Families should start researching their options up to a year in advance so they have time to visit schools at their leisure. Depending on the school and/or district, there might be some type of application process, and deadlines for applications vary.
Unless they are committed to a specific type of school, families often find it valuable to research all their options for public, religious and private schools. Friends, neighbors and coworkers often can make recommendations on specific schools to consider, but it is important to remember that children have different learning needs and a school that is a good fit for one family might not be suitable for another.
“Parents need to think about what they really care about and what is most important to them,” says E. McCrae Harrison, program director of the Montessori Academy at Christina in Wilmington, a new public school program for pre-K to grade 5.
A school’s Web site is a good place to begin research. The site should include information like the school’s mission statement and philosophy, the enrollment size and student-teacher ratio, and the course and extracurricular offerings. “When you read about the school’s philosophy, you get a sense of who they are and whether that matches your own values and what you want for your child,” Yatzus says.
Of course, Web site content and quality varies widely, and in any case, perusal of the site should only be the first step. Parents will also want to attend schools’ open houses to tour the facilities and meet faculty and administrators. They should also visit schools when classes are in session to observe the classroom climate.
“A lot of schools talk a good game. Parents need to make sure that the school can truly provide what they say they are offering,” says Noel Rodriguez, principal of the Academy of Dover, a K-4 charter school.
“When you visit the school, you want to make sure that what you saw online is what exists in reality,” Yatzus adds. “Is the mission statement you read really what you find at the school?”