Slowly addressing all of the things on his new to-do list, President-elect Barack Obama has just taken his red pen and scratched off one of the most important items on his agenda.
Between selecting his “Team of Rivals,” and carefully choosing a new family dog for the White House, Obama and his wife have finally agreed upon a school for their two daughters, Malia and Sasha.
“A number of great schools were considered,” said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman on behalf of Michelle Obama. “In the end, the Obamas selected the school that was the best fit for what their daughters need right now.”
Following in the footsteps of their presidential predecessors, the Obamas have opted for Sidwell Friends School, a private institution that once educated another White House child, Chelsea Clinton.
According to Lelyveld, the Obama girls “bring with them a number of security and privacy concerns that come with being part of the new first family — and the school they’ve selected is positioned to appropriately accommodate that.”
Having both attended the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools before their father’s presidential victory, the two girls will now be separated, by several miles, because of their difference in age.
Malia, 10, will attend Sidwell’s northwest campus in Washington for grades 5-12, as Sasha, 7, will face grades second through fourth at their other campus in Bethesda, Md. Regardless, this is not going to stop Michelle Obama’s “school run,” as she has been an active participant on the school board for her children before.
“I think the Obamas are acting as good parents, by making decisions on the basis of what is best for their two daughters,” said Dr. Jan Stivers, an elementary education professor at Marist College. “Certainly there are some people who would prefer to see the Obamas make a symbolic gesture of support for public education by enrolling their daughters in a Washington D.C. school.”
“Perhaps another, more practical consideration was the desire to avoid the disruption to the public schools that their children’s attendance would create,” Stivers said. “The administration and faculty at Sidwell Friends are used to teaching children whose parents are in positions of power and to accommodating security needs.”
Even though tuition ranges between $28,000 and $29,500 depending on the level of education, the school is said to offer much more to its students then a school of public nature would, including “diversity training” to expose students to the concept of tolerance.
“My guess is that the Obamas chose Sidwell Friends because it is renowned for its teaching,” Stivers said. “Both of the Obamas were educated in the best private universities, and while I do not know about Michelle’s pre-collegiate education, Barack went to Punaho in Honolulu, a private school with a reputation for all-around excellence.”
After visiting Georgetown Day School, a private educational institution that pioneered integration, the Obamas decided that Sidwell was the better choice. Public schools were considered, Lelyveld said, but the Obamas thought that a private school was in the best interest of their children.
“The Obamas know the distinctive benefits – especially attention to individual needs and teachers who are superbly educated in their content areas – that private schools can offer,” Stivers said. “They’ve made a very smart choice with Sidwell.”