It’s that day of the year again – out come the shiny new sneakers, brightly colored backpacks, and paper-bag lunches. Today, more than 640,000 kids from kindergarten through grade 12 return to school as the LAUSD opens its doors for the first day of instruction.
With nearly 900 public schools and 187 public charter schools, LAUSD's students make up the second largest school district in the nation, supported by an annual operating budget of more than $6 billion.
But that doesn't mean all students are receiving an equal education. There is a broad range in the quality of teachers, programs and instruction within the district. Some schools are among the state's best. Others struggle.
The truth is that even once you've settled on public schools for your kids, selecting the right one within LAUSD isn't easy; it involves navigating a complex and confusing system of applications and requirements. It's enough to make many parents give up.
Enter Tanya Anton.
Over the last eight years, the Mar Vista-based mom has become a one-stop shop for information about school selection in the LAUSD. She calls her three guidebooks and website the GoMamaGuide, and also offers in-house and phone consultations.
Her goal, as her website states, is demystification. Since starting GoMamaGuide, she's helped thousands of parents around Los Angeles with school selection.
Says blogger Sarah Auerswald, who writes at the website Mar Vista Mom, “I often had people run from the room screaming when I start to explain [the LAUSD] to them. But Tanya Anton has a way of explaining it all and keeping people in the room. It's a gift, clearly.”
We recently sat down with Anton. She explained the difficult situation parents face when they engage the public school system for the first time.
“There is a misconception that you have to send kids to the neighborhood public school. Sometimes that's even the best school, but this isn't always true. We actually have a lot of choices in LAUSD, but it can be daunting if you don't have the right information. All parents want the best for their child, and that's stressful when you feel the need to become an education guru. ”
Anton knows from personal experience. Her daughter was enrolled in a private preschool on the Westside. At a kindergarten fair, where parents scout elementary schools for their kids, Anton was struck by how grossly underrepresented public schools were. She didn't believe she needed to spend $30,000 a year to give her daughter a good education, and wanted to know more about the public options available within the LAUSD.
The problem, Anton says, was trying to understand the nuances – like the difference between a magnet school and a charter school? (It apparently takes a while to explain.) It doesn't help that the website for the LAUSD is confusing and unwieldy.
“Not to mention there is a lot of misinformation and gossip spread around by mom's groups,” Anton cautioned.
So to get answers, she helped organize a separate kindergarten fair, inviting one principal from a magnet school and one from a charter school as speakers. Anton then summed up their presentations into a short cheat sheet which she passed around to other parents.
It spread like wildfire. People found Anton's summary so helpful that she started receiving all sorts of questions from concerned parents she didn't even know.
In 2007, she printed her first GoMamaGuide on her home printer, and gave away the copies for free at an auction. It's since become a full-time business – with her expertise leading to demands for updated editions every year, as well as seminars and consultations across the city.
Now Anton runs GoMama Guide year-round. She says it's never too early to start researching schools, especially since different types of LAUSD schools – open enrollment, charter, magnet, etc — have applications due at different times of year.
Even though she is booked with private consultations every day, she hopes to release a LAUSD-wide school guide (her previous versions focus on the Westside and Valley) by the new year. She also has plans to translate her guides into spanish.
In a sign of her clout, some LAUSD school officials have even started coming to her to ask how they could better relate information to incoming parents.
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But the most important measurement of her efforts are with her own daughter. “Some people ask me if I made the right choice for my daughter.” Anton says.
“I tell them I have never regretted public school. My daughter is in dance classes with kids from Brentwood, and seeing them I don't think spending $30,000 a year would have made a difference. I always tell my clients I didn't do my daughter a disservice.”
Tackling the LAUSD just takes information and persistence.
To see Anton's free school maps and links, as well as her paid guidebooks and services, check out gomamaguide.com