By Andrew R. Campanella
Think about the school your children currently attend. Are you happy with it? Are your kids learning and growing in ways that make you proud? If so, sign them up again for next year, and tell your friends about how great your school is.
But if you want to learn more about different options available for your children’s education, now is the time to start thinking about switching schools. Deadlines for applications and scholarships are approaching, and you do not want to miss out. During National School Choice Week (Jan. 20-26), you can discover the tools and resources you need to evaluate these choices.
Here in California, there are plenty of educational options, including open enrollment, charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online learning, and homeschooling.
But you still have this week’s homework to supervise, bills to pay, work to do, and a million other things occupying your mind. Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate the school choice process.
First, consider what you do like about your school, and what you don’t like. This will help you understand what’s most important to you. Consider academics, college readiness, languages, arts, diversity, extracurriculars, location, special programs, friends and classmates, your values, and anything else that seems important. In a word, think about what matters to you.
Second, consider your children and their specific needs, talents, and goals. If your child has special needs or is an English-language learner, for example, you will want to find a school that can address those needs.
Third, research schools in your area and see which ones look like they could be a good fit for your children. Don’t let tuition or transportation worry you at this point — there may be more options than you realize, and you are not committing to anything at this point. And if you have more than one child, you can even enroll different children in different schools if that will work best for them.
Once you have a list of schools, arrange visits. Talk to teachers and school leaders. Talk to parents. Look at bulletin boards and observe how people interact at the school. What is the school proud of? How involved are the parents? How does the school keep the students safe? How informed are parents of their children’s academic growth? What books are they reading? How do students treat each other? How do they treat teachers? Ask questions and make your own observations. What do you think? Could your daughter or son be happy here?
When you find a school that seems like a good fit, it is time to begin exploring options. Most schools understand that tuition and transportation can be difficult for some families, and you can, talk to the school leaders about options. See what options are available, and consider whether you could make it work. California does not have a state-run scholarship program, but privately run programs may be available.
If you are struggling to find the right setting, think outside the box. A nearby charter school has exactly the program your son or daughter needs. Your great local public school, complemented by activities at your place of worship, may provide the faith-based education you’re looking for. There may be a thriving homeschool co-op in your area that provides the instructional support you’re missing. A nearby magnet school could be perfect for your oldest, but a virtual school is a better fit for your second. Other parents have made it work, and you can, too.
But most importantly, remember that you are the parent, and nobody knows or loves your kids like you do. You know, better than anyone else, what your children need. And with time and information, you can and will find the perfect setting.
—A nationally recognized advocate for children and families, Andrew R. Campanella serves as president of National School Choice Week, the world’s largest-annual celebration of opportunity in education. He lives in Northwest Florida.