I’m a proud DC public school parent. I love to brag about the incredible community our family has found within our children’s school and within the family of DC public schools in my neighborhood. If I can be honest, I have developed quite an ego about it. My kids are getting a world class education in a gem of a school, where the entire staff pitches in and clearly understands they are there to support and educate the children in that school, where a security guard teaches modern jazz on her days off and a custodian coaches track every day after school (for our school AND for the local high school). A school that is as much part of my life (and I suspect will always be) as it is part of my children’s lives.

As imperfect as things can get (you mean we have to buy books for the library? and raise funds for the fundamental school materials? and beg the city for a crossing guard? what?), it’s incredibly rewarding to pitch in, and hopefully have a positive impact on the small world my children share with their friends and educators. It’s been a bumpy ride, but I know it’s worth it. My children love their friends, teachers, school and I know it’s the right place for them (and for us). Unfortunately, all things (bad and good) must come to an end…

It all began 6 years ago, when we hit the ‘lottery’ and scored a coveted 3 year old spot in one of the local neighborhood schools. The waiting list boasted 100+ broken hearted families deep (it’s now +700). I walked into the school and knew immediately it was the right place for my son. Sunny hallways filled with happy, independent children, several of whom looked like my own multi-racial angel. We received word that he got in over the summer (on his birthday, no less) and met his amazing teacher later that summer (on my birthday, no less) – it was meant to be ;). He ran right into his classroom on the first day of school and (almost) never looked back. Over the years, we had ups and downs, but always knew this was the school for him (and later, for his little sister). Middle school was a question mark, but so far away, and SURELY things would resolve themselves before we needed to think about it.

Well, by the time my son turned 5, I started thinking about it. Happy with our family’s experience, and aware of the growing demand for quality public schools in the District (well, at least in my neighborhood), I joined an effort to expand the school in capacity, and to add grades through middle school. A team of parents and teachers worked for 3 months to draft a proposal (with DCPS’ encouragement), collect parent feedback via surveys, and get the word out to the school community. We had a great plan that was immediately shot down by DCPS without any explanation beyond – “in these uncertain economic times… ”

Deflated, I forgot about it until I connected with Suzanne Wells and an incredible group of parents and educators via the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO), who after years of bringing cross-school initiatives to Capitol Hill pubic schools (like renovating 8 school libraries and supporting school gardens) had begun to think about the state of middle schools. Elementary schools were doing great, all with healthy waiting lists, but with only 1 ‘viable’ middle school in Ward 6, the group lamented that kids continued to leave the elementary schools after 2nd or 3rd grade.

I joined in the effort, representing our school, and after a year of ‘scraping’ enrollment data, circulating surveys, drafting proposals, setting up google groups, ning sites, blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts pushing DC public schools, running around spreading the word at PTA meetings (mine and others), ANCs, (anything to get the word out), and countless meetings (including a five hour session during ‘Snowmaggedon’ in the basement of Riverby books), we finally got audience with then-Chancellor, Michelle Rhee. She assigned resources to the Capitol Hill Middle School Initiative, DCPS embraced it and broadened it to a Ward 6 Middle School Initiative. We were well on our way to expanding our school!!!

A year later, on August 2011, Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan opened it’s doors, in a new building, with most of the staff, children and even the same principal. We were going to grow… but, *IRONY ALERT* we were not going to grow through middle school.

Not only would our school NOT go through middle school, but it would soon stop feeding into the only viable middle school that was our feeder school before the move. So while I had helped to make the program stronger, with added capacity so that more families could send their children to this school, for my own children, the middle school situation went from sub-optimal to, well, what’s worse than worse?

I’ve spent the past few years talking about middle schools, giving sympathetic looks to fellow parents with older children, and begging them not to leave DC, talking up the ‘promise’ of International Baccalaureate, of renewed museum magnet programs, and collaboration among schools. It was all easy to do when someone else was walking the road. I’m finding it’s not so easy walking the road myself.

So it’s come to this… I find myself today, with a 4th grader, once again facing the ‘lottery’ game. This time, though, the stakes are higher. Not only am I worrying about whether the school we choose will prepare my child academically, I am also worrying about, ahem, BJs in the bathroom (as so eloquently put by a shero of mine, Heather You-Know-Who-You-Are), bullying, and the ridiculous political circus that is public education in DC.

At the suggestion of school activist, Alice Speck, I’ve started this blog to document the process of ‘shopping’ for a middle school. It’s part therapy, but also hoping it becomes a way to raise awareness about how broken this system is. I’ve invited other parents also going through this to contribute. Hoping this leads to a variety of voices and perspectives. Striving to be honest, fair and respectful.

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