Although she was once a member of the Columbus City Schools Board of Education, Stephanie Groce sits down with husband Steve Niehoff every year to determine if a public education is still the best thing for their daughter, Lanie.
With classes starting at Ridgeview Middle School this week, the Northwest Side couple is staying the course.
"Every year we evaluate our school and are we making the best decision in sending our child back to the public school," Groce said.
"I don't begrudge anyone who makes a different choice."
Groce and Niehoff have joined in creating an organization for like-minded parents that seeks to make the difficult choice a little easier each year.
It's called Northwest STARS, which stands for Standing Together and Realizing Success.
The group's members are parents, teachers and Northwest Side residents who want to support and be advocates for students in the Centennial High School feeder system, which includes Cranbrook, Gables and Winterset elementary schools as well as Ridgeview.
"What we would really like to do is turn a lot of people in this area of town back to the public school system," Northwest STARS member Heather Roush said last week.
Roush's fraternal twins, Maggie and Evan, are seventh-graders at Ridgeview.
"It gives the parents another way of communicating with the school district," said Carissa Izzo, whose daughter Katelin is in first grade at Gables Elementary School.
"It just gives parents another avenue to say this is what's right for our school, and it may not be what's right for a school on the East Side," Izzo said.
"The best thing is it has given me ideas that other schools are doing that I never even would have thought about, so it's a great way to learn from one another and to share ideas."
The genesis for forming Northwest STARS, which is designed to embrace the same efforts as those of similar organizations Clintonville Go Public and Standing Together to Advance Youth on the South Side, was a meeting of Mayor Michael B. Coleman's Education Commission at Centennial High, Groce said.
"It was really a great experience because they were happy we were coming out in the community and we were eager to talk about our schools," she said.
Groce, who was appointed to the school board in February 2006 and opted not to seek re-election in November 2012, said after the commission hearing she and some of the others on hand got together and decided, "Why not keep this going?"
They particularly received assistance in getting started from members of Clintonville Go Public, which supports feeder schools leading to Whetstone High.
"They're really making a difference," Groce said.
"We thought that's fantastic, but we need it, too," she said.
"It was pretty exciting, because with social media and email you can get this together pretty quickly."
Izzo signed on the moment she got an email through the Parent-Teacher Association at Gables Elementary.
"I thought it was really great because they want to help make changes across the whole district and within the school system's feeder pattern," Izzo said.
"It's a group that looks at the big picture, which is great."
Roush, who initially planned to send her son and daughter to parochial school, but then changed her mind after researching Centennial's feeder buildings, said the goal of Northwest STARS is to bring the neighborhood back to neighborhood schools.
"The more parents who get involved, the more we speak up, the more we can hold our school board accountable for the decisions they make," Roush said.
"The louder we get and the stronger we get the school board will have no choice but to hear our voice," she said.
"I think parents have finally decided that they're going to mobilize."
"We've met people we would never have met before and we consider them friends," Groce said.
"There is a great social aspect to this."
Dan Good, interim superintendent for Columbus City Schools, was the guest speaker at a Northwest STARS meeting last week at Centennial High School.
Good is also scheduled to be on hand for the next monthly meeting of the Northwest Civic Association, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4, in Room 213 at Meadow Park Church of God, 2425 Bethel Road.