As a parent of school age kids, picking the right school district and schools can be a stressful part of the relocation process.
Of course, we want the very best schools for our kids, but often the homes in those areas also come with a bigger price tag.
For most of us, it’s a careful juggling of our budget, with our desire for the general area, and the schools available. Just in assessing the available schools there are many factors to take into consideration and to weigh.
Many hours can be spent and sometimes even wasted, if we aren’t organized or if we are aimlessly googling and reading articles. We can also mistakenly dub a school, as a poor choice, if we do not get the full picture.
Know What Is Important
What is important in a school will vary from family to family.
As a new parent or just planning to be a parent, this can be trickier, but you can try to guess what those things will be to you and your family’s personality.
Sit down and think of every aspect of schooling and all that goes into, from getting to school in the morning, to activities in the day, to after school, and to getting home.
For some the proximity to school, so a child can walk to and from, may be essential, while others driving may be an issue or maybe busses are even available.
How important are school and class size to you? A bigger school will often a lot more programs, where a smaller school may have a closer-knit community.
I think most parents will always opt for smaller class sizes and lower student to teacher ratio, but is there such thing as too small? What about a larger class, but a teacher’s aide or two?
Do your children require any special education or intervention programs? What about English learners programs or even language immersion programs?
Are art programs or STEM programs important to you? What about the curriculums that they are using? How accessible is after school care?
The list of needs can go on. Make your list and even rank them in order of importance. On Dwellics you can put some of these criteria in, to get you started on your search.
Utilizing School Ratings and Reports
A quick search on the internet can yield you overall state, district and school ratings. Unfortunately, many of us only go on a website to see a rating and make our decision about a school.
Sites like greatschools.org, schooldigger.com and nea.org seem like great tools to narrow down general areas to search in and to stay away from. The school rating is just a piece of the puzzle, though.
Some schools may not have top rankings, but are still quality schools and viable choices. Make sure you understand how their ranking system works and what criteria they use.
Some use property prices and crime rates in addition to graduation rates, class size, test scores, with high weight of parent ratings or a host of other items not related to school quality.
Generally, schools in wealthy areas have better test scores. Often this is influenced by the fact that they have less English as a second language students.
Less access to tutoring and other costly programs contributes, as well as parent availability, due to single parent homes or parents busy trying to make ends meet.
Therefore, double counting in such ratings happens often: the test scores and property prices in the rating calculations may artificially inflate the final score.
Be aware that parent and student comments may be subjective or not present all aspects of a school. Rankings with a district do not include differences between school district quality.
Some school districts may have big budgets, however, a budget per student may be just a portion of it after several layers of management.
Feel free to use Dwellics School Calculator to see each metric yourself and make conclusions that are right for you and your family.
Right Home Wrong School District
What if I found a home I love, but the districted schools aren’t my first choice?
Often our school choice and home choice do not match up, and we feel the need to sacrifice one for the other.
Before you lose hope, investigate a couple of things. One thing to check into is if the district allows for some flexibility and school choice. Sometimes, there is a lottery type system for the higher ranked and more sought-after school. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s worth trying for.
You can also try again, if you do not get in the first year. If you have a lot of kids, your chances of getting in may go up, as they will often admit the whole family, if one child is chosen in the lottery.
Another thing to research is available charter schools in your area. Once again, you are not guaranteed, but it can be worth an attempt. Some schools are also lottery or first come serve and others are merit based.
Do Not Over Plan
Thinking about the future is a prudent thing but planning out your child’s full school career may be a bit much. Buying a house for the great high school it is districted for, while your child is only 4 years old may not be realistic.
Finding a great school district, with a history of being such, will often yield the best results if you are looking for longevity, but it is also not a guarantee.
New leadership, programs, funds etc. can change the quality of education over the years. That high school that is amazing now be mediocre in 10 years and vice versa, that struggling school could be amazing.
Obviously, if you are an active-duty military family or someone with wanderlust, you may only want to focus your energy on the next few years of your child’s education.
If this is your first home, there is a good chance it will not be your forever home. Even if you stay in the same area, maybe through the years you can work to move into the better districted schools.
Just be real with yourself and don’t cause undo stress about 10 years from now, when who knows what things will be like that far out.
Taking It All In
The more you dive into school research, the more you may get overwhelmed, especially if this is your first time. This is where having your list and even prioritizing can pay off.
Once you have narrowed it down a bit, go visit some of the schools and see if one seems to be a better fit for you, your family, and your personalities. Make sure to bring any unanswered questions with you and talk with the administration.
As parents, we can put so much emphasis on the school choice and stress about these decisions, but remember that many have succeeded despite the quality of school.
Often it’s the involvement of the parent and instilling the value of education into your children. The fact that you are doing school research shows that you have that value. As Jane D. Hull is quoted saying, ‘At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.’
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