Why I’m Done With Public Education. For Now.

Back To School Shopping Done - Buzz Bishop

Our back to school shopping is done.

Now that Zacharie has been accepted back in to his old school, a private one that requires a school uniform, we’re done. We have our allotment of white polos, dress shirts, red ties, blue vests, and blue pants.

Zacharie came down modelling some of the shirts we picked up off Kijiji from students leaving the school this week and he was beaming. Truth be told, so was I. I am so glad to be done with the CBE school system.

Public school has failed my family. When I went to my first public school meeting for new parents back in January 2013, I knew it would be bad.

It was worse.

“Private enrolment is soaring not because of elitism but because parents are sick of the constant turmoil in public schools, the low accountability .. and the system’s disinterest in meeting their kids’ needs.”

[The Province]

It’s a shame, really. Parents who put their children in private schools are exactly the kind of people the public system needs. Parents who care so much about their children’s education that they will spend above and beyond their tax responsibility to make it happen are the kinds of advocates education needs.

I was an advocate – a loud one.

  • I contemplated running for election to the School Board in the fall of 2013 when I saw my current representative was not engaging local parents.
  • I sat in on my school’s parent council meetings, and worked with the council president to get our issues heard.
  • I engaged local news reporters to push the issues of new schools, poor facilities, and confrontation at the board.
  • I actively engaged with my school board on Twitter, and met with 5 of the 8 trustees to specifically discuss public education issues.
  • I met with 3 government MLAs in person to push for better access to schools, and engaged many others on Twitter.
  • I met with the provincial opposition’s education critic to make my pitch heard.
  • I met with the leader of a third provincial party to discuss education issues
  • I worked with dozens of parents to try to make things better for my kid.

In short, I was a squeaky wheel looking for grease. I was the kind of parent every public education system needs; one that cares, one that’s engaged, one that tries to make a difference for their kids and the kids in their community.

But no more. I’ve washed my hands of the mess, and it only took 1 year to shatter me.

I knew it was going to be tough, that first meeting when I heard the principal talking about quotas, and systems, and how the library was also a classroom, and the juggling of lunch times, gym times, and more.

The fear I had after that first meeting became reality when I saw decisions were made not for the betterment of the school, or the kids, but because rules.

The system. The system. The system.

Being in public school is like being in a massive Matrix-styled machine. The system is devoid of any understanding of what happens at the ground level because there are so many levels of red-tape intertwined departments that nothing can effectively be done. The system does what it does because that’s what the system does.

Schools don’t get built. Decisions get made without input. Decisions get reversed. Decisions get reversed again. The system is broken.

So, after a year of banging my head into a wall, I’m done. I will pay to send my sons to the private school 3 blocks away instead of fighting to get a new public school built in my area. They will ride their bikes the 800m to the school door together, instead of fighting traffic for 5km across busy highways. They will be surrounded by kids in the community who go to the same school as them instead of trying to navigate playdates with kids scattered across the city.

I tried. I fought. I was broken. Public education loses when parents don’t care, don’t fight, don’t demand better. So I fought. But something else happens if the system doesn’t listen to these loud, engaged voices; the kids lose.

My kids are not getting any younger. Every filibuster by the bureaucracy every delayed school build, every moment of indecision jeopardizes my children’s future. I quickly realized that my kids would lose if I continued to fight and only to see it go nowhere.

empty school hallway

Going Private Actually Helps The Public System

So we will go to back to the private school where I will write cheques for tens of thousands of dollars for my kids to get an education that the government offers “for free.”  Some would say my cheques should be even larger than they are. Some are petitioning to have funding of private schools terminated, saying they siphon resources from the public system.

My son’s school will receive 70% of the funding a public school does on a per student basis. They receive nothing for capital expenditures. By placing my sons in private school, I am actually saving Alberta Education 30% of their per student resources, while still paying my full tax burden into the public system. By pulling my kid out of the public system, I’m actually giving the government more resources for education. But will it matter? Those resources are likely to be sucked up by red tape and bureaucracy.

Sidebar: I just received an email from the private school’s elementary principal. She mentioned a stack of books she left at the front office for us to use over the summer to help Zacharie keep up. The office, by the way, will be open over the summer. The public schools closed last week, they will not be there to answer questions or offer student support until August 27.

In the meantime, I will walk to the private school, pick up the books, and chat with the tutor who has been assigned to help us get Zacharie on track with his peers. He needs this help because the CBE didn’t adequately set him up for success.

Zacharie at School

So bolstered by that level of service, I will wave a white flag made of my sons’ new school uniforms in the direction of the CBE and I will take the fate of my children’s education into my own hands.

For now.

I hate that I have to add that ‘for now’ part, but I do. It’s not cheap to send kids to private school in Calgary. At this point in their scholastic careers, as their educational base is forming, I find it a worthy expense. Later, when my kids have the skills they need to succeed on their own, could I see myself getting back into the system and having to fight it?

Sigh. Yes.

But, for now, we will try it for as long as we can to get our kids the best foundation they can have. You win, bureaucracy-filled-red-tape government, I quit.

FOOTNOTE: I have heard from some who have nothing but praise for the CBE and their family’s experience. That may happen for some, it didn’t for me. This is a blog about my experiences in life, so that’s what I shared here. If yours was different, please add a comment to the post to provide greater context and discussion.

It should also be noted that while I criticize ‘the system’ created by CBE and Alberta Education, I don’t necessarily blame the front line workers. Yes, we had a bad teacher experience this year, but again it doesn’t happen to all. To say ‘the system’ is broken doesn’t diminish the efforts of principals and teachers constantly asked to do more with less. This post was to show how the system failed my children and why I removed them from public school.

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