Wednesday, September 21, 2011

School Choice: Part 3

Everything I learned about school choice, I learned trying to get into kindergarten.

By Leslie Crawford, Senior Editor

Below are tips 4-6 on choosing a school of choice for your child.

4. Talk with every parent who has a child in school in your district.
Make it your part-time job to find out everything you can about schools in your district. If you hear of a promising one (even if it doesn’t have stellar ratings . . . see Number 2 above), ask how those parents got their kids in. Often, there is a loophole. Last week, I learned from my neighbor that she finally got into our terrific neighborhood school after transferring from a low-performing (somewhat promising but ultimately troubled) school because the district gives preference to families transferring from struggling schools. I hadn’t known about that provision and realize – much too late – that we could have tried the low-performing school we were assigned. If ultimately the school didn’t work out, I could have tried to transfer into our neighborhood school, which is near impossible to get into otherwise.

Also, if you have any public school teachers who are friends and who you trust, take them out for a drink and get the inside story. Again, too late, I learned from a teacher friend that a nearby public school that was failing three years ago now has an exceptional immersion program and among the best teachers in the city.

5. Know what you want
An addendum to Number 4: Just because a school is all the rage, doesn't mean it's for you. Maybe it’s intensely academic and in truth you want a school that focuses on the arts or sports. Maybe the "in" school is enormous, but your child will thrive better in a smaller school (like mine will). Maybe the "great" elementary is across town, but what’s most important to your family is to be able to walk to school.

6. Don’t get caught up on “great” schools
Yes, I work for GreatSchools and believe in finding the best possible school for your child. But school shopper, beware. The search for the fountain of educational gold can be a futile and heartbreaking one. For starters, there are no perfect schools. There are exceptionally rated schools. There are schools that get all the buzz and are on the top of everyone’s list. Then there are some solidly good schools that might have mediocre ratings, but a committed parent community, kind children, and some exceptional teachers. There are hidden jewels that everyone will be talking about in a couple of years – and you can applaud yourself that you asked so many questions and got your foot in the door early on, before everyone else is trying, with no luck, to get into that authentically great school.


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