Interested in buying a house in West Adams, Leimert Park, View Park, Windsor Hills, Highland Park, El Sereno or other Los Angeles areas but worried about schools? One of the first questions I get from new househunters is asking where to buy a house in order to get their child (or future child) into a "good" school. While many may limit their definition of a "good" school to one with a high Great Schools rating, doing your research may show that you have many more options than you think, which opens you up to more neighborhoods.
Let's go through the main options so that you understand the basics when you research public schools in your target area.
1. Your home school
Each Los Angeles neighborhood has it's home school that your child is assigned to. Tanya Anton from Gomamaguide.com encouraged us to visit our local schools to see how our child would fit into that environment. Perhaps that Great Schools 10-rated school drills the kids to boost test scores and your child would not respond to such tactics. Look into the students learning English stat on Great Schools, are there a majority of students learning English? This may account for the low test scores, as language learning may affect all subject matter.
On a personal note, I volunteered in LAUSD Schools for many years with my certified therapy dog Chili to work with kids to improve their reading skills. Improving reading skills gives children confidence and increases their performance across all subjects. While some of these schools may have had Great Schools 2 ratings at the time, the teachers and staff were incredibly engaged and supportive of all of the children.
Go visit your local school and then form an opinion. Talk to local parents who send their kids there - online reviews may not tell the whole story and may be missing nuances. Discount the "hearsay" of local parents who have not personally visited the school. In the group Tanya Anton was advised, the mom that mentioned the local school was "awful" actually had never visited the school, didn't understand the rating program and had indeed spoken with a local parent who's child loves it there. Dig deeper when you get information.
Also understand that parents may have different expectations and needs, so a school that work for someone else, may not work for your child. Tanya Anton from Gomama advised our group that at the very least you know your home schools and what it's like if you have to use it as a home base for one year before you switch to one of the other schools you applied for.
Unhappy with the performance of your local school? A group of local moms has banded together to send all of their kids to the local school and volunteer in order to help the school improve their programs. How great to get involved in your community in order to improve it!
2. Magnet Schools
Magnet schools are public schools that were established to promote diversity in areas where there was none. It was intended to be a program where kids were "bussed" in from other areas to achieve this result. In order to attract those kids and parents, various interesting programs were started. Many specialize in STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art and math), dramatic arts or other speciality programs. Perhaps your child has a talent that would be perfect for a magnet school with that speciality?
Magnet schools do have that points system for entry into the lottery to admit students into the school, and the book from Gomama takes you through it in very clear detail. The author advised us to enter even if we weren't interested at the time, since circumstances may change and then we have some points as a basis. You cannot accumulate points prior to just before the kindergarten year and only a handful of magnet schools in LA have kindergarten. For the others, you may need to be in your home school for kindergarten and then transfer.
3. Charter Schools
Charter schools are a public school alternative that is paid for with public funds. The "charter" is an actual document that lists out the school's mission, information about the program they will offer, how they will figure out performance and how they will assess it. Think of it as a way that a school can use newer philosophies without the overhead of the usual bureaucracy. Charter schools may have a bad rep from some folks since they think it's taking away money from other public schools or have taken classrooms away since schools are obligated to share empty spaces. It all makes sense when you realize that LAUSD is the second largest school system in the country and has an $8 billion dollar budget. That's a lot to fight over!
Many of them have great reputations and therefore there may be a lottery to get your child into the school.
4. Intra-district permit
This option gives you the ability to transfer to a school that has open spots. Perhaps a school near your office has a majority of residents sending their kids to private schools? Then you may have the option of sending your child to that school through an intra-district permit. Gomamaguide.com has been invaluable resource in figuring out our own options, as our toddler starts growing up.
Bottom line: Even if you are currently pregnant, you have more than 5 years to figure out your plans. Schools can change a lot in 5 years. You have options, don't worry!
Now that you have a good understanding of your school options, let's jump into how to find the best values in housing by discovering new neighborhoods!
Disclaimer: my information is based on my personal experience, information from the amazing Gomamaguide.com author Tanya Anton and her book and research on various websites such as GreatSchools.org. Information may change, so please do your own research and visit these resources.