Since the advent of school choice, fretting over where to send your child to school has become a familiar rite of parenthood. First, there’s the question of deciding between public, private, and charter and assessing the pros and cons of each. Then there are school tours to schedule and applications to submit, but it’s all worth it if your child ends up someplace with an amazing reputation, right? Except that, as these moms discovered, an amazing reputation doesn’t always guarantee that your child will thrive — or fit in. Or even that the school lives up to its reputation in any way. Their disappointing experiences offer insights not only into all the ways smart, highly conscientious parents can make the wrong choice, but also into ways to learn from their mistakes.

Third time’s the charm

I grew up in a school district with phenomenal schools — great quality and beautiful grounds. When my husband and I moved one valley over, to a much more urban area, I was horrified by the asphalt and portable bungalows, not to mention the year-round schedules and poor test scores. I found a nice school in a neighboring community (Los Angeles Unified [School District] had just started open enrollment) with very expensive homes. Most important to me, the school yard had grass.

Unfortunately, the school treated open-enrollment families differently. My son received a teacher who was within a year of retiring, team teaching with a younger teacher who moved to a full-time position by mid-year, leaving us with the woman who called my son “evil.” Everything we did was wrong — choosing not to [send him to] preschool, sending a November baby to school at 4, etc. At one point, we asked for a conference, and the teacher brought in the principal and started to give us parenting lessons. We managed to wait until the last few days of the school year, when they expected the kids to stand on the yard in the heat for three hours each day rehearsing songs for their kindergarten graduation. The teacher reported back that my son couldn’t stand still for the full time without getting [antsy]. (I didn’t know what to say because I couldn’t sit there for three hours in the early summer heat and sing Disney songs over and over.) After hearing about another supposed disruption [from my son], we just opted to not come back.

[At the time] we were living next door to the assistant principal of a poor-performing elementary school in our neighborhood. He convinced us to try that school for a year. Reluctantly we did, but every day we were told that our son belonged in a magnet. Despite the perks of the year-round schedule, it wasn’t for us. Luckily, my son did get into the local gifted magnet, and he and our neighbor carpooled for the next few years.

After that experience I learned to talk to current parents inside a school — preferably on the yard at pickup or drop-off. You’d be surprised what those parents will tell you as opposed to the ones who volunteer to do a kindergarten tea or something like that. It took three schools in three years to get it right — and even longer for my son to get over his fear of substitute teachers and to stop believing there was something wrong with him. His sister is 10 years younger than he is, and she benefited from our missteps with our son to get the right school the first time. — by MagnetMom

The dark side of parent power

My husband and I researched a private school for two years before moving to another state so our child could attend this school. There were a few bumps in the beginning, but the second year an ethical issue arose that prompted us to talk with the dean. In turn, he gave us the tuition back and we laughed all the way to the bank. It was a blessing in disguise.

I didn’t want my child attending a school where the parents who donated the most money decided the rules. I do not want my child to attend a school where the dean can be bought. As time went on, more stuff started to surface. For example, my son later told me that his teacher threw him against the wall into a corner for time-out. I’m so grateful he no longer attends this school. — by CaliMomACE

Jumping to conclusions

My 4-year-old started preschool this year; I sent him to our local public school. By the end of the first week, his teacher said he had attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. I was shocked. My son loves to read and do puzzles, and I have no problem getting him to sit and focus. As a concerned parent, I took him to our doctor. After a long evaluation, the pediatrician said my son showed no signs of AD/HD and added, “Give the kid a chance — he’s only 4.”

When I told the teacher, she looked at me like the doctor and I were both idiots. Needless to say, I removed my son from this school and put him in a private preschool. He has been there three weeks. He can spell his name and is learning to write his name. The teacher says he’s a delight and has no problems getting him to focus.

What have I learned? You know what’s best for your child — follow your instincts! Don’t let teachers bully you or your child. — by Kim in Ohio

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