Sunday, March 7, 2010

7 Steps to Finding the Right School For Your Child

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King Jr

Last week, I received my first fan letter. I see why real stars get all "big headed" because fan letters are truly wonderful. I mean, the letter proves that someone is actually reading FREEISMYLIFE and incorporating the information in their lives. The letter made me very happy.

The mom who wrote the letter also had a question for me. Patreice is looking for a good school for her five year old son and she needs the school to be in Detroit and be either a FREE charter school or a low cost private school.

The request brought back a lot of memories of my search for a school for my son. The experience was not pleasant because I had never done it before and I did not have anyone experienced in this area to help me out. So to help out Patreice, I decided to write this blog post on what I feel goes into finding a good school.

From my experience, theses are the key factors a parent needs to keep in mind:

1. Start your Search as Early as Possible.
Don't wait until school is about to start to try and find a school for your child. Searching for what you want is a time consuming process, so start as early as possible. It is good to give yourself six months for the search, but a year would be even better.

2. Assess Your Child's Needs
Every child is different. Plain and simple. Every school is not for every child. I hope everyone heard that last statement. A good school for my child may not be a good school for your child. It all depends on the child.

Is your child shy and hates crowds? Then a big school with 50 kids in each class probably is a bad idea. Does your child have a learning impairment? Then a school who has never dealt with an IEP is probably not a good idea. Does your child love sports? Then a school without a sports team is not a good idea. Does your child get bored easy with simple work? Then they may need a school with an advance placement curriculum. Take a long hard look at what your child REALLY needs. That information will go along way into finding a school where your child will be successful.

3. Get References
Now it is time to ask everyone that you know about schools. And I mean ask everyone - your friends, your co-workers, your dentist, your mail carrier - EVERYONE. When people like something, they are not shy about telling everyone about it. You want a good long list of schools to choose from.

4. Do Research
Now that you have a list of schools, you need to find out more information about them. First visit the school's website where you should find information on curriculum, grades, activities, hours of operation, location and cost. Also visit where you can look up the schools and see test scores, parent comments, and ratings on principal leadership, teacher quality, activities, parent involvement and safety & discipline.

5. Make a List of your Needs and Wants.
So far you have information on your child's needs and information on the schools. Now you need to add a needs vs wants list. When I was searching for a school, one of my needs was it had to be close to home or work or my parents house. This was a must. There was no need for me to be looking at schools in Ann Arbor since there was no way to get my child there. Also a need for me was after school care since I cannot pick up my son at 3:30pm.

After you make your list of needs and wants, apply them and the list of the needs of your child against the list of schools. This exercise will help shorten your list to the schools that you will visit.

6. Schedule an Appointment DURING regular school hours.
Open houses are ok, but they will not show you what REALLY goes on during normal school hours. At an open house, everything is structured and manicured and definitely not the everyday experience. Make sure you schedule your appointment during normal school hours. You want to see how the school is cared for, how the students act and how the teachers act. Ask to sit in on an actual class. You should see mutual respect between the teacher and the students. If you don't RUN!

7. As the head goes, so goes the tail.
What I mean by this phrase is that the school's principal is the key to determining how the school will function. As the leader, the principal's style and demeanor is usually reflected in all aspects of the school. If the principal cares about students, so will the teachers. If the principal is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure students are successful, that attitude will be reflected in the entire school. Make sure you schedule an appointment to meet the principal for a one-on-one meeting. Ask the questions that you have formulated and listen closely in how the Principal answers. You will know within 15 minutes if this school will stay on your list.

Here is my list of starter questions to ask:
- What sets this school part from others?
- What is the teacher student ratio?
- What is your policy on discipline? Give me a example of discipline actions you have taken in the past year and the outcome.
- Are the teachers accredited?
- What is the average length the teachers have been with this school?
- How are teachers held accountable for the success of the students?
- If a child is falling behind, what do you do?
- If a child is more advanced than the work that is given, what do you do?
- Do you have a published curriculum for each grade?
- Can I get a copy of your test scores?
- What are the established methods for communicating with teachers? email, telephone calls, etc.
- How are parents currently involved at the school?

Help a Sister Out!
Now, I invite the FREEISMYLIFE Detroit area readers to help out Patreice in her search for a good school. If you would like to recommend an elementary school, please include the school's name and website link in the list below. I have already started out the list with my recommendations of University Prep, a FREE charter school for students K-12, and Benjamin E. Mays Male Academy, a private all male school on the Eastside of Detroit.

Patreice, thank you so much for the wonderful letter and many blessings in your search.

1 comment:

  1. I am happy to report that Patreice has found a WONDERFUL school for her son and life is good!