A Dream Comes True…Then the Alarm Goes Off

We got the call yesterday afternoon. The San Francisco Unified School District called Jeff and offered our daughter a place at our number one top choice of public schools. It was a school I fell in love with during last fall’s tour season and the school that we waitlisted because it was closest to our house.

The offered school is one of the Big Seven most popular elementary schools in the city. One of the Dream Schools for parents seeking the best placement for their children. One of the places people lie to get into. (No kidding.)

And we turned it down.

I almost can’t believe it myself. As soon as Jeff told me the news, my stomach lurched in reaction, the very fluids inside me threatening to revolt. And even with my gastrointestinal rebellion, an absolute, definite, without-a-doubt certainty arose from deep inside: NO.

I no longer wanted that school. No longer needed it.

It wasn’t just because I heard about the parental politics from a friend with older children at the Dream School. There are politics everywhere.

It wasn’t because I ran into a former school counselor at the playground on Wednesday, and she told me she would never send her child to the Dream School because she doesn’t like how they handle playground bullies. There are bullies everywhere.

And it wasn’t even because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of helping my daughter to re-adjust to a new teacher, new classroom, new children, and new institution. There are hassles everywhere.

I turned down what was once our Dream School because it has been replaced by real life, where dreams often can’t stand up to the harsh light of day.

It’s easy to judge schools by numbers on paper and the swarm-mentality of San Francisco parenting gossip. But that judgment, I have learned since enrolling my daughter in her delightful new kindergarten, is a bunch of crap.

To truly know a school, you have to jump in, meet the families, see the enthusiastic smiles on the teachers at Back-to-School Night, and embrace the entire package with its joys and flaws. Our small, cozy, friendly school is everything we ever wanted for our family and our children before we ever knew what we wanted.

My husband and I have often made fun of the “school choice” system in this city that sometimes provides so little choice. Now I am proud to say that we truly “chose” our San Francisco public school. And it is now our Top Choice. Our own Dream School.

(see earlier posts on “San Francisco kindergarten” for the ups and downs of our public school admission process…)

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