Middle March has passed with no news from the public school lottery. I wanted to wait to have the whole picture before writing about this again, but it may still be many days or weeks, and not because I've got the world's slowest postman. The Boston Herald reports that Boston parents face a longer wait this year.
What we do know is that the Grape won't be entering kindergarten at either of the private schools to which we applied.
Our first choice school sent the nicest rejection letter I've ever seen in my life, gushing about the Grape's attributes, and what a great fit our family would be for their school. I kind of wish Stanford and Harvard had sent me letters like that, back in the day. But I digress.
More importantly, we knew that particular ding letter was coming.
After we visited the school twice (and starting crushing on their gorgeous facilities), the director of admissions called and asked if we'd consider a pre-K spot.
(For the uninitiated, pre-K used to be another term for a four-year-old preschool year. Many of the kids these days are five/turning five early in pre-K.)
I said absolutely not. Although accepting the pre-K spot would have guaranteed us a seat in the school through grade 9, I felt loathe to reduce the Grape's school day (and my work day) by more than three hours (while paying double—literally double—for the shorter day and much messier commute).
Besides, we love our preschool. If he's going to do another preschool year, the current system is not broken and I'm not about to fix it.
Back in January, the admissions director at our first choice private school walked me through the birthday demographics of their incoming K and pre-K classes, based on current students' siblings they had in place.
I realized two things. 1. The Grape wouldn't have a contemporary in K. 2. He'd be the old man of pre-K.
I said I still wanted the Grape treated as a kindergarten applicant.
In hindsight, perhaps we should have withdrawn the application when we realized the demographics weren't going to work.
I wasn't going to change the red shirting realities of a private school whose youngest incoming kindergartener has a birthday several months before the Grape's.
After the much-expected rejection letter arrived, the admissions director and I had a lovely follow up exchange. He encouraged us to apply again next year. For kindergarten.
I was so impressed with the way the whole process was handled, and the time they took getting to know us—and explaining the ins and outs of the realities of private school demographics—that we might just do that.
Much further into the process, during late February, the other private school also asked if we'd consider a pre-K spot.
We again said absolutely not. R. and I both spoke with their admissions director. We clearly stated that we wanted the Grape to be considered only for Kindergarten.
So R. and I were a bit surprised to receive a letter offering a pre-K spot.
We know several kids at the school, and we know that their rising Kindergarten class, unlike the Kindergarten class at the first private school, includes a number of kids with summer birthdays.
The Grape would have had contemporaries in their kindergarten.
It's too bad it didn't work out.
We selected this school, because its curriculum is largely play based. I felt like we were on the same page in terms of our basic educational philosophy. We were blown away by some of the faculty we chanced to meet—especially those teaching in the middle elementary grades.
But the pre-K offer is a non-starter.
It would feel punitive and demoralizing to hold the Grape back in a school where he'd see his friends—including some kids he's known since age two—moving ahead, when they're in exactly the same place academically.
The Grape recognizes words in two languages and adds and subtracts numbers up to about 15 in his head. His preschool teachers think he'll read by end of summer, without any nudging from anyone. There's no way he's "behind" his age contemporaries, especially in the eyes of a school that doesn't begin to push on reading until the first grade.
And of course, their tuition was also nearly twice what we pay at our beloved preschool, albeit for a day of similar length.
The other big clincher here was that we know a number of families with older kids in this particular private school who declined to put their younger kids in the pre-K class there.
One big reason: cost. Another: the pre-K kids don't get out and about in the city much. Rumor has it they rarely venture further than their own playground, which to me, defeats the purpose of an urban campus setting.
I should note that the school does a great job of getting their older kids out exploring the city—one of the reasons that attracted us in the first place.
R. and I were left with the feeling that the admissions committee had a lot of applicant families they liked, and they were trying to push some of the younger kids down to pre-K to make room for everyone. Again, just a hunch.
We turned the pre-K spot down, even though if we'd taken it, the Grape would've had a place at a progressive, play based institution through middle school.
The way the school handled its communications, and the way they dismissed our wishes as the Grape's parents, when they didn't have a class age demographics reason for doing so, left such a bad taste in our mouths that we definitely will not apply again for kindergarten there next year.
So here's what we've learned:
Whether we like the idea of red shirting or not is irrelevant. The only relevant question is whether we want private elementary school, and all the bells and whistles and extras such an education offers, for our summer boy.
If the answer is yes, then we need to wait a year. The Grape's wonderful preschool will take him back, so that's not an issue.
And if we wait a year, R. and I agree that we will definitely re-apply to the first private school, because we thought they handled our differences of opinion with a tremendous amount of class.
We would also apply to a few others whose deadlines we missed, because R. and I were new to, and more than a little agnostic about, the whole private school possibility this past fall.
We get that if we wait, we roll the dice again. The applicant pools could be different. The Grape could behave like an ass hat at his interviews. We could receive a stack of ding letters, which would mean we'd be suburbia bound for sure.
If the answer is no, we want public school, because we fundamentally believe in the importance of public education, then we have two basic options, that will hopefully become clear in upcoming days. We either take what the Boston Public Schools lottery gives us, or we move to the suburbs, like so many of our friends have done.
Some close friends have remarked that I'm remarkably Zen about this whole mess, particularly after spending what amounts to two weeks of my life as a school applier.
Maybe so, but here's the thing. A lot of parents feel like the ding letters hit them out of nowhere. We knew that first rejection letter, from what became our first choice school, was coming, because the admissions director was so communicative and open throughout the process.
I'm still a bit stunned about how much time this man invested in the Grape's file.
We also know the chances of getting the public school we want in the lottery is somewhere around 1 in 5. At best.
R. and I are warming to the idea of a move, but neither of us is chomping at the bit to leave the city this minute. And I'm not being facetious. With the South End real estate market lacking inventory, I'm confident our apartment would fly off the shelf. We can't list it until we have a plan, or else we'll be camping illegally in Titus Sparrow Park.