By Paula Sirois
This whole school thing is ridiculous, don’t you think? Most of us are happily going through life oblivious to the inner turmoil that parents face about education. Then we have kids. And after the bliss (or shock of it all) wears off, you start innocently looking at schools thinking to yourself, “Oh, little Janie and Johnny will go to a nice little school around the corner.” Think again. It’s war out there.
Public schools are always facing budget shortfalls and overcrowding. Private schools come with high tuition bills and their own set of issues. So what do you do when you go to school A and then start thinking you may want to move over to school B? Do this:
1. Research your butt off. Yes, that means being annoying and rude and downright over-the-top. Go to the school and ask every question you can find on the Internet (trust me, there are tons). Talk to the principal and school secretary or office manager (who really knows what’s what). Grab teachers and ask them questions and stop other parents picking up or dropping off their kids. Talk to the extracurricular teachers, too. This means the gym, art and music teachers. Try to listen as much as you speak. These people have inside knowledge, so remember the rule about having two ears and one mouth.
2. Talk to experts outside of the school, such as other principals and educators, who might be in the know and have extra advice to lend. I just got off the phone with a school director from a neighboring district and was given a host of information that I never would have found out on my own. These educators know the lingo. They know what’s real, what’s fake and what’s worth talking about.
3. Talk to the kids. If it’s possible to not come across as a wacky adult who talks to little kids, see if you can find out where the kids hang out after school. Go watch and listen. If you can strike up a conversation with any of them about school, do it. If you can bring your kids along to do the spy work, even better — and certainly less creepy.
4. Ask the potential new school if your kid can spend a day or more there meeting the other students. Arm your child with good questions to ask the other kids. Maybe even pack some bribing treats, such as chocolate kisses or cookies. Hey, it works!
5. Ask the school if you can talk to some of the potential classmates’ parents. If they print off a list with names, numbers and emails and tell you to have fun chatting, that’s a good sign. If they seem reticent, dig a bit deeper to find out why.
6. Talk to grads. If you can find some kids who graduated from that school, chat with them and ask what they liked, disliked and how they felt when they moved on to wherever they are now. If you can talk to their parents, even better.
Changing schools is not for the faint of heart. If you’re having real issues with bullying or a lackluster curriculum, it can be an easy decision. If it’s a just a matter of wanting to offer your child more choices and opportunities, this transition can be more difficult. Most kids are keyed into these major issues at school: friends, the lunch food option, recess and if they have lockers or not. Remember it’s your job to look at the bigger picture. Although lockers are a big selling point!