Anya Grottel-Brown is a recent transplant to LA from the East Coast. Her series, The Newcomer Journals, is about all things local that are new, different and same.
In early June, my son will graduate from 3rd Street Elementary. He’s had an awesome year filled with rigorous academic learning, school trips ranging from Walt Disney Concert Hall to AstroCamp science camp in the San Jacinto Mountains and opportunities to present his art and science work at fairs and contests. Most importantly, the positive influence of his wonderful 5th grade teacher, Dr. Melvora Moore-Fulton, will doubtless remain with him long after he leaves this school.
I’m therefore a little sad about my son graduating from 3rd Street El. I’m not at all sad about another kind of “graduating” moment: after an exhaustive amount of effort and research, my husband and I have finally settled on his middle school for the next academic year.
For newcomers like us who have school-age children, the learning curve to understand LAUSD’s complex system of magnets, charters and Schools for Advanced Studies (SAS) is truly daunting. The district is all about choice, meaning that you can apply to any school anywhere within its boundaries. We started the process last fall and we just finished now. Some masters’ programs can probably be completed in less time. Here are a few tips I picked up along the way from parents, teachers and helpful magnet coordinators:
- Start early. Reach out to other parents and make a list of schools you think you and your child would like. Visit the campus. Ask to sit in on classes and talk to the teachers.
- Watch out for magnet applications. These generally open up in October and close on November 15. You can apply to any magnet within LAUSD. There are three different sets of criteria for the gifted/highly gifted/high ability magnets. If, like us, you don’t have magnet points or California test scores, there is a ‘demonstrate ability’ criteria that can get you into the ‘gifted’ pipeline. (Gifted testing is a lengthy process so get started as soon as you can.)
- Congratulations, you’ve figured out the magnets. There are still charter schools and SAS. Charter schools require separate applications and make decisions via a lottery. SAS, which are academically similar to magnets but don’t include busing, also require separate applications which generally open on April 1 and close on April 30. Check each school’s site for information. (Disclaimer: we did not apply to private schools.)
- Visit the campus…again. Now that you know what waiting lists your child is on and where she has been accepted, visit your number one choice one more time. And make absolutely sure that you want that daily 10-mile commute (make it 40 for you for the two round trips).
- Ask the teacher. We finally narrowed our choices down to three and talked to my son’s teacher. She helped prioritize our middle school options which made it a lot easier for us to decide.
You can now breathe easier until next year, when it’s time to start researching high schools.