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Tips for finding the right school for your child

Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 11:14 a.m. CDT

If you’d like to send your child to a different school next year, now’s the time to start the process of researching your options. 

As Iowa prepares to commemorate National School Choice Week later this month at 30 events across the state, many parents will begin evaluating the educational opportunities that are available for their children.

Believe it or not, seats in schools are already beginning to fill up for the 2014-2015 school year. Interest in school choice – the process of actively choosing a public, charter, magnet, private, or online school – is high. That means that waiting until the spring or the summer to begin researching schools for your children could restrict your options.

No handbook or tipsheet can truly guide parents through the entire process of selecting a school, because choosing schools is an individual experience that will be unique to every family.

However, parents can start by making a list of the attributes that they hope to find in an ideal school. Ask yourself: what’s most important to you and to the academic, social, and emotional well-being of your child? Is it the academic performance of a school, school safety, the instructional methods, the qualifications of teachers, the school’s educational theme, a school’s shared values, or other factors? 

Once you’ve identified what matters most, start looking into the options available to you. In addition to the local public school, you may be eligible to send your child to a school outside of your ZIP code, or in a different school district. Look into nearby charter schools and magnet schools. Don’t leave private and faith based schools off your list! You might be able to find scholarships to cover the costs of tuition. And for some families, online learning and homeschooling work best.

To find the options available to you, look at information from the Iowa department of education, as well as information on state-based education reform or school choice organization websites. For states with charter and magnet schools, there are often state-based associations that provide directories of these types of schools, along with application information. Private schools and scholarship programs can be researched through state chapters of the Council on American Private Education or the National Association of Independent Schools, or through local places of worship (for faith-based schools). 

For a directory of most schools in your area, along with parent rankings and some performance metrics, parents can visit this website: greatschools.org. 

With your list of requirements and your list of schools in hand, start making appointments to visit the schools. Ask to sit in on classes, and make sure to ask as many questions as possible of teachers, the administration, and support staff. You’ll want to find out what motivates the adults in the building, while also seeing how the students in the classes respond to their teachers. Ask yourself: is this a place where I’d want to send my child for most of his or her weekday waking hours?

Finally, make sure to talk with other parents – and to your own children. Ask parents how the schools’ administrators treat parents, and whether they welcome, or discourage, parental involvement. And most importantly, ask your children about their perceptions of the schools that you’ve visited. Find out what excites and motivates your child at school, but also ask about their worries, concerns and apprehensions. 

Making the decision to change schools certainly isn’t easy. And switching schools isn’t a piece of cake, either. But if you start now, and plan out the journey, you’ll find that the destination – a great school for your child – is well worth the diligence and effort. 

Andrew R. Campanella is the president of National School Choice Week. National School Choice Week, which runs from January 26 to February 1, 2014, is America’s largest-ever celebration of educational opportunity. Andrew lives in Miramar Beach, Florida. 

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