Being accepted by the college you most covet begins long before all the lists, visits, essays, and applications.
It starts with your school district, and the choices and opportunities that your student is afforded.
But how do you find the school district that works best for your family? And how do you make the most of your school experience?
As assorted restrictions and uncertainties cloud the future in the wake of Covid-19, families may start to consider moving beyond the big city and into more spacious, suburban homes in less densely-populated areas.
No matter where you may be moving from, or currently residing, a major decision for all families will be locating and making the most of whichever school district their children are enrolled.
It’s often difficult to know where to begin. Intuitively, many parents will solicit the opinions of a school’s families to learn about the district’s overall reputation.
While parent perspectives can be helpful, they also are highly subjective. A research study by Teachers College Record revealed that parents’ close involvement with a school district made them more likely to rate the school’s performance highly, regardless of what empirical data showed about its performance.
That’s why it’s better to start your process by studying data, and then incorporate the personal experiences of others, with a grain of salt.
Parents should aim to evaluate schools based on both quantitative and qualitative data.
U.S News & World Report’s detailed ranking of U.S. high schools (usnews.com) is a logical place to start. Parents can gain a clear picture of schools that perform well preparing students for college, graduation rates, and test scores.
That’s not to suggest parents simply choose the school with the highest overall ranking.
Selecting the right district for you is more nuanced, requiring families to dig deeper into the data to weigh what they and their student consider most important to them.
Advanced Placement performance and diversity rankings are examples of the type of granular categories to closely assess and compare.
Beyond the academic rankings in U.S News, also evaluate budget and programming data to discover which academic or extracurricular options are a priority at each school.
FOR ARTS’ SAKE
Schools with slightly lower overall rankings may nevertheless offer robust programs in the arts, athletics, sciences, or other areas that may be in line with your student’s interests and strengths.
Conversely, better–ranked schools may not be as strong in theater, film, or supporting students who qualify for Section 504 (disabilities) or an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Families already settled in a school district should focus on maximizing student learning in their existing education environment. With online learning likely to continue, in some form, for awhile, students of all ages should initiate and maintain communication with teachers. More than ever, it is vital that your student check in regularly with their own progress and comprehension of the material.
Through this practice, students will be able to take it upon themselves to communicate any confusion, questions, and issues with teachers before significant learning gaps become hard to correct.
Choosing the best school district for your family is a complex decision that should be based on your student’s unique needs.
F. Tony Di Giacomo, Ph.D. is an educator and founder of Novella Prep. He has 20 years of university experience in admissions, development, teaching, and research. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.