Part of a continuing series of interviews with people in the Metrowest Jewish community
On April 12, after weeks of hand-wringing in Framingham, school choice forms for the 2013-14 kindergarten classes were finally due. After taking time off for school tours, talking with other parents, debating choice vs. neighborhood schools, parents submitted their final decisions, and are now left waiting nervously by the mailbox for that envelope that will reveal where their son or daughter “got in.”
Abrielle Salloway went through school choice last year for her daughter Leah, now a kindergartner at Stapleton Elementary. She talks with us about how she and her husband navigated the process, which she admits had its high and low points. Originally from Brooklyn, Abrielle is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). She works as a program specialist for Jewish Family Service of Metrowest, where she coordinates programming for elders in senior housing as well as the Kesher/Kesher 13 program, which is a service program that connects kids of pre-bar or bat mitzvah age with elders in the community. She and her husband, Bill, live in Framingham with their daughters Leah (6) and Jenna (3 1/2).
How did you approach school choice for your family?
When Bill and I first began thinking about school choice, we discussed what we wanted for our children. We were concerned about the quality of education and how our daughters would assimilate into a more culturally diverse classroom setting after having been in a Jewish preschool for three years. We were also concerned about how Leah would transition from a small classroom to a classroom with 20-plus students. We wanted to make Leah’s transition seamless. We wanted her to be in an atmosphere where she would feel comfortable.
We started the school choice process by attending the Kindergarten Expo. During this time we went to each of the school booths in order to get information about the schools we would tour. I then began talking to friends who were going through the same process as well as parents of children who were already in the Framingham school system. Before the tours, we went online and looked up MCAS scores for the different schools.
A word that comes up a lot to describe the process of school choice is “stressful.” What do you think about it?
One benefit of the system is the option to go somewhere else if you don’t like your neighborhood school. An advantage of taking the tours was that it allowed you to see other parents and talk about the process. It helped us not feel alone.
Some of the disadvantages of the system is how nerve-wracking the whole process could be. We were constantly second-guessing ourselves! Going on the tours, putting down our choices, and then waiting for the letter in the mail felt like we were trying to get Leah into college and not elementary school. We also didn’t like that the tours were scheduled on specific days and times. While some of the schools were willing to schedule additional tours on alternate days, several of the schools were not as flexible.
Tell us more about the school tours.
The school tour process was very stressful for us, as you said, but in the end it was a worthwhile experience.
We started by choosing to go to the two most spoken-about schools among people we knew, which were Hemenway and Dunning. I was only planning on going on three tours. However, after going on the first tour and speaking with someone in the Framingham school system, I decided to go on more tours. I ended up going on six out of the eight.
As I went on each one, it became more stressful and confusing to try to discern which school would best for Leah. There were some schools where I felt that they tried to “sell” their schools more, while the schools, which seemed the most “popular,” did not put in as much of an effort.
One of the downsides to the tours was that the schedules didn’t always fit into our work schedules. I had more flexibility around my work schedule and my girls’ schedules so I could go on the tours. My husband was able to come on some of the tours with me. However, he arranged to go on a private tour with the principal at Stapleton. Some of the other schools were not as friendly and did not encourage private tours.
My husband really enjoyed the private tour because he was able to ask as many questions as he wanted and felt that he was able to get a good sense of the principal and the school itself.
You’ve been talking to parents going through the process this year. What are the top questions that you hear?
A couple of mothers recently sent me emails asking me about Leah’s school, Stapleton. They wanted to know if we were happy with our choice and how our experience has been thus far. One mother asked if I had any suggestions for how she could improve her chances for getting her child into Stapleton since it was not her neighborhood school. She wanted strategies about how to rank her choices. I see and sense the same level of anxiety that we had when we were getting ready for Leah to move on from preschool to public school. All parents want their children where they can succeed, but it’s hard to know in advance exactly which school will that be.
Did you consider what you thought to be the Jewish population of the elementary schools when you were making your choice? When my daughter entered kindergarten after attending a temple preschool for two years, I think she was surprised to learn that most kids in her class WEREN’T Jewish!
Yes, we did consider the Jewish population of the elementary schools. However, there was no way to know what her class would look like. In the end, she was one of two Jewish children in her classroom.
It was definitely a difficult transition for me when she went from a primarily Jewish classroom to her current classroom. I wanted Leah to have the experience of being in a diverse classroom, but during the “big” holidays, she experienced what it was like to be a minority. I had to remind her that we didn’t celebrate Christmas and that we had eight nights of Hanukkah. But she is learning about diversity, which is very different from where she began her education. Leah started Hebrew school this year. People have asked, isn’t she too young? But we felt that it was important for her to see some of her preschool friends and to continue her Jewish education.
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