The conversation usually goes something like this:
Someone asks: "So, what school does your daughter attend?"
I answer: "Laguna Creek High School."
They respond: "Oh...." (big pause). "How does she like it?" Or sometimes, "How is it going over there?"
These words are almost always accompanied by a look that says something like, "Wow, I am SO sorry." Sometimes a visible wince even comes along for the ride.
I'm not sure people even realize they do this. When I answer them with the truth, which is that she loves her school, that she is thriving and having the time of her life, people seem politely surprised. Or a little perplexed. Or they assume that I am lying and trying to make myself feel better about the horrible thing I did to my daughter. You get the picture.
Anyone following the school board’s discussion about attendance boundary changes over the last few months will have heard plenty of accusations about the supposed inferior quality of education at Harriet Eddy Middle School and Laguna Creek High School. The schools had lower test scores, we heard. They were unsafe. Who would want to send their children there?
I am a Foulks Ranch Elementary School parent who chose to send her child to Harriet Eddy and Laguna Creek when very few others did, and I’m here to tell you that the public perception of those schools is incorrect. The problem is that at this point the negativity has become folklore that is passed down year after year, from neighbor to neighbor, from parent to child, like a giant poisonous game of "telephone."
As the parent of two more children at Foulks Ranch, including a sixth grader, I paid particular attention to the hubbub surrounding the boundary changes. I listened to parents from Joseph Sims Elementary implore the district not to ruin their children's lives by making them go to an "inferior" school. I listened to people discuss placing their homes up for sale en masse and moving away rather than send their children to "those" schools, and present alternative boundary proposals that amounted to sending "anyone but us" to Laguna Creek.
What is it about this subject that divides us so? How can it be that we all live less than eight minutes from each other, we shop at the same grocery stores, our kids go to elementary school together and play sports together, but somehow there is that much of a difference in the quality of secondary education in our communities? That makes no sense at all.
Our perceptions and our words are very powerful things. They can help us achieve great things and they can also fracture communities and tank the reputations of entire schools.
Something is wrong when a sixth-grade student comes home from school and tells her parent that a classmate informed her she will probably get shot in the head if she attends Harriet Eddy. (This happened recently to the daughter of a friend of mine.) When people go on anonymous online forums and talk about violence at Laguna Creek that simply did not happen, indeed something is very wrong.
Eddy's new principal brought his orientation to Foulks Ranch recently. Attendance was dismal. As a result, very few people heard that Eddy had the lowest rate of drug and violence related suspensions per capita of any middle school in the district last year. Upon further investigation, I found that Laguna Creek was among the four high schools in the district with the lowest rates for drug and violence related suspensions during the same time period. The hype simply does not match the reality.
Consider the academic test score argument. It does not take a lot of brainpower to see that at this point the test-score disparity is largely a self-fulfilling prophecy. People hear some schools are "bad,” so people do acrobatics to send their kids and their test scores to another school, so test scores at the "bad" schools suffer, and then people use the lower test scores to bolster their opinion that the schools are "bad."
The truth is right there if you are willing to look past the preconceived notions, and seek out facts rather than rumors. I know this because I have done it.
In the years prior to my daughter's middle school transition I attended all of the Laguna Community Parent Forum meetings hosted by the district—ironically, because I was displeased with the idea of having to send my child to "those" schools. What I discovered was that Eddy and Laguna had a great deal to offer my daughter, including the prospect of having the first and only prestigious International Baccalaureate Program in EGUSD, great leadership training, involved and dedicated teachers, and a sense of community that only her neighborhood schools could provide.
This week, the school district plans to hold a lottery for families who applied to transfer from their assigned schools under the district’s open enrollment policy. Being concerned about your child's education and wanting the best for them is wonderful. All I am asking is that parents investigate what is actually "the best" before they act.
Where should concerned parents start? Get involved and stay involved. Talk to the principals. Tour the schools. Speak to the Sheriff's School Resource Officers—They know what goes on at our schools. Ask them all the hard questions, and keep asking until you are satisfied.
And please, next time you feel like offering me your condolences, don't bother. Instead, ask me why I made the decision I did for my daughter. I’d be happy to share.