Parents Need a Better Way to Find High-Quality Schools

Like all parents, I have high hopes for my children. My oldest son is starting high school at a charter school this fall, and my daughter will attend an L.A. Unified magnet school. I hope that they are challenged, that they have great teachers, and that they get the preparation they need to attend college. I know that in order to fulfill their hopes and dreams, they will need to get a strong education, and they will need my support along the way. But I also know firsthand that right now in Los Angeles, it’s too hard for too many families to find good public schools for their children.

I moved to Watts from Tucson, Ariz. a year and a half ago be closer to family in Los Angeles. I arrived in January, the middle of the school year, with my husband and family. My son was in middle school and my oldest daughter was in elementary. I went to work right away finding schools for my children.

My son attended a high-performing public charter school in Tucson that was close to our home, so I knew what I was looking for in a school, and I wanted to find him something similar in our new city.

I had assumed that there would be an easy way to learn about schools including district, magnet and charter schools, and then apply to them.

But there was no such thing, and the process that first year was confusing and exhausting.

I started talking to new neighbors in my community, asking them questions about how to find a good school. My sister-in-law helped me find information online. I quickly found out that there was no easy way to get information about schools in Los Angeles and apply to them, and the information and resources that I needed were spread out in many places. And, different schools had their own applications to fill out, deadlines to meet, and processes to follow.

I felt overwhelmed trying to piece together enough information to make a good decision. I filled out dozens of applications, most with different deadlines, and I had to spend a lot of time trying to keep track of everything and following up with schools.  I called one of the schools where we applied and found out there were 100 students ahead of him on the waitlist. In the end, we couldn’t get my son into a public school that was a good fit for him. He spent part of the year at a school where he felt unsafe, before I pulled him out and send him to private school.  

After that experience, I felt more prepared for our second school year in Los Angeles.  I started earlier, this time in October. I filled out stacks of applications, submitted them to meet each school’s application deadline, and visited and followed up with as many schools as I could. Even when you know what you’re doing, the process lasts for months.

In our second year of trying we had better luck. My son got into a charter high school, and my daughter was accepted into a L.A. Unified magnet program.

I consider myself lucky. I had the time and a support system to help me through the process. But it shouldn’t take a parent years to learn what they need to know to find a good school for their child.

Parents deserve a better system that makes it easier to make informed decisions about their children’s educations so that all children in Los Angeles can apply to and attend high-quality schools.

What do you think?

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Karina Paniagua

Karina Paniagua

Karina Paniagua is the parent of two children who attend an L.A. Unified magnet school in South Gate, and a charter school in Florence-Firestone. She is a member of Parent Revolution’s Parent Power Network, and lives in Watts.

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