Start positively rather than negatively. By this, I mean look for what you want in a school as opposed to what you do not want. Have family discussions of what you want from a school and build up a list. (See below for some ideas.) Include those who will later comment on the effects of your choice such as parents-in-law. Examine your family's values, lifestyle and priorities, particularly your views on parenting and your family's values.
Ranking the items on your list can be useful, and as you visit schools, keep re-evaluating your list and your priorities.
The faculty discussion was prompted by a recent family visit. The parents decided not to enrol their children, but during the process, discovered they held widely differing views of parenting they had not previously acknowledged. Similarly, I learned another family found they needed to address the issue of whether they wanted a religious or secular program, something they had not previously addressed. Another found an urgent need to decide whether to raise their children jewish (mother) or secular (father).
Unfortunately, families often choose a school before they know what they want,. As time goes on, this leads inevitably to their developing a list of what they don't want. As this is usually developed relative to their current school, it should be no surprise they find all those negatives reflected in that school. This leads to unhappiness, and frequently to school-changing which to often becomes a cycle of change.
However, if school-change is required, the best thing for families is to stop, create a positive list of what the family is seeking and what is important to them as a family, and then to start again. This is especially important for families who want to leave something rather than to find it.
Changing schools is disruptive, takes a great deal of time and, research shows, can have permanent negative effects on a child. Making the right decision from the beginning can prevent unhappiness and help you achieve your family's goals.
Some things to consider (other than Mission and Vision, these are not ranked)
- Mission and Vision (values, philosophy)
- co-educational or single-sex
- religious or secular
- communication with parents, availability and responsiveness of principals
- parent involvement, parent community, parent activities
- class grouping - age, level, subject, remedial, accelerated
- role and place of music - class, core subject, clubs
- role and place of Mathematics or Science
- is it a terminating program such as Preschool only or are there multiple grades?
- destination schools - where do students go after graduating convenience to home or work
- is it a neighborhood school (thus socialization after school) or a commuting school (thus everyone is driven) hours and provision of activities outside class-times
- extra-curricular activities, sports, other activities
- education or training?
- learning or being taught to the test?
- your budget (don't forget to include childcare when school is not in session, enrichment activities, and hidden costs such as levies for supplies or field trips)
- do the teachers have their own children in the school