by Angel Rutledge

All parents eventually must face the challenge of deciding on schooling for their child. Options abound, from public to private to parochial to charter. Being a former teacher has helped me understand what to look for when researching a school. However, I have also learned that the advice of other parents as well as information gathered from the Internet, books and magazines must all be brought together when developing a clear strategy for determining the best educational setting. Here are some guidelines to use when deciding on a school.

Start talking early about what type of schooling (public, private, home school) would be best for your child.

Don’t assume you both agree on this issue. Since I had a great experience going to public schools and later teaching in them, I automatically assumed we would choose the same for our daughter. Then I found out that my husband, who went to Christian private schools, had different thoughts. Thankfully, we started discussing our daughter’s education right after she was born, so by the time we had to think about enrolling her in kindergarten, we both felt good about our decision.

Assess your finances.

How much can you set aside on a monthly/yearly basis for your child’s education? If the answer is next to nothing, you may want to rule out looking into private schools. (Of course, most private schools do offer scholarships, but they are usually for families with limited incomes.) Even home schooling and public education come with a price tag, so deciding what you can afford to spend in advance will save your family a good deal of stress later.

Decide how far you are willing to commute or have your child commute on a daily basis.

Though there may be a phenomenal school across town, you need to be honest with yourself about the toll such travel time will have on your family, not to mention your child.

Consider your child’s individual needs.

If you know your youngster is shy, home schooling or a small private school with limited class sizes might be best. If she is extremely social and has a hard time taking direction from you when it comes to schoolwork, home schooling may not be a wise option. Then again, for the student who excels in science but not reading, consider a schooling option where you can focus on individual strengths and weaknesses.

Think about what sacrifices you are willing to make.

Are you prepared to move in order to have access to a favored school? Are you willing to give the necessary time and devotion to planning home school lessons? Will you or your spouse need to work longer hours to make more money for tuition?

Go online.

Many schools have websites where you may be able to get answers to many of your questions. In addition, there are several great sites that supply in-depth profiles of all public schools. Most even let you compare several schools at a time. Of course, you need to be careful not to rely on statistics completely, especially test scores, but they do provide a good reference point.

Talk to other parents in your community whose children are already in school.

They are invaluable resources as you look for answers to questions like: What are the best schools in the area? How did you decide on the school your children are attending?

Make a list.

Narrow it down to your top two to three options for schools and rate them according to a set of criteria you feel are important.

Go to a PTA meeting at a school you are considering for your child.

The extent to which parents are involved says a great deal about the quality of education at a school. Call or go into the front office to find out when meetings are scheduled. Most often, the PTA calendar is set a year in advance, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a meeting that fits your schedule.

When you have narrowed down your search, plan to attend an open house.

You also should schedule a time to visit each school and interview the principals. Many schools give tours on a regular basis so you can see firsthand what is happening in the classrooms and what resources the school has. Make sure you feel comfortable with the school’s leadership, teachers, curriculum, safety measures and their expectations for your child. One of the most important points to remember in your search for the perfect school is that you are not making a lifetime commitment for your child. While it’s good to think about the future when making educational decisions, it’s best to focus on the foreseeable future, like the next one to two years. Changes in the economy, occupations and individual schools will inevitably take place, so what may be best for your child next year, may not be best years down the road. It helps lessen the pressure on your decision if you remember that you can always change your mind later. And best of all, if you follow these tips before choosing a school, chances are you won’t have to.

Questions to Ask

  What teaching methods are employed at this school?

 How many students are enrolled?

 What is the average class size in my child’s grade?

  How much time will my child be expected to spend on homework each night?

 What type of curriculum do you use for reading and math?

 How many parents are members of the PTA?

 Can I get a copy of the PTA budget for this year?

 What measures do you take to ensure school safety?

 What is the mission statement for this school?

  What awards did the school win last year?

 How do you handle students with different ability levels?

 What kinds of opportunities will my child have to learn outside of content areas (i.e. art, theater, physical education and music)?
 Can I get a copy of the day’s schedule for my child’s grade?

 What types of parental involvement do you encourage at this school?

 Does the school have any special partnerships with businesses or community groups?

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