Even if you don’t have school-age children, your school district matters. It has an impact on your home’s value, and if you ever plan to sell, a sought-after school district can be a major asset.
If you do have children, however, other factors have to be considered. Sure, a school district can look great on paper, but how do you know if it is right for your child?
Before purchasing or renting in a district, schedule a meeting with the principal of your child’s potential school. You want to ask about the school’s mission (the school should have a clearly defined, detailed mission). Ask about parent involvement – how organized is the PTA? Are parent volunteers sought after and welcomed? Is there a tutoring program? How is the community as a whole involved in the school? Does the school have partners in the business community? Look for a principal who is very active in his or her school – highly visible around the school, knows students by name, and is respectful and open with teachers.
Music, art, and physical education should be integral parts of the curriculum – not underfunded afterthoughts. High schools that value their fine arts department as much as they do their sports program are ideal – they understand the importance of a well-rounded student, and they appreciate how creativity through art and music enhance a student’s academic performance.
Ask about school safety procedures. This isn’t just making sure that all visitors must pass through and sign in at the front office. How seriously does the school take issues such as bullying and threats? Do they have clear emergency plans in place? Are regular fire drills implemented? In the case of inclement weather, how are parents notified?
Regular communication between teachers, administrators, and parents is also important. Find out how parents are kept in the loop, and find out how frequently teachers contact parents. If teachers maintain blogs, ask how often these are updated, and the type of information students can find there: upcoming tests, notes, information on projects, and homework assignments are all helpful.
If your child has special needs, ask the school about these programs, as well. Does the special education program fit the needs of your child? Ask the principal to give you a tour of the school, and if possible, observe a special education class in action to make sure it is right for your child.
Finally, rely on your judgment. It doesn’t matter how a school ranks if you like the school, the principal, and the teachers. As a parent, you’ll know if a school will fit your child and if he or she will be happy there. Although the school may not be the “best” on paper, it may turn out to be the best school for you and your child.