While Central Georgia abounds with top-notch public and private schools, finding the one that will be the right fit for your child and family usually involves a little legwork.
Making the best school choice for your child depends upon an awareness of his educational needs and a clear idea of your family’s values about education. There is no such thing as the perfect school. So you’ll first need to determine your child’s needs and what your family wants from a school before you begin this search for the best school for your child.
Your Child’s Needs
Whether your child is just beginning school or transferring to another school, try to get an assessment of his present strengths and weaknesses by working with his preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, or regular teacher. It is smart to request an academic, developmental, and social assessment by his or her present teacher. This would be a good time to start a file containing your child’s education records. Such documentation can be invaluable when addressing your child’s placement at a new school.
You will want to consider your child’s personality, learning style, and any special needs—weaknesses or strengths. Does the child need structure, an alternative schooling approach, small or large group settings, or to pursue a special interest such as music or foreign language? If so, then some preference might be given to a school that offers or excels in those areas in its regular curriculum or through after-school programming or clubs.
Make a list of the needs and values of your family. There are also practical and important considerations such as transportation and tuition costs when considering a private education. When you know what your child needs and what’s important to your family, you’re ready to evaluate new schools.
How to Get a Great Education for Free
Contact your local Superintendent of Schools to ascertain the selection of schools within your local jurisdiction before considering private schools or transfers. Then, prepare a list of questions on such subjects as the CRCT scores for elementary and middle school levels or the SAT for high school. There are a number of magnet schools that offer specialized curricula in subjects from mathematics to performing arts, with the goal of bringing together talented students of different social, ethnic, economic, and racial backgrounds. Generally, each magnet school also serves its geographical area which brings children who are not especially gifted into the school as well. This serves to create a more diverse student body for all students. Many magnet schools offer a way to get an excellent education for your child without paying private school tuition.
If a magnet school is out of the question for your child, check to see if your local school is one that’s not making adequate yearly progress (AYP) under the “No Child Left Behind Act.” Explore your options. Parents of children in public schools designated as “in need of improvement” can choose another public school or supplemental educational services (free tutoring). If your child’s public school receives federal Title I funds, it must let you know how well the students in the school are learning.
The school district must contact parents assigned to the school if the school does not meet the academic standards set by the state for two consecutive years. You can also find out how well your neighborhood school is doing by looking at the school’s report card online at www.gppf.org. If your child’s school has been identified by the state as in need of improvement, the school district must give you the choice of keeping your child in that school or sending him or her to another public school.
If your child is eligible for free tutoring, and your income is low, the school district may pay for these extra services. Such services may include before- and after-school tutoring in reading, other language arts, or math.
You can also go to http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/ for a list of schools in need of improvement and approved supplemental educational services providers. If you have difficulty finding these lists, call the U.S. Department of Education at 1-888-814-6252 for help or go to the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site at www.ed.gov/about/contacts/state/index.html for a list of contacts in Central Georgia.
Children with learning differences can also find a school that meets their needs. You can address your child’s unique needs and abilities by asking about special programs offered by the district or within each school. Special-needs education, gifted programs, art, science, and music classes, are all special programs offered by many schools and within most school districts.
Alternative programs are usually parent-initiated and are the school district’s attempts to accommodate parents’ desire for attention to the special needs of their children. If your child happens to have a disability, not only does he or she have the choice of public schools, your child is now eligible to attend one of several private schools with hefty financial aid from the state.
Schools, like our society at large, generally have become less safe. The two areas of growing concern are violence within the schools among its students and the potential for crime from the surrounding neighborhood.
An interview with your local law enforcement agency should give you accurate statistics about crime in the neighborhoods in which your prospective school is situated. When you tour each candidate school, observe playground interactions and ask about school rules, how they’re enforced, and about the incidence of violence among the children.
Find out the safety policy of the school. What are procedures for adults taking students out of school? Are playgrounds fenced and locked? Look for smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and ask about practice drills to prepare children for an emergency. How are immunization requirements enforced and how are communicable illnesses and diseases addressed. What are the policies on corporal punishment? Is safety education part of the school curriculum?
No one can agree upon the ideal number of students per classroom. Generally, it’s believed that the smaller the class size, the better, especially in the primary grades. Some schools divide their grades or groups into large classes, but provide each teacher with one or more adults to aid in supervision, as nonprofessionals earning a lower wage and generally possessing less formal training. This increases the ratio of adults to children in the classroom and can minimize the disadvantages of large classes. Ask about adult to child ratios in the classrooms and on the playground. Also ask about certified teacher to child ratios.
Who will be teaching your child is one of the most important questions you will have. Question the school administrator you interview about the school’s staff, its teachers, and other professionals as well as support staff. Ask about the average tenure of the teachers to get an idea of teacher satisfaction. Arrange to interview the teachers at your child’s grade level if the school looks promising.
Curriculum and Extracurricular Activities
Ask questions about the school’s curriculum with your own child’s needs and abilities in mind. The administration should be able to provide you with a printed curriculum by grade level. What extracurricular activities does the school sponsor? Some schools have student councils and a variety of clubs for special interests like music, drama, and chess. What about sports?
Facilities, Materials, and Maintenance
When you tour your child’s prospective school, look at it is a health and safety inspector would. Ask to see the rest rooms because their maintenance will give you an indication of the cleanliness standards at the school. Look for a well-lighted, ventilated, adequately heated, and cooled facility. Where do the children eat, and are school lunches provided? If so, ask to see a current menu.
Are the playgrounds well equipped with safe and challenging structures or game areas? What kinds of learning equipment can the students access? Are computers available? Is the library/media center well equipped and organized? Look at textbooks for their condition and publish date. Older language textbooks are not as critical as obsolete science books. How are textbooks selected, and how often are they replaced?
Look for guidance counselors, an on-site nurse, a librarian, and a secretary, and check to see if they work at more than one school. If any of these key personnel do work at more than one school, be cautious! Is there an after-school program and child care if your child and family could benefit from these programs? The question can be critical for working parents.
How does the school communicate with parents? Is there a regular newsletter? Are parents’ calls welcome? Is there an active parent organization? Ask for a schedule of events and plan to attend. Get the school’s printed discipline policy? How are students graded? How often are textbooks and classroom materials reviewed and updated? There should be fixed schedules. Is there a school homework policy? Some schools prefer to leave homework decisions to individual teachers. If you are looking at a high school, check to see what percentage of the students go on to four-year college.
When you’ve done your research and applied some thoughtful introspection, talked it over with your child and other family members, and checked with members of your community, you’re ready to make an informed decision about which school is best for your child. You may not find the ideal school, but applying your ideals to the school you’ve chosen for your child is a way of supporting and maintaining excellence in education.
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