As a Recovering Private School Parent, I Chose Public School
(This letter was written by PUSD parent and Altadena resident Victoria Knapp to Pasadena Now, and is being posted with her permission)
As a new school year commences, and given your robust coverage of the first day of school throughout PUSD campuses, I thought this was an important time to share my perspective. Our public schools need our support and our enrollment, perhaps now more than ever.
I was a Pasadena private school student who originally enrolled my oldest son in private school. After five years, I moved him to public school.
Why did I switch? Something never sat right with me, I never felt at home or truly comfortable. I knew in my heart, as a liberal progressive, I could not abide the elitism and privilege of private school, and certainly not for my white male kids.
It was because of this uneasiness, that I began touring PUSD schools, a journey that continued for a decade and after the birth of my second son. I toured the same schools over and over, year after year, so that I could see how they changed over time, through turnover in staff and principals, and with the advent of TT Measure funding. I was intrigued and motivated by what I saw.
I joined Pasadena Education Network (PEN). I attended school board meetings. I attended many events at many public schools and I was not only impressed, I was blown-away (did you happen to see the productions of Grease at Marshall or Alice in Wonderland at Eliot? These shows, with their high production value, were not happening at our fancy private school!)!
By the time our older son was in 3rd grade, we had moved to Altadena from Pasadena. Altadena Elementary School, as it was known then, had low test scores and a revolving door of principals. I was willing to make the leap, but needed to see some stability. I also learned that test scores are not an indicator of a failing school.
Last year, I met the new principal for Altadena Elementary, Benita Scheckel. I was impressed and enlivened by her vision, her enthusiasm, how she embraced her role and the school, and her ability to get things done. The school was up for a multi-million dollar arts grant that they were eventually awarded in October, 2017. They became Altadena Arts Magnet. They started a French dual-language immersion program. Good things were happening. And, I saw a future opportunity for my younger son.
We first enrolled him in the Expanded Transitional Kindergarten at Cleveland Elementary School, the smallest school in the district. We FINALLY had a child in public school. It felt good. I was living my values. I was overwhelmed by so many things: the impassioned and engaged leadership of the principal, the mentorship of the staff over the students, the diverse student demographics, the opportunities my 5 year old had for field trips (even as a native, I’d never been to the Cabrillo Beach/Tide Pools), hands-on ceramics, science experimentation (thanks to a partnership with Caltech), and exposure to the Spanish language as his teacher was bi-lingual.
Our experience with Cleveland cemented our decision to choose public schools for both our sons, Blair International Baccalaureate Middle School for our older son and Altadena Arts Magnet for our younger son. We are pleased with both choices.
I am now the PTA President at Altadena Arts Magnet, because that’s how much being involved and being able to champion our family, our school, and its students means to me. I am happy to say that our private school days are behind us.
High-achieving, highly motivated, socially minded, educated parents owe it to themselves, their kids, our community, and our democracy to take a renewed look at our local public schools.