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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

February 27, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Skin in the game, Lesson One: Mom, do your homework

Claudia Rowe

Claudia Rowe

Parents meeting after-hours in a school cafeteria may not sound like the newsiest event. But I was there, as a reporter and a mom, because my child will be entering Fairmount Park Elementary when it opens this fall, and I wanted to hear what those of us new-to-the-school-system need to know. I’ve covered education for a long time, but the terrain looks very different when your own kid is involved.

Lesson No. 1: March 7 is the deadline for filing the paperwork to enroll your child in any Seattle public school. This applies to kindergarten students, children new to the district or kids applying to switch out of their assigned buildings.

Even in our wired city, that comes down to paperwork. Lots of it. Paper from your child’s doctor certifying immunizations. Paper from utility companies or courts confirming your address. Paper verifying your child’s birth date.

One wonders why a school district handling 50,000 kids would want to do things this way, but so be it. I will be gathering documents.

For parents, missing the March 7 open enrollment deadline could trigger a variety of hassles and complications. But for Fairmount’s new principal, Julie Breidenbach, trying to calculate how many teachers she’ll need, not having a clear number by mid-March sounds like chaos. How many teachers do you hire when you don’t even know which kids will be coming?

The school district forecasts about 250, the bulk of them in kindergarten and first grade. But Breidenbach is bracing for more. She’s a bit of a celebrity among Seattle parents so the buzz about Fairmount is growing. One benefit of her 30 years in the trenches: Breidenbach expects to approve every teacher hired, instead of having staff foisted upon her. And for the past few weeks she has kept a desk at district headquarters, making it easier to pop in on financial managers and badger them for things like butcher paper, rulers and desks.

Lesson No. 2: While a champion of accelerated-learning programs, Breidenbach looks askance at standardized testing for little kids.

“There is nothing worse for me than trying to test kindergarteners,” she said, describing squirmy 5-year-olds pushing away from their computers and running into the halls, headsets still on, cords dangling.

After days at district headquarters, she spends nights meeting with parents, who lob questions on everything from educational philosophy to busing. (Breidenbach’s fourth gathering is scheduled for next Tuesday at Alki Elementary.)

She knows her audience – a crowd that embraces her support for accelerated learning — yet the principal is blunt about her disdain for excessive homework or any practice that sequesters high-achievers, keeping them apart from other kids.

“Good luck finding that world where your child only deals with people just like him,” she said. “That is not my world.”

Related

Into the deep end: Schools reporter morphs into mom

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