Saturday, January 11, 2020

Caveat Emptor

In a remarkable twist of fate, Columbia Academy has been the topic of local conversation twice lately: once for targeting a marketing campaign specifically to reinforce anxiety about school redistricting:

and, more recently, in a case where a young child was able to leave one of their centers and wander into a busy street.

If they were hoping to increase local name recognition this is probably not what they had in mind.

Truth in advertising: in the summer of 1999 I worked at Columbia Academy. It was not a happy experience and I was grateful it was only for the summer. This was twenty years ago and I think that ownership has changed since then, so my experiences may not be an accurate representation of the business as it exists today. 

But that last phrase is worth your consideration. Columbia Academy is a business. I wonder if the average person understands the difference between educational entities (calling themselves private/independent schools) that are committed nonprofits and those whose intent is profit-driven. When I was there the focus on the adult to child ratio required by law was so strong that, towards the end of the day, as children began to leave, management came around looking for employees to send home in order to get them “off the clock”. The only other place I had experienced that was while working at McDonald’s.

Over the course of one summer eleven different adults worked with my classroom of three year olds. The turnover was alarming. A good deal of that came from the employees’ experience that they were not valued by management. There was no guarantee of “making one’s hours” because the overall priority was keeping labor costs low. The continual staff turnover was bad for the children who were unable to build and sustain relationships with those entrusted to their care. As a result, both the classroom experience and the children’s behavior suffered.

Public schools are answerable to government and true, non-profit independent schools are answerable to a board of trustees and are regularly assessed by a professional association to maintain accreditation. To whom does Columbia Academy answer? I clicked on what looks like an accreditation symbol on their website but it redirected me to a business called Cognia, which doesn’t look like any accrediting institution I have ever seen.

I have seen some people opining that Columbia Academy is just like a real school only better. And others see it as just like a private school only cheaper. In reality it is neither. It’s a business.     Parents should be savvy consumers when they assess the value of their product. Don’t just read the glowing public relations materials. Go the extra mile to read records of complaints and/or violations. When you tour a location scan the facility with a keen eye and ask questions. 

If you don’t like the answers, trust your gut. Let the buyer beware.

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