Summer emanates from Carissa Novine as she shoots her hand to the sky, wide smile stretching across her face, and explains why planting marigolds in a vegetable garden is a good practice. “It keeps the bunnies away!” the Kindergartener exclaims.
Summer is on the minds of Carissa and her classmates at EverGreen Academy as the school year comes to a close. But for Carissa’s parents, the season presented a perplexing situation a few years ago, as their youngest daughter approached school age. Carissa is a summer baby, born at the tail end of August. Would she be ready for school?
Angela and Bob Novine decided to give it a try, and enrolled their youngest girl in their School District’s early childhood program. She seemed to progress during the year, so the Novines took another leap and enrolled her in Kindergarten at the school.
“But she just wasn’t ready,” says her mom. “She was struggling with math and reading. We brought it to the teacher’s attention and asked her if she though it would be OK to send her on to First Grade. The teacher said she would not initiate holding her back.”
Yet, Carissa’s parents had doubts about sending their young daughter on to even more challenging work. They were amazed to discover that they alone didn’t have the prerogative to suggest their daughter repeat Kindergarten. No. It would take a conference – not an intimate gathering of teacher and parents, but rather, one complete with social worker, psychologist, principal and teacher … and testing.
Trapped in a desire to do what was best for their daughter, the Novines continued with the meeting.
“She sat in the other room alone, and nobody wanted to talk with her,” recalls Angela. “They wanted to look at Kindergarten testing. I thought that was insane!”
“Our daughter is a free, and a little, wild spirit,” says Angela. “She is not a traditional student. In the meeting, I explained my reasoning and why we thought it best she repeat Kindergarten, and the real source of our frustration was that they didn’t listen to what we had to say.”
In the end, Racine Unified refused the Novine’s request.
“That was extremely frustrating!” Angela shares. “As a parent, I know my child better than anyone in the world, more than the people who didn’t even want to talk with her while she was sitting in the next room!”
Bob Novine adds that it was the administration’s refusal to listen to them that prompted them to explore other options. Carissa’s Kindergarten teacher backed up the parents and helped advocate for their daughter. “She was amazing,” Bob says. But in the end, the answer was still “no.”
They started looking for other educational options and discovered the Racine Parental Choice Program. They applied to a number of schools, including EverGreen on Taylor Avenue. At first, Carissa and her fourth-grade sister, Alayna, were placed on the school’s waiting list. But three days into the school year, spots opened for them and they made the switch.
“We are extremely happy with EverGreen,” says Angela. “The teachers are fabulous. Kids get more attention. Everyone knows everyone, not just by their name, but by their personality. My girls are getting challenged – Carissa especially, since she is repeating a grade. She is getting material now that she never had last year.”
The school, in its second year of operation with two campuses and 200 students, does an exceptional job of cultivating parental involvement and communication, say the Novines.
“Principal (Grant) Meier and Hillary (Huck) are amazing,” says, Angela. “They have made parents part of the team, as experts about our kids. We’re thrilled with the experience.”
As a result, the Novines have spread the word about the school and the School Choice program to other parents. Without School Choice, private school for their daughters would not be an option, Angela says.
“School Choice, in general, puts parents back in the driver’s seat, and gives us a chance with what we know best – our kids. We’re good at it! When we have the power, we make very good decisions,” says Angela passionately, adding that entering the School Choice program was one of them. “We’re not just going to stick with Racine Unified. By choosing an alternative, we are also telling Racine that they have got to start doing things the way parents would like to do it. They can’t hold us hostage.”