Charter Schools-Our Story

As the new school year gets underway, I find myself, once again explaining why we’re not at our neighborhood school.

You see, I made the decision to yank my kids from our awarding winning public school, and place them in a public charter.


It’s ok. That’s the reaction I usually get. You see, my kids are bright. And active. And while my son was doing just fine academically at our neighborhood school, he was stressed. Conforming to the traditional setting did not suit him at all. In fact, it was sucking the creativity and the life right out of him. My bright, bright boy was struggling to keep his hands still and his mouth shut and his eyes and heart were glazing over.

I wouldn't battle them

When his then teacher suggested we use medication to stifle what little spunk was left, I was done.


Now mind you I’m not one of those mother’s who is blind to their child’s faults. We also sought the advice of pediatricians, school psychologists, and a therapist. Its been a long road for a kind-hearted boy who wasn’t a bad kid, but was quickly being labeled as one because he would roll his pencil in his fingers or had trouble sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time.

There he was, standing against the wall at recess because he hadn’t finished a work sheet…when what he needed more than anything was that 30 minutes to run free and climb and play.

So without knowing what I was going to do, but knowing this had to change, I pulled my son from his Kindergarten and sought an alternative. For all I knew that meant I would home school, or we’d sell body parts for a private school…I didn’t care.

As luck would have it, a spot opened up at the brand new charter in our valley. The first, in our valley. Project learning based. Hands on. Individualized learning. Something his then teacher said she couldn’t do for him, due to a lack of resources. And let me be clear… I do not fault her, or the old school at all. They did what they could do and they managed their classes as best they could with the resources they had. But it was a one size fits all solution…one I couldn’t accept for my son and now, my daughter.

I have the utmost respect for the teachers union. For educators. For the system that is being held together by strings and band-aids and for those who work so hard every day to keep it together and educate our kids. But that system does not work for every child. It’s leaving so many of our boys and girls behind in it’s wake, and I refuse to let my kids suffer while the system gets fixed.

I couldn’t wait another five years, or another round of elections, or another anything. My kids are in elementary school NOW and I have no time for this system to change.

I’m lucky, I found a solution in my own neighborhood. Others are not so lucky. But I would have homeschooled and worked full time if that was my only other choice. I would have gotten a second job to pay for that private school. There are no limits to what we’d do for our kids.

I was talking to my husband the other night about telling this story. About how our family ended up at a charter…and I hesitated. You see, even in our growing valley, traditional ‘values’ run deep and there is already the nay-sayers that are complaining about the ‘un’learning we do at our school. I didn’t want to stir that pot.

But, in the end, I wanted to share our story because it’s not just ours. You see, I’m seeing many families transfer over from those award winning schools. I’m hearing other stories of the struggle with hours upon hours of homework, killing and drilling, soul sucking teach to the test.

There are many.

And while our charter is NOT for everyone, it is the perfect fit for us- the quirky family with the writer mother and artist father and two amazing children who learn through play and encouragement and love.

I’m Erin, and I support charter schools. I also support public education. Those two things can- and sometimes do- go hand-in-hand.

Summer’s Over


The first day of school may be more anxiety ridden for me, than for the kids.

I toss and turn the night before, wondering if I’ve prepared them for the social angst, the work, the general knowledge of knowing where to go, who to trust, what’s in their backpacks.

And then we walk through the doors and, in the case of one, her head goes down and she’s more than determined to conquer each task given with determination and perfection. In the case of the other, he’s relieved that a summer of isolation is over and his social butterfly can soar free, talking 100 miles per minute.

After…comes the silence. Sitting in an empty home where I continue to fret and hope I’ve done my best for them to succeed and excel.

Kindergarten: Now With More Flirting!

I witnessed my son hit on a girl today.

I wasn’t imagining it, either. I watched, mouth agape, as he told a brown-haired, 5-year old vixen he loved her the best of all the other girls in the class and wanted to hug her.

She then marched up to me..the mom..and said “Mrs. Vest, Jack loves me the best and I’m riding in YOUR car today.”

My jaw was still on the floor so I didn’t respond.

WTF just happened? I mean, nevermind that *I* had the other girls pin down Brian H. on the Kindergarten playground when I was 5…you know, so I could kiss him. THIS WAS DIFFERENT.

My baby boy was WORKING IT with half the girls in the class. The tall blonde, the green-eyed brunette. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?

Let’s review my week. I arrive home to find my daughter has been flashing her underwear to the boys in town. I take my son on a field trip to find out he’s been playing the Kindergarten field.

I realized this day would come- the kids exploring and what not. But this is out of hand. I need a new plan. Perhaps they get locked in their rooms for all of eternity. Perhaps convents and military school.

Perhaps I am prescribed Valium and start making a nightly martini. Because this shit might kill me.

However I did see a ray of hope…or rather, I felt it. During today’s field trip, somewhere between learning about Bristol Farm’s deli counter and their cheese guy, MY little guy put his arms around me.


And in front of his whole class, all the girls and boys, he said, “Mom, I love you best, you know that, right?”

Damn right. And don’t think I didn’t eye each and everyone of those little miss things so they knew it, too.

100 Days

My soon-to-be 6-year old celebrated 100 days of Kindergarten this week.

I’d like to bow my head in a moment of silence for the roller coaster ride we’ve been on in 100 days.

100 days of kindergarten!

The start of “real school” for your first born really is an ass-kicker. From the endless questions about if they are ready, when they are ready to navigating a new school and it’s insane system. The paperwork, my GOD the paperwork, the endless notes that come home. The fundraisers, the teacher gifts, the volunteer hours.

Yes, the first time you send your child off to school it’s a new world for him and you.

We’ve made some tough decisions around here in this first 100 days of chaos. Some good. Some bad. Some drastic.

So while I sift through the mound of construction paper projects and permission slip reminders and practice our letters one more time…I salute you 100 days of Kindergarten. You’ve made me crazy, my son stressed, and all of us insane.

The Virtual World of 5-year olds


Without any effort or thought, a handful of Kindergartners just walked into their computer lab, turned on their monitors, opened up a browser, found the bookmark tab, and began playing games.

I just watched it at my son’s school. It was second nature. It was without adult supervision. It was part of the routine.

I fully realize our children are wired. What didn’t occur to me was the ease of it all. The ‘daily life,’ same as -putting on a pair of pants and breathing air- there was to the whole thing.

This isn’t just the next generation, it’s the next Renaissance.

My Biggest Speaking Gig To Date

Today I faced my toughest crowd.


I told them all about my trip to DC to watch Barack Obama become our 44th President. I’m pretty sure they wanted to hear less about Obama and more about my plane ride.

At one point I was busting out gadgets to keep their interest.

The most successful part of my talk? Mentioning Malia and Sasha Obama…and the look of pride on my son’s face as the kids clapped when I finished.

Dead Fish Alert

We had a floater.

Time of Death: somewhere between breakfast and dinner

Kids: seem to think it’s sleeping, refuse to believe otherwise

Mom: paranoid the other three won’t make it to Monday and the return of school

Teacher: super cool and understanding

Husband: mocking

Maybe I should have kept a webcam on these fish. Clearly I can’t be trusted.

Mixed Reviews for Obama Education Pick

crossposted at

Arne Duncan, the Chicago Public Schools chief, is President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for Secretary of Education and it’s raising more than a few eyebrows.

I’ll be honest, I had no idea who the guy was until his name came up as the architect behind Chicago’s LGBT High School proposal. An interesting concept that garnered much discussion here at BlogHer.

Apparently Duncan is also known for championing Charter schools.

Now I’m really listening, this time as the parent of a charter school student.

Dr. Susan Neuman writes at the Huffington Post, “Duncan has a track-record of educational reform successes and he’ll use whatever it takes–innovative charters, teacher reforms, early childhood programs–to ensure higher achievement. Way back when I was Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, and at the initial stages of implementing No Child Left Behind, Duncan was trying to make sense of the law to the benefit of kids in Chicago. He pushed every button he could but, as we now as we know so clearly, the administration wouldn’t budge from its ideological perch.”

But Madison at BlackVoices disagrees,

“Now I don’t know if this is Chicago machine politics at work here, but I’ve gotta question Obama choosing a bureaucrat who actually oversaw the closings of about 18 public schools in poor neighborhoods, all in the name of supposedly providing children with a better education, as well as fire 300 teachers. In fact, here at BlackVoices, we blogged about this very subject, and you Chicago readers responded fervently. Maybe it’s me, but I never thought of closing a school as a benefit for children. …”

A mixed bag of reaction for sure.

Over at MotherTalkers the comments show uncertainty and praise for the pick,

CascadingWaters isn’t happy, “As a teacher, and moreover, as a parent who’s pulled my daughter out of MA public schools because of their overreliance and overemphasis on MCAS (our standardized test), I feel completely let down by this. He had Linda Darling-Hammond, one of the best thinkers in the country, advising him. I can only imagine he ignored her. Added to the other Clinton-era choices, this one confirms for me that we’re getting pretty far away from ‘change we can believe in.’ I ain’t believing.”

While parentalunit1 is pleased,

“1. this choice comes with a clear record of impressive success. and someone who clearly shares obama’s style of consensus. you can’t be successful without working within the NCLB infrastructure. but i am not so sure Duncan is a real supporter of NCLB. 2. Duncan is willing to try anything to see if it works. cash for grades as an example. i like obama’s positioning here as with other issues…ideology does not reign supreme. they are both open to ideas to see if they ‘work’.”

On the one hand I applaud Duncan for attempting to think out-of-the-box on issues and on the other I remain unconvinced of “successes” in the Chicago public school system under his tenure.

One thing is for sure, Duncan will have a hell of a job ahead of him as he attempts to overhaul our public education system.

Erin Kotecki Vest also blogs at Queen of Spain blog