In Partnership with 74

LA parent voice: The search for a good school ‘couldn’t wait. The foundation for a successful education begins at home and then in kindergarten’

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | September 19, 2018

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

Every week, we sit down with Los Angeles parents to talk about their students, their schools, and what questions or suggestions they have for their school district. (See our previous interviews.)

Mónica Otlika is thrilled that her two children have started kindergarten and first grade at the ideal school for her family, after a years-long search that began when her oldest child was just a toddler in the Head Start program.

“It couldn’t wait. The foundation for a successful education begins at home and then kindergarten,” said Otlika, a Mexican immigrant.

In Head Start, the federal program that provides early childhood education and other services to low-income children, she received information on when to start filling out applications for kindergarten.

I started asking other parents for school recommendations and did many Google searches. I did everything in my hands to find the best option possible, which is not easy where I live. Good options are not abundant.”

As she researched schools, she was looking not only for strong academics but for a school that would embrace her children’s Latino culture and native language, Spanish.

Her first visit was to her neighborhood school in Board District 5, Miles Elementary in Huntington Park. But she said it took only 15 minutes at the school’s office to realize that it was not the school she had in mind for her children.

“When I showed up at the school’s office for the first time, the staff didn’t make me feel welcome and didn’t answer my questions the way I expected. Some of my questions were not even addressed, and I could see they were not very attentive to the kids. My daughter is a shy and very sensitive girl, and I thought this is definitely not the school for her.”

So she continued searching. Otlika used the California School Dashboard to compare schools and get their report cards. The state’s online school accountability site has been criticized for not being parent-friendly or easy to understand, but she said it worked for her.

The California Department of Education announced this month that an improved version of the dashboard will be launched in December.

After comparing schools, she decided to enroll her daughter, and then her son, at KIPP Corazón, a K-4 independent charter school that opened in the summer of 2017 in the neighboring city of South Gate.

“It’s important for us, the parents and families in my community where the majority of us have limited resources, that we do whatever it takes to give the best possible education to our kids. Finding good schools is the only possibility we have to secure a good future, a better life for them.”

What kind of school did you want for your children?

First, a school that would promise good academic performance, and a safe, welcoming environment for them and for my family. Nothing different from what every parent wants for their kids’ education. I was looking for a school with good performance reviews and that would offer the best foundation in values and academically, where they could grow as students but also at a personal level. I think I found the right school.

How did you find it, where did you search?

It was hard because I was educated in Mexico, so I had no idea how to start, where to go. I started doing what parents typically do: asking other parents with older kids. Some recommended my neighborhood school, Miles, but it only took me visiting the school office for 15 minutes to realize that it didn’t feel welcoming and safe, then the reviews were also not good. Then other families told me about KIPP Comienza, and they told me it was a great school. I applied for my daughter but she was not accepted, so I kept looking. I considered Aspire schools until KIPP Corazón opened. I applied, and then she got accepted.

I started with a Google search on the Internet until someone told me the California School Dashboard was the place to go to find an official report card of the schools in the state, so then it was much easier. By looking at the colors green or red, I could know how good or bad each school was that I was considering. The indicators for the KIPP schools I was looking into were in 80 percent or more, so that was the kind of school I wanted.

What was the most important aspect of your search?

Academics were very important, but in second place I was determined to find a school that would fit the needs of my daughter as an English learner. I didn’t just want a school where she was going to receive the support to reclassify, but I also wanted a school that would help her to become bilingual and bicultural. My family lives in Mexico, and I want my children to keep speaking Spanish fluently so they can communicate with my family and because being bilingual now is a great advantage for their future.

This was actually the reason why I considered Miles at the beginning because they have a dual program in Spanish. But when I realized that KIPP Corazon also had the Spanish program, I loved the idea of having my daughter there.

It’s important that my children go to a school where they feel their culture is valued, and not only their culture, but all the other cultures of the children that go to the same school.

Read Next