When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I immediately started thinking about her education. My husband and I started talking about moving to a different zip code so that we could be in the “best” school district. For us, choosing the right school for our child was vital because we wanted to make sure that she had access to the curriculum and was exposed to the best educators. Boy, were we in for a treat!
Years later, a move to a different zip code in the best district, and money spent on the “best schools” didn’t result in a smarter child. It just resulted in empty pockets and unfulfilled expectations.
Ok, I will admit, wisdom taught me that there are no great schools, but there are great teachers in every school. In 2013, years after my first daughter was born, I received a promotion and became an Assistive Technology Specialist for special education. This role allowed me to visit every school in my former district. My eyes were opened, and I finally saw the light. What I learned from those visits blew my mind. I visited the “best schools” in the district and was not impressed, and I went to what people considered the “worst schools,” and the teaching captured my attention. Unfortunately, we get so caught up in published scores, CCPRI, location, privilege, status, etc. that we miss the fact that there are so many factors that play a part in what makes a school great.
I’ve had to scratch my head a couple of times because I always left top schools unimpressed. I visited what was considered a high-achieving school, and the teacher didn’t know how to alphabetize words (omg!), and I’ve been to schools in low SES neighborhoods, and the children were engaged in instruction lead by a fantastic educator who took teaching to another level.
There are no good schools, just great teachers who are doing amazing work.
I will be the first to admit that I was crazy to think that moving to a particular zip code would offer my child opportunities and access that another zip code couldn’t provide. Again, there are so many factors that go into what makes up a great school. But I’m here to remind you that great schools always start with amazing teachers. And, the bottom line is, if you want your child to be successful, you have to do the work at home first!
Here are some tips in looking for the right for your child:
- Do your research. Looking at scores and data is excellent, but take the time to visit the school.
- Is there a village? Community plays an important part and can change the trajectory of a school. When community and parental involvement are high, the culture of the school shifts.
- Is the school a good fit for your child? What programs do they offer? Academics are important, but does the school cater to the needs of your child? Are they intentional about meeting your child where they are?
- Check out the school’s scores. Scores will always be high in wealthy neighborhoods. Go figure! Look for steady growth. That’s the key. Is the school making gains every year? That speaks to instructional, parental, and community involvement, training, and educational support.
- Ask questions? Do you feel welcome as a parent? Are the teachers trained and supported? How are students that are struggling assisted in the classroom? What plan of action does the school take for helping students that are struggling in the school? Does the school have an open door policy?
- Lastly, let wisdom be your guide. Trust your gut! You know exactly where your child needs to be and sometimes, (ok all of the time) paying $20,000.00 for education or changing zip codes is not worth it. Trust me!