Sunday, March 20, 2011

Three Hundred Metres

Sapphire's won 'Pupil of the week' at school but I don't have time, technically on my day 'off' to go, with three articles due.

She's not fazed though, as every kid gets an award eventually. Some are for 'trying hard to listen in class' whilst hers happens to be for 'outstanding homework and attention to detail.'

I'm writing this as my body cools down from our early morning exercise - she running ahead of me, blonde hair bobbing, long legs striding - me trying hard not to look like Kel Knight as I powerwalk fruitlessly behind, reminding myself that there's only two weeks left before I'm able to start jogging alongside her.

On the kitchen table are about a dozen hand-woven orange bracelets that she made yesterday in readiness to wear and hand out to her friends for Harmony Day today. She had spied some bright crepe paper that a chocolatier had used to wrap their wares in to post to me; cut it carefully into strips, twisted it for strength and plaited them. Her self-taught skill and creativity frequently leaves me amazed.

So yesterday morning, LC and I sat with her at the breakfast table and tried to have the talk.

The talk.

Not about sex or periods or why kissing the dog is going to exacerbate her allergies and that answering back isn't always the best option when we're rushing off to school and she's left her viola at home; it was the talk about high school.

For the past couple of years I've spent hours at the school 300 metres up our street. Picking up litter, sweeping up broken beer bottles, walking Milly, seeing Sapphire scooter effortlessly around like a maniac on the cement and bitumen.

I've told her about how frustrated I am that the school is overlooked by so many families who live in the area, despite only being 29 metres from the primary school that everyone flocks to. How some kids have to leave home at 7.00am to catch two trains to the private schools their parents pay $25,000 a year for.

How we love our community, want her to make friends near her home, be part of things and not be hygienically sealed against other income levels, cultures or family situations.

Three hundred metres away, the school that she could walk to within 30 seconds of the bell ringing is ranked 515 out of 528 for VCE results. The numbers of students who did VCE in 2010 only numbered thirty with a median score of 22.

Two kilometres to the north east, PP high is ranked 97/528 and got a median VCE score of 32 with 161 students participating. The same distance away to our south east UH is ranked 59/528 with a medican score of 33 and 336 students. Quite a difference, you'd have to say.

Sapphire is a smart kid. Very smart. She's currently doing year eight level maths (which she hates) and last year her NAPLAN results showed that her reading, writing and English skills were at year nine level. She was in year five.

How can I not ask whether sending Sapphire three hundred metres away was going to offer her the same opportunities as the other two schools?

"You're a snob," she hissed through tears yesterday. "You keep saying that it's important to be local and that we should support things here, but you don't really. Isn't it good enough for you?"

"Actually, I wonder if a school with that performance and with so few kids is good enough for anyone, not just you." There. I finally said it.

The chat deteriorated in sulks (her), pleading (me) and sharp words (LC). Sapphire ended up in her bedroom with the door firmly shut against us and the thought of high school in any shape or form. "She's afraid," LC said. "She was used to the idea of 300 metres away, is familiar with the grounds and now we're changing things. The thought of starting high school is scary enough."

He's right of course.

And it is frightening for us, too. Both the 2km schools are out of our 'zone' and she'd have to sit an exam of sorts to be in consideration for some form of accelerated learning program to attend either one of them. I was stupid enough to ask, "Would you do your best if you sat such a test?" and she refused to answer. Coffee soured and churned in my gut.

Could we afford to move? Financially or morally?

Do I want her to walk 300 metres so that I can brag at dinner parties on what a wonderful leftie parent I am but have her end up with few subject choices or the risk of not being stimulated enough? Do I want her to see us 'cheat' the system as we rent in a different area and marinate in hypocrisy? Do I want her to feel undue pressure to sit tests so that she can escape the poorly performing school and ignore it as she walks past towards the tram stop?

All I know is that I want the decision made by someone else.


JahTeh said...

I've been here, Kath. The 6th grade teacher insisted that my son was secondary school material not technical school but he was stubborn and there were tears. Two years in and he realized for himself that he was not good with machinery and transferred to a smaller secondary school and blossomed, not always in the way I would have liked, so let Sapphire go and give her the option of changing. She'll be fine as long as it's before the VCE years.

Kath Lockett said...

I hear you Jah Teh and yet the hysterical, overly-proud and too-protective parent worries that she could be 'lost' if it takes a couple of years to realise that the school isn't challenging enough.

....and then what if we can't get her in to a better one?

Yep, I said it. A better one.

Baino said...

Ah always a tough one. I sent mine to a Catholic School but it wasn't that expensive. Adam hated it because all his friends went to a different school. Clare adapted because she knew a few people there but the bottom line? A good student will survive whether the school is private or not. I know many children who's privileged education has been a complete waste because frankly, no matter how good the facilities of their posh schools . . they're just dumb.

LJP said...

Hey Kath, my Mum sent me to a school 8.3 km away from home because the school had excellent facilities (including its own theatre and large sports grounds), overseas exchange programs (I went to the US) and an inspirational literature teacher.

I complained initially, grumbled for a while but ended up loving it. I am eternally grateful that I didn't just go to the local convenient school with inferior teachers and facilities.

My 2c worth is to send her to the better school now and give her the best chance right from the start.

Romana said...

the highschool years frighten the crap out of me. On the one habd I know that you can have good results regardless of where you study - on the other hand, I know that a "good" (cough cough) school can make the experience so much more enjoyable, and productive. it is really hard for a "bright" student to struggle wvery day with peers who just don't want to be there or teachers who are stretched so thin in their energy and time and inspiration. Are any of the schools you are considering conducting school tours soon? May be worthwhile taking Sapphire along to get a feel for the differences in schools?

Romana said...

and that last pic is stunning :)
and sorry for all the typos, lol

Kath Lockett said...

'Dumb' is one thing, Baino but when your kid is bright are they going to be tempted to slack off if there's no accelerated opportunities or other bright kids to compete against?

LJP when you write "I complained initially, grumbled for a while but ended up loving it," I hope that the same thing happens for Sapph, I really do.

Romana we're touring the school that's 300 metres up the road tomorrow and I'm going to contact the other schools to see when their tours are as well.

franzy said...

It's tough to change the course of a river when you are but a single droplet in the flow, to be long washed away down stream before the banks begin to shift.

Supporting lower-ranked schools is the responsibility of the government. They are the ones who need to support the local schooling model by providing the infrastructure, teachers, SSOs, etc. Your responsibility ended at the ballot box.

That said, high school is scary enough. What's so attractive about going to the school down the street APART from the fact that protective mum is just a jumped fence away? Removed from the equation, how do the three schools compare then?

Is that an answerable question?

Pandora Behr said...

As you know, I don't have kids so it's hard to me to comment from that angle - however, being a fairly smart kid being sent to one of the worst high schools in the state - if I had the options that would have set me up better, I would have jumped at the chance. You've got a wonderful, bright, curious, giving kid - not that the local school wouldn't do her well - but if her options are opened, what else could she come up with. Here for you on that one mate.

Kath Lockett said...

Franzy, this is the answer to your question.
300 metres away, ranked so far below average that it comes in 515th out of 528 schools.

Two kilometres north east - PP high is ranked 97th out of 528 and got a median VCE score of 32 (significantly above average) with 161 students participating.

The same distance away to our south east, UH is ranked 59th out of 528 with a medican score of 33 and 336 students. Quite a difference, you'd have to say.

Thanks Pandora. I so want to start her off as well as I can. She keeps saying "let me start at the 300 metres school and if it doesn't work out then I can move," but why take that risk?

FelineCyclist said...

Okay, managed to delete my post. Apologies if it appears twice.

I don't have an answer to your particular problem. It is unfair that you have that particular problem. It is outrageous that Flemington has access to only one public school. There used to be more but they were closed and the land sold off (to the VRC but that's another story). It is ridiculous that there is only one school in the zone, especially when that school is being developed as a specialist school for certain student profiles. In the past, attempts to develop it as a school for the community have not really worked (although I accept that may change with the new principal). So what is the government's answer? Blame parents who don't send their kids local, while ignoring legitimate concerns like the ones you raise.

I think you should send your post to the Education Minister as evidence of the struggles parents in Flemington face with something as basic as high school education. If you lived 1km to the east, you would have a choice of two outstanding schools. Choice in schooling should not be limited to private vs public. Why shouldn't parents in Flemington have a choice of public schools?

As for your personal choice, Sapph has the benefit of being bright and having bright parents who are committed to education. She will do well wherever she is. The question is how comfortable will that experience be.

Hannah said...

Okay, I really want to respond to this without sounding incredibly vain, so please don't think less of me! I come from a staunchly public-school family, and have been public-schooled throughout my life (even when I went to America on exchange, I opted for a public university, though it was highly ranked). My primary school had only 12 kids in my year 6 class, and has since been closed down. There was a lot of lice at that school.

However, I was "best girl" in primary school, dux at high school and college, gained high distinctions throughout university, and ended up with a sociology prize and a university medal for my Honours thesis. Private schools aren't necessary for achievement, and with Sapphire as incredibly bright as she is, choosing a school depending on her ideas of where she'll be happiest might be the best choice? And as everyone says, nothing is permanent, whichever option you go for! Situations can be changed if things aren't working out :)

Vanessa said...

Very thought provoking and I need time to respond (about to do school run) so I will be back.

Kath Lockett said...

Thank you, Feline Cyclist (and everyone else). Tears of gratitude and relief at the understanding shown here is very thoughtful.

You've summed it up better than I could; the powerlessness over the lack of choice in a public school when the crappiest is closest and two of the most successful are a huge one kilometre out of our grasp....

Hannah I too went to a public school - the same one my father taught at. It was the only school in town and pretty rough (sniffer dogs were introduced the year after I left for uni). It was only by year twelve that I felt comfortable there; finally able to reveal that I was keen and wanted to learn and succeed without being ridiculed for it. The only year that I was with other students who felt (mostly) the same.

The school had(has) a much bigger success rate than the one that's 300 metres up our street. I can't but see the ranking of 515 out of 528. That's not run-of-the-mill, it's abysmal. I want Sapphire to not only feel like she can be herself but also be with kids who (mostly) feel the same. From year seven, not year twelve. For some kids, year twelve (or even year nine, which is the next opportunity she'd have to sit a selection test) is too late.

I'll be right here, Vanessa :)

tc said...

Our backgrounds are exactly the same, just I grew up slightly north of you, and for those reasons, I am as committed to public education as you are. Also, living here, I am even more committed to the idea of the local, public school than I ever was before. But I'm pretty sure I'd be pushing for one of the other schools.

And you know, if you want any consolation about compromising your values, just look at the life I'm currently leading. oof

Kay said...

Kath, go with the school that will best suit Sapph. She will adapt. By introducing the idea now, she will get used to it and will probably embrace it by the time she starts.

For what it's worth, I would be making her sit that test; from what you have described, I can't imagine that she'll thrive in an environment that ranks 515/538. She's a bright kid, she needs the opportunitues.

But I feel your pain; it is a tough choice.

Wally The Walrus said...

There is a big difference between principles and practical reality.

In order for us to live with ourselves there usually needs to be some level of compromise.

Now, one extreme would be to say: "bright kid, must have opportunity, will exploit taxpayer $ and send to private school X and spend the next 7 years working to pay for it."

Another extreme is to say "no my child shall go to bogan high because even if the staff are all no hopers on the turps, SOMEBODY MUST MAKE A STAND AND IT SHALL BE I FIGHTING FOR WHATS RIGHT (and using my child to ply my social conscience)".

Now... exaggeration I know but this is the story most parents play out in their own minds, they are just usually too scared to actually come out and say it like that.

Reality should be tempered by something like: what do I think is right... for (1) the child, (2) for me, (3) for society in general. In that order.

In the end our society is made up of a bunch of selfish individuals (which when you think about is is actually a good thing) bound together by a thread or two of common purpose.

If your compromise is to self Saph to a public school a few km away that does better because it is staffed by people who CARE then that is a good compromise. You are not at one extreme or the other.

The thing to remember is that you and I have only old age and retirement to look forward to. We can sit on our verandahs, drinking a beer or a chardy and mumbling and dribbling about how the youth of today never had it so good and how they are all lazy.

Your child has a future of work (like it or not), and great uncertainty. The ONLY way to have the most options in future is education. There is no other. The more, and the better education you have, the better off you will be.

The bricklayer who did a doctorate in microbiology and lays bricks by choice has at least had a chance. The bricklayer who had poor teachers, no chances, and struggled through an apprenticeship has nowhere much else to go.

Once you are over the age of about 21 or 22, the chances of getting more education to further yourself are rapidly diminishing. Like the people who take a "gap year" and never come back... the best time to get educated is when you are young. For all practical purposes, there are no second chances. (There are a rare few who do, they are the exception not the norm.)

So, give your child, not the best chances money can buy, but the reasonable chances that fit with your knowledge of them and your principles. And compromise all around. The only test of whether these choices will be the right ones comes about 20 year after these choices were made. So do the best you can, within reason. Doing less is foolish and irresponsible.

(gets off soap box now... but has disclaimer: oldest in year 12, aiming at uni, in a public school. Will he be good enough to get there? who knows... but there have at least been chances.)

Jackie K said...

I hear you, it's so frustrating that we even have to make these choices, when the local school should be good enough. And "good enough" would be one thing but heavens to betsy those are shocking scores in this case. Yes walking distance would be lovely, but I suspect it is not most kids' reality these days (and wasn't mine either in fact - where I lived there was no close high school and mine was 2 bus rides away which was a drag but not unusual).
Starting high school is terrifying - but a good school will be less scary than a crappy one too.
Good luck - I am already wondering how we are going to tackle this one in 6 years' time. Our local high school is not good either.

Jackie K said...

ALSO - I reckon start her at the school you mean her to stay at (where possible!)
She starts at the local one, makes some friends, then has to change and fit in and make new friends all over again...
Good luck though - not easy

Hannah said...

Yes, I must admit that the 515 ranking did give me pause. There is a difference between a public school that simple might not have the same funds as another, which could be impacting on rankings, and a school that is that far down the rankings. I don't know, it's an awful position to be in and one of those times where all you want is a crystal ball that can give you at least a rough idea of the outcome of different choices. I'm also positive that Sapphire will make amazing friends wheresoever she goes, and in reality the first few weeks at high school can by terrifying even if you're somewhere you think you "know" inside out!

P.S. Also, thinking about it, Canberra's public schools probably don't offer the same drastic differences in rankings and outcomes as schools in Melbourne and Sydney seem to...

mele said...

I'm with you on community and closeness, but if you send her to a school where finishing year twelve is not the norm, that in itself is scary...Working in uni at the moment with struggling students. Many of these students come from highschools that have actively failed/disdvantaged them. They're just as bright as others but they just don't know the basics. They have to play catch up, and their first year results unfairly suffer.

Plastic Mancunian said...

G'Day Kath,

That's a tough one. All I can say is that I ended up at a grammar school because I was "intelligent" rather than joining my friends at the local comp.

And I never looked back.

I would go for the best school, to be honest, for that reason alone.



nuttynoton said...

We have been there and understand your difficulties, in the end we looked around 4 schools and went with the one Miss NN went for and she has thrived, so much so that she is in year 9 and at a recent parents evening the biology teacher told us some of her A-level students would bite her hand off for the work she did. She did not choose the best school on ratings, which cannot always give a true picture, but not the worst we went for smaller because of her personality and she has thrived. Look around the schools first before making your decision and encourage sapphire to be involved in the decision making that will make it easier in the end. I also endorse what PM said changing schools part way through may be more challenging than you think

River said...

I'm not the best person to chip in with an opinion, having left high school after two years, but I'd say to Sapph; that you made the decision to send her locally before you researched and discovered the rankings situation; that you want her to succeed to the very best of her potential; she's very bright and this local school just isn't going to challenge and advance her. She'll get bored and flounder, or get teased for being a smarty-pants and flounder; you'd prefer that she attend a school where this wouldn't happen. Use Romana's idea and take Sapphire along to all the school tours and let her have some say in the final decision. She may very well attend a tour with you and get enthusiastic about a particular better school without much input from you or LC, then she'll be happier knowing that she has decided which school to go to.
I also agree with the other commenter who said email this to the education department.

Vanessa said...

Great start is to have Sapphire attend the Open Days at the schools. She may be like our 9yo who, when her older sister was offered a scholarship, said "Don't think you are sending me to this school." On the tour, she stated "This school is amazing! Please send me here!"
The travel to me is no issue. Even with Sapphire's running, she can see that a few kilometres is not that far.
I agree that you should send her to the school you would ultimately like her to stay at. Don't make the mistake my girlfriend made last year by saying "If you don't like it, you can move." Because her daughter refused to make friends and chose to be miserable so she could take the opt out. It wasn't until my girlfriend put her foot down in Term 3 and said it was the best place for her academically, that her daughter accepted it and is happy, with friends.
Deep down I think you know the answer. You may need to be 'the adult' and make the decision for her and try to make her understand that she doesn't yet know, what she doesn't know about these other schools.
She needs to be able to excell in her academics without feeling intimidated. She needs to be in an academic peer group to flourish.
Our eldest daughter goes to a very high achieving and fee paying school and she is not immune from real life. She has already dealt with a girl who lives in a physically abusive household (and addressed it with her Year Coordinator), she mingles with a range of ethnic backgrounds (admittedly only 1% is aboriginal) and has made friends not only with the girls who live in mansions overlooking the river, but who rent, travel over and hour by bus, and whose both parents work to give them this education.
Ask Sapphire to trust you with the placement testing and to give it her best. Perhaps find someone she could aspire to who attended the school? Naplan testing is also handy as evidence of her ability if she were to throw the testing.
My 11 yo would love to skype Sapphire and perhaps she could have a chat about her experience.
Oh, and to put my background into perspective, I went to 2 highschools. First Upfield High School (scared the crap out of me) and then Seymour Technical High School. I am only one of two of my 26 cousins to have a degree (my younger sister also has a degree). My mantra throughout my schooling was "Knowledge is Freedom" but that is a whole other story.
As a sidenote, where did you find the rankings of the schools?

Anji said...

When my youngest son had to change schools he was heartbroken. Fortunately I shared this with an experienced teacher who explained to me that he needed to mourn. She was right. It wasn't easy for him at first but he went on to integrate and appreciate his new surroundings.

I hope that it all works out for all of you

franzy said...

Blogger ate my comment. There's an hour I'll never get back.

Wally The Walrus said...

Blogger ate my comment as well. Either that or Kath was offended by it.

Kath Lockett said...

Sorry guys - normally comments arrive via my in-box but they haven't turned up. Clearly an unexplained 'cyber-wedgie' occurred.

Damn, now I want to know what you wrote......

Kath Lockett said...

tc, that's what we'll be doing too:'pushing for one of the other schools'. Last night's meeting with the principal and interested parents sadly only made things even clearer that the school isn't right.

"But we had one student get 39/40 for a subject."
"What subject?"

The grandmother of a student said to me, "Not everyone wants to be a doctor or a lawyer you know. My grandson and all of his friends got into the TAFE courses that they wanted to."

"Now listen here, Kath. Your concerns about the average VCE results for our school has to be taken into context. Because it's a small school some of the students don't get to do the subjects they'd like to do, so they find it harder and their results go down."

"We'll always be a small school and there's no way we can be bigger with the size of the grounds we have."

Another parent asked, "You keep saying that this is the local school, the school for kids from Flemington and Kensington. How many of your students are from Flemington and Kensington?"
"Around fifty percent."
So, with 210 students, say 105 are 'local'. At least 300 from the housing towers take the tram elsewhere.

One decision's been made, that's for sure. We won't be sending her 300 metres up the street if we can help it.

deepkickgirl said...

One of the sucky parts of being a parent (and even being an adult) is making hard decisions. I always thought adults knew everything and were in total control. Now I know that's utter crap and a facade adults put up around them so that everything doesn't just collapse into anarachy and chaos.

Bottom line: you and LC have to make the hard decisions because, smart as Sapph is, she doesn't see the bigger picture. Only hindsight will show whether this is for the better or worse...

Good luck.

drb said...

How was this year opening night differ from the opening night last year?

Kath Lockett said...

drb - last year was just a tour. This week was a public invitation for parents and community members to come along and have a discussion on how the school can lift its profile in the community.

When the principal asked us to speak honestly, there was silence for a bit-too-long, so I decided to speak up.....

I'm still glad I did.

Anonymous said...

Kath, your torment breaks my heart - you are so hard on yourself. I have two points to make:

1. Our kids are already highly privileged - they are well, read, well travelled and doted on in every possible way. They are exposed to ideas and opinions of a kind i could not have imagined when i was at primary school. They already have huge advantages - we are middle class and very comfortable (even if it doesn't always feel like it)

2. I tend toward the Pollyannish - therefore i think there is no reason for Sapphire not to sit the UH exam. See how she goes and add it to the mix of options. Its never too late to change schools - money can buy entry into a 'good' school if need be. There's nothing wrong with wanting a school for her where the social capital of the students matches your own - if its what you feel now that its come to crunch time - its ok to change your mind. There's no shame in reviewing ideals you've long held and discovering they no longer apply. Its a brave person who can do it and admit it. You've done a wonderful job with her so far - what is it about this high school stuff that makes you doubt yourself????


Vanessa said...

Beautifully written comment Helen. Much better than my ramble, but my thoughts exactly.

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Helen and Vanessa. The doubt springs from the guilt of wanting to do the right thing as a local, as a non-snob and as a parent. The realisation is that not all three things are possible in this situation.

Every parent wants the best for their child, and sometimes it horrifies me how 'the best' can mean the exclusion of others in efforts to put ahead and upwards. I don't want to do it like that, but I also don't want to use Sapph as some kind of social experiment.

I'm aware that it takes bravery and faith to take the step forward and be the first of a new generation of families to embrace a struggling school and if I honestly felt that the school had made some real effort over recent years to address the falling enrolments and abysmal results and general ruin, I'd be interested. But I'm not convinced....

I put Sapph on the tram yesterday morning after our trip into the city for her fortnightly allergy injection. Usually I trundle back to Flemington with her, drop her off to school and take the tram back into the city for work. This time I put her on by herself and walked to the office. She said, "I've done this heaps of times. Besides, it'll give me practice for school next year."

Helen said...

To put it brutally, Sapph's class and white privilege, as well as her family background, will mean she's unlikely to fail.

Meanwhile, the students from FCC, our much-feared local High, continue to kick butt in the VCE. It's just that not every kid there wants to go to university, hence the lower "average" scores. An average is an average. The selective Govt and private schools simply exclude anyone who's going to bring their average down.

You are caught in a very toxic social process in which the middle class is fleeing the public system and the people who can't do that are being thrown under the bus (and the teachers potentially punished under the My School system.) I know as an individual family you can't do much about it.

I had thought that M. would go to MacRob or similar but she ended up staying. She's now in second year as Unimelb.

Kath Lockett said...

Helen, 'toxic social process' hits the nail on the head.

Your Scarysuburb High is one that we're looking at - we love where it's located, the results and the mix of students. It's streets ahead of the school 300 metres up our street.

We also - like your daughter M - want her to start and stay at the same school; not shifting to MacRob if she's a year nine brainiac or having to deal with new friendships and social groups if the first school isn't good enough.

UH may not be the answer but we're going to throw our hat in the ring. Same for PP and FCC.

Clara said...

Kath, you say you want someone else to make the decision. Well, if you've raised a kid with the smarts to make her own decision, why deny yourself that opportunity?

Seriously. Intelligence will stay, in some form. So you can send her to a school she feels happy in, it'll thrive, and having been validated now, when she gets to 15 and maybe realises she wants a bit more extension and to find a school/environment which better fits her vocational aspirations (whether that's a PhD or a plumber), she'll be able to do it. Force, or even passively, send her to spend time in an environment where she isn't fully enriched, and her intelligence will be skewed into neuroticism. (And FWIW, I'm strongly pro-private school- can't believe I'd advocate sending a kid to a govie school, particularly a poor ranking one!)

Yes, big decision- who'd be a parent. But you seem to have done an *awfully* good job to this point- part of your job now is to start having confidence in what you've done to let go.