I once visited the Seattle Public Schools Web site to research one of our annual education issues and tried to navigate the entry form for elementary schools. I was humbled by the challenge. I like to think I’m smarter than a fifth grader, but what I really needed was a Harvard MBA. Alas, even that provides no guarantees when you’re up against the Seattle School District’s bureaucratic morass, as our senior writer, Kathryn Robinson, learned when it came time to enroll her daughter in middle school.

A Seattle native with a civic conscience, Kathryn fully supports the idea of public education—except, she discovered, when her daughter’s entire future is at stake. Fact is, the gnarliest issue facing Seattle parents is that thing called “school choice.” And when it came to middle school admissions, Kathryn found herself considering tactics both shameless and shameful. She completely gets why parents might so angrily disrupt a public meeting about school closures that they’d get hauled away for doing it. It’s understandable, but does that mean it’s okay?

That’s the question she wrestles with in Back Fence, her new column making its debut in this issue. Our mission at Seattle Met has always been to share ways that Seattleites can make the most of living here. Of course that includes tipping readers to the latest happy hours and exquisite new boutiques. But our commitment to the city also extends to more intimate terrain: how we make choices as individuals in order to thrive in this town…and what those choices might cost us.

Few mine these veins like Robinson, whose candor and wit shine light on those close-to-the-bone topics we typically restrict to our “over the back fence” conversations. Hence the column name, suggesting that we are all neighbors with concerns ranging from school admissions to family misunderstandings to disappearing jobs. In the coming months you can expect to see that spirit elsewhere in the Seattle Met universe, as in style editor Laura Cassidy’s suggestion on her Wear What When blog that we create our own modest stimulus package by setting aside a budget for shopping local.

In these unpredictable days, we’re all looking for ways to be our better selves, and, in that respect, we’re all in this together.

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