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January 2011



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    South Pasadena Middle School

South Pasadena Middle School

By Margaret Finnegan

I could tell you that my husband and I moved our children from South Pasadena public schools to private ones because of “fit,” and that would be true. Children are not interchangeable widgets, and to assume they will all thrive in the same environment is perhaps naive. But, mostly, we moved our children because it got to the point where I could not drive by the South Pasadena Middle School without crying.

Know this: There are good people at SPMS. Eric Aispuro gets to school an hour early every day to tutor students in math. Sella Simonian brings ancient history alive. The nurse, the administrative assistants, the counselors, the recently retired librarians: good people, every one.

But my kids are not widgets, and if you want to thrive at SPMS, it seems to me that not only do you have to be a widget, but you also have to be a high-achieving widget with no issues. To do well in your 38-student classes you’ve got to be smart, independent, energetic and self-motivated. If your parents can afford tutors or stay home and oversee your homework, that’s a plus.

You will need these advantages because SPMS demands a lot from children, which is appropriate. But I am not sure demanding a lot is the same thing as turning education into a rat race. Last year, my children spent the better part of all their weekends on homework, and that doesn’t even include the hours they spent on it most school nights–this despite the fact that evidence presented to the South Pasadena Unified School District’s own homework committee showed that more than about 90 minutes of homework a night is counter-productive in the middle-school years. 

I’m also not sure that demanding a lot from children is the same thing as providing quality instruction. Let me say it again: SPMS has some outstanding educators, but it’s got clunkers too. I’m just saying what everyone knows. I used to think this was OK. Who hasn’t survived a bad teacher, after all?  This is an actual statement I remember making to an SPMS mother: “In 7th grade, it doesn’t matter which teacher track your kids gets because there is a stinker in each one. So it’s fair.” But is that fair?  Is that even acceptable? 

Outside the classroom, your child will do well to be athletic, socially adept and familiar with the right pop culture references. Without them, go ahead and start them on anti-depressives. You won’t be the first. This is a competitive town–again, I’m just saying what everybody knows–and no place is more competitive than the SPMS quad, where people will even make fun of you if have seizures. I know. My daughter has seizures and she spent most of last year hearing people sing-song “seizure, seizure” behind her back–even at graduation. 

Early on, when I met with the school about this, I was told, “Don’t worry, Mrs. Finnegan, earlier it was the boy with autism. It’ll pass.”  It didn’t, and that’s pretty cold comfort anyway, especially if you’re the mother of the kid who is gay or has ADHD or has whatever difference someone decides to prey on.

When my kids were younger, I worked within the system. I volunteered in classrooms. I was a room parent. I organized science fairs. I served on School Site Council at Marengo and on the SPUSD homework committee. But I couldn’t help my daughter feel safe at her own promotion.

Read in Full:  http://southpasadena.patch.com/articles/paying-for-superman

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