11 Things to Consider When Choosing a School For Your Kids
We’re so lucky to live in a school district that allows the option to Choice into another school that you may like better than your local assigned school. But with that comes a little bit of craziness (at least for me) trying to decide on “the right” school for your kids. There really is no “right” school, only one that lines up best with your family’s needs.
If you decide to send your kids to your assigned neighborhood school, then congratulations! You just saved yourself a bunch of time from researching and touring other schools! There are actually a lot of benefits to attending your neighborhood school and that may very well be the best option for your family.
Find your assigned school here.
If you know that you don’t want to send them to your local school or if you’re not sure, then read below for some things to consider. But consider them quickly, because you only have 6 weeks to decide which schools you want to write down on the Choice Form (the enrollment period is usually October 1st - November 13th). For more info about the Choice Form, click here.
How to decide what school to send your child to?
There are so many questions and things to consider when making your decisions. When I went through this process recently, I checked the ratings of our assigned school and they weren’t very good. I guess my first misstep was in buying our house 10 years before my unborn son would ever start kindergarten without first checking into the school ratings. So Step 1, check the school ratings before you buy or move to a new neighborhood. ;)
Step 2, make your lists and check them twice.
I know the following may not be comprehensive and I may be forgetting a few things that I considered last year. There may be other factors that go into your own considerations, so add them to your lists and family discussions. If anything, I hope the following will help out with some of your difficult school decision-making considerations and to help figure out what the best school choice is for your family.
11 Things to Consider When Choosing a School For Your Kids
How far away is the school and how will you get there? Do you have other children attending other schools, preschool, middle or high school? Maybe there’s another elementary school nearby that’s closer in line with your other driving routes. Most school's don't offer bus transportation so you'll be the one driving to and from school every day. Or if you have friends attending the same school, you could start a carpool and alternate the driving if there are enough seats in each car for the kids.
Is it close to places that you frequent so that you could get some errands or appointments done right after drop offs or right before pick ups? Consider doctors, dentists, grocery stores, drug stores, dry cleaners, hair salon, post office, etc. It’d be nice to have a school that’s somewhat in the same area as your other daily needs.
What are the school start and end times? Does that line up with your family or work schedule? Some schools I looked at start at 7:40am, while others start at 9:15am. That's a BIG difference if you have to be to work at a certain time.
What about getting other kids to their school/s…does this give you enough time to get everyone where they need to be? There may be another neighborhood school close by with different hours that might work better for you.
Is it a year-round school or does it have a traditional schedule? I didn’t realize the school we registered for was year-round until after I had accepted their lottery offer. But after thinking it over, I actually like the year-round schedule, but still…it would have been nice to find this out before we applied to it. The year-round schedule gives 4-5 weeks off during January, April and August; while the traditional schedule gives the entire 3 months of summer off. It seems there are camps available during breaks for both school schedules for working parents.
BEFORE/AFTER SCHOOL CARE
Do you need before or after school care? Some schools have PrimeTime available, but it’s based on applications and priorities so you may not get in. Do they have any other before/after school programs, like SAY or YMCA programs on site?
Are there any extracurricular classes or sports programs offered at this school location? Some schools have a lot of options every day of the week, while others only have a couple.
Does your local school have a specialty that you like or is there another nearby school that has a different specialty that you’d like better?
Another school that was less than a mile away from our assigned school, specialized in Project Lead The Way and had a great robotics program; which my son seems really interested in. So we added it to our Choice Form because it was also a local school in our neighborhood that we happened to like the style of teaching and programs available better. It also started at 7:40am instead of our assigned school’s 9am start time, so depending if you’re morning people or not, it’s important to find a school that works best into your family’s routine and interests.
SCHOOL MOTTO or MISSION STATEMENT
Believe it or not, this says A LOT about the school and what values they’ll teach your kids! Do you agree with the school’s motto or mission statement? Ask some of the teachers or staff about it and see if their interpretation of it is different than yours.
School ratings are always subjective, but may be helpful for your decision.
Is your local school going through any changes? Is there a new principal? What’s the teacher retention or turnover rate? Will there be any construction or renovations happening during your child's time at the school? My elementary school was renovated while I was attending and they had to bus everyone 15 minutes away to another school.
What kind of classroom and recess set up do they have? Is there any shade for playing or lunchtime?
Is the playground pavement and plastic slides or are there any nature elements present…trees, grass, flowers, gardens, student murals or wall paintings, etc.?
How much technology usage do they have per grade level and what’s expected to be used at home? Do they have reading or math apps that they want your child to do on their own iPad at home or are those optional?
Do they require school uniforms that you’ll have to buy, wash and make sure your kid is wearing the right clothes on the right day? PE clothes vs. regular uniform days?
If you attend a school tour, can you talk to any of the kids or other parents to find out how they feel about going to school there? Can you talk to any of the teachers or office staff?
A great way to get an insider's point of view is to stand outside of the school at the end of the day, just a few minutes before the bell rings and talk to the parents standing around. They'll all be happy to chat with you for a few minutes to help out a new school mom. Ask them lots of questions to find out what they think about the school and maybe you'll find out something that will help sway your decision making.
This means which elementary schools will "feed" into certain middle schools, and which middle schools will "feed" into certain high schools. Check out the school ratings for the middle and high schools that those elementary schools you're considering will "feed" into.
I know it's exhausting just trying to figure out which elementary school to choose, let alone trying to figure out which middle or high school! But a lot can happen during the next 5-6 years for your family. Maybe you'll be moving before they start middle school so checking into the upper level schools might not matter at this time for you. But it's something to consider.
What’s the PTA status? Are they trying to take over the school and require you to be super involved or is it more low-key and relaxed? What does the PTA do with their funds? How do they give back to the school? Do they hire extra art, music or PE teachers? Do they use it for seasonal parties? How many fundraisers do they have and what’s the expected participation? One charter school we looked at basically told us they rely on parent's contributions of $1,000 per kid each year!
And the list can go on an on depending on what other factors are important for your considerations. Hopefully some of these will have sparked something you didn’t think of or brought up some further discussion points. Ultimately, only you can decide what’s most important for your family, for your child and the kind of environment you want them learning in.