The school your child attends affects his success and the overall experience, especially if your child has special needs. Choosing a school with the environment and services to support your child increases his chances of success. Your location plays a role in school selection. Urban areas offer a greater selection of school types, such as public, private, magnet and alternative schools. Home schooling is also an option with regulations varying by state. Consider your child’s needs when narrowing down schooling options.
Write a checklist of your child’s needs and your expectations or preferences from the school. Consider things like class size, location, academic quality, special education services, teacher-to-student ratio, graduation rate, before and after school care, transportation options, extracurricular activities and coed versus all boys or all girls. Use the checklist to evaluate each school you consider.
Discuss your preference for a public versus a private school. Consider the affordability of private school and possible financial aid you might get to cover tuition if you have a limited income. Factor in the cost and time of transporting your child to school in case the private school does not offer transportation.
Visit the National Center for Education Statistics website run by the U.S. Department of Education to find statistics and information about all local schools. The site gives information on grade levels, type of school, contact information, religious affiliation if applicable, size, student-to-teacher ratio, ethnic makeup and if it is coed or one gender for both public and private schools.
Call your state’s department of education or your local school district if you are considering open enrolling in a different district. Check on all requirements, qualifications and application deadlines to ensure you are eligible before pursuing enrollment in a different district. Keep in mind that parents must often provide their own transportation when open enrolling in another district.
Contact each school option in your local area to receive enrollment information, including tuition, fees, other costs and minimum requirements. Ask if the school has a waiting list if you are considering a school with selective enrollment, such as a private school.
Visit the schools that best match your needs and preferences with your child. Observe a classroom and visit with a school administrator so you can ask any questions about the school. Watch how the staff members interact with the students as well as inspecting the general environment.
Meet with the school’s guidance counselor to discuss graduation rates and college enrollment rates if you are choosing a high school. Ask about the type of assistance the school provides for seniors regarding college applications as well as potential work study or college credit classes offered by the school.
Ask for a copy of the school handbook so you can review the school policies on topics like safety, discipline, attendance, values taught at the school and expectations. Review the curriculum used by the school and ask about accommodations made for students who are above or below average.
Ask for a list of references from current families enrolled in the schools you are considering. Contact at least two of the references to get a parent’s perspective on how a school performs and serves its students, quality of the teachers, educational priorities and values at the school.
Time the drive to the school if you will transport your child. Factor in the extra cost of gas if the school is off your usual morning route. Ask the school for a copy of the bus route along with the estimated time she will ride the bus if you plan to use the school’s transportation. Compare any extra costs for transportation when comparing the schools.
Create a spreadsheet to compare your list of needs and expectations for each of the schools. This gives you a side-by-side look at the services and quality of education offered by each school.
Involve your child in the decision if she is old enough to have a strong opinion. Discuss as a family the pros and cons of each school option. Contact the school with any additional questions you have as a result of these discussions to help make your final decision.