Luckily, nearly all the information you’ll need to make an informed decision — from academics to safety — can be found easily, either with a phone call or a few clicks of the mouse.
Where to look first?
Calling the local school district or visiting its Web site will allow you to get information to help you make your decision, including plans to redistrict, plans to build new schools or even details such as who will teach your child. School district contact information is a simple Google search away. School officials can also tell you immediately which schools your child could attend based on your potential apartment.
Most states also post valuable information online about how well schools perform academically, with detailed reports on test scores, student body makeup, graduation rates and even how many teachers are available per student. The U.S. Department of Education also provides information to the public about each state and each district. Schools and school districts are rated on a variety of academic areas. Those ratings are a good indicator of whether the school is in a good position to educate your child, or is in danger of failing the student body.
Other Web sites with helpful information are www.greatschools.net and www.schoolmatters.org. Both Web sites allow you to compare schools. The Department of Education also has a map to find school district information.
How far away is it?
Will your child walk or ride? If he or she is walking, you should take a look at how safe the pedestrian route is. Most children ride the bus to school. What time school starts and where your home is on the bus route will determine what time your child steps aboard. Even if you choose to drive your child to school, you should look at the route, how long you’ll drive and traffic around the school.
School often doesn’t end with the ring of the last bell. If your child needs care after school, you should also factor getting him or her to that facility into your decision. Ask if care programs are available at your child’s school and consider whether your child will be involved in after school activities like sports and clubs.
How does your child learn?
Does your son or daughter do okay in large classes, or do they fare better with more one-on-one attention from the teacher? If your child needs more teacher help, then looking at class size may one of the most important things to consider.
The school district may also have other specialized options. Many school districts across the U.S. have magnet schools that emphasize certain subjects, such as science or the arts. Other studies are not excluded, but a greater focus is put on those subjects that most interest the pupil. There are also options available to students whose academic achievements exceed those of their peers — advanced placement or International Baccalaureate programs.
If your child has special needs, it is vital that you speak to the principal or an official with the school district to find out which schools offer the best programs for him or her. Not every school is the same when it comes to those types of classes.
Overall, your choices among specialized educational programs may be limited by the district or school.
High academic achievement means nothing if your child isn’t safe. You should be able to request statistics about safety problems at the school, if a school resource officer is stationed there and even information on emergency plans. Look to the local police department to learn about the neighborhood surrounding the school.
Before making a final decision, tour the school. This will allow you to see first-hand where your child will spend several hours a day — and whether the school is fairly new, or in need of repair and updated equipment.
When walking around, look closely at the buildings and equipment — how old they are and how secure they appear. Secure schools require visitors to sign in at a front office and post signs clearly explaining their procedures. Speak with the principal about discipline policies and dress code.
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