School choice: What to look for

Here are some questions to keep in mind as you pare your list


Amy Souza


Short stuff: Education
It's never an easy choice. This is a partnership you'll be stuck in for years so it's natural to feel nerve-wracked. School is where abilities are strengthened, where creativity is fostered, where lifelong friendships are formed. Your choice will affect your child's life well beyond graduation. It's no wonder that choosing a school can be one of the most daunting tasks you'll face as a parent.

Keep this questionnaire in mind
as you make your final decision. There are no right or wrong answers. What works for your child may not work for another, hence a careful, personal examination of potential schools is key.

The basics

• Visit the school during regular school hours. Do you feel welcome? Do the students look happy to be there?

Distance: How is the commute? Now imagine a blustery, snowy day: is it still feasible?

Transportation: what services are available?

•  Is the school reflective of the rich diversity of society?

•  Do the children wear uniforms?

•  What is the school's discipline code?

Request the school mission and vision statement. All members of the school body should be working toward common goals.

Teachers and administration

•  Do the teachers take part in regular professional development programs?

•  Is time set aside for teachers to share and collaborate?

n Are teachers and administrators easily accessible by phone and e-mail?

• What percentage of teachers possess M.A. degrees?

•  What percentage of teachers are National Board certified?

Social and emotional learning

•  How does the school foster relationships of respect and kindness among students?

•  Is there an anti-bullying curriculum in place?

•  Can kids take part in a student government/council?

Student resources

•  Check out the school library: Are available media materials current? Is the space accessible and comfortable?

•  Is the cafeteria clean and inviting?

•  Is a tutoring program in place for students facing academic difficulties?

•  How many school counselors and social workers are on staff?

Before and after school

•  Drop in on before- and afterschool programs. Is the environment nurturing and welcoming? Is there an organized schedule of activities in place? Do the hours work with your schedule?

•  Pick up a school calendar. What types of social and sporting events are offered during evenings and weekends?

•  What type of after-school clubs are offered?


•  Is the curriculum challenging?

•  How does the school incorporate the arts?

•  How much homework can a child expect per night, for each grade level?

•  Is the curriculum balanced? How much time is spent daily/weekly on each content area?

•  What high schools do graduating students tend to attend?

•  Regarding assessments and grades, what standards are in place? Request a copy of a current progress report and report card.

•  Test scores aren't everything, but do yearly statistics demonstrate consistent and continuous gains?

•  Drop in on a class. Are the students actively engaged in a learning activity?

•  Does the school embrace technology? How is technology incorporated into the curriculum?

•  Is foreign language instruction offered as part of the daily curriculum or as an after-school program?

•  What type of student work is on display?

•  What is the average class size per grade?

Family/school relations

•  What partnerships does the school have in place with the local community?

•  What evidence of parent/student communication exists? Request a newsletter or classroom bulletin in the main office.

•  Is the PTA active?

•  Talk to the parents of current students and ask, "What do you love about your child's school? What needs improving?"

Healthy kids equal happy kids

•  Do the school cafeteria and vending machines offer healthy choices?

•  Do the children get adequate outdoor/indoor play time?

•  How much time per day/week is allotted for recess and physical activity?

•  Are team sports offered?

•  Is the school clean and well-kept? Bright and cheery?


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