It’s too hard to get into a quality public school in San Diego County.

I think that I am pretty connected to the education system – I was a teacher in San Diego Unified, I was a librarian with San Diego Public Library for a decade and now I am a youth development program coordinator with the city of San Diego. But I have been left feeling clueless after trying to find a good school for my daughter, who’s entering kindergarten this year.

Navigating the confusing landscape of API scores – a system that measured academic performance at schools but was halted in 2013 – plus archaic school websites and the lack of any centralized way to research schools is enough to drive anyone crazy.

Until April of this year, we lived in La Mesa and our neighborhood school was decent, with an API score of 853. Nevertheless, we were hoping for acceptance at the Language Academy for the Spanish immersion program. Our backup plan was to apply for an intra-district transfer to two other schools in the La Mesa-Spring Valley district that with API scores of 899 and 916. We were also considering Urban Discovery Academy, because I work downtown. I applied very early to Urban Discovery Academy and Language Academy.

In March, we bought our own house in El Cajon and immediately discovered a school two blocks from us called EJE Academy. It is a charter school with a Spanish immersion program and an API of 846. We were able to apply before the deadline. I also researched the neighborhood public school, Chase Avenue, and was shocked to see that the school was under a state-mandated improvement order, with a low API score of 753. I applied for an intra-district transfer to Fuerte and Avocado elementary schools. But we missed the deadline.

I soon started to receive information back from the schools where we had applied. My daughter was No. 40-something at Urban Discovery Academy. She was No. 20-something at EJE Academy. She was accepted to the Language Academy French program. I declined the French program but was assured that my daughter was still on the waiting list for the Spanish program. However, the school directed me to the district to find out her number on the waiting list. When I finally got the right person, they told me that she was not on the waiting list at all, and that as an out-of-district student, my daughter would only receive one offer, and we had already declined it. I was shocked. That information was not conveyed anywhere. When I communicated this to the district, they were sympathetic, but could only offer placements at schools with openings.

Our hope lay with the requests with the La Mesa Spring Valley and Cajon Valley School districts. Unfortunately, La Mesa replied with a no: there were no kindergarten openings at the two schools I listed. There was no waitlist option. Then we heard back from Cajon Valley – she was 20-something on the Fuerte Elementary waiting list and No. 9 at Avocado Elementary. The No. 9 at Avocado was heartening, until I called the district. They told me that it was unlikely there would be nine openings. I was literally left with no options, other than to send my child to the local school that was struggling.

Then I heard about Thrive Public Schools, a charter school in City Heights, on VOSD’s “Good Schools for All” podcast. I applied immediately and got on the waiting list. Then Thrive sent out a survey asking if it opened up new classes, how likely would we be to attend. I replied that we would definitely attend. Thrive was able to expand, and we were accepted.

I am so relieved, but also so horrified by how close we came to disaster.

While Thrive was not our first choice because of the distance from our house, it seems like a great school and I am so grateful to have learned about it. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had been a less involved parent.

It’s too difficult to get into a good school in San Diego. I don’t know if the problem lies with population growth, transitional kindergarten, lack of school accountability or simply a lack of planning, but something needs to be done at the state level to ensure equal access to quality education in San Diego.

Leslie McNabb is a mother who lives in El Cajon. McNabb’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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