Feb. 15 marks the last day that parents of children going into or already enrolled in the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) can apply for “school choice.” If you're not a parent, you probably think this column doesn't apply to you. But please. Don't skip over to the medicinal-marijuana ads just yet. There's valuable information for you in the next nine paragraphs, namely: Don't have kids. Not that kids aren't great; they totally are—especially if you raise them right, with plenty of pleases and thank-yous, baths and broccoli and lots of Yo Gabba Gabba! (As an aside: Most people don't raise their kids right and you will have to deal with these insufferable nincompoops on a daily basis. It's painful.)
So where was I? Oh yeah. Getting your kid into school.
Navigating entry into the public-school system makes that first horrendous year of incessant crying, sleepless nights and crap-filled diapers seem as fun and carefree as the days when you were single and doing lines off a bathroom counter-top at the Manchester Hyatt during the staff Christmas party. Make the most of your childfree lives, people. It's a tad different over here on this side.
Here's how the school thing works: Parents can send their kid to their neighborhood school like they did back in the 20th century. Or, they can look at other schools in the city that have a particular focus—say, immersion in another language or an emphasis in boondoggle—and list up to five of these schools on the “choice” application. Then you cross your fingers and kiss your elbow that Little Jackson's number gets picked out of the giant lottery ball at the school district's main office. All of this doesn't include applications to charter schools, each of which has a separate form. Admission to these schools is equally as random (or so they say).
Although I'm not a hover parent or even one who is particularly organized—I missed my father-in-law's birthday last year—I managed to overachieve in the school-application department and beat the deadline by months. And thanks to a Total Freak Out at the ominous news of pending school budget cuts, I turned my back on my philosophical stance and waded into the private-school-application waters. More specifically, Sam and I dove head first into the financial-aid tide pool for a private school. It was a paralyzing experience that went something like this:
How many boats do you own? 0
How many vacation homes do you own? 0
How many of your membership dues exceed $250 each month? Uh… 0.
Do you summer in Madrid or Gstaad? …
Do you prefer Dom or Krug to be served on your private jet? …
Do you own a coat, scarf or purse made by Burberry? Oh, God no. Hell no.
Jimmy Choo or Christian Louboutin? Do knock-offs count?
Sam and I had started to feel pretty low and uncomfortably exposed. After four hours of scouring old tax records and seeing exactly how worthless we are on paper, I sucked down three old-fashioneds, including authentic maraschino cherries made by D.A. Kolodenko himself (take that, you high-falutin', private-school-attending Cristal drinkers!). It was clear how far I'd wandered off the beaten path. These are not our people, I thought. And we are not worthless, even if a line-by-line audit says otherwise. We are poor! We are pagans! We are public school! And with that, I shredded our application. I'd like those four hours back, please.
Every day, I am asked by various friends or family members, “Do you know where Ruby will be going to kindergarten?” And I offer an abridged spiel with lots of gesticulation. Our first choice for her is a school whose proximity to our home is sort of like that of Russia to Alaska, but even closer, if you can imagine. It's not a metaphor: We can actually see it from our front porch. Unfortunately, because it's a magnet school, we're beholden to the lottery and there is no greasing the wheel with charm and / or insider connections. I've watched other parents do some foot stomping, but that only serves to remind me not to hang out with them. Ever.
My personal feeling is that if I have to listen to the school's alarm going off all weekend long, my child should automatically be given admission, in the same way that she is automatically admitted to our neighborhood school. Because that would be an actual choice, as opposed to the semi-sorta-pseudo choice currently offered. I politely mentioned this to a district staffer on the phone one day, when I'd called to verify that they received my faxed application. Not surprisingly, I heard only crickets on the other end of the line.
And so, like parents all over the city, we wait on the School Gods to bestow upon us the answer to the pressing question. If you're a parent and you haven't already done so, you might want to get your hustle on. You have just a week to make your list and then sit on your hands. And if you're not a parent, and you made it this far, then, well. I'm guessing you really need to hit up that pot dispensary now, though you'll likely have to get in line behind a few parents. And after you get home, I would highly suggest you seek out DJ Lance Rock for a little entertainment.
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