Guest blog: "The registration journey"

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(The following is by Gambit guest blogger and New Orleans East resident Clifton Harris, who maintains his own blog, Cliff’s Crib. You can read more of his writing there.)

I loved New Orleans enough to come back home after losing my grandmother, all my possessions and my pet in Hurricane Katrina. I have been able to live through every misrepresentation and stressful process on the way to rebuilding. Nothing has made me more skeptical about my future in this city and more aggravated about coming back than trying to register a child for school. I have had more tirades about this situation than anything else because it involves my baby. I have written about this from the parent's perspective of trying to find a school. My blog friends Leigh and G have tons of other information on this if you want the nuts and bolts. This story is my experience. Judging by the stories I hear from people I know personally, there are probably thousands of stories just like this. This is a recap of what happened so far and where we are today....

We started out looking for a good school with a pre-k program. Surprisingly there was already a waiting list at most of these schools nine months before the new school year was even close. I found this really shocking since no one is supposed to be living here according to statistics and New Orleans parents are not supposed to care enough about their kids to look for the best schools early on. I guess that’s not the case. There were a few decent public schools left with pre-k but we ended up on the lottery for those. We were waiting for the private schools to make their decision. In the meantime a new charter school popped up (I know you want the name of the schools but she hasn't started yet and I don't want her to get mysteriously disqualified). They didn't have a pre-k but according to their principal my daughter was capable enough to start kindergarten this year. That was good for us because this school is a spin-off of the one her mom really wanted her to go to. The only problem with this one is the location. When you tell people where it is they get a concerned look on their face like you are sending your child to Iraq. I keep telling everybody that it's just where the building is and that's no indication of how the school will be. I really want to believe that.

Let’s fast forward to this week. I have been waiting for the orientation letter to let us know when we could tour the remodeled facilities and meet the staff. I got the letter and the orientation meetings are in another building on an entirely different street from the school. I can only assume that this means the building is not ready. That could be the only reason that principal would sit in my home and tell me and then not do it. Now I am a little concerned if this school is going to be ready for these babies on the first day. To add to the confusion, the Catholic school just called a few days ago to inform me that she has been accepted into their program. To further confuse things more, there are schools calling and sending letters everyday inviting us to fill out an application. It's three weeks to the beginning of school and kids are still being recruited. The only problem with that is I have no idea where these schools are. I have been trying to figure out why when these schools put those signs up at the street intersections they never put the address. Now, everything hinges on this visit with the charter school.

If everything looks good then she starts kindergarten and graduates in 2021. If we are not comfortable she goes to pre-k and graduates in 2022. A year's worth of her development will be based on this situation. Of course, if she goes to pre-k that means that next year this time we will have to figure out how to pay for the rest of the years at the catholic school since I am not poor enough to get a voucher but not rich enough to cut a check every year for tuition without some struggle. We can't even take the ghetto way out and lie on the application that I am a deadbeat dad because her mom makes more than I do. Maybe I can say she's a deadbeat mom and get my hands on one of those vouchers. At the least we can get added to the "random" lottery. I'll do what I can to escape the Recovery School District. If all of that was really confusing to read and follow that's good. Now you know what it's like for the parents trying to get this done.

That's something we should be investigating. A really good friend of mine lives in Mandeville. A new school building is being opened right around his house. It looks like a college. His daughter is going there. There is an empty lot around the corner from my house where the school used to be and I don't see a "Coming Soon" sign. We are in the same income bracket. He's just way smarter than I am because he moved over there and not out here.

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