Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Help me choose a school!!....for my kiddo.

It's August! I'm just as surprised and freaked as you are! For the last 2 years, August has been a little too crazy for my family. Our oldest will be in 2nd grade this year, so 2 years ago we were trying to figure out where to enroll him for school. We were left trying to answer that same question again last year at this time... I don't want to talk about his Kinder-year, so don't ask! ... or ask, but buy me a beer or two first!

With the amount of stress and anxiety we've been through, I thought I would write a little (my first attempt was WAY too long!!) about our experience in picking the right school for our oldest. My wife and I started by looking at the local public school. For reasons I don't want to get into, he couldn't go there.  (yes.. I'm saying that as a public school teacher!)

We explored all of our options for him within the district, and applied to the lottery system for two of the three charter schools in the area, but also did a few out of area requests for schools outside our "boundaries." Both the charter schools had an educational focus that fit our son. Really that is where you should start this process, by using your expertise on your own child to find the best school fits. We felt these two were hands down the best. We did the "out of area" requests as back-ups to the lotteries, but we also considered private school, and homeschooling.

For our oldest, we know how inquisitive he is, and that he loves to explore a variety of different learning topics. We also know that he is super social. He loves to be around other kids, and kids love to be around him. For those reasons alone we knew that homeschool just wouldn't happen for him, but would be our last resort. For private school?... well, like many, we just weren't in a financial position to tackle that one. But, there are many good things to consider when looking to take that path. 

As things started playing out, we were completely at the mercy of the lottery system, and the individual school principals considering our requests. For his kinder-year, we watched every good option pass us by, and were left enrolling him in a school we were not happy with. Even as a teacher in the district, not a single shred of additional consideration was given. All doors felt slammed in our face. We were shattered.

But, for first grade, we found out days before the start of the school year that his lottery position for one of the charter schools was green-lighted, and he was in. The rush to get everything together for him to be there was crazy, and we truly felt like we won The Lottery. The school is such a great fit for him, but if it hadn't worked, he would have been homeschooled for his first grade year. It had gotten that bad, and our very last resort was the only option. As a teacher in the district, I felt so disappointed, and unappreciated. So when this all worked out the way we needed it... it was just so wonderful.

So, the breakdown when considering schools for your kiddo:

  1. Start with focusing on your child. You are the expert, so you know what learning environment will be best for his/her learning.
  2. List out all of the school options: Public Schools, Charter Schools, Private Schools, Home School. What is feasible? What isn't?
  3. Review the curriculum. Sometimes that will be a deciding factor. What do they use? What is the reputation of the material? Why was it chosen? Is it best for the kids, or was it chosen as a Band-Aid? 
  4. Talk to the teachers/principal. You will know in the first couple of minutes if they are dedicated educators. Are they excited to meet you? Do they talk about their school with pride and not as a used car salesman? Are there award winners that work there? 
  5. Talk to parents of kids at the schools. What do they think? Who are the teachers to avoid? Can they name more of those than teachers to get? Is there a PTA? Parents will be honest, so ask your questions.
In the end, finding the best school for your kiddo is all about knowing the strengths and interests of your child and matching those to the best school option. Sometimes that will be easy and the local public school will be perfect. Other times, you may have to pray to the charter school lottery Gods in order to get into the best school for your student.

If your only option is one that you are not happy about, then make yourself present in the school. Advocate for your kiddo, and act like the expert you are. It's a hard job being a parent in this situation especially if you have working hours during your kiddo's school time. It may seem like you don't have any control, but I will tell you that you will be the driving force behind your child's school success. My students that have parents that make learning a priority by setting the right educational tone at home, are the ones that are typically doing the best. Don't ever let a teacher, administrator, and anyone at a school make you think they know your child better than you do. They all work for you, so set the expectations for them as well. Do it respectfully, but hold them accountable. The great teachers will work with you and your kiddo to make the experience beneficial for all! If you don't like how things are going, talk to the teacher, then the principal, go to school board meetings, talk to the superintendent, write a letter to the editor, get other parents involved, and take control of the quality of the education in your area.

I hope you found this helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or additions (if I missed anything) by leaving a comment! Oh, and please feel free to share this with anyone you think might benefit from reading it. Finding the right school can be so overwhelming, it's important you know that you are not alone in dealing with the stress.

The video below is news coverage talking about the charter school lottery in Buffalo, NY, 
and the stress parents go through.