Each week in August, the Work/Life Team has invited educational experts to address concerns parents have in the process of choosing a school. For our second blogpost in this series, we have invited our experts to respond to the following questions:
- What questions should I be asking about the school? Anyone in particular I should talk to?
- If a public school, how should I interpret the data from NC Report Cards? What other metrics should I consider whether public or private?
From Michael Williams, Educational Consultant with Capital Educational Solutions:
Typically, schools today have admission representatives who conduct tours and answer most questions. However, it is important that during your school tour you interact with the school administration. The school principal is in charge of the school mission and vision. Everything stems from him/her. Look for an engaging principal--one who talks the talk but also walks the walk. Principals should be interactive, professional, excited about teaching and learning, and be able to "sell" their school with ease. There are many questions to ask when choosing a school, but I believe there is one that is most important. What are the unique needs of my child and will this school meet them? Identify your child's strengths and weaknesses, how they learn best, what they love about school, and their particular interests, and ensure that the school you choose can meet each one. Here are other important questions:
- Tell me about the culture of the school. [This is the heart of the school question!]
- What is the school’s vision and mission and how is it implemented throughout?
- Tell me about the school leadership.
- What kind of diversity does the school have?
- What does a school day look like?
- What is the school's educational philosophy?
- What curriculum does the school use?
- How does the school respond when a child is struggling with the academics?
- What types of support systems do you have in place for learning differences?
- How much structured vs. non-structured play do the children have each day?
- What types of specialty classes are offered and how are they encouraged?
- What is the school’s approach to grades? ...to homework?
- What values does the school instill in their students?
- What is the school’s approach to student discipline?
- What does parent involvement look like?
- Describe the communication between parents and teachers…between school and families.
- In what ways do teachers collaborate with each other?
- What is the retention rate for teachers?
Public school data is real and up-to-date. I encourage families to dig deep within the NC Report Card and look for trends. After reviewing the data, I would encourage families to ask questions as it relates to outcomes, changes, and future goals. Schools should be setting goals that directly relate to school data and how they can be continually to improve. Parents should be well aware of all the school data prior to enrolling and must know how the school is tackling this data to create a better learning environment for all students.
With an undergraduate degree in education and a Master of School Administration, Michael Williams has extensive experience in preschool, elementary, middle, and high school in both the public and private sector. Mr. Williams has specific training in both Academically Gifted Teaching and International Baccalaureate (IB). He currently works closely with AdvancED on North Carolina School Accreditation, serves as a consultant to School administrators and faculty at all levels, and coaches students and their families throughout the Triangle area. Michael’s passion is helping families with educational consulting, academic coaching and school navigation.
From Natasha Brooks, Assistant Principal at Crossroads Flex with Wake County Public School System:
You’ll likely be led on the tour by the staff member in charge of recruitment, but make sure to connect with a member of the Administrative team before committing to a school. This may be the Principal, Assistant Principal, or even the Dean of Students or a Counselor. Administration can speak to the mission, academics, and discipline of the school, while the counselor can speak to the social and emotional aspects of the school. Your child will need to be supported in all of these areas to be successful. Many of the initial questions you have about a school will be answered by the website or the tour, so I would dig deeper about the things that may not be as obvious during the school’s picture-perfect pitch. For example, if my child is struggling, how will the school respond? Inevitably, your child will have a rough day or week or experience. Adolescence is tough, and if it isn’t an academic struggle, then it might be a social one. Listen and see if the school has a designated intervention plan to support students in need, with staff and resources readily available. Next, I would ask for examples of instructional strategies that are utilized at the school. You know your child best. Do they need hands-on learning? Are they more of the traditional “sit and get” learner? Do they thrive when using technology? Does the school follow the Common Core standards or did they create their own? Think about what learning structures your child needs and find out if it’s a priority at that school. Lastly, ask for the school’s improvement goals or vision for the future. Your child may be spending many years in that school. It’s important to understand not only where the school is at currently, but also the direction they want to go in while your child is in attendance.
I would put some emphasis on the NC Report Card, but don’t let it sway your decision on a school. Focus in on how that school performs academically compared to other schools in the county to examine if that school is making comparable growth. If that school has low math scores, is that a trend across the county? If so, it’s likely a reflection of a new curriculum or county policy, rather than a reflection on that particular school. Teacher qualifications would be another area to focus on. See if the school is on par with the county level for teachers with advanced degrees and National Board Certified teachers. A qualified teacher in the classroom has the biggest influence on student learning--not how many laptops or other students are in the room. After looking at the available data, talk to current parents and students to get some qualitative info. Are parents generally happy with the school? Do the students enjoy going to school? Ultimately, listen to your gut when you walk into a school. This gut feeling will tell you more than any metric can.
Natascha Brooks holds her Masters degree in Teaching from University of Virginia and began her career teaching middle school Language Arts. She is passionate about increasing student learning through the use of blended learning and instructional technology, and has presented on these topics at the National Council of Teachers of English National Convention. Ms. Brooks is a co-author of the book Applying the Flipped Classroom Model to English Language Arts Education and developed digital content and assessments for the educational website Shmoop.
If you missed the first post in this series, you can find it here.