THE BLOG
01/20/2015 12:43 pm ET Updated Mar 22, 2015

Newsflash: School Scores Don't Really Matter

It's still early. Day three, to be exact. My kids started a new school on Monday, Jan. 12th, and so far I think it was the best decision we've made in a long time.

I'm not exactly sure which direction this write-up will take. Will it be a warning to parents about a "unique child" in the public school system, or just a cathartic release for the last 18 months of our journey, I don't know. Maybe someone will take away some useful tips, or just feel relieved that they aren't alone in the thick of their journey.

I have written about my daughter before, but here is a two-word summary of our situation: She's "2e." We live in a high-performing school system (Boulder Valley) where I have learned most specifically over the last 18 months, that online school ratings mean nothing. An A+ school scoring a 10/10 and ranked #1 in the state (albeit tied) does not say a thing about the school's philosophy on education besides they "test well" and are situated in an affluent zip code.

Their philosophies about the "whole child," their gifted and talented programs, whether the principal is respected by the teachers and so on... is something you have to find out on your own. And what might be a perfect fit for one family, could be disastrous for another.

The seemingly "perfect fit" for our family has been the latter regarding outcome: Disastrous. Until now.

The A+ 10/10 school we chose in a highly respected school district, became almost a full-time job for me the last 18 months as I navigated the maze of red flags and bureaucratic tape, to be an advocate for my eight year old.

I learned in my weekly SENGinars (a group for parents of gifted children needing emotional support) that our school district actually has a 10 percent "gifted" rate of students when most average neighborhoods have about a 6 percent rate of gifted children. They aren't given more resources for this, however, from what I was told.

The problem with this picture is funding. Nationally, schools are funded 4-times more annually for the learning-disabled child, than for the gifted with needs. Reason for the disparity? Advocacy among the learning-disabled group was louder... by immeasurable volumes. They (deservedly) were able to get legislation to fund them higher than the gifted programs. Good for them! Maybe one day, parents of gifted children with additional needs, will also scream loudly enough.

Parents in my situation, you know that finding a learning plan for a 2e child is not statistically easier than supporting a learning-disabled child. We just have less resources and money to fund our path.

For the last 18 months, my time has been spent like this:

- Researching programs and schools for 2e kids (approx: 190 hours)
- Attending support groups with other moms in similar situations (approx: 22 hours plus after-meetings and discussions with individual moms)
- Sending novels of emails back and forth with teachers and advisers trying to comprehend why they thought my daughter's school problems stemmed from problems at home (approx: 115 hours)
- Conference calls with therapists or her IT testing Doctor thinking of "next steps" (approx: 14 hours)
- Sitting in traditional therapy (approx: 28 hours)
- Testing out art / sand therapy (approx: 7 hours)
- on the sofa at my Medium's office (approx: 3 hours + emails)
- Touring private and cost-prohibitive private schools (approx: 12 hours)
- Visiting with home-school families during the day to shadow what that would be like (approx: 8 hours)
- Finally home-schooling my kids for Writing and Math to eliminate the homework (approx: 30 hours)
- Mentally anguishing over where to put my children and if we were making the right decision (24/7)
- And finally, corresponding with a respected attorney which resulted in sending a legal urgent letter for an Administrative Transfer, and filing a formal complaint about my daughter's needs not being met to the BVSD Superintendent. (approx: 4 hours of billable time)

We were granted an "Administrative Transfer" (AT) to a great school, which scored lower overall- but like I mentioned earlier -- the scoring doesn't matter. AT ALL. The kids are diverse. I LOVE THAT. I show up at school and hear five different languages happening between parents and their kids. The cars in the parking lot are not extravagant. The playground doesn't have the latest equipment. And it's nestled in a gorgeous mountainside.

The day I toured the school, I didn't have an actual appointment. I literally just showed up out of desperation. While the principal had a busy morning, he gave me undivided and genuine attention. He took time to walk the halls, introduce me to everyone that came our way -- including students who gave him "high-fives" and couldn't wait to talk with him about a project.

He even got a little emotional when talking about how proud of the emotionally unstable kids at the school, who they welcome with OPEN ARMS, because the impact the school can make on their lives as a family-school-unit, is UN-scorable.

I was sold. He probably even missed his meeting upon which I intruded to have a look around the school. That evening the principal personally texted me ... "Welcome to --" (the school!)

I was immediately comforted. The TAG (Talented and Gifted) teacher has energy that screams "I want my kids to have fun with their special projects," the kids are relaxed and beyond excited that two new students were soon to be in their classrooms (smaller school means the kids each have more individual impact). It's a bit more of an urban feel. Dogs are allowed on campus. The P.E. and Music teachers are inspiring. The principal said to me that he personally does not like homework and that if my daughter had problems with the evening assignment -- to simply write a note. I cried.

Before? Homework was inescapable no matter the cost to our family unit in the evening. WHY, I asked my daughter's teacher? And I quote, "I have high hopes for all of my students and do not want to do anything that could contradict her future." (for legal reasons, teacher will remain anonymous)... that's the response that lead me to home-schooling my daughter for math. I had to take it upon myself to become the teacher just to lessen the evening torment my daughter felt.

Yes, teachers, let's talk about the future. Do we want high-scoring robots or do we want compassionate, unique thinkers?

It only took three days, and my kids love their new school. As for my happiness? I can actually focus on my full-time business now.

So it appears this write-up is about one main thing, with a few under-developed sub-plots. As cathartic as it is to write, my biggest warning is: School scores don't matter. Follow your gut. Embrace diversity and schools with less than an A+ rating... in fact, an A+ should be a red flag in my opinion. The only direction that school can go from there is DOWN.

If your child is having problems when they come home from school but they are generally happy on weekends or breaks ... that, in and of itself, is strong evidence suggesting it is the school that isn't meeting your child's "whole being" needs. Whether it is social anxiety, homework pressure, or simply needing eyeglasses... being an advocate for your kid could become a FULL-TIME job. I highly suggest meeting with the teacher once or twice. Sending a couple emails, meeting with the Principal and maybe one other person... then say "enough is enough." Advocating for your kids at public school should be a sprint and not the marathon that I ran.

If your Principal is talking the talk but not walking the walk (or doesn't have the resources to allocate to the walk), then you, too, have found yourself in a tight grip of the "high-performing" monster that hype has created, and people who don't even work in the classrooms, perpetuate. I highly suggest you plan your swift exit.