experienced a wide range diversity in his school – there are kids from every socio-economic level, ethnic and religious diversity, and family living situation. He knows that not every kid lives the same way that he does or has the same material items.  Through the parent and student run food pantry, he knows that not every child has a kitchen full of food. He respects other kid’s religions and finds that learning about other kid’s cultures and traditions is really interesting, and he sees that family comes in many forms.  In my opinion, this opens a child mind to many different lifestyles and provides a more macro perspective of life and the limitless ways to live – there’s not just one way to do things.

All this from a bad school?  Sign him up for another few years.

16 thoughts on “I Sent My Son to A “Bad School”

  1. My husband and I have had numerous conversations about “bad schools”. He thinks many schools in the Fairfield County area are “bad schools” compared to the “great schools” he attended out in Kansas City. What town are you referring to in this article? I would like to prove him wrong.

  2. I love this post because of the heart in it. I so agree — there is a lot to be said for seeing the variety of walks in this life.

  3. I can say that I, for one, was served very well by the public schools I attended in Fairfield County – elementary and middle in Norwalk, and high school in Stamford (through the agriscience magnet program at Westhill). I have since graduated college and will be attending veterinary school in Massachusetts in the Fall! It is absolutely possible for your children to thrive at these schools!

    1. Congratulations, Claire! Getting into veterinary school is not easy! Great to see that you were well prepared!

  4. Ann – what a great article – I found it threw Facebook and had no idea who the author was till I hit the end. So extremely well written and full of truths!

  5. So well written. My oldest two children have gone through public school and are now in high school. My oldest is now considering colleges, has taken both AP exams and the SATs. Both of my oldest children have been in Academically Talented in elementary and middle schools, which led to Honors and AP in high school. They both play string instruments since third grade and are both in Honors Orchestra. They are academically competitive with one another and that is refreshing as it is not tooth and nail, but more “anything you can do, I can do better”. They both participate in sports at their high school as well as prom. This is a city school. When I moved here, I was told to start considering private school, Catholic school, any alternatives. I grew up in an affluent neighboring town and despite the homogeneous upbringing, I embraced all that a city has to offer my children in their educational paths. They have excelled academically and artistically and are no worse for the wear of city public schools. I am glad that I have never been one to listen and follow what others say, but rather, follow my own lead.

    1. Thank you, Maggie!! I am so pleased to hear this. My son is on a similar path with music and the AT program – I’m really looking forward to the coming years and it’s reassuring to hear that your children are thriving!

  6. Awesome, Ann. Having gone to a ridiculously small school myself, with a ridiculously small budget and absolutely nothing being state-of-the-art, I can somewhat relate. But my parents were insistent that education began in the home and the teachers I had were wonderful, dedicated, and loving. Your son has a good foundation for education and growth with you.

  7. We are sending our kids to a private school for preschool and have tried to get into the magnets for Elementary School, as I hear that we live in a “bad town” too. The fact of the matter is that I have only heard this around and haven’t really confirmed it myself. This was a great post and really inspired me to not judge a book by it’s cover (especially when I haven’t even pulled it off the shelf to take a look!).

  8. Just wanted to say that I love this post Ann! We are doing one of the magnet preschools up this way that is also in a “bad” district. No problems so far. Doesn’t mean the experience is perfect, but we never expected it to be.

  9. Very insightful Ann. Glad you didn’t follow the “hype” and that your boy has had such a wonderful experience in your local public school system!

  10. Ann – having lived in your town and grown up in a neighboring town, I can honestly say that I never considered your schools, particularly your high schools, to be bad by any stretch. Rough, yes, but the resources available to the children who go to your HS are amazingly vast provided that they have resourceful parents who know how to get the kids involved. The main difference between a school like yours and a neighboring town (ours!) is that the path here is often spoonfed to the kids – parents have a limited number of (good) choices, and it’s basically like, “should I make this good choice, or this good choice?” In your school district, it’s a little bit more up to the parent/student and kids with involved parents do great.

    When I was in HS here, we could never compete with your HS’s: music, language and sports. Your high school blew us away in those areas. You are a great mom who really knows how to guide your son’s education – he will do great there and he will probably come out so much more balanced in the end.

  11. Thanks for this. Our kids are in public school as well, and while they aren’t at the top of the CMT’s either, we truly believe their needs are being met, and with genuinely care for who they are. It’s a tough call, but the right school may just be the town school in district. We’re luck that so far, for us, it is.

    1. Yes, unfortunately standardized tests are a huge part of the basis by which we determine which schools are “good” or “bad” – a school is so much more than a test score!

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