Evaluating a New School

'Kids Packing' Photo by Drew Vigal

If you are moving in the New Year, you’ll want to find the perfect school for your children before you settle on a neighborhood to relocate to. There are a number of ways that you can go about investigating the schools in the area you are moving to.

Start by visiting GreatSchools which gives the location and general description of each school as well as a rating based on a  scale of one to ten. GreatSchools will give you information on the principal and teachers of the schools in your new area. The site offers directions to the school as well as a listing of homes for sale in the neighbourhood.

For a different view consult the school’s annual report card. These can be found on the state’s education department website and will give you a more accurate view of the school’s performance. The New York State Department of Education has a listing that goes back to 1999 and has many other reports that can provide information on the local public schools. Another source of information in the Western NY area is the annual report by Business First.

Once you have chosen a couple of schools to choose from, ask each one for a school handbook. This will give you all the information you need about each school. Some schools allow you to sit in classrooms or take a walk around the grounds to get a better feel for the atmosphere and the facilities on offer. Not all schools will allow this, so check with the school secretary before you arrive.

Things to consider when selecting a school for your K-12 student include:

· School culture; do the principals of the school culture fit in with those you teach at home? Ensure that the school has an established system to deal with social and emotional issues such as peer pressure or bullying.
· Social aspects; will your child fit in socially with the other students that attend the school? Does the school have a warm, inviting atmosphere?
· Are there too many students in each class? Lower student numbers mean that your child will receive more personal attention from teachers. Optimum numbers are 17 per class or less.
· Is the curriculum balanced? This should mean that students get the opportunity for academic, sporting and creative pursuits.
· What facilities does the school offer? Sports, lab, computer, library and other facilities are essential for the development of a well-rounded individual.
· Consider the commute; if you have already selected a home, make sure that your travel time is minimized to reduce stress and save time.
· Ask questions; make a list of all the questions you and your children would like to ask prior to visiting the school. This will help you to gather all the information you need to make the best choice for your children.

Where appropriate involve your children in the decision making process so that they feel empowered and excited about their new school. Moving schools can be a difficult and intimidating process for younger students, so take your children along on the school tour so that they feel confident and are familiar with the school before they start their first day.Remember this is going to be a big, and perhaps traumatic change for your children. Helping them feel in control and a part of the process does help reduce the stress.

For another perspective there are many books and articles on dealing with moving to a new school district. One article we like on the web by Susan Dunn is titled ‘How to Handle a Mid-School Year Move‘.  She references a study that suggests it takes up to 16 months for both the child and the parents to adjust to a move. That seems about right from my experience moving when I was 10. What a trauma!


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