So, I grew up in private school all my life. Living in West Los Angeles, my parents were not keen on sending me to LA Unified School District schools. My husband grew up in public schools- but he was from a much smaller place. Suffice it to say we don’t always see eye to eye on the value- add of private school or why it matters to check out schools in the first place before you send your children off to them. “Just put them on the bus!” he says.
More often than not, it’s the schools and the school district reputation that guide our home purchases. With the average cost of private school in the Denver Metro area at $10,000 per year (but many hitting as high as $25,000 per year), it makes sense that parents would want to find a top rated, free public school where their kids can grow and learn. I am helping more and more folks move here from around the country and I get the question, “Well, how are the schools in this neighborhood?” quite frequently. And, having gone through the school exploration process myself a couple of times, even recently, I’ve learned a few things during the vetting process that could be helpful for other parents going through the same thing.
Having been a teacher in a past life, I may overthink school decisions, but these are my kids after all. I just try not to torture my husband by talking his ear off about it. These are the steps I took to find the right spot for my boys. Do one, some, or all to figure out a school that is a good fit for your child(ren) and your family. Then, hire your realtor to find a home in that community!
First off, you don’t know what kind of learner your child will be in Kindergarten. We make school choices for our children early on but the fact is that over time you begin to understand your child’s interests, the way they learn, how they engage in school, and their strengths and stretches. Sometimes, the school that you chose for them when they were 5 is not the right fit when they’re 10. That’s okay- acknowledge it and then start researching for a better place for your son or daughter.
Culture matters. I think the only way to get to know a school culture is to date the school for a year. This might sound weird, but try to immerse yourself in school happenings as if you were a really interested parent that already sends your kids to the school. Go to school Board meetings or district meetings, PTA meetings. Pay attention to bulletin boards (when you do a school visit). They are great glimpses into the school environment. Are there rituals and routines that you can get behind? At our local elementary school, kiddos of all ages and their parents jog down a path every Friday morning before school starts. What a great way to start your day! And, what a community builder. Are there fundraisers or mixers where you can meet families? Attend an assembly. Can you get a feel for the community by attending some events ahead of decision- making time?
Look at what the school puts out to its community. Look at newsletters, annual calendar of events, daily schedule, testing schedule. Maybe a neighbor or friend gets an emailed newsletter that you can have forwarded to you?
Shadow and tour. Most schools allow you to tour and observe classrooms. And many schools allow students to shadow with another student for the day. Take advantage of this! Even the mundane matters: What does the lunch room look like during recess? How does the playground feel? Be there when then buses show up.
Coffee with the principal. If he/she is amenable, sit down and visit for a minute. Often times the principal hosts a coffee with the parents per month. If you can’t get one on one time, join the group meeting. Do you like them? If you like them is he or she staying? Many principals transfer to different schools, so beware of making the decision solely on the principal.
Dig into the curriculum. So, not only look at what books and programs the school has adopted, but ask questions to understand how the teachers deliver the curriculum. In small groups? Whole class direct instruction? Are there projects? What type of access to technology do students have throughout the day? What’s the homework load look like and what is the school’s philosophy on homework?
Special programs? Is the school equipped to meet the needs of students who have needs beyond the mainstream classroom? Special education, gifted and talented? Speech or reading support? Counselor?
Talk to people! No school is perfect, and every child is different. But ask questions- what do they like most about the school? What is something they would change? What are the teachers like? The administration?
Here’s some helpful websites, too:
https://www.coloradoschoolgrades.com/ (School rankings, student academic growth)
www.coloradoleague.org (Charter Schools- which are public schools!)
https://www.acischools.com/aboutus_overview.asp Association of Colorado Independent Schools (in case you still want to go private)
If you are looking to move and need help finding your dream home in the perfect school district, please reach out! I would love to chat.