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The Informed Parent

Selecting The Right School

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on May. 01, 2006
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Over the next month or two parents will make the final decision about where to send their child to school for the 2006-07 school year. What once took little consideration now can be fraught with questions. Today's daunting array of educational opportunities includes traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, parochial and non-parochial private schools, and home schooling.

Knowing how your student learns and socializes helps you decide what environment provides the best learning situation. Parents of kindergartners just entering school and parents who aren't knowledgeable about their child's learning style can feel at a loss.

An important part of the decision process rests on a visit to each school under consideration. Knowing what to look for builds confidence. Prepare a list of questions you want answered. The following suggestions will help ensure that you complete a visitation with the information you need.

1. How Receptive Was The School To Your Visit?

You may have noticed that both public and private schools now advertise in local newspapers. Schools are hungry to recruit and retain students. Opening the doors to prospective parents is good public relations. Expect to be warmly greeted by office staff and to have your appointment met on time. You will not be given unlimited time during a visitation. An appointment of one-half hour is reasonable and includes a campus tour and conversation with a staff member and/or administrator. Look for complete answers to questions you may have.

2. Is The School Lobby Inviting?

First impressions count. What you see when you enter the school gives important information. Look for clean, uncluttered space. Is children's work on display? Are there clear directions to the school office? Do you have the feeling that both children and guests would feel welcomed by what they see?

3. Are The School's Values Exhibited In Some Way?

Check the lobby or along the main corridor for the school or district mission statement. Many schools post school-wide standards or steps to effective learning in visible places. Posted expectations indicate that thought has gone into keeping students and the public aware of school values.

4. What Indicators Of School-Wide Achievement Are Available?

With the No Child Left Behind Act, districts require teachers to meet higher qualifications and students to achieve at specific levels. How much of the staff has reached the highly qualified status? How close is the student body to reaching the now mandated achievement levels?

5. What Is The Curriculum?

Parents expect a strong academic core of language arts, math, social studies, and science. Children also need physical education, exposure to the arts, and training in social skills. How frequently do children participate in PE? Do they experience music and art? Is there an arranged time for visiting the school library? Has the school adopted a research based social skills program? If you have chosen a parochial school, is religion integrated into the subject matter in alignment with your beliefs?

6. How Is The Curriculum Presented?

Some teachers direct most of the lessons to the whole class. Others use more small groups and individualized work. While teachers use a variety of methods, they usually feel more comfortable with one style over another. Some schools, however, have a particular philosophy of teaching that must be followed. You will want that information. With greater emphasis on students reaching a mandated achievement level, some schools rely more heavily on testing than others. What is the school's policy?

7. What Is The Homework Policy?

Some parents want their children to have lots of homework; others feel that most work should be done in the classroom with only review done at home. Many schools require greater amounts of homework with each successive grade. Become aware of the homework policy so that you are not taken by surprise when school begins in the fall.

8. What Special Programs Does The School Have?

If your child has special needs, can they be met at the school? Most traditional public schools have programs for students with learning disabilities. Districts generally have only a few classes for more severely disabled students, and they must be bussed to those sites. If you have a child with a disability, will he be served in a regular classroom with an aide or bussed to another facility? If your child is gifted, is there a program in the school to meet his needs?

9. What Help Is Available For Students?

Although shrinking school budgets have required cuts in many extra services, schools attempt to provide the necessary help for student success. Assistance might include counseling services, social skills groups, and tutoring groups.

10. What Is The Discipline Policy?

Laws mandate certain discipline policy: however, schools have discretion in many situations. Schools need a stated discipline program that is consistently followed. All children must be aware of the steps taken when misbehavior occurs. Misbehavior needs to be documented and parents notified. Optimally a school will have a program to work with children who chronically misbehave.

11. What Kind Of Family Participation Is Expected?

Charter schools and some private school often require parent participation. Find out how many hours you will be expected to volunteer. If you are employed, are there things you can do during non-school hours to fulfill your obligation?

12. Is There A Before And AFter School Program?

Working parents need care for their child. If you require such services, does the school provide them and do the hours fit your needs? Many schools have before school breakfast and after school programs. An effective after school program includes time for completing homework, quiet play and outdoor active play.

13. Does The School Feel Like A Fit For Your Child And Family?

This is a subjective, gut feeling. Does the school feel warm and inviting? Do children and staff appear content? Are children engaged in their work? Do staff members smile? Are voices kept at a conversational level? School is your child's home away from home. He will spend more time there than at any other place outside of home. You want a setting that feels nurturing and with structure that is consistent.

You may not want or need all the information suggested. Doing the homework to find the school that best fits your child's needs, however, increases the likelihood of success. If you are happy with the choice, probably your child will be, too. Many parents are comfortable with the neighborhood school. Others search elsewhere to find the right fit. Using the above suggestions and referring to the article "Changing Schools" in the Informed Parent archives will assist you in making the right choice for your child.




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