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Learning Matters: Today’s home buyers have a variety of issues to consider, including education options

Last week, my husband and I walked over to an open house in our neighborhood. It was the third we’ve visited in the last month, all of them former homes of friends who’ve moved away.

This last house happened to be one of the first homes we saw when we were house hunting in 1981, when its price was about one-eighth what it is now. We chose — and still live in — another home nearby, but this one became “Max’s house” to our kids. To me, it was his mom “Arlene’s house.”

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Arlene became one of the founders of our neighborhood association and also served as PTA president at the elementary school.

Our sense of history was strong then, as we entered the house, and it got stronger when the Realtor greeted us.

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“Don’t you have a son who went to John Muir, Wilson and Glendale High?” asked Daniel Shalvardzhyan, with a handshake and an engaging smile.

Increasingly, I find the adults I encounter are our children’s ages, our kids’ generation, if not their classmates. It can come as a jolt, but more like a cup of coffee than an earthquake, a gentle reminder of passing time.

After we sorted out which of our kids went where for middle school and when he and they all graduated from Glendale High (he was midway between our two sons), we had a delightful conversation about the teachers he remembered and his path to real estate.

Always curious about career paths, I was interested to hear about his experience working in a local movie studio before he got his degree in economics and how he uses his various talents in marketing homes.

I was also interested to hear him talk about his experience with home buyers. It didn’t surprise me that buyers want to know about area schools. But what they look for and how they look for it have changed over the years.

In our home search, we first heard about the desirability of Glendale schools from our Realtor, Mary Ann Plumley, who was later elected to Glendale City Council. She also urged us to look into the Glendale Community College parent education preschool program when the time came for children.

We didn’t do any other research. We bought because of the neighborhood’s charm and relative affordability, its proximity to work and our parents’ homes, and because we loved the fabulous hillside views.

A couple of years later, after our daughter was born, I took Plumley’s advice and signed up for the college’s parent-child class. That’s where I heard what I needed about our neighborhood school.

“Betty DeRosa’s son goes there, and she likes it,” some of the other moms told me.

A call to introduce myself to Betty, followed by a visit with another mom she knew, was all I needed to feel ready to enroll our daughter in the school down the hill.

Not that I had a lot of options. The district wasn’t in the habit of granting intra- or inter-district transfers in those days, years before its magnet and language-immersion programs. Children could attend their neighborhood school or parents could apply for private schools. I wasn’t inclined toward private.

Such was our children’s route to John Muir Elementary, and, like Daniel Shalvardzhyan, they’re grateful for the community of teachers and families they encountered and the lessons they learned there.

The school, like many in south Glendale, had more than its share of challenges related to a dramatic spike in enrollment and the resulting year-round school schedule (since ended), but the educators and students seemed to take it in stride.

Teachers worked hard to meet the varying needs of their students. Our children and many of their classmates progressed to excellent colleges and have become contributing members of society.

Today’s prospective home buyers have a lot more options to consider and, in some respects I don’t envy them their difficult choices.

While academic offerings have increased over the years, to include language- and science-focused schools along with the proliferation of publicly funded charter schools, I wonder about diminished neighborhood relationships and added stresses for parents who end up driving longer distances.

Shalvardzhyan told us that many of his buyers use greatschools.org. to find out about schools. He’s concerned they may be getting an incomplete impression of local schools, based on how many “likes” a school gets on social media.

The website, funded in large part by major corporations, describes Great Schools as “the leading national nonprofit empowering parents to unlock educational opportunities for their children.”

It also offers “…on-the-ground organizers and advocacy groups, tools and information to push for better schools.” When I typed our ZIP Code into the site, up popped a school in South Pasadena.

Patty Scripter, a PTA friend who has spent many years serving the California State PTA, recommends another website for prospective home buyers, caschooldashboard.org.

In a phone conversation, she described the Department of Education’s website as “more complicated” [than Great Schools] but, in her view, considerably more thorough, so parents can “look at all aspects of a school,” including side-by-side comparisons with other schools.

She said the PTA offers help on using the dashboard at capta.org. As she pointed out in an email earlier this year, “PTA is a unique voice because we are volunteers and our only interest is what’s best for children and families.”

Parents make big investments in their homes and their children’s education. For big decisions, it pays to have good information.

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