Fierce Competition for the Local Public School

The minute we decided to have a child, which started about a year before we successfully conceived, I started thinking about where our future offspring would attend school because it’s inevitable and it takes planning if you’re not wealthy. We were lucky to be two blocks away from one of the best public elementary schools in Brooklyn, which would have been very convenient. But for many parents, getting their kid into a decent public school is a huge challenge and in New York, for parents, relocating to get geographically located near a good school isn’t an uncommon practice.

We didn’t exactly plan on pre-school being such a challenge though (whoops!). So, provoked by the expense of private pre-school and other issues, we decided to relocate to Philadelphia where we were told things were like New York (and certainly close to New York) but more budget-friendly. Having already been broken-in by the cut-throat competitiveness of New York, our first consideration when looking for a home was finding one within the boundaries of the best public school.

Not taking any chances, we picked a house within blocks of the school. We saw larger homes but they were out of the encachement. We saw cheaper homes but, once again, they were out of the encachement. So we made sacrifices (750 square feet for three people and a very tight budget) so that the Pumpkin could go to a school that offered art, music, diversity, a strong sense of community, and a rock-solid record of academic performance that we could afford (yay public school!). Families do it all the time in Manhattan and we are New Yorkers, after all.

At her school, they do have a few seats available for kids from outside the area. These are awarded by lottery, or not; no one is really 100% sure. The consensus is that you’re better off living in the encachement, which is what plenty of us have made sacrifices to do. So when I read this article on, “District’s Voluntary Transfer Process Leaves Parents Skeptical,” I got slightly annoyed.

I could say that any public school can be great. Our other neighborhood school (once not so good), fueled by parent and community support, has really improved academically and environmentally and in the last five years, our neighborhood has gone from having one really good school, to having one excellent school and one good school, with signs that the other one is going to catch up. So it’s absolutely possible for a school to improve if people care. And, in case you think it’s about money, ours is a mixed neighborhood with upper-middle-class and low-income people living side-by-side. The key components of success is the desire to improve, taking action to make it happen, and good old-fashioned hard work.

But, the fact remains, that our school is very desirable. Naturally people want to get in. Unfortunately, there are only so many seats and they are going to go to kids who live in the encachement first. We’re the ones who support and build the community. We’re putting in the work to make our neighborhood one of the best that Philadelphia has to offer. We put up with the crime, the small square footage, lack of outdoor space, and the more colorful urban characters, and we do so while paying more per square foot (plus higher property taxes) than most other neighborhoods in the city. We plant the trees and clean up the playgrounds and school yard on the weekends. When the school does community outreach, we support.

So, when someone complains about not being able to get their kid in a school that they’re not in the encachement for, well, I have to ask why they think it’s OK to complain when they haven’t contributed hard work to make the community better, or invested economically in the community, or sacrificed something (and there always is something) to live there?


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