Selecting a school for your child is never an easy task. With so many choices available – public schools, private schools, charter schools, and home school options, the process can seem quite daunting. The best way to begin is by reflecting on your family culture and prioritizing what is most important to your child and your family. Some things to consider may include the school’s mission and philosophy, academics, class sizes, campus facilities, time spent outdoors, arts, sports, and other extracurricular activities, as well as tuition, transportation, and aftercare.
Cat in the Hat – Kindergarten students at Tate’s School study Dr. Seuss
Once you have determined what is most essential for your child, use the following tips to help narrow down your selection. Finding the best school for your family is possible, and can even be fun with the right tools in hand.
Tip #1 – Take a Virtual Tour: Browse the school’s website. Gather information on the school’s philosophy, curriculum, and instructors. Does the school have a particular focus? Will that focus match your child’s interests and personality? Look for additional online resources such as blogs, videos, and social media sites. A virtual tour will give you a good feel for the campus and may answer many of your questions.
Tip # 2 – Take a Real Tour: If tours are offered, sign up. The best way to get a feel for a school is to see it when the students are there “in action.” Ask to observe teachers in classes you are interested in. Watch closely the interactions between teachers and students. Are kids working independently and in groups? Are students engaged and on task? Are the activities challenging and fun? Look around the rooms. Do classrooms feel warm and inviting, or are they cold and institutional? What’s on the walls? Look for anchor charts and graphic organizers that the students are using to support their learning and current student work. Are there opportunities for students to learn utilizing nature and the outdoors? Think about your child’s interests and talents outside the classroom. Are there opportunities for those interests to be fostered in special classes such as visual arts, physical education, technology, choral and instrumental music, and world languages? Think about your child’s social and emotional qualities. Do teachers spend time on activities designed to develop increased self-confidence, leadership skills, and peer relationships? Spend time talking to administrators, teachers, and students. Get your questions answered.
Bicycle Week at Tate’s School
Tip # 3 – Ask the Right Questions: Make a list of important questions before visiting and jot down answers as you tour. Some questions to consider are:
1) Will this school meet our practical needs? Is there early care and aftercare? How are meals provided? What are the transportation options?
2) What is the learning environment like? What is the student – teacher ratio? What is the classroom management style? Is there character education? Are learning styles addressed? How are struggling/gifted students supported? What are the school’s expectations for the students?
3) What is the physical environment like? How much open space is available inside/outside? How are classrooms arranged? Is there space for small groups? Are classrooms safe? Is there an outdoor learning area?
4) What are the qualifications of the staff? Are teachers certified? How are teachers supported? How are teachers held to a high standard?
Remember, no school is perfect, but what matters is that your child will be provided with everything they need to become not only the best student they can be, but the best person they can be while attending the school you choose. In the end, go with your “gut,” with the school that feels right to you!
Kaye Gardner Simmons is the Principal of Tate’s School and is an educator entering her 17th year. Kaye has served as a teacher, instructional coach, academic coordinator, administrator and principal. Kaye received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Texas Women’s University. She holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration from the University of North Texas. In addition to her PK-6 experience, Kaye was recognized as a fellow in the Aspiring Principals Program through the Dallas Leadership Academy. She is a National Staff Development Council Instructional Coach, an adjunct member of the faculty of University of Texas as well as a Certified Cognitive Coach. Kaye has three grown children and is a native of Knoxville.