SgtCampsalot

Raising Kids in the City

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Does anyone have experience raising their own kids in of Charlotte's urban neighborhoods? Experience with schools? Critical-mass of other families, etc?

My spouse and I are looking to buy in Villa Heights or Belmont, we've lived in the area renting for many years but finally looking into purchasing. We're doing all of our homework from all standpoints, and are already involved in the neighborhood groups, but seeing as how we don't have kids yet, we're trying to figure out as much as we can about child-related things.

Now, I don't want to start a City-Data-style bashing of non-suburban neighborhood public schools, or the people, so I'd like to just get anyone's experiences, positive or negative, about having a family in any of the ring-neighborhoods in and around Uptown CLT, open-ended.. Any thoughts? Thanks!

Edited by SgtCampsalot

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Not raising my kid uptown but we do go to elementary school uptown. So far, the Charlotte Lab School at 9th and Brevard has been great. It's a first year K-8 charter school. Students come from all over but if I lived in the area uptown, it would be high on my list of places. It is lottery so you have to have a little bit of luck. 

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We live uptown with our 5 month old daughter!  We are very excited about Charlotte Lab School!

Edited by Scoopbth

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My wife and I have raised a 14 year old in intown Charlotte. We have had no regrets at all about it. We utilized CMS magnets for most of my daughters education and were very happy with them. The critical mass of other families thing is overrated, the odds are slim that you will be surrounded by folks with similarly aged kids no matter where you live and friends will most likely come via school -- but magnets mean that friends inevitably live far away. The other big benefit of raising an urban kid is they can free-range a good bit. Independent dog-walking or heading to a coffee shop (for hot chocolate and homework) can make a kid feel very accomplished.

The disclaimer here is we live in a pretty good school district so the stress of the magnet lottery is greatly reduced. That said, I know lots of parents in the PM area who have had good success in improving their neighborhood schools and are happy with the result. For better or worse CMS is pretty good a tracking students into gifted/honors programs which can be very good even in statistically bad schools. This tracking means that (IMO) CMS intown schools have an unnecessarily bad reputation due to people focusing on superficial metrics rather than investigating actual opportunities at neighborhood schools.

Keep in mind that we have never been parents in the burbs so I am unaware of how great parent life might be there. However my 14 year old has become a serious urbanist and all three of us are happy about our choices so far.

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I have 2, that attended CMS and both have their master degree and doing very well.  There are good schools in CMS and some not as good.  Do your homework to find the best school for your children.

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Have friends in Charlotte who live in Plaza and LOVE shamrock gardens elementary. Very active and involved PTA and parents in general. 

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When we were searching for a new home in January this year, schools were the first thing that narrowed down our search. We ended up in Cotswold, with Cotswold Elementary, Randolph Middle, and Myers Park High. At least as the current boundaries stand. Our little guys is two years old, and though our schools in South End were excellent, we just couldn't do the 3-story town home thing anymore. Unfortunately, 4- bedroom houses in South End/Dilworth that are updated and ready to move in are quite pricey. I love that neighborhood, and still work there, so I see it pretty much every day. Anyway, we settled for an inner-city suburb and honestly we love it. I am an urbanist. I used to live uptown at 5th & Poplar and loved the place. Still do (well, I would if I didn't have a family, but family is more rewarding than bring able to walk to Tin Tin Box and Noodles - RIP). I now have a nice big yard (which is such a big deal when you have a kid - the sandbox, slide, and swings are like going to Disney World for him), huge outdoor seating/entertaining area with a fire pit, completely gutted and redone 1969 house that feels like it was built yesterday, and we couldn't get a fraction of what we have here in South End for the same price. And most of all, good schools for my son. Not saying we won't return in the years to come, but until I can afford a million dollar home, we won't have the same comforts, acreage, and the square footage in South End that we enjoy here in Cotswold. The commute to my job has really been the biggest change (after all, the bar scene ends when you have kids, so having a bar 2 blocks away is kind of pointless). I spend 15-20 minutes on my commute, as opposed to my prior 1 minute, 45 seconds (seriously...I should have just walked). But now I take in a little more NPR daily, so I'm ok with that.

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Writing this from a coffee shop in Matthews right now after dropping my kid at a party, and I have to say, it's pretty nice out here.  But I would not trade any of the 9 years I've raised my kid in Plaza Midwood / Crescent Heights.

A few thoughts:

1.  There are many good public school options at this time, including neighborhood, magnet and charter.  However, school assignments change, schools open and close, and so forth.  Villa Heights, for instance, was the home of a highly respected magnet school until CMS moved the program 6 years ago and closed the school.  Chantilly parents pretty much universally avoided their 'neighborhood' school -- which was not the magnet of the same name -- but recently were re-assigned to a new partial-magnet.  As mentioned earlier, parents have put a lot of time into improving Shamrock Gardens, which was not a popular school until recently.  Charlotte Lab School just opened, which is a very big deal.  I could go on and on describing the evolving public school situation over the last decade, but you probably already get the idea that change is a constant when talking about public schools.  If you are 5+ years away from enrolling a child in school, you might not want to worry too much about it.   There have always been options.  There always will be.  I think the key is to make sure 2+ years before kindergarten to start doing serious research, interviewing schools, and learning about the enrollment / lottery process, and thereafter keep an ear out for potential changes that might affect you.  

2.  My own personal experience, and that of many friends who have kids about the same age as mine: your preferences and expectations may change after you have kids.  Things that you never noticed before could become huge issues.   Things that you thought were really cool, cease to be important, and might even become negatives.  I personally used to think it was awesome to live so close to the Plaza Central business district.  I thought it was totally pedestrian friendly, at least until I started pushing a stroller through there and dodging the jerks driving on Central.  The nightlife scene was great, until I stopped going to those places but still had to deal with the empties dropped on my lawn overnight.  Gunshots on my block?  We're talking to realtors.  

3.  The great thing about central Charlotte is that when those issues pop up, if that requires a move, you probably do not need to move very far.   In our case, fixing the problems we never anticipated, we could have moved just a few blocks.  Certainly less than a few miles.  

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 Thank you for your thoughtful responses!

Writing this from a coffee shop in Matthews right now after dropping my kid at a party, and I have to say, it's pretty nice out here.  But I would not trade any of the 9 years I've raised my kid in Plaza Midwood / Crescent Heights.

It's funny, my wife and I were raised in Matthews. I went to Matthews Elementary. On paper, living in Matthews (especially in one of the- very few, albeit- downtown homes) is the perfect exemplification of living in a proper urban setting; library, post office, coffee shop, grade school, several bars/restaurants, all within walking distance. But it's the one place in the CLT region we're trying to not settle in. Though we're very open to retiring there :P

We may be 2-5 years away from grade-school children, so we're trying to figure things out now. This is all very good information to know, thank you, all!

I've been very interested in reading about several individuals I know personally who are working on the public school issue I am privvy to, in addition to school re-segregation,  

Edited by SgtCampsalot

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Great conversation! I've been in PM for 15 years and have a freshman in East Meck's IB program and a 6th grader at Piedmont Middle School. Both girls attended the Montessori magnet at Chantilly, which is now extremely hard to get into. My oldest was in the first pre-k class the year the school opened, so we had no issues getting in via lottery. I've watched as Shamrock Gardens has grown and improved and become a fantastic neighborhood option, and if a miracle happened and we had another baby, I'd send my child to Shamrock in a heartbeat and follow up with Piedmont and East. 

As another poster mentioned, things change within CMS, so this path could be completely different depending on boundary changes and school board decisions. There's discussion now of changing the high school boundary for part of Chantilly from Myers Park to East Meck, for instance. 

I wouldn't give up my time in Midwood for anything. It's been a big part of who my girls are shaping up to be - they love riding bikes around Midwood and the park (we live across the street from Midwood Park, so it's basically our de-facto front yard), head downtown to walk around and explore Romare Bearden, etc. We thought for a second about moving, but in the end, we couldn't bear to leave so we're in the middle of a renovation and have moved temporarily over to Commonwealth Park, which is also a great neighborhood. 

Good luck with whatever you decide!  

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I have many neighbors in PM that raised their kids here and sent them to public school the whole way.  They all made it through just fine even in the dark years for Shamrock... CMS has enough options out there that parents can find a school if the neighborhood option is not for you.

BTW, I've got a 2nd grader at Shamrock, and we love it there.

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