Plight of the Atlanta Parent

I’m surprised they still let me post here at Metblogs. See, I spent the last month-plus living about two hours outside of Atlanta (that will have to be a whole ‘nother post) while we moved out of our East Atlanta home and waited to close on our new house in the burbs. I had no internet access at home. It was truly harrowing.

There. I said it. I can no longer say I live intown. I live in the burbs. OTP. Outside the fence.

I have written numerous times about my love for our old neighborhood. When it came down to it, though, I love my kids more. I just wasn’t ready to send my kid to a school with abysmal test scores and where he would be a less than one percent minority at that school. I know. Many parents send their kids to schools where their child is in that small a minority, but I wonder how many of them send them to a school where their child is in that small a minority and test scores are bottom of the barrel. My guess? Not many. I am thinking that parents might overlook the lack of diversity at a school if it meant a child would be surrounded by kids who are more successful.  We weighed the options and the issues, and it came down to the realization that sending my child to that school would simply serve the purpose of proving a point, rather than striving to give my child the best educational opportunities I can manage to give him.

When we made the decision not to send our children to the public elementary school in our neighborhood, we started looking at other options. Charter schools? Not an option for us in our area of unincorporated Dekalb. Private schools? Yikes. Even at the more affordable end they were going to cost us five to seven thousand dollars a year (and some of them cost much more than a year of public university tuitions!) Sure, we could swing $7000/year if I went back to work. Oh, wait – Our daughter will start school in four years. Then we’d be paying almost 15,000 dollars/year tuition. Not to mention the cost of after school childcare and for the summers, when they aren’t in school.

We searched for homes inside the perimeter in better school districts. (I dare anyone to start researching schools and not start going gray – It is as if someone didn’t want me to compare test scores and other information for schools in different areas and different school districts, much less for different states. Try to compare public and private schools and your head will explode.) We’d either be downsizing (and we already lived in a three BR), or paying so much for a house that, again, I would have to go back to work and then the daycare costs until both kids started elementary (and again, for summers) would barely make the back-to-work option worth it.

We slowly started discussing the possibility of moving outside the perimeter, at first laughingly, then in whispers, as it became a more real possibility, and finally we resigned ourselves to it. We started looking at homes in the school districts we had identified that had what we were looking for: Decent test scores, diversity, in a neighborhood we could afford, and not so far from town that the commute would suck my husband of any semblance of a meaningful life. We finally found an area we liked (ish), where houses are in our price range, the kids would have other kids to play with, and that we didn’t find too lacking in character. We bought a house here a few weeks ago.

When it came down to it, I cried when I left East Atlanta. I hated leaving the place where I met my husband, where I met friends and wonderful neighbors, and to which I brought two kids home from the hospital. I had been there long enough that I couldn’t go anywhere without at least seeing one person I knew from the neighborhood.
In the end, I know that it is for the best. The kids love the new house and neighborhood already, and my husband and I are laughingly giving in to a quieter way of life, and at the same time cracking up at what we have become. I do think, though, that we are not alone. I have already met four sets of neighbors with kids close in age to ours. They always ask where we moved from and then nod knowingly at our answer. Turns out they moved from Ormewood, Kirkwood, and East Atlanta themselves. As one girl told me, “We are city folk.”

I wonder how many people all over Atlanta have struggled with the same thing, forced by poverty, job location, housing prices or failing schools to make the same difficult decision that we made. Our decision is made, though, and we do not regret it. I just see it as an adventure, a challenge to find what is interesting and colorful, and special about the new area we live in. I’ve already been thinking a lot about it, and exploring this new frontier, and you can bet that you will see some Metblogs posts about it. I think that intown readers might be surprised at a few of my observations. I know I have already found a few things that surprised me.

12 Comments so far

  1. localmenus on April 16th, 2008 @ 10:28 am

    Just don’t start wearing mom pants!

  2. groupofone on April 16th, 2008 @ 10:55 am

    i feel you. this is the same issue my wife and I struggle with daily. however, i would leave the state before I left the city to the burbs. i can live in the burbs anywhere in the US. i can generally afford city living in just a handful of desirable cities.

    education is the number one reason people leave the city (i20 area specifically). we’re going to make it work. if no one stays to fight for improvements, the schools will always be the excuse for fleeing the city.

    good luck.

  3. teacherninja on April 16th, 2008 @ 11:07 am

    I’m right there with you annie. We lived in and loved Decatur for years, but then went off to Athens for 4 years for graduate work. We simply could not afford to move back. We came as close as we possibly could and are literally a mile from the Dekalb/Gwinnett county line. We’re happy to be here for our daughter (living right next to a park and libray helps, and yes, the schools) but go into town every single chance we get. So yeah, there’s more of us "city folk" out here, OTP.

  4. ttrentham on April 16th, 2008 @ 11:21 am

    This isn’t just an Atlanta issue. My wife and I have struggled with the exact same things in Austin.

    We live fairly close to downtown, but our neighborhood school is the most overcrowded in the district, isn’t very diverse and doesn’t have very good test scores. Private school is too expensive for the exact reasons you stated. We tried two different charter schools and were disappointed with the results, one was too far away and having startup issues, the other had various other problems including administrative problems. Luckily, the public school district here allows transfers and we’ve found a reasonable alternative roughly 10 minutes away in a neighborhood that we’d have to double our mortgage to afford, but that is still diverse enough and with good scores and a good culture.

    It shouldn’t be this hard for any of us.

  5. james hervey (jeherv) on April 16th, 2008 @ 2:25 pm

    welcome back!! i had been wondering where the heck you had gone…

    i don’t envy you the decision you had to make. i have NO idea what i would do in your shoes. i’d like to act all enlightened and say i’d send my kid to school here anyway, but when it’s MY kid, who knows?

    either way, i look forward to your dispatches from ‘out there’ and we’ll keep a table warm for you at the earl.

  6. weremonkey on April 16th, 2008 @ 2:32 pm

    Sadly, this is a standard for all metropolitan areas. You make the decision to eventually move out of town when you become parents, unless you’re too poor to afford to move and are trapped where you are.

    Even when you can afford the nice neighborhoods, cities are always considered places that are not meant for the presence of children. I’ve heard conversations by developers and architects criticizing schools that are on prime real estate as something that should not exist there. When I offer the response of "well, people in the city nearby do have families" they’re usual response is that parents should be OTP. should be out of the city… and this from frumpy older men with wallets that are already too big by common standards.
    Still, if you’re a commutable distance, you can come into town as often as you like. I have freinds who routinely come to gatherings and events, even after work from places as far as Athens, Kennesaw, Conyers, and Alpharetta.

  7. Seth (mostlymuppet) on April 16th, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

    My wife and I are living in the burbs (Smyrna) and even though our area of Cobb County has one of the highest-rated public elementary schools in the county, we’re still putting our daughter in a charter school. We’re taking the opposite risk – hoping the promise of the International Baccalaureate program will eventually pay off – but we’re also leaping headlong into a new experiment w/ a new principal and only one year of organization at the teacher/student/parent/PTA level.

    Public schooling specifically (and schooling in general) is one of the most demagogued topics in our social/political discourse. I’m glad to see that it still is a heavily personal, weighty decision that boils down to *much* more than standard binary options such as right/left, urban/suburban and parent/non-parent.

  8. JimC (kyel1000) on April 16th, 2008 @ 5:36 pm

    I think it’s a shame you decided to leave for school reasons. I guess intown schools aren’t for everyone, but I honestly can’t see why you’d feel the need to leave.

    We live intown (Ormewood Park) with our three children (4th grade, 1st grade and toddler), and are incredibly happy with the public school situation here. Our kids go to Parkside Elementary in Grant Park. Yes, they are in the racial minority, but they haven’t really seemed to notice that fact. They are also having great academic success. I can’t really think of any way that they have possibly been put at a disadvantage by attending an intown school. However, I can think of a number of advantages, like learning that being part of a minority or in a situation that many people see as less desireable is no excuse not to thrive.

    The fear that your children will be harmed by being at an intown school is a myth so easily perpetuated by those who want an excuse to fear — and I honestly think it’s usually more a racial thing than most people want to admit.

    I truly believe that if you had stuck it out and sent your kids to a school here intown, you would be happy you had and would have to admit that the plusses far outweigh any perceived minusses. But you’d have to drive your SUV further to get to the mall ;) .

  9. abby on April 17th, 2008 @ 9:18 am

    Annie, welcome back and thanks for such a thoughtful, honest post. You know, that’s something we’ve given serious consideration to. I’m not ready for kids by a long shot, but education is something I’ve given some thought to.

    You know, it’s one thing for a child to get good grades in school, but it’s another for them to get good grades in a school that sets clear, high expectations for all its students, where children are challenged and stimulated by teachers who are (a) excited about their job and (b) not shackled by their system. As Jim said, "learning that being part of a minority or in a situation people see as less desirable is no excuse not to thrive" is wonderful, and that’s something I missed out on learning in the white suburban schools I grew up in. But is it worth the trade-off of academic quality, AP offerings, honor course options, etc?

    I don’t pretend to know this one way or another, so I just wonder if there is any school, including intown public schools, generally offer all these things.

  10. annie on April 17th, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

    I have to say, I was pretty surprised at all the civilized and open-minded comments. I was pretty sure people would ream me for this one.

    TeacherNinja – i am guessing we might actually live close to you, based on your description.

    Trentham – Really, you succinctly summed up the point of my whole post: It shouldn’t be this hard for any of us.

    James – Thanks! I get sad at the mention of the EARL. I have found decent burgers out here, but not with decent beer offerings, enough smoke to make me feel like I am still a smoker, or that special EARL attitude. . .

    Weremonkey – You said, "I’ve heard conversations by developers and architects criticizing schools that are on prime real estate as something that should not exist there." Example A: John B. Gordon school in EAtlanta. Seems they (Inman Park Properties, maybe?) will let that building cave in on itself before they will do anything useful for the community. Concerning coming in after work or on weekends, we will of course do that, and aren’t that far, but it is not the same as living, working, and playing in your own community without getting on a major roadway.

    Seth – Interesting. I want to hear more about your thoughts about how the Charter school is working out for you. We did not have that same option close by.

    Jim, I think it is awesome that you are sending your kids to Parkside and in fact, if that had been an option for us, we would have probably gone for it. I know people who are sending their kids there, or who plan to in the next few years, and I think it is going to do well. A school like Parkside, however, is a little different than the elementary mine would have attended. I didn’t just say my child would be a minority, I said he would be a less than 1% minority. Meaning less than 1% of the kids there are his race. Parkside is almost 4%. Parkside also has a larger concentration of Hispanic, Mixed-race, and Asian children. It is simply more diverse. Even more telling, though, are the test scores. For 2006, Schoolwide reading proficiency was 72% at Parkside. Skyhaven? 48.4%. That is a pretty huge gap, in my opinion. While i realize that test scores are not everything, I would not feel good about putting my child at a school where less than half the children there are meeting reading proficiency reqs for their age.

    I guess that this part is your wordy attempt at calling me a racist:
    "The fear that your children will be harmed by being at an intown school is a myth so easily perpetuated by those who want an excuse to fear — and I honestly think it’s usually more a racial thing than most people want to admit."

    I did not say that I thought my child would be harmed at any intown school, although i did have my concerns about the particular school that my child would attend being safe. It is not about race, though. It is about not sending my child to a school where it would be a struggle to overcome the inevitable disruptions of a classroom in which there are that many children so far beneath his educational level. Have you ever played sports? It is pretty much a given in sports that if you play people at or below your level, you will not see as much improvement in your own abilities as if you challenge yourself by playing someone who is better. I think learning is like that. I want my child to be challenged. I don’t want him to be taught at a level that does not challenge him. (I have friends who teach – don’t try and convince me that at a young age, particularly, there is not a phenomenon of teaching to the lowest common denominator.) Oh, and I don’t really get the SUV comment – I don’t go to the mall, and we both drive Hondas… Doesn’t really seem to apply to the subject we were discussing. I originally thought you were saying that you believed I moved because I fear being in the minority, but I guess you really think it was an excuse to move closer to a mall. Neither of which is the case.

    Abby, as always, great comments. For what it’s worth, my kid won’t be in High school for ten years, but currently, the INTOWN high school he would attend does have some great academic offerings, wonderful test scores, AP offerings, etc. The High school in the EATl that my child would attend, i believe, has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.

    Anyway, I appreciate everyone reading and commenting and letting me air my thoughts in this forum.

  11. JimC (kyel1000) on April 17th, 2008 @ 9:58 pm

    Annie, I really didn’t mean to call you a racist. With the race comment I was thinking about so many other conversations I’ve overheard where there seems to be a kind-of unspoken racism going on. Your comments actually lead me to believe that you regret the fact that your kids won’t be surrounded by as many people of other races. Sorry it sounded like I was specifically referring to you.
    The SUV and mall comment was supposed to be a joke about the suburban stereotype (that’s why I put the little wink-wink emoticon). Pretty obvious you aren’t the SUV and mall type.

  12. weremonkey on April 22nd, 2008 @ 7:57 am

    Sadly, all of my family fit the SUV and mall stereo type.
    Not all OTP schools are created the same. There are some lousy schools out of the city too.
    But then, there are the comments I spoke of earlier and the attitude toward parents, which worth remembering as well.

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.