Vital Tips for Choosing the Right School

The RIGHT School?

What Actually Matters?

This question causes parents sleepless nights.  For many of us, relocation gave us the first opportunity to choose our child’s school.  Many times, especially with the first child, we chose the local community school.  For those of us public school kids, that is typically where we send our children.  The school boundaries determining where they go and how they would be educated.

As long as the parents around us thought the schools were OK, we never considered another choice or what actually made a school, good. We accepted it.

Relocation changes that.  Perhaps for the first time, we must evaluate and make a choice.

The responsibility for our child’s education lands in our lap. It is a weighty decision that will impact where we choose to live, what our children get to do and what they will learn both actively and passively. That feeling of responsibility makes the decision making process more difficult.

Before we can decide we need to find some information.

The Internet School Search

Looking for school information looks a lot like shopping for a new car.  We look at what others are driving or considering.  We want one that as many features as we can afford.  We typically test drive the ones at the top of our budget.  We know we are not going to get everything we want but, we want as much as we can get.

When shopping for schools, the ones with the highest rated educational features look the best. The easiest stats to find are The Big SIX School Stats:

  • Testing
  • Graduation Rates
  • Internet Ratings
  • Sports/Arts Ranking
  • Diversity (economic & racial)
  • The Facilities

Each of these is relatively easy to find on the internet through the district and state education websites.  Facebook & Instagram provides images of what these schools are like. Other relocation sites provide some of this and current parent opinions on a 0 to 10 point scale.

Certainly, The Big SIX School Stats are important.  We should be able to identify the right schools for our kids.

Right?  Not necessarily.

The challenge with all of these sources is that they are easily skewed.  It is like looking at your best friend’s social media posts.  Most likely she is not airing the issues she has had in her family, with her schools or in her life on social media.  We individually and as institutions want to show our best side.

Whether the booster clubs, the districts, the PTA, etc., every part of a school has an intrinsic agenda to sell their school or program.  Therefore, only the best information will be presented.

What about the test scores, is this irrefutable data?  It may or may not be.  But, what does it matter? Will some other kid’s ability to take a test determine whether your child can achieve high test scores?  The answer is not necessarily.  Your child’s ability to test what they know is independent of the other child, their history and abilities.

Beyond Test Scores and Sports Rankings

What really matters in choosing the right school is truly understanding the school.  A school is not test scores and sports programs.  It is a living community.  Just like a one on one relationship, it will educate, impact and affect your child and your family.  All of the influences, the programs, the culture.

To understand as much as possible before the choice is made dive into knowing the following:

  • Parent involvement
  • Student culture
  • Social pressures (dress, participation, status, etc.)
  • Parent culture
  • Counselor availability
  • Administration hallway presence
  • Heavily funded preferred programs
  • District wide incentives and focus
  • Educational options
  • Education pathways & rules for access
  • Discipline rules and procedures
  • Charity and community endeavors
  • Extra-curricular activities/travel/access
  • Specialty programs and true availability (STEAM, Special Needs, Dyslexia, Gifted & Talented)
  • Student expectations (academic, behavioral, participation)
  • Parent expectations (academic, behavioral, participation)

Consider each of these and determine what works for us and our child, what is a challenge and what is a distraction or an impediment to our child and family.

What really matters is what makes a difference to your child and your family.

A Living Community

This small list represents only a fraction of what goes on at school.  A School is a living community, that functions like any other community.  It provides the structure and the rules for life with in the school.  The purpose served may be to educate children, but most of the education that goes on outside of the classroom, is what typically determines how children learn inside the classroom.

How do I know? Because 8 years of school taught my child, he was “stupid”.  That is a hard thing to unlearn.  Believe me, it still sneaks up on him as a college student…well after he has proven himself to be anything but stupid.

We tried time after time to understand why he struggled, asking administrator after administrator and teacher.  He wasn’t struggling enough for services even though multiple teachers requested evaluations.  This led to being told by peers he was “stupid”, and he accepted it.   The severe dyslexia went undiagnosed for years.

These communities have stronger influence than any test score or football ranking.  It is important to know a school’s daily culture, so that children can be placed in a school where they can thrive.

Thriving for my son came in the form of private school.  We shifted him to an college preparatory school. This was the first time where he was surrounded by kids who wanted to learn. He was expected to learn and participate.  In this environment and with these expectations he rose to the occasion.  In a smaller school, he could no longer hide from the other kids, the teachers or himself.  He found his voice and participated.  It wasn’t an easy ride.  It would be 4 more years before his dyslexia was diagnosed, but he found a community that was inclusive and academically interesting. Here, he was willing to put forth the effort and learn.

With the educational clean slate of relocation, there is no school that must be attended.  The options are wide open, even more wide open with online and home school options during the COVID pandemic.  Take advantage of the wide open options and find the living educational community that encourages, inspires and drives personal growth.

Identify Your Right School

Your Right School, one defined specifically for your child starts with a vision of the perfect school. A specific vision for each of your children.  Do not judge or hold back, just create.

For each of your children, what would the perfect school look like?

  • What would they learn?
  • What is your child’s potential (all areas)?
  • How would they be treated?
  • What does discipline look like?
  • What opportunities would they have?
  • What extras are offered (travel/arts/sports/clubs/language/STEAM/etc.)?
  • Are there program spots for my child?
  • What does each day look like?
  • What does your child need to become all they can be?
  • What do they expect of my child and the family?
  • The school will provide…
  • The school will communicate (through/when)…
  • As parents we will have _________ access and participation options.

Defining these things ahead of time will help you see the matches available.  Understand that due to the nature of organized school, no child is perfectly served by any school, private or public. And this is OK.  What you are doing here is creating a vision specifically tailored to each child.

This vision of the right school, helps you quickly identify which schools in the new community will best serve your child(ren).  This vision helps you move beyond the Big SIX School Stats, and focus on the school aspects that will positively impact your child and your family. 

“Begin with the end in mind.” ~ Steven Covey

Real Parents have the Information

You may be thinking, “But I don’t know any parents there.”  This is not going to be a problem. 

Finding real parents in the community happens with each phone call into the new community.  The real estate transaction alone will provide many locals who can connect you.  The local real estate agent, mortgage broker, title company and inspectors will all most likely have clients or co-workers with children in the different local schools.  This informal networking starts real information flowing your way.

One of the easiest call to make is to each school. Ask how to contact their PTA president and Membership chairperson.  These people will be excited to tell you all about the wonderful aspects of the school.  Be sure and ask about specific programs or services your child may need, and if they know of any parents who have kids like yours who could give you more information.

A non-traditional call is to the Chamber of Commerce.  Sure, this is a business organization but many of the small business owners are local and have children in school, both public and private. 

Local membership organizations are filled with real parents.  If you are a Junior League member, Rotary/Lions club members, MOPS member or might like to join the garden club, contact the local clubs.  After receiving club information ask about the schools and school options.

Parents typically love to talk about their kid’s schools.  The real parents are the most likely source to learns how the school fail as well as how to overcome some of that

Understanding a school’s culture before experiencing it can be difficult. However, by making these phone calls and talking to real parents, getting a “feel” for each school becomes possible.  This way, by the time a tour is walked and school counselors give their sales pitch, a real view of what that school is all about can be better understood.


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