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LA parent voice: What matters most in the search for a good school

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | February 13, 2018

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(Courtesy: El Clasificado)

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.)

For parents, finding a good school for their children can be exhausting, especially as they search for the right tools and resources to compare schools’ performance.

One tool available to California parents since last spring is the new California School Dashboard website, the state’s official new system to measure public schools’ performance. It includes progress on test scores, suspension and graduation rates, English learners’ progress toward fluency, and high school students’ college and career readiness. Some parents and advocates have criticized the dashboard for not using a single score to rate schools. Instead, it uses a color-coded rating, with red the lowest rating and blue the highest.

Mayra Azanza, a Los Angeles mother of a fourth-grade daughter and a son in preschool, has been looking for a new school for her children as the family is moving to Palo Alto. She said the process has taken months, and she didn’t use the dashboard because she wasn’t familiar with it. She’s not alone.

A statewide poll released last week of 2,500 registered voters in the state, including 595 parents, revealed that nearly half (46 percent) of the parents who responded said they have not yet visited the dashboard’s website.

But the poll found that 66 percent of parents are familiar with it, and of those, 72 percent said they had a positive impression of it, while 9 percent had a negative impression. But when they were shown a slide of the dashboard, those with negative impressions nearly doubled, to 15 percent.

Azanza said finding the best schools for her kids was a challenging task because she wanted to find a good public school, without having to consider private schools, religious schools, or charters. She did consider magnet schools.

This is what she said about how she found the schools she was looking for, the method she used, and what she believes makes a good public school. Azanza gave her answers in Spanish.

Did you use the California School Dashboard in your search to find a new school for your children?

No, I haven’t used it yet. I used a website called Great Schools, and that one helped me to compare the aspects I was looking for in a school. I didn’t know about the dashboard. I think I have heard about it, but no, I haven’t used it yet.

What aspects were you comparing to find the right school?

The process was very different when finding a school here in LA than the one for Palo Alto. With LA Unified being such a huge district, we had to visit the schools personally, talk to the administrators, ask parents and neighbors about the quality of local schools. It took me months to realize that we had to move to Culver City because we decided that our best option was having our daughter enrolled in El Marino’s Spanish dual immersion program. Looking for a school in Palo Alto was much easier in that sense, since we knew the quality of schools was much better than in LA, so we just had to look specifically for a school with the same Spanish dual immersion program and secure her spot, since there’s only one of those programs there.

What do you think a good public school should offer to students and their families?

Academics are important, of course. It must guarantee that the kid can read and do math at grade level, but I think even that we as parents can help our children to get to that level. What is more important for me is parent engagement. I want to see that most parents in the school are committed to see their children succeed, because then I know we as parents as a community will be holding administrators and teachers accountable to give good results. I think also diversity is very important, because I want my children to be ready to thrive in a diverse society and to develop great social skills.

You can tell how good a public school is by how much it’s embraced by its community. You can tell by how well they are taken care of by looking clean and safe, but also by the community’s interest in demanding a high-quality school.

If a school is neglected, that’s only a reflection that we as parents and as a community are not demanding enough for our children.

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