Title 1, High Priority

When we were first house hunting in Nashville, the area we were looking at was zoned for a really great public school with a sterling reputation and sky high test scores.  I was excited because it seemed like, as good as Luke’s school in South Carolina was, this one was going to be significantly better.  Thus, when my husband called to tell me that he had found the perfect house in that area, I was ecstatic.  There was just one catch:

“It’s zoned for a different school.”  

He had spent the past five minutes gushing about the house, so I was not initially alarmed.  I was already on a real estate site on the computer looking at the house, and I asked him what the name of the school was, so I could look it up.

The first statistic I saw made the blood rush from my head:  “99% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.”  There was kind of a roaring sound behind my ears when I read that.  I also saw the statistic that said that my child would be very much in the ethnic minority, but I was more hung up on the first one.

Greg told me I was a racist.

Classist,” I corrected.  “I’m a classist.

This was another “rubber meeting the road” moment for me.  I like poor people, and I want to help them.  But to send my child to their school, which I could only imagine had the host of societal problems that I had come to see were associated with poverty?  Yeeesh.

Then I looked at the test scores.  Double yeesh.  They were not good.

Greg, who was still in Nashville, said that he would suspend judgment until he toured the school.  I, on the other hand, immediately began researching “school choice” in Nashville.  Turns out that they do have a school choice option…if  your school is a “Title 1, High Priority school.”  I looked it up.

My child’s potential school was a Title 1, High Priority school.

Even the city of Nashville recognized that I would not want to send my child to that school if I could help it.

The next day, Greg toured the school and was actually pretty impressed.  He talked with the volunteer coordinator and with the principal, who was new and very enthusiastic.  He saw the big map on the wall that highlighted all 27 countries from which these students came (like, they were born in those countries).  He saw the well-behaved students sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor while the teacher read to them.  His report was heartening, but to say that I was still hesitant would be an understatement.

Now, you might be wondering my son’s education situation would be featured on a blog about Kingdom Civics.  I really do believe that every part of our life should be lived to the glory of God.  And I know that God probably doesn’t care whether I have pancakes or waffles for breakfast, but I think that something as big as the education of my child would fall into His purview.  I think He cares about those kind of decisions, and while there may not be an objective right and wrong in every case, I believe that the reason we make such decisions does matter to God.

I also know that many Christians believe that our number one goal as Christian parents is to protect our children from the world.  I understand that belief, I respect it, and I even agree with it…to a degree.  I also believe, however, that as Christians, we should not make decisions out of fear, and that we have an equally important goal to teach our children how to interact with the world around them so that they will be equipped to reflect God’s glory to their culture in a way that their culture understands.  That is my personal understanding of “IN the world, but not OF the world.”  As such, I am a strong advocate of public schools.  I think that Christian families need to be participating in the public school system, especially in the early grades, and that it provides maybe the best way for Christians to get involved with their local community, their “neighbors.”

You can agree or disagree with that assessment.  What is relevant at this time is that those words represent my firm conviction, and that Luke’s school situation was testing it.  Far from making a fearless decision, I was actually quite terrified of sending my child to that school.  I’m not justifying the assumptions behind that terror; I’m just being honest.  And though in theory, I want my kids to be well-versed in other cultures, the idea of my son being the only white kid in the class was boundary-stretching for a mom who has spent all her years comfortably in the majority.  Again, it is a great idea in theory, but when it comes to your child, your child…well, let’s just say, the theory gets tested.

When we got to Nashville, we toured a couple of the schools with the higher test scores and then headed down to the Board of Education to explore our school choice options.  Turns out, that was a total bust.  The “choice” we were given was for two schools that seemed no better than our own, and were further away!  So our real choice turned out to be between “our” school and scrimping to make our private school option work.

Greg and I talked about it, and we both agreed that if we had no safety concerns about the school, then we should at least give it a shot to see if it would meet Luke’s educational needs.  One reason the test scores were so low is that they had to teach many of the children English, so they were already starting behind.  If, however, they could find a way to also challenge students like Luke, who not only knows English, but also knows how to read, then we would continue sending him there, as long as he didn’t have any huge social problems.  We figure that since the children are given standardized tests at the end of every year, we could see if Luke was falling behind, compared to other schools in Tennessee.

We toured the school.  It looked very much like my own elementary school, right down to the antiquated lunchroom.  There was definitely a melting pot of children there, and Greg even saw a girl wearing a hijab that lit up like those light-up shoes.  We both laughed at what seemed like a clear influence of American culture on foreign traditions, for better or worse.  We saw whole classes of “newcomers,” who spoke no English, and learned about the distinctions between the Kurds.  The principal gave us a tour and candidly answered all my very frank and decidedly politically incorrect questions.  It’s funny how you don’t worry about being “pc” when the best interest of your child is involved!  She was open and honest, and we really liked her.  Later, I took Luke back to see it, and the secretary took us around.  Her daughter had attended a similar public elementary school with great success and was now attending high school at the same private school we were thinking of for our children.  She was great to talk to, and I asked her lots of questions, too, including things like, “Would you send your child to this school?”  Without hesitation, she said, “Without a doubt.”  Both she and the principal marveled at how little discipline problems they had, especially when compared to the other schools where they had worked.

So this was the bottom line:  Luke liked the school and the kindergarten classrooms.  The school seemed safe.  The children in it seemed happy and well-behaved.  There were no red flags that suggested that their method of educating children was inherently faulty.

We had a choice to make.

What would you do?  Would you send your kindergartner to that school?  What if you had the same beliefs about public school that I do?

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Kevin Gardner on November 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    Wow! Kim you are amazing! It is such a joy to read this message from you. And you write so well, it makes it even more interesting. Kids are so adaptable, it does not seem like your son would have a problem, especially when he has such wonderful parents to come home to and talk to. i say as long as the academics are up to “par” and your son does not feel bored because others are behind him and therefore the class does not progress as he may need it too, it will probably be an incredible blessing to him to be around such a diverse group. Kids do not see “color” as the adults do unless the adults have already influenced them. I know you guys have and will pray about it and that is the most important thing in all this type stuff, as you know. I can’t say what I (my wife and I) would do just simply cuz I am not in the situation; but knowing something about you and call it a “feeling” I get from the message above I think it would be a great place to start. I think that is the key factor to remember in this situation. Just because he starts there does not mean he has to stay there. I went to 3 different Kindergartens because my Dad was moving up in his company and we kept moving too. I am not saying that was an optimal situation, but like I said before, kids adapt so well, especially when they have the appropriate support at home. Keep that in mind in your decision, your son has an amazing advantage over most children because he has Godly parents, parents that truly love the Lord and because of that, the Lord is going to bless this situation no matter what – you can count on it! Don’t discount this important factor – it’s not bragging- it’s the truth – because our Lord God Almighty watches over his children too, with an unimaginable LOVE!!!
    So proud of you guys,
    Kevin Gardner

    Reply

    • Wow, Mr. Gardner, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I teared up as I read it, just because you have been such a mentor to me. I have, of course, told Greg about you and Mrs. Gardner, and so I read this out loud to him and said, “Do you SEE why I love them?”

      I am going to do a follow-up blog on Monday about what we chose and how it’s going. We are so happy with how everything turned out, and I can say 100% that your words were right on. God’s grace is so overwhelming. I don’t know why He takes such good care of my family, but I am sure thankful that He does!

      Reply

  2. Posted by courtneysteed on November 13, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Of course, as you have been struggling with this choice over the past couple of months by default I must also ponder with you 😉 Of course, as a homeschooling mom you know that my perspective is a bit different. I am not a public school hater however, believe it or not, nor do I homeschool to simply shield my kids from the world. Really, I think that we are the same in our desires for our children – to teach them what they need to know to be of the world and not in it. To learn how to learn to function within the society we find ourselves in, as godly children and adults. I think the goal is the same, even if how we go about it is different.

    With homeschooling being off the table (because personally, if that was something that was of such concern of mine that would be my first choice), I would think that such an environment would be a great place to learn all those things! I think there are many levels of education. Reading, writing and math are one level, and how the view the world and interact with it is another. One of these is easier than the other to teach in a way that is godly and beneficial to his spiritual maturity in the long run, but how you teach it is more important than where you do it.

    Book education being the primary goal, that school may not be the best in the world for him. Education of the other nature, coupled with parents who I know are very attentive to his spiritual needs and to answer the questions that arise from being in such an environment (simply being with other children, from different cultures, different homes, etc.) can be nurtured anywhere!

    I grew up a missionary child – top notch schools were not an option. My dad ministered stateside to small churches in small towns. We could not afford private education. The route my parents took was homeschooling. However, I did graduate from college with honors. I have a bachelors degree in nursing AND I am raising a family in a godly home..one of those being less important than the other.

    I think whether you have your child in a public, private or home school the consideration is where the most important type of education can be done…this can be done in the most unlikely of places, even a Title 1, High Priority school 🙂

    Book education can be supplemented. Math can be tutored. Reading can be challenged at home. But the lessons that this environment may provide (assuming he is safe, and he is being cared for, of course) in other areas is priceless!

    Reply

  3. I think it is wonderful that you are taking this step, and I’m not surprised at all. However, I will just note that the calculus would (or perhaps should) be different if the school had the same test scores for different reasons. It’s almost like you got a chance to do a science fair project on school choice, while controlling for some really important variables. If you were to keep your child out of a safe, well-run, educationally-sound school because you didn’t like the skin tone or language of the student body, you’d fail the Kingdom Civics test. On the other hand, you could keep your child out of a dangerous school with a dysfunctional culture without a hint of prejudice (even though some might want to ascribe some to you, if you did).

    BTW–I read something interesting about home-schooling that I thought related. We often point to the great successes of home-schooled kids as if that validates the educational model. But what if the main thing those kids have in common is intact traditional families, usually with a stay-at-home Mom, and usually with strong Christian values? I don’t know if any studies have been done while controlling for that, but I get the impression that most of those kids would do well in any school, public, private, or otherwise. Luke can be one of our test subjects!

    Reply

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