View Full Version : All LA Metro Why I Switched My Child from LAUSD to Private School By Jenny Heitz

Jenny Heitz
12-07-2010, 06:20 PM
Before I even begin this tale, I’d like to state for the record that I went to LAUSD through 7th grade (after that I attended Crossroads). For the most part, until middle school, the public experience was positive. Perhaps I wasn’t challenged as much as I might have been at a private school, but it was the 1970s and the Los Angeles private school mania hadn’t gone bonkers just yet.

So, when it was time for my daughter Anna to switch from her Montessori pre-school to elementary school (she attended kindergarten at Montessori), sending her to Third St. Elementary seemed like a fine idea. It was, after all, our neighborhood school. I believed in the concept of public education, as well as the diversity a public school provides. But from moment one, there were problems.

Anna’s first grade teacher was a newbie, and she had very little love for my admittedly precocious daughter. “I thought I had a teenager in my class,” the teacher told me, not in a nice way. The year progressed rather poorly. Anna blew off homework (copious amounts for first grade). She didn’t return after a bathroom break and was found playing on the monkey bars. On the other hand, the teacher was barely in control of the class, assigning absurd animal reports to six year olds (black widow spider, anyone?), and seemed overall not up the task at hand. We stuck it out and hoped second grade would be better.

And it was. Anna’s second grade teacher was a total pro. He recognized her need for academic activity and had her do extra work, help the other kids, and generally kept her out of trouble. It was a good year. At the end of the year, he suggested she get tested for Gifted and Talented (GATE) status. We signed her up for the test.

Meanwhile, third grade begins. She is assigned a teacher with a wonderful reputation. Yet, Anna was bored. Really, really bored. She finished her homework in ten minutes. She never had anything to say about anything she’d learned. Her teacher complained Anna seemed “distracted,” yet her grades were terrific. The teacher never wanted to assign extra work, so this cycle continued. Something was up.

After not hearing from LAUSD regarding her test, we decided to get an independent opinion. We took Anna to a child psychologist, who administered the WISC IV, an I.Q. test. It took about an hour, and Anna enjoyed it. At the end, we found out that Anna’s scores indicated she was highly gifted. The psychologist recommended private school for her, especially Mirman, one of the few schools in the country teaching only highly gifted children. We took her advice, and luckily got Anna into Mirman off the waiting list for fourth grade.

We never got a real I.Q. test from LAUSD for Anna. And it wouldn’t have mattered if we had. The joke is, there is no real GATE program through LAUSD to cater to gifted students anyway. Yes, the program exists on paper, and it has a name and requirements for entrance (there’s even someone in charge of the GATE program at Third St., although we never could get her on the phone), but since there’s no enrichment classes available at Third St., it was all meaningless. It seems almost funny now, but at the time we were just scratching our heads in bewilderment.

The lack of enriched academic resources aside, there were other problems with LAUSD that seem glaringly apparent to me after the fact. The school, which has fabulous test scores, struggles annually to provide anything for the children beyond the bare minimum. The parents work tirelessly on the school’s behalf, but it’s a Sisyphean task as there’s always another budget cut on the horizon. All those Culture Days, all those fundraisers, don’t seem to keep the school from sinking deeper into budgetary mire. I still hear about goings on at Third St.; this year they lost their librarian and janitors and have a truncated school year.

I wonder sometimes: where does all the money go? How can it not get to the individual schools? How can teachers have to beg parents for basics like copy paper (I bet there’s no shortage of copy paper at LAUSD headquarters). Each year, more cuts ensue, more extras like art, music, and physical education are eliminated from curriculums. Each year, either classroom sizes increase, or teachers are fired (always the new and enthusiastic ones), or the school year is shortened. Yet there’s still never enough money, just endless ways to make the classroom as ill equipped, dull, dirty, and dispirited as possible. How can a bureaucracy that is supposed to, in theory, serve children, be so callous toward them?

So, I gave up on LAUSD for a variety of reasons. And the irony is, Third St. is a good LAUSD school. It makes me wonder about all those other schools, the ones with really poor scores and not enough parents with the time and money to devote to their school (not that, as at Third St., all that parent involvement makes that big a difference in the end). Life might not always be fair, but the state of LAUSD is way more unfair than it needs to be.

My friends who have stayed in the public system are mostly sending their kids to charter schools or magnet schools, where the demands for volunteerism lead to palpable results. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s far better than the standard LAUSD alternative. But many of these parents look into the future with dread, as middle and high schools looms with few good options available. They are scrambling to gain “points” through the LAUSD system for increased eligibility to magnet schools, just in case the charter schools don’t work out or funding is pulled. It’s a constant worry game. While Anna might have some admissions issues entering middle or high school (private school entrance competition can be fierce), it’s easier if she makes the switch to private now.

Private school has been a blessing for Anna. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to send her there. She’s fulfilled and enthusiastic, and talks about what she’s learning constantly. The campus is idyllic. It’s a total sea change from the LAUSD experience. Switching her out of LAUSD was the absolute right decision. And I know that we were lucky to have the option.

12-18-2010, 10:47 AM
Jenny, your story has been so helpful for me, thank you so so much. I'm going through the process right now and trying to decide what our private school options are. Like your daughter, our son tested in the highly gifted range to qualify for Mirman. However, I'm wondering if putting him in such an environment might make it harder for him to adjust socially when he's not surrounded by other very bright kids. Did you consider other private schools with progressive, differentiated instruction that might be able to nurture your daughter's intellect and curiosity in a more normal social setting? What are your thoughts about having your daughter be just another smart kid at Mirman vs. being one of the smartest at a normal private school? Are there other issues I should consider when making my decision??? Thank you for your advice!

Jenny Heitz
12-18-2010, 11:32 AM
I'm glad the story has been helpful for you. While I shared some of your concerns regarding a school like Mirman at first, the opposite proved to be true. My daughter is far better in a social setting with other highly gifted children. She's completely relaxed, has stopped being socially bossy, and seems better adjusted than ever. The kids at Mirman don't seem that different anyway; they're just all very intelligent. They all still have strengths and weaknesses, so every child at the school still has a sense of accomplishment. The competition has been good for my daughter as well, since nothing is worse than being bored, or having it too easy. I did consider other schools, and we did apply to one other, but I'm so happy we decided on Mirman. I've also noticed that Mirman is mellower in terms of money, status, and parental nonsense. The school really is all about the kids, and my daughter is simply thriving. I swear, the difference in her behavior and demeanor is astonishing. As far as progressive versus Mirman's more structured program, these kind of kids need more structure. It really works beautifully. If you'd like to talk more about the school, I'd be happy to, since obviously I'm hugely enthusiastic.

12-18-2010, 03:20 PM
It's great to hear about stories like yours where you've found the perfect school for your daughter. We hope to be so lucky - can only try our best, right? We really like the low key aspect of Mirman that you described. When you say structured, how does that manifest itself in the classroom or curriculum? I think the other privates we are looking at have to be progressive and be able to accommodate advanced learners or else my son would probably go bonkers. I appreciate your offer to chat more but I'm scared of getting my hopes up too high. :rolleyes:

Just curious, which preschool did your daughter go to? Did some of the issues she had at the public elementary school surface already while she was in preschool?

Jenny Heitz
12-18-2010, 05:16 PM
My daughter went to Montessori Shir-Hashirim, which was ideal for her. There was structure, but choice within the structure. She had none of the issues she later displayed in public school. I'm convinced that keeping gifted kids highly stimulated and engaged is the answer. You just won't get that at public school. When I say structured, I mean that the kids have schedules and expectations placed upon them. At the same time, the school is small enough and child centered enough that there's no "one size fits all" philosophy at work; if my kid needs either extra help or more demanding work, she gets it. That's the big advantage of a private school.

12-18-2010, 08:45 PM
This little chat has seriously answered so many of my questions and concerns. If you don't mind, I may follow up with more questions as we go further into the process. Thank you so so much.