Schools often are the most important deciding factors for a family seeking out a new neighborhood to call home. While there’s no single solution to finding the right one, there is more to consider than test scores alone. Think commute times, the school’s PTA scene and your child’s classroom experience. Here, Trulia offers six steps to choosing a school that will fit your family.
1. Ask yourself important questions
Before beginning the process, it’s key to do a little soul-searching about what matters most to you when it comes to your child’s education. Consider the values you want to come through not just at home, but in a school setting.
• What are some places where my child has thrived in the past?
• What unifies those experiences?
• Do we prefer a traditional or alternative educational style?
• How important are extracurricular enrichment opportunities?
• What sort of contributions (time or money) are we interested in making as a family?
2. Use your network to gain insight
It’s worth a shot to reach out to everyone you know to start doing some research. Post a question on Facebook letting everyone know that you are investigating schools in a certain area, and find out if they have any experience or insight to share. You also can ask your network to share your post so that it gains even more exposure. It could turn out that your uncle’s best friend or your daughter’s soccer coach grew up in your new town and would be able to give an insider’s perspective on a school you’re looking into—or perhaps point you to a school you might not have even considered.
3. Call schools directly for information
Once you’ve found a few options in your new neighborhood, reach out to the school by phone using Trulia’s school directory to find contact information. When you reach someone one the line, you’ll have the opportunity to ask more nuanced, personalized questions. You also can request to have school catalogs sent by mail, along with any other printed material available, particularly about how this school or district compares with others in the area.
4. Surf schools’ websites
Most schools and school districts have their own websites that include a wealth of information. Spend some time reading newsletters or PTA meeting notes if they’re available. Look into what awards or certifications the schools have recently received. If you’re eager to dive even deeper into the school website, look for downloadable calendars, and sign up for a weekly newsletter, which can offer insight into any events or news at the school.
5. Visit in person, if possible
Although it seems logical to visit during school hours, that may not be possible. You could be 1,000 miles away—or a school might have restrictions on visiting hours for prospective families. If you’re local, ask about coming in after school hours to see classrooms and common areas. Look at the art in the hallways and any posters around the school to try to get a feel for the school’s values, teacher engagement and the administration’s priorities. Whether you encounter the crossing guard or the person at the front desk, engage people in conversation to ask them any questions you may have. If you get the chance, ask to meet with the principal. You also might want to find out how teachers are evaluated.
Here are some other questions to ask:
• What is the school’s approach to discipline and homework?
• What does current parent involvement look like?
• What are the rates of teacher turnover?
• How is information shared with parents?
• How does the school support children with any unique academic, social, or developmental needs?
6. Read reviews
Parent reviews from sites such as GreatSchools.org and SchoolDigger.com provide helpful additional insights. Families of children currently enrolled often share important details about items such as class sizes, current events, and what the school does well and what they believe needs work in real time.