In a post back in March, I mentioned that we had deferred some "tough decisions" about what we will be doing about Amy's school next year. That drama has continued to play along.
Let me say a bit more about it now than I did back in March. This will be a long post.
So here is what has been happening.
Amy started at her current school for sixth grade. There were a few bumps along the way, but for the most part Amy was the happiest she had ever been at school. She was excited to go each day. She struggled a bit with organization and getting things done when she needed to, but she was doing OK. She would generally do well when she did the work, but often would just not do it, or would do it but forget to turn it in. She also had a tendency to get dinged for talking out of turn in class and the like. Toward the end of sixth grade, we worked with her advisor and her teachers to fix a lot of those issues. There was massive improvement, she closed out the year on a good note, and everybody was still very happy with the school.
One of the big benefits that drew us to the school in the first place, and which we were still happy with at the end of the year, despite a few bumps on the way, was that there was a huge sense of ownership in the staff. This was a new school, and they were building it. It was theirs. This carried over to the students as well. And they were willing to be creative, and try new things, and work with students (and parents) to find the best way to have the greatest benefit to the children.
This year was seventh grade. The school has been growing very fast. Too fast I think. There were a lot of new teachers this year. And some of the old teachers left. This year Amy had been at the school longer than most of her teachers had, and it was only Amy's second year. And it seemed the attitude we were so happy about was at the very least very diluted by the changes. Not to mention that many of the new hires seem to just not be up to snuff in terms of quality. At the very first "orientation day" when we got to meet the teachers, there were at least a couple where my first reaction was "Oh my, they aren't too bright, are they?". That had not been the case last year, when I had been almost universally impressed by the teachers.
In the first few weeks of seventh grade, Amy started falling back into the bad habits she had early in sixth grade. Missing homework assignments and the like. We contacted Amy's advisor saying we wanted to nip this in the bud, and we wanted to talk with them right away to create a coordinated front to help Amy get back into the good habits and avoid the bad habits. As part of this, we asked if we could please hear when Amy was missing assignments as soon as it happened, rather than waiting until later. (The normal school pattern was to report on such things to parents only after several things were missing, which could be long after the original thing was missing, and therefore was hard to provide useful corrective pressure.) We were told "No, we don't do that" by the new advisor. (Even though it was exactly what we had done just a few months earlier.) We tried to escalate to the head of the middle school. We were once again told "No". We then asked for a meeting. We were ignored for several weeks until it was time for the regularly scheduled review period.
When we finally had a meeting, the head of the whole school (not just the middle school) intervened and gave the advisor an extra task of working with Amy on a daily basis to help her ensure she had done what she needed to do the previous day, knew what she needed the next day, had all the materials she needed, etc. The advisor was not happy about this at all. At the meeting she said "You want me to do WHAT???" before the head of school put her foot down that this was going to happen.
But then it didn't happen well. The things that were supposed to happen at Amy's daily meeting with the advisor were not really happening. And Amy and the advisor did not have good chemistry. So there would also be cases of Amy "forgetting" to go to the meetings. It was not a good mix. The issues not only didn't get better in the second trimester, they got WORSE. Much worse. Amy's advisor was also Amy's English teacher, and things were just in a downward spiral. Amy's attitude got worse. Less things got turned in. Amy was getting unhappy and very frustrated. There were always many things missing. The reports of bad behavior in class were getting worse. Amy ended up getting her worst grades since we moved here.
Then Brandy's mom needed surgery. Brandy needed to go back to Pennsylvania to help out for a couple of weeks. Because of Brandy's back, she has trouble flying alone. She also would need help in helping her mother during the time she was there. She knew she could not do it alone. She needed Amy with her. This was mostly over a school break, but Amy would still have to miss a week or so of school. Brandy contacted the school. She gave them the dates and asked if there would be a problem. The answer from the middle school head was no, it would not be an issue. Amy just needed to coordinate with her teachers and get all her work.
Amy tried to do so, but got little to no response before she had to leave. While actually on the trip Amy was still able to get most of the work online though. Just not all of it. And there was some that she couldn't do, because the class had switched to a new textbook (without mentioning that would happen in advance) and Amy had taken the old one with her. But Amy worked every day while she was gone on her classwork.
Toward the end of Amy and Brandy's time in Pennsylvania, we got a letter from the school warning us that while Amy *was* being invited back for 8th grade, she most likely would not be invited back for 9th grade unless there was a dramatic improvement.
Brandy had already been incredibly frustrated with the school at this point, and this put her over the edge. Yes, Amy wasn't doing well, and she could do better, but the school also was not doing their part. We were paying for a private school rather than public school precisely to get more individualized attention, and help in places where it was needed, etc. All things that the school had promoted before we picked it in the first place, and which they had for the most part delivered on in sixth grade, but were failing on in seventh grade. And whenever we tried to work with them or communicate with them, we were getting rebuffed or ignored. Still. And in the trimester report which came at the same time as the letter, one of the things that Amy was dinged on was the way in which she worded her email asking for help getting together what she would need to work on while she was in Pennsylvania. Never mind that almost all the staff ignored that and provided her with absolutely nothing to help with that when Amy was proactively trying to get on top of that before leaving. Brandy was furious.
I on the other hand thought it was fair. Amy *wasn't* doing well, and fundamentally the issues were things that in the end only she could do. Deciding that the school work is important and that it had to be done, and turning it in when it needed to be turned in. Yes, we can do all sorts of things at home to double check that and provide pressure, but in the end she has to decide for herself. Also, I thought a lot of the issues were because she is 12 in a class made up mostly of 13 year olds and even some 14 year olds. And there is a great deal of difference in what a 12 year old is ready to take personal responsibility for and what a 14 year old is ready for. Yes, she will always be younger than her classmates, but the difference would be less in a year. I felt a lot of this would take care of itself just with time.
At this point I wanted to stick it out where we are, work closely with Amy to get things on track and push the school more to do their part. I was (and am) convinced that Amy is completely capable of doing what she needs to where she currently is. She just needs a little support. And where the school is falling down, Brandy and I can make up for it by doing more ourselves. Even if we have to do some of the school's job. I figured we would sign up for 8th grade, see how it went, and if we wanted to go somewhere else for 9th grade, we'd have plenty of time to prepare, as opposed to just a few days until the deadline was due for the day we needed to commit (and put a deposit down) for 8th grade.
Brandy on the other hand was ready to be completely done. The school was not doing what they needed to to be worth the money. Amy was increasingly unhappy. When we tried to work with the school it was always a frustrating experience, and unlike last year, it was feeling increasingly combative rather than cooperative. Brandy wanted to get out, and get out now. Not give it another full year, which might be just as bad.
We decided that since we were split, we would meet with the Head of School (not just the middle school head) to discuss our concerns before coming to a decision. We met with her in March and had an hour long conversation where we expressed all of our concerns. The Head of School was very responsive. There were three main results of the meeting. First, while the deposit was still due, she moved our deadline for final commitment back to early July (after the current school year ends). Second she agreed to switch Amy's advisor back to the person who she had for sixth grade (who we love and does a great job) instead of the seventh grade advisor who we (all three of us) had so much trouble with this year. And third, she just generally made us feel better by being responsive and actually listening to our concerns, whereas for most of the year we had felt like the interactions with the school were ineffective at best, and negative at worst.
So we paid the deposit, not an insignificant amount, and got set up to work with the new advisor closely to figure out what needed to be done to get Amy back on track. There was a dramatic change almost overnight. Amy said she was willing to work hard because she wanted to stay. Her attitude was once again bright and hopeful. She was getting things done. She was turning things in. She got all caught up. There was even a dramatic reduction in how much she was talking out of turn and such in class. The new advisor made a huge difference. And a bit of extra support at home made the rest of the difference. (Things like scanning homework when it was done and emailing it to the teacher to avoid the possibility of it getting "lost" before getting to the teacher.)
I was starting to feel like the result here would be clear. Amy would get her act together. The new advisor would help the school do the right thing. We would return next year, and another year of maturity, plus a few new teachers, would put everything right and we would be back on track to stay where we were until Amy graduated from High School.
And then we got another letter.
It basically said that because of the days Amy had missed when she went to Pennsylvania, Amy was on probation for attendance. That any more absences (for whatever reason, including sickness) would result in her being put on warning for the first trimester of 8th grade, and that continued absences could result in her not being allowed to return.
Aside from the trip to Pennsylvania, which we had specifically cleared with the school in advance as not being a problem, Amy had only ever missed school when sick. And in almost all cases Brandy had been diligent and actually made a Doctor visit and gotten a Doctor's note to validate the absence.
This time not just Brandy was mad, I was furious too. I had argued against Amy going to Pennsylvania because of the possible impact on school, but given that it was going to happen, Brandy and Amy had done everything right. They had discussed it with the school in advance, they had tried to get the school work in advance, Amy had done all the work she could while she was gone, and she worked diligently to catch up on the rest when she got back. They did everything right. And we had been told that this trip would not be a problem as long as that happened.
I then engaged in a back and forth email conversation with the Head of School. In the end they did the right thing and rescinded the attendance warning. But in the process, they claimed that when they had said it was no problem, the plan was to miss fewer days, but then that changed and we missed more than anticipated. Of course that never happened. Brandy talked to the Middle School Head before she even bought the tickets and the number of days that they would be gone never changed. It was governed by the date of Brandy's mom's surgery and by how long after the surgery she would not be allowed to drive. As evidence they produced a couple of emails from Amy where Amy got confused and gave the wrong dates. But that was weeks after Brandy had talked to the school, provided the dates, and gotten approval.
At the end of this, even though I got the warning undone, I was pissed. We had met with the Head of School only weeks earlier. And among the things we had discussed was how we had dealt with the trip to Pennsylvania. And no problem was mentioned then. And then this stupid letter happened threatening us again for something where we had done everything right.
It showed once again the problems with communication that the school had been showing all year. And the lack of cooperation. And the confrontational attitude. Either they screwed up when they told us the trip would not be an issue (if they had said otherwise, Amy might not have gone on the trip), or they screwed up with the letter. Either way, they screwed up yet again. I had been fighting for the "stay where we are" option up until that point. I no longer felt like I could actively defend that option. I told Brandy she should go ahead and start actively investigating other options.
She found a school she really liked. The three of us visited it a couple of weeks ago for a tour and an interview. Both Brandy and Amy are very excited about it. It is *very* non-traditional. There are fewer hours of school each week with classes. It is more like college in that you schedule classes individually, and that is when you need to be there. It isn't just a solid block of classes 7 hours every day or anything like that. Depending on your schedule, there may even be days with no classes at all. But balancing out the lower number of hours, quite a few of the classes are organized as one on one. One teacher, one student. The others are very small groups. Classes of 15 are unheard of, let alone classes of 30. And they work very hard to make sure there is good student/teacher chemistry, and switch you quickly if there is not. There is huge latitude for independent study, including getting credit for certain types of extracurricular activities. (For instance, if Amy continues to be very serious about her Double Bass or Chorus activities, some of that might be eligible for credit.) And they specifically are set up to work with kids on organizational and study skills type issues, as well as being set up to cater very strongly to individual interests and issues. The school is also older and more established than where we are now, despite being a lot more radical. (Although that also means it has older infrastructure and is less up to date technologically.)
Now, Brandy and Amy are very excited about this place. I think Amy decided at that very moment that she was done with the current school. I on the other hand am very wary. For a highly motivated kid, it offers the opportunity to zoom ahead in subjects of interest and aptitude, and get much more advanced much more quickly. In subjects where there may be issues, it offers the opportunity to go at the pace needed to really get it. But it also seems a little hand wavy to me. And that if a kid is NOT highly motivated to push forward on their own, it could end up being a sub-par experience. That sometimes you need a little bit of the "you need to do it our way, and you need to do it now" to get the discipline you need. And the times without classes still need to be useful time, not time to goof off or watch TV. If it offers Amy a lot of individual attention that will help her thrive, then great. But if it gives her an opportunity to slack off, and get by with a lower standard of what is needed, then not OK. I think if we choose this school it could easily go either way. I am not sure which would happen. And I think a lot of that would depend on Amy herself.
But that is also true where we are. Amy is doing MUCH better now that we have her back with the advisor that she likes and works well with. She could still do better, but the change is undeniable. She can succeed where we are. It is not a bad place. A lot of the problem had to do with the advisor. That has been fixed. And this school does have a lot to offer. And having myself gone through the disruption of changing schools from 6th grade to 9th grade way more often than I would have liked, I am *very* hesitant about the whole changing schools thing anyway, even if I was fully convinced of the alternative school... which I am not.
But at the same time, it has been a real fight this year where we are. Seventh grade has not been the good experience that Sixth grade was. And Amy is not the only student thinking of leaving. A significant number of the current seventh grade girls are apparently not returning for eighth grade. It seems we are not the only ones who have been disappointed this year. And Amy is now excited about the possibility of the new school.
We have the paperwork ready to fill out for the other school. And we have been told there that based on our interview if we submit the paperwork and the deposit we will be accepted. We have until the beginning of July to officially say no to the current school. So it has not been decided yet.
But Amy and Brandy are both convinced. They want to switch. I am still on the fence. Before the nonsense about attendance I was willing to defend the current school and push to stay there. At this point I am not sure which choice is best. There are issues with the current place, but I think they can be overcome. I think the other place is a gamble. It might be incredible and exactly what Amy needs with all the one-on-one attention. Or it could be a place that lets her bad habits grow and get worse because they let her get away with it. I don't know. Gamble.
But I think with where things are now, I'm not going to be pushing hard to stay where we are if both Brandy and Amy are very excited about the new place and don't want to stay where we are. Which basically mean, I think, that unless anything radical changes or we learn something new in the next month or so, we'll be making the switch for 8th grade.
I am nervous about it though. As much as we have had issues with the place we are this year, they are a known quantity, and I think Amy could succeed there as long as we stay on top of things. But... they screwed up a few too many times this year, and they lost Brandy's confidence many months ago... Amy is doing better, but she still is more excited about the other place. And for me... all other things being equal, I might still lean slightly toward the current school. Slightly. But they killed all my enthusiasm when I had to fight to make it so that catching the flu next fall wouldn't get Amy kicked out of school.
So... we shall see. But that is the (super long) update.