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A Public School Wins Top Marks

July 13, 2002|RAY RICHMOND | Ray Richmond is a freelance journalist in West Hollywood. E-mail:

It was precisely a year ago that my wife, Heidi, and I thought that our son Dylan's school life was over before it had begun. We had enrolled Dylan for a summer of pre-kindergarten in a local private school that shall remain nameless. After all of eight days, his teachers called Heidi aside to soberly inform her they were concerned that Dylan wasn't forming his letters properly.

This information was passed along in the hushed-tone "we thought this was something you should know" fashion reserved for kids with painfully misfiring genes.

My wife was sobbing, flushed with the fear that our son just couldn't cut it like the other kids. But hold on. The kid had just turned 5 and was two months shy of officially entering kindergarten. Was he really expected to draw letters perfectly?

We wondered whether we'd missed something, or if this penchant for filling parents with insecurity and apprehension was as misplaced and absurd as it appeared.

Rather than wait to find out, we pulled Dylan out of the mega-snooty Flawless Penmanship Academy and decided--after much soul-searching--to wait until fall and enroll him in Rosewood Avenue School in West Hollywood, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Being confirmed private school snobs, this was no casual decision. My wife and I were both products of L.A. Unified--and that in itself scared us to death. We didn't want to raise a regular kid but the Six-Million-Dollar Child: smarter, wiser, brighter, bolder.

To our narrow minds, public school had always been for the parents who didn't care about their child's education quite as much. If you can afford the best, the thinking went, then you should accept nothing less. We were afraid we somehow were settling.

The truth, however, has turned out to be something far different. Rosewood School has been a dream for our son, defined by a group of dedicated parents and with a dynamic leader in Principal Janet Chapman.

Rosewood lacked the largely white and upper-middle-class congregation that filled our private school experience; it has proved to be a spicy melting pot of cultures and races that has helped to greatly expand our son's social horizons (not to mention our own). Rosewood is far from being one of the so-called elite schools in the L.A. Unified School District. Of 369 Rosewood pupils tested in 2001 for the state's Academic Performance Index, 253 were deemed socioeconomically disadvantaged. By comparison, Warner Elementary in Westwood had 371 kids tested and a mere 26 were labeled disadvantaged. So Rosewood is hardly chi-chi, even within the LAUSD. Its racial composition is 46% Latino, 13% African American, 8% Asian-Pacific and 29% Caucasian.

Our son adjusted to his multicultural surroundings with increasing skills and confidence as the school year progressed. Dylan even picked up that whole alphabet-penmanship thing just fine, without ever knowing he'd been dismissed as "attention-deficient" or "learning-challenged."

This is not to imply that Dylan wouldn't have ultimately thrived in a private school setting. Yet we've also discovered that just paying $600 or $700 (or more) a month for something doesn't automatically make it better. In education, as in few other areas of life, you don't always get what you pay for. But every once in a while, if you leave your mind open, you wind up receiving far more.

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