It appears as if the times have changed for school options in various areas of the country. When I was going to school, we naturally went to the school that was closest to us and my parents didn’t give much thought of trying to decide where I or my siblings needed to attend. We just went to the local school down the street like the rest of the kids did in our neighborhood. However, with the influx of new charter schools and private schools appearing all over the country, it is becoming more popular for parents to choose a different avenue for each of their children.
I know that there are varying opinions on whether or not these new schools are beneficial to our community. However, the fact is that they continue to appear and several parents are wanting to know more about these new types of charter schools and private schools. I was one of those parents and soon found myself a bit overwhelmed with the different kinds of schools that I could choose for each of my children. It didn’t take me too long to figure out that touring each of these schools and researching them could become a full time job. In addition, I realized several things. First, I quickly learned that not all of the schools were the same. Second, I learned that what was said during a tour was not always being incorporated fully into the classroom. Third, I learned that several schools did not last very long over the years. Fourth, I learned that most charter schools do not mandate that their teachers have a teaching degree which was not always a good or bad thing.
I decided that if I was going to really find a good fit for my son that I would want to do several things. These five tools helped me sift through my school options and I am hoping that I can help other parents that were overwhelmed like me.
#1: Before touring the school, I would call the schools and ask to speak to the director or the assistant. If I wasn’t able to them right then, I would ask for a call back. Once I was able to speak to the director or assistant director, I would ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ask them to explain their school’s learning philosophy to me. I would follow up with a question asking them what they offer for children that may not always be able to follow their current curriculum plan.
Some of the school directors breezed through these two questions. They had a strong foundation and passion on how they believed children learned best and how to incorporate it into the learning environment. However, many of the school directors were not able to answer my question. It appeared as if they didn’t have a solid and strong philosophy. I would often find them trying to make themselves look good by pointing out that their school offered programs like computer and technology programs and any other fad learning programs that were popular at the time. While these programs can be great strengths to any school, I was really looking for schools that knew exactly what they believed and how they were going to fulfill it. Quite honestly, it was this first step that helped me weed through the schools that I was really interested in touring. If the director of the school could explain her philosophy with passion and strength, then I felt it was worth my time to tour it. Otherwise, I personally felt that the school may just be jumping on the bandwagon with the other thousands of charter schools. I know I may have missed some good schools but I really was trying to save time and it definitely helped me weed through the school options.
#2 When touring a school, I always had a list of questions and observations to look for that I brought with me. Click and download here for a list of the basic questions I asked and the things I looked for through observation. This list was just the beginning and I always added additional questions depending on which child/children I was looking at sending to the school. Normally, these additional questions were specifically tailored to the child I was thinking of sending to the school.
#3: I always asked for a copy or information regarding the school’s financial status. If the school could not give the information to me, I would research this information online to get a good overall view of their financial standing. Being that charter schools can be profitable, it was important for me to know that the schools were going to be around for several years and that they had good financial management at the school.
#4: Once I narrowed the school options even further down, I would then ask if I could come back and observe a classroom for a couple of hours. This would help me confirm what I saw or didn’t see during the tour. In fact, this specific step was so powerful that it became a strong determining factor of where I actually sent one of my children.
#5: I always asked if my child could shadow a day at the school. If the school allowed this option, I would send my child to that school for one day and let them personally get a feel of how the school ran. Often, this step would weed out the schools quickly because of what my child would come back and report.
While I do believe that websites that show ratings from parents do have their purpose and help parents get a good feel for different schools, I feel like doing these additional five steps really helped me narrow in on what schools would help set my child for the best fit based on his or her type of learning style. I personally needed more information than someone else’s opinion.