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Eight Things to do to Get a Clue


The prospective student open house is over. You know a lot about the school “on paper,” but you still don’t feel you know the school. What next? Experts recommend using these strategies to get a better sense of a school. And with every new piece of evidence, remember to ask the question, “Is my student a fit for this?” says Dr. Robert Rescigno, assistant professor in the College of Education at Wilmington University.

  1. Walk the halls, and take note of student work, says Robert Hampel, School of Education professor at the University of Delaware. Unique projects show there is motivation and engagement going on in the classroom. The caliber of work says a lot about what’s going on during the school day.
  2. Note how classroom technology is employed, says Hampel. “Every school brags about their technology, but is its use optional, supplemental or central?” If you want to get to the heart of student engagement, “notice if the smart boards, iPads, and other technology actually help teachers break free from the old ‘speak and recall’ lessons.”
  3. Observe school leaders at functions and events, says Alfred DiEmedio, assistant professor at Wilmington University. School leaders set the tone for the school, and they are better at doing that when they are visible, so notice if the principal leads from behind office walls or out where things are happening.  “The more visibility, the greater the credibility among students, teachers and parents,” DiEmedio says.
  4. Meet individually with school leaders, says Joan Buttram, assistant professor at the University of Delaware. “If one-on-one time is not an option, that’s a big red flag,” she says. Face time is a good indicator of how important parents and students are to the school.
  5. Have the prospective student shadow another for the day, says Buttram. “Schools should accommodate serious exploration. If you can’t observe a few classes, I’d have second thoughts,” she says.
  6. Gain insight from your young adult, says Dr. Kae Keister, associate professor at Wilmington University in Dover. “What do they see as their needs? Did the prospective student feel at home when they visited? What do they notice about the school?” she says.
  7. Sift outside information carefully, says DiEmedio. “Anecdotal information is important, but make sure it comes from people who have direct knowledge, not hearsay,” he says.
  8. Visit profiles.doe.k12.de.us for more demographic information about teachers, students and schools.