Friday, August 02, 2002

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

I have had a somewhat strained relationship with the Corona-Norco Unified school district in Riverside County, California. I have written critically about my local failing school, El Cerrito Elementary. This year the school district shut down El Cerrito Elementary. My family's brand new "neighborhood school" was built in the last nine months and is located in a newer middle class tract of little (actually, big) pink houses. My husband and I have grown tired of the hour and a half round trip drive to take our kids to the downtown Riverside private school and the private school only goes until the first grade anyway. So, I lost my mind for a brief time and actually thought, I will check into the new public school. My mistake.

I still have a hard time believing this actually happened. The new school, Orange Elementary, has five different year-round tracks or schedules for the students. Some of the tracks started in early July, and some of the tracks are starting later in August. I wanted to find out from the district or the school which track my son Jacob could be enrolled in. I wanted to make sure he would not miss the first month of first grade.

Anyway, I called the school district and asked about the availability of enrollment in the different tracks. They said, "We do not give out that information. Only the school principal can tell you the school's enrollment availability." So, I went down to the office of Orange Elementary. I explained to the woman at the front desk that my son had been in private school, that I was considering enrolling him in their school, and that I wanted to make sure he would be able to start in August. The woman looked at me, blinked, and then said in her Stepford Wives’ voice, "I'm sorry but school enrollment availability is confidential. We do not give out information about scheduling until your child is actually enrolled in our school." I asked to talk with the principal. The Stepford Wive asked me if my child was enrolled in the school. She told me I had to go through the “central registration” process, and then bring back proof of enrollment, and then I could find out scheduling information and talk with the principal. The truth is that if I never enroll my child in this public school, they could care less. The schools are overcrowded and they have a monopoly on the service.

On this same day when I picked Jake and Kate up at The Growing Place, a parent was asking the owner about how the Kindergarten teacher planned to teach her son reading. Teddy, the owner said, “Please come into my office and let me show you our phonics program and explain our approach to reading.” The difference between the two schools and how they treat parents couldn’t be more striking. I really hope that someday, somehow, Orange Elementary, and others like it, face real competition from schools that understand customer service.

Needless to say, I have come to my senses. “I actually considered turning my child over to these people.”

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