Experts Help You Choose a School (Part 4)


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 fourth and final blogpost in this series, we have invited our experts to respond to the following questions:

  • What factors/issues might prompt a family to look for a change in school environments for their student?
  • What are good reasons for a student to remain at their current school?

From Dr. Sharon Leuenberger, Director of Testing at 3-C Family Services:

There are a variety of factors that could prompt a family to look for a change. The first factor relates to your child's happiness and willingness to go to school. Does your child have friends at school and talk about his/her classmates? Does he/she like his/her teachers? If your child’s affect has changed (has become more withdrawn, sad, moody) and/or he/she is resistant to go to school, there is a good chance that something is going on in the classroom that is impacting the child. Second, if your child has social/emotional needs, are they being met and how are they being met? Are the issues being addressed and supported at an administrative level by providing support and guidance to the teacher? Are you, the parent, part of the ‘team’ making decisions as to how to address the concerns? Are the school professionals willing to consult outside agencies that may be working with your child? Third, is the child learning to his/her potential? Does your child seem to bored and under-stimulated? If so, is the school willing to make changes (such as modifying the curriculum or moving your child into advanced classes)? On the other hand, do you have to reteach your child the curriculum at home. If so, is the school willing to investigate why your child is struggling to learn in the classroom and are they willing to support your child’s learning concerns? Is the type of curriculum the school uses (such as the Montessori model, direct instruction, spiral instruction, etc.) effective in teaching your child? Last, are your child’s special interests being met (such as Art, Foreign Language, music, athletics, etc.)? Are there other areas that will allow your child to excel when learning is hard for him/her?

Dr. Leuenberger is the daughter of a public school administrator and school psychologist. She is also the mother of two children who are now college-aged. She has her Ph.D. in counseling psychology with a specialty in school and neuropsychology. Her area of expertise is providing diagnostic evaluations to gain a better understanding of an individual's cognitive processing, academic, emotional, behavioral and social strengths and weaknesses.

From Michael Williams, Educational Consultant with Capital Educational Solutions:

Families must recognize that schools go through changes each year; however, there should be a level of consistency. Eyes and ears wide open at all times! Here are a few things that should prompt parents to look for a new environment or question the school:

  • An ineffective teacher can set a student or group of students back considerably. They can create significant learning gaps making the next teacher’s job that much harder. An ineffective teacher can foster an atmosphere full of discipline issues and chaos establishing a pattern that is extremely difficult to break. Finally, and perhaps most devastatingly, they can shatter a student’s confidence and overall morale. The effects can be disastrous and nearly impossible to reverse.
  • Discipline issues cause distractions, and distractions add up and limit learning time. Every time a teacher has to handle a discipline issue, she/he loses valuable instructional time. In addition, each time a student is sent to the office on a discipline referral, that student loses valuable instruction time. Any discipline issue will result in the loss of instruction time, which limits a student’s learning potential. Teachers and administrators must be able to minimize these disruptions. Teachers can do this by providing a structured learning environment and engaging students in exciting, dynamic lessons that captivate them and keep them from being bored. Administrators must create well-written policies that hold students accountable. They should educate parents and students on these policies. Administrators must be firm, fair, and consistent when dealing with any student discipline issue.
  • A lack of funding typically leads to larger class sizes and less technology and curriculum materials. The more students a teacher has, the less attention he/she can pay to individual students. This can become significant when you have a class full of 30 to 40 students at varying academic levels. Teachers must be equipped with engaging tools covering the standards they are required to teach. Technology is a tremendous academic tool, but it is also pricey to purchase, maintain, and upgrade. In addition, curriculum continuously changes and needs to be updated.

When one or more of these listed above causes you frustration then you might want to start looking for another program or school. Trusting a school is very important. Always remember that you should be able to meet, talk, discuss and debate your child's education with the school administration and staff. Administrators should be actively seeking new ways to help children learn and encouraging the staff to make significant progress. When parents find that there is a lack of consistency, communication, education and discipline then one must possibly make a change.

Parents must keep in mind that schools are not perfect. The majority of schools want to do well. Giving them a chance to improve is important and should be done so with time constraints. Be watchful and don't let time slip away.

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:

What might prompt a family to consider a change in school environments? Ask yourself:

  • Is the school living up to the mission, values, and programs that they recruited you with? If you wanted your child to further explore engineering or be immersed in a language, is that happening?
  • Review your child’s learning needs and future goals. Is the current school still the best fit for these needs and goals?
  • On a basic level, is your child happy? Of course, kids are going to complain about homework or lament over a bad grade or stress about friendships, but are these complaints becoming the norm? If your child is coming home upset or frustrated on a regular basis, it’s time to assess whether the school environment is still the best fit.

In terms of reasons for students to say put in their current school environment, my first thought has to do with relationships. Relationships are key in all aspects of life and this includes your child’s school life. If your child has mostly positive relationships with the teachers and students at the school, keep that thought at the forefront of your mind. Think about your child’s education as a whole. If you don’t love their current teacher or there is a kid in their class that there’s issues with, will these concerns be lasting or just a blip on the radar of an otherwise successful and positive academic experience? It may be difficult in the moment, but try to take a step back and see the bigger picture of what that school can offer your child in the long run.

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. 

BTW, if you missed the first three parts of the series, you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.


About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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