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The Informed Parent

Changing Schools

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Nov. 03, 2003

As a behavior specialist and educational consultant, I am occasionally asked to assist families in determining an appropriate school for their child when a change is desired. Recently I worked with a family whose son had been in parochial school since kindergarten. Now he was in fifth grade and would be needing to move on next year to a middle school. The parents were concerned about whether to continue in parochial or transfer to public school for the following year.

Today’s families are faced with many options concerning where their children go to school. Going to the neighborhood school is no longer the only choice; sometimes it is not even a possibility. Children may be transported to out-of-neighborhood schools for racial balancing or for special education services.

Parents, who by choice do not wish their children to attend the school in their area, choose a different one for various reasons. Parochial schools have always been more favorable for some. Private schools such as Montessori have been traditional choices. Most families today have two working parents. These families may want to have their children attend near the parents’ places of employment. Charter schools focusing on a particular curriculum are becoming popular. Home schooling is a growing option.

With President Bush’s NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND program, families whose children do well in low income/low performing schools on statewide tests can transfer to higher performing schools.

When parents decide to change their child from one school to another there are several points to keep in mind.

1. Is there a reason to change?

Most children dislike changes. They have a peer group that they know. They have friends. They know the campus and some of the teachers. Stability in the learning environment helps children succeed. Unless there is a valid reason for changing it is wise to keep your child where she is. While parental convenience is important, the child is the first priority. Informed parents make choices that they believe will be in the child’s best interest.

2. What do you want in a different school?

The family I spoke about at the beginning had a son with special needs. The services he received in the parochial school were limited. A move to public school, while giving up some of the intimacy of the smaller school environment, would provide an expanded opportunity for success. Services tailored to meet his needs would be available on a daily basis on his campus. These factors led to the family deciding to transfer their boy to public school for the middles grades.

Sometimes parents want to change so their children can have greater opportunities in particular fields. For example, a charter school may focus on the fine arts or on science. A move in this direction might provide for a child with particular interests or skills to increase his or her abilities.

When parents want their children in a school near their workplace, an often-cited reason is that they will be able to spend time together on the drive to and from school. In today’s world, the workplace is not always stable. When a work location changes, it can mean a change in school for the child. Educational stability is an important factor to keep in mind when being near the parents’ workplace is the prominent factor.

3. Are you sure that a change will benefit your child?

While absolute certainly is not possible, do your homework so that you are as sure as you can be that the change you make is beneficial. Set an appointment with the principal to discuss the potential change and what you want from the school. Ask when the annual open house is scheduled. Make it a priority to attend with your child so that you can visit classrooms and get a feel for the school and its teachers. If you know families whose children attend the school, talk to them. Attend a board meeting to get a feel for the tenor of the district.

4. Have you prepared your child?

Involving her in the initial conversations about a school change can arouse anxiety. Once you know that a change will be made, however, talk to her about it. If she is old enough and more than one school is being considered, listen to her input. While the final decision may not be hers to make, knowing what she thinks about each setting may influence your decision. Be prepared for initial unhappiness. As stated earlier, most kids do not like change. Address her concerns honestly and straightforwardly.

Considering a change in school placement requires careful thinking and planning. Have a valid reason for the change and know what you want in a new setting. Do your homework so that you know you are getting what you believe is best for your child, and prepare her for the school change. These procedures will provide the greatest opportunity for the new placement to work well for your family.

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