A new dress, a new pair of shoes and a new crop of teenagers marked my first day of this brand new school year. I love the first day. I love the expectant faces and the crisp new school supplies. When my children were in school I felt torn: I, their mother, should take them for the first day, but I, the teacher, could not reconcile missing the critical first day with my students. Thus, Dad got the honor of finding the classroom and picking up the supply list and learning first the answer to the summer-long question, which teacher did we get?
Things have changed a bit since then. Instead of waiting to find out which teachers would shape our year, many parents and children await the fateful lottery day with a mixture of fear and excitement. Will my number be one of the lucky ones? The process of planning a school career (that idea in itself is foreign) has become as complicated as strategizing for battle in wartime.
When I speak to young parents in our neighborhood about school choices, I see the weight of the world resting on their shoulders. Parents are accepting the charge of tending to their children’s education with a seriousness that is new in this era of educational fear. Even though we live in a neighborhood with a good school and sidewalks to take us there, not all of our neighbors get to go. The number of spots for new students is few and the number of families in Lockeland Springs with school-age children is growing. The neighborhood that we love suddenly starts to feel less welcoming and more exclusive when it is time to send the baby off to kindergarten.
It is easy for those of us whose children have successfully navigated the system and are off in the world making their own way to dismiss this concern as unfounded and concentrate our efforts on other causes. We know, based upon our experiences, that public school is a good place for kids. It is a uniquely American system that seeks to educate ALL children, not just the few. However, in recent years, reformers have changed the game. The level of worry for parents in 2014 is much greater than “am I a bad mother because I can’t take my child to school on the first day?” The effect of legislation like No Child Left Behind and policies like Race to the Top is a new public school system that relies more heavily on standardized tests to measure the success of children, teachers, and schools than any other era in our history. Combine this with a journalistic age that has moved off the page, where time and care was taken to report the story as objectively and thoroughly as possible, and onto the internet where getting the message out first regardless of the accuracy of the message now prevails, and we have a quagmire of information that parents must sort out. This is a problem that the entire neighborhood must move to the top of our priority list. We cannot leave our young families to manage this alone, or we will become a neighborhood of old fogies and carefree hipsters as the children are moved out by frightened parents choosing the suburbs to save their kids from schools that are not perceived as good or safe. Much of our charm will go with them.
To lead us in our efforts, this fall, before the MNPS lottery applications are due, ReDiscover East will host a seminar to discuss all of the options for children in East Nashville and explain exactly how the priority zone works and where those lines are drawn. Everyone is welcome at this meeting even if you are like me and your children are well beyond the kindergarten stage. As a neighborhood, we need to support all of our public schools and help teachers and parents make each of our elementary options as attractive as Lockeland Design. Making a home here means more than renovating a house or being able to walk to the nicest restaurants in town. Making a home here also means extending the culture of East Nashville to our schools and making it possible for parents to put down deep roots that will last into their golden years.
President, Lockeland Springs Neighborhood Association