10 years ago when my husband and I were newly married and thinking about starting a family, we knew that we wanted to live in a neighborhood with a school we could walk to. At the time we lived in a hip section of West Hollywood a stumble from Sunset Blvd and all the famous nightclubs where the famous and infamous have performed or overdosed.
We lived in a pleasant garden complex with a pool without a gate with well muscled tan gay men hanging out on lawnchairs all hours of the day. This didn’t seem like the place that would welcome children (not that Gay men don’t like children, but I so appreciated this ambience, I just couldn’t imagine ruining it with some toddlers peeing in the pool). So, we moved 3 miles away into a neighborhood called Wilshire Vista, with a nice mix of single family homes, duplexes and apartment buildings. While walking in the neighborhood one day, someone gave us a flyer for a meeting of “Friends of Carthay Center School.” We went. I was pregnant. We met interested interesting people who were sharing their goal to make this school more desirable and attractive to the neighborhood children – more attractive to the intelligensia of the neighborhood. We were sold. We started going to gardening days. We got our hands dirty by digging holes and pulling weeds. We washed walls. We fell in love with the idea of the school and committed ourselves to sending our child there.
Years later, when groups of parents at our preschool gathered to discuss the schools they hoped to get their children into, how they could land their child into this high-ranked public school or that fancy charter school, I wouldn’t let myself be swayed. “You mean you aren’t touring all of the schools?” they would say. “You aren’t going to even apply to other schools?” they would ask incredulously. “Nope! We live in the Carthay Center School area, it is a good school and this is where our children will go.” People seemed shocked. Some envied the simplicity. Some dads told me in private that they would be happy to send their child to Carthay but the wife was insistent to get their little precious into the school with the highest test scores, with more parent involvement, with more “diversity.”
More diversity??? What does THAT mean??? Once in a while a parent would be honest – ‘I don’t want my child to be the only white kid on the playground.’
So that’s it. A school that many white families have abandoned is left with the children of kids who don’t mind that the white families have mostly abandoned it. Thus, the demographics are mostly Black, Latino, Indian, Korean, and Persian kids with a handful of white kids whose parents are like us who believe it doesn’t matter what the kids look like at the school – what matters is how enthusiastic are the teachers, how dynamic is the principal, how much the environment will excite my child to learn and grow into a good citizen, and perhaps one of the most important reasons- it is less than a mile away, so not a shlep to get to.
Some people come open-minded but are still hedging their bets on getting into the “better” school. All year long it is obvious that their child is loving the school, has made good friends, and would be happy to stay. But, the parents are not satisfied. They are looking for something else in a school. I keep in touch with some of those parents and kids and they are happy, maybe happier. They are relieved to have found the right school for their child. I try not to judge them, but I miss them at our school. My older daughter misses these friends she made and wonders why they left. Don’t get me wrong, it is not just the “white” kids that leave the school. It is the parents who are not satisfied for whatever reason with the LAUSD curriculum in general or just wanting to go to a school that attracts more money and thus more extra programing since each year brings new rounds of school budget cuts. Our neighbors’ kids that live downstairs from us go to one of the successful very popular charter schools and my girls question why they don’t all go to the same school. The parents never considered our school as a possibility. If these parents who are desperately trying to find the school with the more active parents had all come or stayed at our school, there would be a huge established group of active parents at our school. What an impact that would be! We could steer the school in a positive direction together. There would be more ‘diversity.’
The ironic thing is that our school attracts enthusiastic parents from other school zones that are even less affluent. The parents who live near even lower performing schools are thrilled to get into ours on a permit basis. I can imagine some parent like me at one of those schools complaining to her husband about their neighbors driving all the way over to mid-town L.A. from West Adams, South Central, or Inglewood, to take their kid to this fancy school called Carthay Center School. Maybe this mom is resentful. Maybe this mom is trying not to judge. So maybe I should take a lesson from this imagined, but certainly realistic mother from afar. I will try not to be judgmental too. Just maybe, if our school did get more “diverse” or more affluent to match the neighborhood it is in, perhaps I wouldn’t even like it as much. I certainly wouldn’t be writing about it here.