Thursday, January 11, 2007

Project Martinis, Magnets & More

Dormant? No. Hiding? No. Inactive? Not at all.

Quiet? Yes. Surprisingly so.

Returning from "winter break," 19 days of no school, 2 in-laws, a coupla holidays thrown in there, delightful family outings, now it's back to school, back to our routines, back to work.

Like a squirrel gathering nuts for a long winter break, I have been quietly, actively collecting projects.

Most immediately, becoming active helping parents navigate the challenging, not so top-of-its-class public monolith that is LAUSD. That stands for the Los Angeles Public School District.

I suppose I never would have even considered public school education reform a serious issue to focus my energies on prior to becoming a parent. As a matter of fact, collaborating, building community, gathering info and sharing answers with others was only done if it involved musicians, a gig, and some cashola…for me.

Nine years ago, when we bought into this sleepy little Westside neighborhood, a mostly retired blue collar, post-war community, the last thing on our minds was school districts. In fact, I distinctly recall our housewarming announcement. It stated matter-of-factly: "No rings, no kids, no nonsense. (To answer your next question.) But please bring a bottle of your favorite wine."

Er herm. Yes, well.

Now that I'm married, with child, specifically child about to enter Kindergarten, it seems that there's a whole mess of nonsense around here to wade through.

Cue favorite wine, please.

The only reason we landed over here to begin with is because the lots were bigger (I love to garden), slightly more affordable, and we needed a detached garage to house the new recording studio we were going to build. We didn't want a postage-sized lot with neighbors breathing down our backs as musicians came and went day and night pushing their Anvil cases up and down the driveway. Little did we imagine that with the advent of computer technology, sampling, flying tracks and vocals over the net, the need to actually see musicians anymore is a rarity indeed, but that's beside the point.

By a stroke of good fortune and incredible timing on my husband's part, we ended up in our little fixer-upper neighborhood almost a decade ago. Who knew it would eventually become a desirable family destination?

However, it is quite simply unacceptable to me that the average price these days for a 1-story, 1200 sq ft tear-down over here has risen to just shy of a million dollars, and yet our local schools are in such a sorry state parents seem to be abandoning them left and right for anywhere better. Now if you can afford the additional $18-25K (choke, wheez) per child per year for private elementary school on up, bravo to you. But some of us just can't. We need other options; we need public options. You know, for the people, the just folks, not the let's-hemorrhage-money-just-because-we-can bazillionaires.

And furthermore, if the real estate values are where they are, I damn well think my kid ought to be able to go to her neighborhood school and get a decent education.

There are many problems, but a big one is size. LAUSD services over 740,000 children and is the 2nd largest school district in the country. That means that the tax dollars we throw into the kitty over in our hot little neighborhood get dispersed and wind up all across this urban sprawl, not just in our own back yard.

Another issue we're facing is this very real post 9/11 baby boom. I see it on the ballooning mom boards and on the ever-growing preschool wait lists. There is a swell of kids about to begin entering the school system. I have heard parents tell of even being willing to pay the 20-some-thousand-dollars per year for private school, applied to 5 or 6 of them, and didn't get in. Any. Too many children, not enough slots. As this boom grows up, the available slots per applicant will get slimmer and slimmer. Those children will have to go somewhere...perhaps back to their neighborhood schools.

I've heard it said that if the state of California were a nation--what with the output of silicon valley, napa valley and the entertainment industry--it would be ranked the 7th or 8th wealthiest country in the world! Yet we are ranked near the bottom of the country for public education. Our schools just don't line up with what Californians are capable of. With all our resources, intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, wealth…couldn't we do better educating our next generation?

So, what's a concerned parent to do?

Luckily, there ARE public school options. If you know about them. If you apply correctly and on time. There are magnets, independent charters and complex charters, inter and intra-district permits, each with their own application procedure, timeline and lotteries.

In an attempt to sort through and understand all this, I began coordinating parent nights at our preschool last year to discuss the process, bringing in alumnae parents who'd already been through it for one event, and both a magnet and charter elementary school principal for another event. I sat in on local PTA and parent booster club meetings at neighborhood schools, keeping tabs on their initiatives and progress.

Now branching out to an even wider community, this Sunday I have agreed to jump onboard with NPR humorist Sandra Tsing Loh and "Three Martini Playdate" author Christie Mellor, along with the LA Times and a vodka sponsor, and am co-hosting a westside public event, "Martinis, Magnets & More," a public school survival seminar. We have your vodka. We have your Choices Applications. We can help.

At the heart of it is to be able to offer nuts and bolts info on school options and navigating the often confusing application lottery process, and also to connect parents to each other and encourage them to get involved locally instead of flee. It's time to revitalize our neighborhood schools. It is already happening in little pockets of dedicated, core parent groups at many neighborhood schools. We're building awareness and momentum. With a little twist.



Prema said...

Is this from the woman who doubts her purpose?? I'm so impressed. Wow, so great that you are involved in this way. I think you are super cool and so hip. That's gotta count for a lot, right!

Can't wait to hear how it goes. And what a hoot to be with that very funny NPR woman. I crack up every time I hear her say anything.

Jerri said...

Girl, I can not tell you how impressed I am with your mission and your ability to articulate it. WooooHooooo!

Great project. Great writing. Gooooo T!!!!

Michelle O'Neil said...

Wow! Bravo to you! What you are doign is amazing. Your daughter is one lucky kid.

Lee Wolfe Blum said...

You are AMAZING...although I already knew that. I haven't been in blog land in a while and wow have you been busy! Your daughter is so lucky to have YOU as a Mom! Welcome to the world of school. I entered it this year and it really is a whole new world...and wow you are taking the bull by the horns. You go girl!

Oh...and your writing is really growing! Very articulate!
Keep us posted on the Vodka night! (awesome ad by the way!)