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Kindergarten Orientation Night at Oak Knoll

Serious People, Serious Questions.

I came face-to-face with the future business, social and political leaders of Menlo Park last month at the kindergarten orientation. Technically, it was the parents of our future leaders, but this wasn’t the type of crowd with which to nitpick.

Principal David Ackerman nailed it when, 90 minutes into the evening he sighed, “These are serious people with serious questions.”

At least 100 parents packed the school library on a Thursday night in January, a full seven months before 80-plus unassuming boys and girls set foot on campus for the first time, and begin what we all hope will be a lifetime of academic achievement.

Throughout the evening, a seven-person lineup of teachers and administrators nobly took question after overbearing question, more than one of which was asked twice. 

There was the earnest businessman in the back of the room who looked like he’d come straight from a 12-hour meeting with a team of vicious venture capitalists.  Tired yet steadfast, the father was simply unable to shake the seriousness from his pair of questions about kinder-aged socialization. 

Then there was the multi-parent barrage related to Everyday Mathematics, the current best approach to ensuring American students don’t fall further behind their counterparts in Finland, Canada and China. At least two parents wanted to know how they could get their hands on the research upon which the school district’s decision to adopt the University of Chicago-born educational philosophy was based.

But my personal favorite was the guy who asked if he could use his bank statement as proof of residence, instead of an energy bill. I guess the Festival of Lights holiday show will not be at his house. The wisdom of the crowd obviously rubbed off on the man’s seated neighbor, who followed up his question by asking how current her energy bill had to be. Really? 

And I thought nothing could top the evening’s earlier startling realization that the Menlo Park public school system is, in fact, not a free ride for parents. 

That’s right, the keynote speaker for the evening was the head of the local academic fundraising group. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I am absolutely in favor of contributing whatever resources I can afford to enrich my kids’ educations. But for some reason I thought the whole point of public school was that you didn’t have to pay any more money than what you contribute in taxes every year.

In any case, as painstaking as some of the parent/teacher/faculty back-and-forth was at times, I really enjoyed my first official visit to Oak Knoll. A primary reason my wife and I elected to move to Menlo Park was the public school system. And I came away from the orientation more energized about sending my boys to Oak Knoll than I was before the night began. The entire tone of the evening left no doubt that the school and the district had given serious thought to creating a unique and compelling educational experience. 

Sure, the serious vibe had filtered down to the parents, but so what?  If the kids of the parents at the orientation meeting are half as committed to learning math and language as their parents were to understanding the nuances of kindergarten registration, our local businesses, social and political institutions are in good hands for years to come.

A final note: one week after the event, I received a guided tour of the kindergarten classrooms and school grounds from one of the teachers. She was open and friendly, and patiently answered every one of my annoying questions. Now, if only she could give me the inside scoop on which of the three kindergarten programs we should really pick, my intro to Oak Knoll would have to be considered a complete success. 

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