Today the little red school house is not what it use to be, and along with changes in how our schools are funded, how they are governed, how teachers teach and how children learn, it's no surprise that many large urban school districts and smaller rural ones are undergoing major modifications. Parents are bombarded with advice from every media venue telling them to look at private education, consider a religious environment, and reminding them that "choice" or charter schools are the way to go. The only real way to know what educational institution is best for your child is to become a School Scene Investigator (SSI), because today education is serious business.
No amount of research can replace the most reliable evaluation known to parent kind. Parents are going to have to take time and participate in a good old fashion school visit, and look at the school visit the same way you would the purchase a car. Do investigative work to see who will give you the most for your investment, and remember your most precious possession will benefit from your in-depth analysis.
A school visit is an invaluable way to learn about whether a particular school is the right place for your child. Below is a step-by-step guide to planning a very effective school visit.
1.Do your homework before visiting the school. Obtain all the vital statistics:
- Name of School
- Name of Principal and other Administrators, Assistant
Principal, School Secretary, School Counselor/Social Worker
- Does the school have a website? Visit it and if you can, locate the last time it was updated
- Perform a drive-by; visit the school several times without going into the building. Visit during the morning and observe how the children line up and enter the building. Is there adult supervision outside or volunteers keeping things orderly? Visit at lunch time, at recess and at the end of the school day. Make a note of anything that raises an eyebrow.
- Drive through the neighborhood. Even if you live in a beautiful suburban area, drive the neighborhood. You want to know where there are tall fences, dogs, wooded areas etc., particularly if your child will be walking to and from school.
2. Schedule your school visit. Call the school and ask to speak with the secretary, this will give you a feeling of how welcoming and accommodating school staff is toward a potential customer. Remember with your child comes the several thousand dollars that pays for his or her schooling.
3. Ask lots of questions and pay attention to everything.
This is one time when it is alright to bring a note pad with questions and don't be shy or intimidated. Is the Principal so busy he or she does not have time to answer questions and give you a tour? Does the Principal delegate the responsibility to someone else? Are you allowed to visit classrooms? Will the Principal allow you to purchase a lunch from the cafeteria? What was the most recent Health Department Food Inspection Score for the Cafeteria? Does the Principal introduce you to any teachers or other administrators at the school? Does the Principal invite you to come and visit again? What materials are provided at the end of your tour?
4. Does the school have a particular educational philosophy?
Ask the Principal about the following items:
- Student Code of Conduct - What currently governs student behavior?
- How often to students receive report cards and/or progress reports?
- What kind of resources are available to students i.e. computers, library, sports activities, academic games or competitions.
- Ask to see a copy of the School Improvement Plan (a document that shows how the school is working to meet state requirements)
The Principal should be able to tell you if the school is receiving additional funding from special grants or if it is receiving Title 1 funding for improving the academic achievement of the disadvantaged. If your school is a Title 1 school you will want to know the following:
- Amount of funds allocated for Title 1 service
Number of Teachers and other staff funded by Title 1 funds
- View the school Parent Involvement Policy required for all schools receiving Title 1 Funding and asks if parents took part in drafting the document (by law they are required to do so)
- Ask the Principal about how the minimum 1% of Parent Involvement Funds is being spent and what programs are available promoting parent education. Request a copy of the school compact
- Ask the Principal about parent education workshops and Title 1 conferences parent may attend using Title 1 funding and ask who is President or Chair of the Title 1 Parent Organization at the school
- If you would like to learn more about Title 1 No Child Left requirements visit: http://www.ncela.gwu.edu
5. Parents who have children with academic, social or emotional difficulties should ask the Principal about the types of services provided to address those issues.
Does the school have a Psychologist/Social Work team on staff or available on a rotating basis? Who at the school is responsible for giving a child medication?
It is the responsibility of the parent to ask the tough questions now so you won't have to deal with problematic issues later. Every parent wants their child's educational experience to be a positive one and it is your job as the parent to make sure that occurs. We all lead busy stressful lives but when it comes to the education of our children we must make an effort to leave no stone unturned in seeking the best educational opportunity possible for their academic achievement.