Kindergarten in New Orleans :: Finding a School Shouldn’t Be This Hard
It was a Saturday morning, and my four year-old son and I sat in a crowded cafeteria waiting for his name to be called for his readiness assessment to the International School of Louisiana in Metairie. While we were waiting, he was stacking coins we dumped out of my wallet and I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone when a news article caught my attention. The school we ranked number one on our OneApp application – the school where we were currently sitting and waiting for his name to be called – would not be open next year. The International School of Louisiana’s Metairie campus would not exist after this year.
It was a Tuesday evening, and my husband and I arrived separately and both tardy to an information session at Bricolage Academy. As my husband and I sat and listened to the school founder and executive director, we got excited. This seemed like the type of school environment we envisioned for our son. We appreciated the diverse student population and the focus on the future and technology. After the presentation, we went up to speak to the principal and asked him about the fact that OneApp let us rank the school as one of our top choices, but the material that was handed out tonight showed only an acceptance geographical area of Orleans Parish and we live in Jefferson Parish. He explained that yes we could apply and even be offered a spot, but if accepted we couldn’t actually enroll unless we moved to Orleans Parish.
It was a Wednesday evening in a gymnasium full of eager parents at the Jefferson Parish Magnet School Showcase. The 13 Jefferson Parish magnet schools were each represented by a table and various members of each of their respective staffs. I didn’t know much about many of the schools, so I was eager to learn. A few of the schools seemed really promising, but some of them have varying application processes. For most of them, my husband or I will have to take a day off of work to drive to the school board office on the Westbank and turn in our applications in person … a different application for each school we wish to apply to. A lady attending the event told me that sometimes people camp out the night before the opening day of the application window to be the first ones to get the spots that they want. Someone else from the school board office told me that was nonsense and that I could turn in the application any time during the month long window. But everyone did confirm the spots were first come, first serve.
I am a South Louisiana native, but spent most of my elementary school career in Baton Rouge. My husband grew up and attended school in Tulsa, Oklahoma. So while I grew up enjoying and partaking in all of the things that make South Louisiana so special and unique, when we actually moved to Metairie almost four years ago, it was our first exposure to the workings of the public school system here. I strongly believe in public schools. I want my children to attend a public school for many reasons. I want them to interact with lots of different types of people, to have friends that may look or even think totally different than we do. I value the fact that public schools are places for every type of child. Public schools are governed by a specific set of academic standards and have been educating the children of America for generations. Public schools create a sense of community.
Sadly, a lot of this isn’t true of New Orleans and the surrounding areas public system. It has left me sad and frustrated. School choice has turned into more of throw a lot of things against the wall, hope and wait and see what sticks. Tulane University’s Cowen Institute, which studies and performs research on K-12 public education, published a brief history of New Orleans public schools and summarized the current state by saying:
“The current public education landscape seems complex and disconnected, and inequity in funding and resources is exacerbated by this complexity. Many schools still face enormous challenges with respect to funding, facilities, inexperienced leadership, and inadequate support from an insufficient number of district staff.”
I have been with my husband as he applied to medical school and now currently residency. I can say with confidence that both of those processes were easier than finding a kindergarten for my son in New Orleans. Myself and my family have spent countless hours doing research on our options, trying to figure out exactly how the OneApp process works, which schools we can and cannot apply to, which schools we would even want to apply to, attending readiness and placement testings, going on school tours and attending information sessions, talking to various friends and NOLA area educators about what they know of this school and that school. This process has been extremely arduous to say the least. I feel lucky to have these advantages to find a school for my son and know these are things not all families have.
As of now we still have no idea where exactly our son will attend kindergarten or even when we will know that information. What I do know is that it shouldn’t be this hard.
*For more information, here are 10 frequently asked questions about the OneApp process answered by EdNavigator.
Tara grew up all over south Louisiana and currently lives in Metairie with her husband Josh, and their two boys. Tara is a buyer for a local food-service distribution company. She has gone all in on being a boy mom and can frequently be seen playing superheroes, cleaning mud off something or someone, and constantly making snacks. She loves trying new food and she and her family love all things New Orleans, but especially Mardi Gras.