I am a father of four kids, all four of whom attend Durham Public Schools.
Our children all went to a Duke-sponsored daycare facility, and when it came time to evaluate where our oldest would be enrolled in school, we carefully examined private school as an alternative. After extensive research, we rejected private school as too costly while not providing a clearly better education. We did enter the year-round lottery for our area, and were pleased when our son was selected for enrollment at Easley Elementary. We were very happy with Easley from the beginning, and our son was able to continue with several friendships he had formed in daycare, but was also able to forge many new and lasting friendships in the public school.
We again considered a private school option at Camelot Academy after our son had spent a successful time in one of their summer camps in about the third grade. Their environment was very positive, and we found their instructional style very much to our liking. In addition, they offered a significant scholarship. However, by that point, our son was unwilling to abandon his established peer group, and while we seriously considered the change anyway, the combination of his reluctance and the additional financial and time commitment in transportation, we opted to remain with public school.
At the transition to middle School, we again evaluated other options, though at that point we had built up some trust with DPS and were pretty much looking for an option that was clearly better than the routine public option. We opted to enroll at Brogden, and we’ve been pleased with the experience. The transition to Riverside, which also has an excellent reputation and which looked very good on our site visit with extremely enthusiastic staff and teachers, was not a difficult decision. I look forward to my youngest two kids repeating the experience.
My middle child, however, required different treatment altogether, as he is a child with special needs. We participated in early intervention services through Durham County, but schooling was very difficult. Everything is IEP-driven, and the process is difficult to learn and cumbersome to navigate. One quirk is that, although one can defer school enrollment for a typically developing child, no such option is available for a child with special needs. Early intervention ends at school age, and services are available only through school. Given my son’s birthday, he was among the very youngest in his entering class.
There were a number of options through DPS where my wife and I said, “Anything but." We would have considered home schooling in favor of some of the available options, and Easley, where my eldest was already enrolled, was flat unwilling to take on my son with special needs. We finally decided that Hillandale was a barely-acceptable option, and we accepted a kindergarten assignment for a second year, as well.
However, we were never fully satisfied with the situation there.
During this time, we also applied for a lottery assignment into a Montessori magnet program. We later learned that we were not supposed to have this option available to us at all (despite the fact that the Montessori method was originally designed for children with special needs), but the school system sent out a letter by mistake informing us that we successfully gained admission into George Watts. We met with the principal there and were essentially told that the school didn’t want my son. (Though they were not quite that indelicate in their phrasing, that was the clear message.) Nevertheless, we were determined to be done with Hillandale and knew some parents of kids with special needs who were successfully enrolled at Watts, and we indicated that it was our intention to enroll. So a way was found to enroll our son at Morehead Montessori instead, which has separate classes for children with special needs (Watts does not).
That experience proved to be excellent, thanks to Eve Nelson, our son's teacher. She is probably the best teacher for children with special needs I have ever encountered, and the support of the principal was outstanding. Unfortunately, both the teacher and principal are departed now (Ms. Nelson has regrettably left the district for reasons having nothing to do with the DPS), but we’re hoping for the best from their replacements for our son’s last year at Morehead.
As difficult and cumbersome as the public school process has been, it is my feeling that my son’s needs would have been completely ignored in a private school setting. We have looked long and hard at every possible option available, on both ends of the achievement spectrum. So far we have been very satisfied with our treatment from the public schools for both our high- and low-achieving kids. I hope and believe it will continue.