Whether you have recently bought a home or are in the process of buying one, one of the big decisions you will face is which school to send your child. Choosing a new school can seem overwhelming—there may be many different options within a short distance from your home; and when you are new to an area, figuring out which one of these local schools will work best for your child may take some time and investigation. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start your search for your child’s new school.
Define What’s Important
Every family has certain aspects of education that they value—it could be a foreign language program, sports or music, or special education resources that are necessary for your child. Some parents look for diversity in a school, while others may choose a private school where the families all hold the same religious beliefs.
When you start searching through local schools, knowing what you are looking for will make it easier to identify the perfect school when you find it. Know what your child’s learning style is and what kinds of teaching methods will support him or her—then look for that type of teaching when you visit the school. One thing to keep in mind is that every child is different, so your child’s friends or siblings may be a better fit somewhere else.
Investigate All Options
There will be several possibilities for you to look at during your search for a school: public, private, magnet and charter schools, online education, as well as homeschooling organizations. Make a list of your local schools and investigate a little into each one, making sure that local laws permit you to enroll in each one.
After you have determined what your options are, find out how much each school costs and add that information to your list. You can also determine whether each school has financial aid available or how the school district is required to help. Finally, research when each school holds its open house so you can do a preliminary visit.
Know the Numbers, But Keep an Open Mind
Organizations like Greatschools.org, the National center for Education Statistics, or your state’s department of education can provide plenty of data to assist in your search. Data that you collect can help give you sense of each school, like how big it is, what the student-teacher ratio is, and how students are performing on tests—but the numbers can’t give a real feel for what the learning environment is like.
Remember that data is sometimes outdated and schools may have undergone changes since the data was published. Look for overall improvement and how students are doing as a whole. It’s possible that your child may do very well in that school if it is the right fit for him/her, even if it is not school of high performers.
Don’t Skip the Visits
Yes, it takes time to visit every school on your list, but this is one of the best ways to see how the school responds to you, so try to visit at least a couple of your top picks. If the vibe is positive when you visit, it is more likely that they will be open and welcoming when your child is a student. When a school is unfriendly right off the bat, it’s highly unlikely that their tone will change after you enroll.
While you are visiting, you can meet the principal, teachers, and possibly some other parents. You can see how the staff interacts with the kids, what type of school work is on the walls, and what the classrooms look like.
Make Sure to Ask Questions
Before you visit a school, make a list of questions you want to ask about the school, the teachers, and the curriculum, as well as some questions you may want to ask the students while you are there. To decide what type of questions you need to ask, go back to how you defined what is important to you and your child. Look at the areas you want to focus on—whether it is academics, sports, the arts, or what type of environment you want for your child—and then write down some questions that will help answer whether the school has what you are looking for.
In addition to questions that are specific to what you want, you can ask general questions about the schedule, how much homework is given, and how behavior problems are dealt with.
Do Your Research
While you are looking through local schools, be careful to investigate thoroughly what you hear about the school’s reputation. Sometimes parents make decisions based on information that is outdated or word-of-mouth references that may be isolated incidences from the past. Give schools the benefit of the doubt—policies and staff can change, so make sure your decision is not based on information that is no longer accurate.
Keep Up with Deadlines and Paperwork
Once you have chosen a school, find out when you need to have your application submitted and your enrollment confirmed. Also make note of dates for lottery sign-ups and financial aid. Some schools may require an audition, portfolio, or testing for AP classes. Other things to consider are after-school activities, sports, transportation, and after-school care. Gather the necessary documentation for enrollment such as proof of identity and age, vaccination record, and current physical examination.
Having a backup plan for your first choice of school is a good idea, since sometimes things do not work out as planned. Your application may not be accepted or the school may be full, so be ready to sign up for a second or third choice school.
Choosing a new school for your child can take some time and effort, but the good news is that many homebuyers have been through this process and have successfully chosen local schools that worked well for their child. By doing a little legwork and asking the right questions, you and your child will soon be settled in to a new home and a new school with a bright future ahead of you. Good luck in your new home and new life!