August 31, 2013

NWACA

At two weeks in, this seems like a good time to talk about my kids' new school.

Back in February, I received a letter in the mail explaining that there would be another option available in Bentonville when it comes to educating our children.  It was going to be a charter school employing the classical method of teaching.  I knew a little about classical education through my research of homeschooling.  I knew it would be academically rigorous.  It was going to start as a K-8 school, adding a grade each subsequent year so that it will eventually be K-12.  Immediately, I was interested, not just because of what and how they would teach, but also because it would keep my 3 younger children in the same school again (in Bentonville Public Schools, 5th grade is the start of middle school so that's where Kieran would have been.)  It would also keep my children on the same calendar (Kieran would have been traditional, the boys would have been year round.)  While I adore the year round school calendar, my family is busy enough without having to take kids to multiple schools and juggle different schedules. 

I put in applications for Asher, Aydin, and Kieran.  A lottery drawing, if necessary, was supposed to be held in March.  It turned out to be so necessary that they held off until April to see if they could secure a new location and open up more spots for prospective students.  The original location was supposed to be out towards the airport (15 minute drive in no traffic from our house), but because they had so many applicants, they moved the school to a complex on Melissa Drive, right next to Kieran's dance studio (and a 5 minute drive from our house!)

On April 5th, a lottery was held at the local community college.  They had some fancy pants statistics guy from the University of Arkansas running the live lottery process.  They started with kindergarten, so I waited.  Then first grade...holding my breath...Asher didn't make the cut.  Second grade...breathing and waiting.  Third grade...holding my breath...Aydin didn't make the cut.  Then a mistake!  Had to redo third grade...holding my breath...Aydin didn't make the cut again.  Then another mistake!  Are you kidding me?  This would be it...third grade lottery again...holding my breath again...no such luck.  I was so disappointed.  (The boys were cheering.  They didn't want to leave ETE.)  I couldn't believe it.  Fourth grade lottery next, then fifth grade...holding my breath...and again, Kieran didn't make the cut!!!  I just couldn't believe my rotten luck!  Kieran was the one that wanted to go so bad, and she ended up being the lowest on the wait list.

We went about our lives and the more time that went on, the more disappointed I became, not just that my kids didn't get in, but really in Elm Tree Elementary school.  The Bentonville Public School District used to be school of choice prior to zoning and we chose to be at ETE.  People spent the night on the front steps of ETE in order to be first in line to enroll their children.  Not so much anymore.  That place is declining so fast I just knew I had to do something different for my kids.  I debated on whether I wanted to put in print on the internet why I believe it's heading downhill, and I've decided to do so.  The new principal, Mandy Thompson (I think now Byrd--she is recently married), has no idea what she is doing.  The morale of the teachers is down because of her as well.  I'm surprised she was hired to begin with, with such little experience.  I will say that there are still a lot of really amazing teachers at Elm Tree who really, really care about the school, love the school with their entire lives, and want it to turn back around to become the best again, and I really hope they stick around because those teachers are the only thing that school has left going for it. 

A couple of personal reasons why I became unhappy with ETE: teaching to the test.  Many schools do this, but wow, I've had kids in school for over 10 years and all of those years at Elm Tree itself and it has never been as bad as this previous year.  From February break to testing time in April, nothing is done except learning how to test.  From test time in April til the end of the school year in June, nothing was done, period.  Homework suddenly stopped becoming part of the routine.  Aydin's 2nd grade teacher admitted she stopped giving the kids their Monday morning math tests.  When Aydin's standardized test results came back, it said he should be placed in the 5th grade program, but because his teacher simply didn't give tests, he hadn't even finished the 2nd grade library.  I have always supplemented at home, but it came to the point where he was getting his primary education in a matter of a couple of hours a week and wasting his day at school. 

Bentonville High School was worse and getting worse.  It is so overcrowded that Alisa's English teacher had no idea who she was.  I mean, sitting face to face at a conference and asking if we (Alisa and I) were sure we were in the right place.  I had to point to my daughter's name on her roster to prove to her that she was, indeed, Alisa's teacher.  When the 2nd high school initiative failed, I knew I had to do something different.

Back to my original topic now.  In the beginning of June, I received a phone call from the Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy that Aydin had a spot in the school if we wanted it.  Even though Aydin was the one who needed the biggest change of all, I hesitated because I really needed both of the boys in the same school.  If Asher and Kieran didn't get in, that meant on top of homeschooling Alisa, I'd have 3 other kids in 3 different schools to keep up with.  However, I took a leap of faith and accepted the spot.  (Although Aydin was upset when I applied at to the new school, he was at the point where he wanted more of a challenge so when I broke the news to him, he was really happy!)  By the end of June, Asher was in!  I called almost every week in July to find out where Kieran was on the wait list.  She went from 48 at the start of it, to 20-something, to #11 in July.  By August, she only #10.  However, I felt confident she would get in by at least the first month of school starting so I began ordering her uniforms (yes, they have uniforms!!!)  Sure enough, on August 8th I received the call that she had secured a spot. 

So Kieran, Aydin, and Asher began their 5th, 3rd, and 1st grade inaugural year at the Northwest Arkansas Classical Academy.  It has only been two weeks but I am already so impressed with the school.  Homework has a purpose, math is leveled, and reading is required every night along with a written summary.  Communication is top notch.  We received text messages from all of our kids' teachers prior to school starting with introductions and the best way to reach them.  Parent involvement is huge; parents filled the entire upstairs cafeteria at the PTO meeting; this used to be what set ETE apart as well but it has declined so much lately.I am so excited to be part of this new venture and so glad that we have more choices in Bentonville. 

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