The Ballard High School marching band almost made me cry. Within the first five notes of "Louie Louie," tears welled up in my eyes. My daughter rolled her eyes.
"What is wrong with you?" she asked, with a mature tone that suggested I should get a grip. She didn't want to explain to her friends why I was having an emotional reaction to trombones, trumpets and tubas during an open house night for prospective students.
Admittedly, I was in awe. Band members rocking, school sports' team banners hanging on the wall, the gym floor gleaming, the principal beaming, students chatting and texting in the bleachers, parents smiling and meeting for the first time, a vocal choir singing in the lobby. It was an unexpected moment of "pride by association."
"Okay, Mom. Love ya, but could you associate with some other proud parent for the next hour?"
This month thousands of parents will enroll their kids in new schools for the fall. Based on historical enrollment data for Seattle Public Schools, about 3,500 students will enter elementary school, 2,300 will sign up for a middle school, and my daughter will be among 2,800 to 3,000 students choosing a high school. (For more details on historical enrollment data, go towww.seattleschools.org/area/eso/hist_enr_final0809.pdf.)
I have an overly-simple method for picking schools: The neighborhood school is fine. Sign me up. Done. Our neighborhood elementary and middle schools were both good, although not the best in the district based on standardized test scores. Our closest high school is great, too, but not the finest in Seattle based on test scores and the percentage of students who go on to college.
With college only four years away, my "it's not where you go, it's what you do" philosophy seemed naïve. Last month I challenged my thinking by touring all five of the comprehensive public high schools in my area (the north side of the city), learning about each school's unique academic programs and clubs, studying annual reports, and talking with parents, principals and students. Those are responsible things to do when comparing schools.
A month of research did not change my mind. I could make a case for, or against, every Seattle high school we considered. Our neighborhood high school is still our first choice.
Sometimes the least scientific reasons for liking a school are the most important. Which one feels safe and comfortable? Where do you think your child will be happy yet challenged? Where does he or she want to go? Where are most of their friends going? Study the statistics, but don't ignore your instincts or "Louie Louie" moments when deciding on a school.
Linda Thomas is a broadcast and print journalist in Seattle who hopes to wear red and black school colors in the fall.