Selecting the Best School for Your Child

By Charles Lavaroni, MA and Donald E. Leisey, Ed.D     

It is amazing how often we are asked, "How do I select a school for my children?"
Based on the frequency of this kind of question, we have decided to write a set of questions that parents might use to help them make a rational decision. We recognize that without some careful study, this important selection can often be left to hearsay, rumor and/or just plain gossip. By reviewing, thinking through and using these questions, parents not only are helped in finding the appropriate school for their child, they are assisted in identifying what they think is the important function of education. That foundation is often not the result of self-study. Instead, it is merely a reflection of tradition, memory and impression.
We are sure that no one school: public, charter, independent, or religious is "right" for every child. We hope these questions will help take the guesswork out of determining the appropriate learning environment for YOUR CHILD.

Is the school accredited?
Who is the accrediting agency? Does accreditation include a thorough self-study? Is a copy of the latest accreditation report available to parents? How is the school recognized as providing the programs and services it promises? How often and how recent is the accreditation process conducted? Who is involved in that process? How are the various findings of the accreditation process made available to the school community? What evidence is there that the school responds to the recommendations of the accrediting process?

What is the basic philosophy of the school?
Does the school have a written, clear mission statement that describes its fundamental goals and basic philosophy? Do the goals enumerate the academic expectations of students? Are staff, students and parents aware of what it is that the school seeks to accomplish, what students are expected to learn and what the role of adults is in the learning process? Is progress toward these goals monitored and/or evaluated?

Does the school have strong educational leadership?
What is the educational background, and experience of the educational leader of the school? Has the leadership established a positive, safe and secure environment for learning? Is the leadership effectively utilizing available resources? Does the leader have knowledge of curriculum organization, is accessible to students, staff and parents, monitors classrooms and the teaching process, knows whether the curriculum goals of the school are being achieved, keeps the staff current in their knowledge of educational research and technology?

What is the quality of the instructional staff?
What is the educational level, background and experience of the teaching staff? Do the teachers have an understanding of child growth and development and knowledge of the psychology of learning? Do they make learning fun and exciting for students? What is the turnover rate of the teaching staff?

Is there an emphasis on academic achievement?
Is the focus of the school on student learning and achievement? What importance do the basic skills, i.e. reading, written and oral language and mathematics, have in the curriculum? Are there educational standards for each grade?
Are there ample opportunities for students to explore the creative arts, i.e. music, drama, art, dance, physical education, etc.? Is the school viewed as a place where learning takes place? How are individual differences of students handled, i.e. ethnic background, gifted students, or those needing additional assistance?
Is student work displayed in the classroom and throughout the school? What is the homework policy and is homework an extension of the educational program?

Does the school have a positive climate for learning?
Do the students experience positive feelings about their school and learning? Do students show pride in their school? Is there a caring interaction between students and teachers? Does the staff appear to have a positive attitude about their mission?

What additional services does the school provide?
Are there programs for special needs students? Are there before and after school arrangements for working parents? Does the school offer extra-curricular activities such as sports, scouting, ballet, gymnastics, piano and instrumental music lessons, drama, clubs, chorus, band, etc.?

Is the Environment of the school safe and orderly?
Is discipline handled in accordance with the way you feel it should be handled? Is there a clear statement of behavioral expectations? Are there discipline standards and rules established and communicated to students, staff and parents? Are the consequences for poor behavior fair and consistent? Is good behavior encouraged and rewarded? Is it clear that all adults in the school are responsible for the behavior of all students?

Does the physical plant facilitate learning?
Is the environment safe and pleasing? Is the school clean, neat and orderly? Is there adequate heat and/or air conditioning? Are there special facilities for assembly areas, library, gymnasium, etc.?

Is the use of technology evident?
Do students have access to computers and the Internet that help them learn to research, compose and integrate their learning? Is there professional staff available who are well trained in technology? Are students encouraged to express their ideas in a variety of ways, including print, film, and computer enhanced projects?

Are there opportunities for parents to be involved in the school?
What evidence is there that there is strong support from parents? Are parents well informed about the school program, disciplinary procedures, homework expectations and their role in the educational program for their child(ren)? Are parents encouraged to volunteer in the classrooms? Do parents have the opportunity to provide input to the teacher regarding the education of their child(ren)? What communication tools does the school use in keeping parents informed of school activities, curriculum, etc.?

We offer this list to any individual, group or organization involved in either deciding for themselves or assisting others in the school selection process. We give you the right to copy this document in any quantity to share. We do ask that you credit us at IAEE. Also, we would like to offer our assistance in making sure that the rational process our questions suggest are clear to people you represent or with whom you work.

Donald E. Leisey, Ed.D.
Charles W. Lavaroni, MA
International Academy for
Educational Entrepreneurship
23 Peacock Drive
San Rafael, CA 94901
Phone: 415-459-6019
E-mail: edentrepreneurs@aol.com