Questions to consider in choosing a school for your youngsters

What advice do educators have for Minnesota families starting to think about what schools their child/children will attend next year?  At one point, families had no public school choices. But over the last 25 years,  the Legislature has given families new public school options via open enrollment, area learning centers, charter pubic schools and Post Secondary Options.  So I asked educators, “What are 2-3 questions that you suggest families ask as they make decisions about next year?”. About 20 education leaders responded, offering intriguing, insightful and important questions.  Here’s some of their advice.

John Wollersheim, Rosemount High School principal recommended asking,

”Which school that I am considering is most likely to help my son/daughter reach their full potential given their interests, strengths and dreams?”

Then he recommends that “ parents and students should visit the schools they are considering. Meet staff and teachers they will be working with. The student could go through a day shadowing a current student.

Following the visits, determine which school appears to have the faculty/staff that is the best fit. Which school felt most like the place the student/parents would be most at home?

Look at the strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and profile of each school under consideration. Which profile is the best fit given the strengths, interests and dreams of my child?”

Dan DeBruyn, Administrator at Pact Charter in Ramsey wrote,

  1. Does the school have a team mentality where parents and teachers are valued and work collaboratively to educate the child in meeting their academic, social, emotional and developmental needs?
  2. Is the school on course toward continual improvement – not settling for “good enough”, but always seeking to create the best learning environment possible?
  3. Does the school have a welcoming and safe environment where students, parents and staff enjoy learning together?

Marne  Berkvam, Principal at Lakeville North High School, wrote that from a high school perspective, she’d suggest asking,

  1. Do you offer a balanced curriculum where core classes are valued as much as electives?
  2. Is your school in good financial shape?
  3. What opportunities exist for assisting my child with college readiness and career exploration?”

Roman Pierskalla, Rogers High School Principal recommended these questions:

  1. Does the school provide a safe and welcoming learning environment for my student?
  2. Does the school provide classes, both required and elective, that meet the needs and interests of my student?
  3. Does the school provide a variety of extracurricular activities, both academic and athletic, in which my student can participate?

Vanessta Spark, director of Spectrum Charter in Elk River suggested asking, “”What is the average number of students per class?”, “What are the extra curricular activities are offered?”, “How would you describe your school climate?”, and “What makes your school unique?”

Steve Massey, Principal at Forest Lake Senior High School suggested asking,

  1. How will my child be challenged in his/her learning?
  2. How will the school meet my child’s unique interests and learning needs?
  3. Tell me how your teachers connect with students and build meaningful relationships with their students?”

Bruce A. Novak, the Cambridge/Isanti Superintendent responded,

”In the Elementary and Middle Level the most often asked questions is: ‘What are your class sizes?” (Student to teacher ratio.)

The second question…is: “What kind of special curriculum do you offer outside the regular curriculum?” (Gifted and talented, fine arts like music and art, science clubs, etc.)

The high school (question) most often asked is: “What do you offer in electives and what are the advanced placement courses offered by your school?”

Mark Ziebarth, principal of the Isanti, Minnesota Elementary School recommended asking:

“How will the school communicate my child’s progress to me?

What is done to monitor and measure my child’s performance against the standards and benchmarks.

What is the school doing to make certain that the academic and social needs of each child are being addressed?

What is being done to help my child in the areas they are in need of extra help and in areas they are being successful.

What is the school doing to build relationships with children, families, and the community?”

Paul DeMorett, Principal of Caledonia’s Middle/High School wrote, “This is a tough question since so many variables are involved. Parents of special ed students would need to know about those programs, parents of high achievers would need to know about those programs, etc. If I had to pick a couple questions, I would choose something like the following:

“What are the class sizes in the elementary school, middle school, and core classes at the high school?

What types of extracurricular activities are available, including middle school level, and not just sports?

Does the school have any technology above and beyond what other schools have?”

Troy Anderson, principal of Milaca High School suggested,

  1. Does the school offer the programs that interest and challenge my son/daughter?
  2. Does the school have a plan for continued improvement in the area of student achievement

Eugene Piccolo, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools suggested asking

“What is the school’s mission and vision,academic goals, class sizes and the licensed teacher to student ratio, attendance rate of students, retention rate for both students and teachers?”  Other questions could be:

“What programs exist to support the school’s academic goals? What are the areas the school has identified for improvement? How is the school performing on the mandated state testing program? And other assessments the school uses?  What opportunities exist for parental involvement in the academic program and governance of the school?”

Joann Knuth, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Administrators, included a number of questions including:

“Does the school offer programs, courses that will nurture my child’s passions/interests?
Does the school set high expectations for all students to suceed and be prepared for post secondary success?  What is the evidence?
Does the geography work- can my child get there easily and feel a community connection to it?”

Finally, Charlie Kyte, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators recommended asking:

“Have the teachers and Principal treated students and parents with respect and in as positive way as possible? How can we expect to be treated?

What is the schools results in terms of academic success–will my student learn at the level expected for a school serving the specific age group?

What strategies does the school have if my student runs into trouble with learning?

Has the school designed a wrap around program so that my child is cared for in a way that fits my work schedule?”

No one would ask all of these.  Questions should reflect needs of both the overall family, and the individual student.  Asking at least some of the questions suggested above increases the likelihood that families will be satisfied and that children will succeed.