Laura Hasler, Nashville Rise Parent Captain
As resources, staff and programs vary from school to school across Nashville, researching and selecting a school for your student can be overwhelming. If your child has specific needs, you can usually add another layer of stress to the process of finding a school.
As a parent that has been through this overwhelming school choice process, I would like to see it change and be simplified for families, but first let me tell you how I found the perfect fit for my daughter, Imogen.
At age three, my daughter began her journey with the school system when she was evaluated by a school psychologist and placed on an individualized education plan (IEP). I considered the options that were presented to me in the IEP meeting, one of which was for Imogen to begin Kindergarten early. Though she excelled academically, I knew she wasn’t ready socially or emotionally for Kindergarten at age four. The other option was to take classes through the gifted program. After being accepted, I was very hopeful for all the opportunities that I thought awaited her, but then I learned that she would only be receiving one hour of special instruction per week. Frustrated and let down were certainly words that describe how I felt in that moment. I was a scared young mom with little resources and a child with a gift that I was afraid I couldn’t nurture on my own. I happily accepted what was offered, but decided in that moment to take things into my own hands.
I decided that I would search for the perfect fit school for our family and Imogen’s learning needs. I looked up our zoned school online and went for a tour. I brought my daughter’s test scores and had several questions prepared including how the school could help her grow academically as well as socially. My zoned school didn’t have the resources to devote to helping Imogen, and I thought “Where do I go from here?”
My next step was to visit MNPS’s central office. I aimed to learn more about the “school options” that MNPS had to offer. The woman offered me a school options application. There were so many choices, and being new to the city, I knew little about the schools myself. I asked the same woman if she could tell me about some of the schools, and she told me that she couldn’t help me. I was taken by surprise that I was supposed to fill out a form knowing nothing about the schools. I left the office feeling that same sense of disappointment and frustration.
Almost as soon as the door closed behind me at the central office, I picked up my phone and started digging online and on social media for education authorities in Nashville. I found education writers, school leaders, school board members and links to several schools from the optional list. I scheduled tour after tour and scoured school websites – I toured 23 schools in all. Several schools were honest about not having resources to help my child, and sometimes I felt as if I wasn’t being heard.
Finally, I connected with a school that was not on the school options list, East End Preparatory School. Through my research, I found out that East End Prep was a relatively new charter school in East Nashville. The type of school meant very little to me. I was looking for what all parents want, the best fit for their child. I wanted a place where my child could thrive, feel safe and grow. I found that as soon as I walked in the East End Prep’s doors.
All in all, I learned a lot through my school search. I learned what steps to take, what to look for at schools and what questions to ask staff and administrators. I also learned that it can be a daunting, frustrating process in which you sometimes feel alone.
Joining Nashville Rise, I have met other parents who have been through the same things as me. Parents: frustration is tough. Let us use it to become informed and advocate for our children. No one knows what your child needs as well as you do. So identify your children’s needs, do research and find a school that can partner with you for your family’s success.
I want all parents to know what school options are available to their families here in Nashville and feel that they too can find that “perfect fit” for their child.