Monday, February 23, 2009

Why playing the lottery will get my son in a good school!

I have spent the past month researching DC area preschools and creating a massive spreadsheet outlining all the basic information of each school. Why?

Let's see, it all started back in April 2006 when I got pregnant with Peter. The news was surprising, exciting and something we shared immediately with the world. With the news that we were expecting came incredible amounts of unsolicited advice from everyone we knew (and didn't know) ranging in topic. The one bit of advice we found most amusing has now become not so amusing.
That advice came when I was just 4 weeks pregnant: "Oh, you guys better apply now for the daycare you're going to put your baby in!"
We laughed pretty hard at this, commenting that some people are just wound too tight. After all, we're not the elitist types, any normal daycare will do just fine for us.

Fast forward to Fall 2008 when we decided it was about time to get Peter started in preschool, just in time for him to turn two that January 2009. I literally had daycare/preschool directors laugh at my expectation to get my son in theirs or any other school in just a few months after an inquiry. Every school in a 10 mile radius of our home has a two year waiting list! Every school. The crappy ones and the awesome ones. I should have applied before I conceived!!! Parents begin their research 3 years out so they have a good list of 5 or 6 schools to tour, apply, and get on waiting lists. I have no words, none for this insanity. Applying to 6 schools at roughly $100 per application fee just to get on a waiting list...amazing.

What a two year waiting list translates to is the preschools can be selective (I can't believe I just used the word selective in reference to a preschool). After all, these schools have people beating down their doors for a spot for their unborn child! This means rates are high, deposits are high, app fees are high, if you want your child watched before 9am then you pay extra, if you want your child watched after 3pm you pay're financially raped to put your kid in a daycare/preschool. If you want a school that has a reputation of it's students migrating to some of the more sought after grade schools in the area...then you're paying are paying!!! Oh and then there's the interviews; parents are interviewed, children are interviewed, children have a play day at the preschool and observed and my personal favorite requirement an IQ test! OK, a school-readiness test, there are two other tests that have been listed as well - but I just nixed those schools off my list - my 3 year old isn't violent or mentally deranged ...I think that's all they need to know about him right now. He is NOT taking a damned test!

So, back to the spreadsheet - why? As I peruse each website, I find that definitely some websites are better and more thorough than others. The basic information you are looking for is not always in logical locations (like a section for tuition maybe? or the "core" hours of the school). So, I made a list of the basic info I want/need to decide if I want to take a tour. I've spent the better half of the last month digging, researching and emailing/calling the schools to get such basic info as:

- Are they accredited? By what organization
- Tuition
- Application, Registration fees, if it's refundable
- Youngest age accept, oldest ages accepted
- length of school year

These are basic things I would assume would be on the website. One school required that I submit a request for more information. Which, after I submitted was sent a huge packet of information in glossy beautiful booklets; I will admit it was extremely informative and nice to have photos of the school...all of which could have been put on the website.

Another reason for the spreadsheet; fees and tuition are not all on one page. On almost every single school's website the information was sprinkled across sections of the website; meaning I had to scavenge around to find out what hidden costs existed. Below is an example of what I'm talking about ...each item listed below was in a different location on one school's website, including the massive deposit amount that was hidden on the actual PDF'd application:

Annual Reg.Fee: $550
Ref. Deposit (nursery): $1000
Ref. Deposit (Lower/high): $3000
App. Fee: $60

Nursery: $18,700/yr
Lower School I (grade 1 - 6):$19,000
Lower School II (grade 6 - 8): $20,200
High School (grade 9 - 12): $21,300
After Care (grade 1 - 6 only): $500/trimester, take a breath. I have a massive spreadsheet right now, encompassing maybe 1/3 of the available schools in the DC area...naturally I focused on schools close to my house or that's on our route to work.

Also, I'm finding it's not as simple as locating schools with a curriculum/approach to teaching I like and then finding the least expensive in that set. Why? Because if you have a school that seems to cost less per year, but the year is only 10 months long and the school day is only 9-3 then suddenly the school that is about five thousand more per year but has a 11 month school year and core hours of 7:30 - 6 is awesome!

There is hope financially if we can win the lottery (yes, lottery) for our son to get into one of the sought after Public Charter schools or one of the public schools that offer lotteries for us unfortunate souls that don't live in their neighborhood. These schools are free, the curriculum is wonderful and they are all very full. The lottery gives hope since it's random and not first come first served. Very few of these schools offer preschool for 3 year olds and even fewer are close to where we live. So the list of free schools with great curriculum is short and getting in is all pure luck.

There you have it...where my head is right now and what I've been doing every second Peter gives me a moment to myself! :)

So...if any of you know how I can get my son into Georgetown Day School for about half the $30k tuition and also get my name pushed to the front of the waiting list...give me a shout! ;)

Meanwhile, I'll be playing the school lottery!

Oh and if you live in NW DC and are interested in my spreadsheet (such as it is) I'm happy to share it with you! I've done a lot of leg work and you might have priorities diff than mine but a least you would have all the basic info at your fingertips for a portion of the schools around here.


Sandy said...

Very informative Jenn... wow, you have a lot of work on your hands. I applied to one school, $65 registration and Sanjay is in. In fact, I had a friend drop off the paperwork for me since we were out of town that week. No problems... no lines. It's a whole different story over here I guess. :) It's interesting to hear your big-city perspective.

Christy said...

Oh my god just reading this gave me a headache. I'm sure you could sell your spreadsheet for big bucks! Does Eileen know about this blog? I'm forwarding her the link now. I've been reading a few blogs by women who have chosen NOT to send their kids to preschool...they're just starting them off in kindgarten. Just a thought - clearly not one I've actually thought lots about since my babe isn't even half a year old yet!

Jennifer Golden said...

I'm kicking around the idea, although I had hoped to be back at work by now! Having the 2nd baby put a kink in those works! I'm aching to get back to work! I know ... I have issues. :) Now if I keep both kids until Kindergarten I'll be out of the workforce for a total of eight years! yikes! I hope to at least get the salary I had when I left 2 years ago...but eight years later I won't be able to. If only I were independently wealthy! ;)

Jennifer Golden said...

Wow! I can't believe the number of people who have emailed me for this spread sheet! Makes me feel I should be more thorough and include schools I wasn't considering...

If I did the whole city I could charge for this service! But boy, it's painful work ;)

Still, I'm happy to share it, then I know all this work will benefit others as well!