When it comes to choosing the right school for your child, there are a lot of aspects to consider that parents may find difficult to sort through. With so many choices within public and private sectors, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Having the option to choose what works best for your individual child’s needs allows you to feel comfortable with your decision and the chance for your child to soar.
With a growing volume of magnet schools, charter schools, open enrollment policies and alternative schools, public schools offer a large selection of educational options. Private schools also provide a genuine array of religious, secular and independent schools grounded in various philosophies of teaching, learning and community. So, what can parents do to find the school that’s best for their child?
First, think carefully about your child’s unique needs and your family’s values and preferences. It’s important to consider that your goal is to find the best school for your child rather than the perfect school, and that you will almost always need to make compromises. If you feel your child will fit better in a smaller environment, look at what the numerous elective classes and/or extra-curricular activities the smaller schools have to offer. You may be looking for a school that places an emphasis on creativity and the arts, as well as math and science. Finding the perfect blend that best balances yours and your child’s preferences based on what you find that is most important for your child’s educational needs.
It is also very helpful to visit schools – preferably, during the course of the school year where you can interact with both staff and students. You may want to make an appointment in advance to meet privately with the principal or head of school. Before your appointment, prepare a list of questions you’d like answered, and issues you’d like to discuss. Such questions may include: What distinguishes this school from others? How does the school assess and meet the individual needs of its students? How is a student’s growth and achievement evaluated? What does the school expect of parents?
Since you may not have an opportunity to meet with, or interview teachers, visiting classrooms is vital, even if your visit takes place after regular school hours. Look carefully around the room and consider your own instincts about the learning environment. If you feel an inviting, warm, positive and/or stimulating environment, you may feel more confirmed that that is the right school for your child. You may also want to ask to see examples of students’ work or projects, and look for other various signs such as cleanliness, organization, security and a sense of camaraderie among the campus.
If you are looking into private schools, you may want to ask questions about the school’s organizational affiliation(s), if any. Ask questions like: is the school accredited and, if so, by which accrediting association(s)? Though it is not required by law, accreditation is a vital process of an in-depth self-study followed by a series of interviews, document reviews and visits by an outside panel of educators assigned by the accrediting association. Accreditation can provide confirmation that a school is using its resources to achieve its stated mission and goals.
Visiting a diverse variety of schools is the best way to find clarity on what schools are available and find out what you may or may not prefer for your child when it comes to their education.
For additional guidance, a free pamphlet titled Choosing a School For Your Child can be downloaded from the U.S. Department of Education’s website at the following address: www2.ed.gov/parents/schools/find/choose/choosing.pdf
By Jackie Moe and California Association of Private School Organizations