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Discussion Starter #1
So I know that test scores are not always a great assessment tool, so tell me what sort of things you would look for in evaluating whether or not to send your child/ren to a particular school!<br><br>
If there are any public school teachers reading this I'd love to get an insiders perspective AND ideas from the parent perspective. More backstory to come after I get dc in bed for the night...
 

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I would look at services for special ed and gifted children. Schools do better with ALL students when children with needs outside the norm are well-met.<br><br>
-Angela
 

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I look at the walls! The walls tell a lot . . .by looking at the walls of the school, you can tell what is valued. Are art projects the cookie-cutter, factory type "craft" projects, or do they demonstrate an appreciation, reverence, and respect for children's inherent creativity? Are bulletin boards displayed with children's work at all, or are they pre-packaged, spewing platitudes and encouraging conformity? Are the walls by one classroom FULL of the same piece? Count how many students . . . it will tell you whether or not the school is overcrowded! How are science projects conducted? Do you see elements of critical thinking? Peek inside the rooms . . .where is the teacher's desk? Is it at the front, where he or she takes center stage, or at the back, because he/she is too busy interacting with students to sit down. How about the tables or desks? Are they grouped together, encouraging cooperative learning, or is independent/solitary work allowed? Look around . . .do you see parents? What are they doing? Are they participating in more superficial activities like book sales, or are they actually volunteering in the classroom, perhaps reading with children?<br><br>
You get the idea!
 

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I talk to the staff. Are the open? Do they seem to care about the students? Do they listen when I talk about what is unique about each of my kids, or do they act like all students are the same?
 

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Talk to the parents. Ask them what's their favorite thing about the school, and their least favorite.
 

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<div>Originally Posted by <strong>Mizelenius</strong> <a href="/community/forum/post/15393292"><img alt="View Post" class="inlineimg" src="/community/img/forum/go_quote.gif" style="border:0px solid;"></a></div>
<div style="font-style:italic;">I look at the walls! The walls tell a lot . . .by looking at the walls of the school, you can tell what is valued. Are art projects the cookie-cutter, factory type "craft" projects, or do they demonstrate an appreciation, reverence, and respect for children's inherent creativity? Are bulletin boards displayed with children's work at all, or are they pre-packaged, spewing platitudes and encouraging conformity? Are the walls by one classroom FULL of the same piece? Count how many students . . . it will tell you whether or not the school is overcrowded! How are science projects conducted? Do you see elements of critical thinking? Peek inside the rooms . . .where is the teacher's desk? Is it at the front, where he or she takes center stage, or at the back, because he/she is too busy interacting with students to sit down. How about the tables or desks? Are they grouped together, encouraging cooperative learning, or is independent/solitary work allowed? Look around . . .do you see parents? What are they doing? Are they participating in more superficial activities like book sales, or are they actually volunteering in the classroom, perhaps reading with children?<br><br>
You get the idea!</div>
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GREAT answers!!! <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/thumb.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="thumbs up"><br><br>
Do they have a PTA? I love my children's Montessori charter school, but there really isn't an actual PTA. At least not what I thought a PTA was. It's more of a monthly meeting to discuss fundraising. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/irked.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="irked"> I'm not really big into the fundraising world at school, but it is essential. You might ask how much the PTA raises every year and what they do with that money (sponsor field trips, new playground equipment, etc.)<br><br>
Talk to other parents. Try to find a local board (city-data.com, craigslist) and ask if anybody has experience with the school. Have you seen greatschools.net? The only thing I really go there for is to read parent/student reviews (I honestly don't care about test scores).<br><br>
Personally, I felt it was important for there to be a large mix of ethnic backgrounds, too.
 

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Every day when I drop DD1 off at pre-K, I feel better and better about her being in the school. The work on the walls is not only really impressive, but it's really varied and interesting, and I can imagine DD enjoying doing that sort of work. In addition, the kids who I see in the hall look generally happy, well-behaved, energetic but not hyperactive (within the norm for elementary!), and above all very polite! They make eye contact and say hello to me in the hallway! (As a teacher of surly teenagers, I find this particularly impressive.)<br><br>
I agree with everything the other posters said. Curricula is also usually public, so you should be able to look at it. Some districts post it online--ours is available in the town's library.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
These are great ideas, thanks! We put ds1 in private school for kindy this year, but due to some changes at the school and budget issues, we are reconsidering the local private school for 1st grade in the fall. We went to round-up at the school last spring after hearing good things about the school from our neighbors, but were completely turned off by our meeting with a burned-out, rude kindergarten teacher. That in combination with living at the edges of the school district so we don't really feel like a part of the community in which the school is located drove us to private school instead, but I think we need to go back and take a hard look at the public school again.<br><br>
Keep the ideas coming if anyone has more!
 

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Here are things I'd look for or ask as a teacher AND parent (though some of these things are really hard to "rate"):<br><br>
Are most of the classroom doors open (not all, because there are times when even the most visitor-friendly teacher needs to close the doo)? Do most of the kids seem... happy? As you walk by classrooms, is there a productive buzz (not anarchic chaos, not total silence)? Do the kids seem to be doing most of the talking in the classrooms? Do classroom rules/norms/expectations/whateveryoucallthem seem to be created with student input? This is a hard one to gauge with just one visit, especially at this time of year, but do teachers seem to have enough time and assistance to do their job without stressing them to the point of breaking? Do staff members offer correction (behavior, etc) while still respecting the student as a human being? How are conflicts between students handled? What is the official policy on acceleration, both whole-grade and subject-specific? What is the official policy on retention? How are students who are far above and far below grade level integrated into classroom culture while still respecting and meeting their specific academic needs? Are non-instructional (maintenance, janitorial, office, cafeteria) staff pleasant and professional towards students? Are aides pleasant, professional, and well-trained?<br><br>
No school is perfect, just like no home is perfect. But great is not beyond the realm of expectation. And... "great" can look vastly different at two schools, or in two classrooms. It's something you have to look at holistically: OVERALL, is this a place where you'd like to spend time, and where you think your child can learn and flourish?
 

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When you go in the classroom, watch the kids, not the teacher. Look for engaged, happy, kids. Look for kids who are engrossed in a book, or eagerly writing a story, or having an animated conversation with their seatmate about the mealworm they're observing?<br><br>
Find a child who reminds you of yours (a little quiet, a lot rambunctious, bursting at the seams with his hand up waiting to be called on -- however you see your child) are they smiling? Are they treated with respect? Is their voice heard?<br><br>
See if you can figure out the "teaching point" or "objective" of the lesson, and whether or not the kids know it cold at the end.<br><br>
As parents it's easy to go in the classroom and try and look for good teaching, but good teaching is teaching that engages kids, and gets the point across to them. The best way to find out if the kids are engaged is by looking for engaged kids.
 

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<div style="margin:20px;margin-top:5px;">
<div class="smallfont" style="margin-bottom:2px;">Quote:</div>
<table border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="99%"><tr><td class="alt2" style="border:1px inset;">
<div>Originally Posted by <strong>Mizelenius</strong> <a href="/community/forum/post/15393292"><img alt="View Post" class="inlineimg" src="/community/img/forum/go_quote.gif" style="border:0px solid;"></a></div>
<div style="font-style:italic;">I look at the walls! The walls tell a lot . . .by looking at the walls of the school, you can tell what is valued. Are art projects the cookie-cutter, factory type "craft" projects, or do they demonstrate an appreciation, reverence, and respect for children's inherent creativity? Are bulletin boards displayed with children's work at all, or are they pre-packaged, spewing platitudes and encouraging conformity? Are the walls by one classroom FULL of the same piece? Count how many students . . . it will tell you whether or not the school is overcrowded! How are science projects conducted? Do you see elements of critical thinking? Peek inside the rooms . . .where is the teacher's desk? Is it at the front, where he or she takes center stage, or at the back, because he/she is too busy interacting with students to sit down. How about the tables or desks? Are they grouped together, encouraging cooperative learning, or is independent/solitary work allowed? Look around . . .do you see parents? What are they doing? Are they participating in more superficial activities like book sales, or are they actually volunteering in the classroom, perhaps reading with children?<br><br>
You get the idea!</div>
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This is really brilliant. I was going to give some you-know-it-when-you-see-it answer, but THIS is HOW you see it. Thanks!
 

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I think how you evaluate is going to depend on what type of person you are. If you are very visual, you are going to pick up on cues by visiting the classroom and seeing the environment. If you are very verbal, you may want to have a long meeting with the teacher to listen to what she says. If you are very social, you are going to ask other parents their view. ...<br><br><div style="margin:20px;margin-top:5px;">
<div class="smallfont" style="margin-bottom:2px;">Quote:</div>
<table border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="99%"><tr><td class="alt2" style="border:1px inset;">
<div>Originally Posted by <strong>Mizelenius</strong> <a href="/community/forum/post/15393292"><img alt="View Post" class="inlineimg" src="/community/img/forum/go_quote.gif" style="border:0px solid;"></a></div>
<div style="font-style:italic;">I look at the walls! The walls tell a lot . . .by looking at the walls of the school, you can tell what is valued. Are art projects the cookie-cutter, factory type "craft" projects, or do they demonstrate an appreciation, reverence, and respect for children's inherent creativity? Are bulletin boards displayed with children's work at all, or are they pre-packaged, spewing platitudes and encouraging conformity?</div>
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I did this in looking at daycare and for schools. I actually did not choose one day care because of the posts I saw "clean up after yourselves...." written in a rude way, and the kids in the playground were not smiling much.... whereas the other places had happy, curious kids who would ask "who's mom are you?" and wonderful, happy pictures up, and if they had a complaint, then the post was written in a light hearted way... I found out later from other parents that they were also dissatisfied with the place I had a bad visual vibe about.<br><br><div style="margin:20px;margin-top:5px;">
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<table border="0" cellpadding="6" cellspacing="0" width="99%"><tr><td class="alt2" style="border:1px inset;">
<div>Originally Posted by <strong>VBMama</strong> <a href="/community/forum/post/15395055"><img alt="View Post" class="inlineimg" src="/community/img/forum/go_quote.gif" style="border:0px solid;"></a></div>
<div style="font-style:italic;">That in combination with living at the edges of the school district so we don't really feel like a part of the community in which the school is located drove us to private school instead, but I think we need to go back and take a hard look at the public school again.</div>
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This was a huge factor for us. We chose an average (not the best, not the worst) public school, over the private school for this reason. The private school we would have to drive DS to, and everyone else there would also have to be driven, which means playing with friends after school / on weekends would have to be totally arranged, which changes the whole dynamic. DS's public school is within walking distance, and most of the other kids in the neighborhood go to the same school. So he will be able to socialize in a much more profound way, for example just go home with a friend after school and be home for dinner.<br><br>
Number of kids per class? A teacher will have a harder time with 28 kids than with 15 kids.<br><br>
Ethnic diversity would be something I would look for if I could. I live in white toast country, so I don't have this option, but I really miss diversity like when I lived in NYC. It opens you up to soooo many different views, ways of seeing the world. My kids don't have this, and it is not entirely healthy imo.
 

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I agree with people who said looking at those "outside the norm" and how their needs are being met is a good thing, because schools who work to accomodate the far ends of the spectrum will likely work to accomodate *all* children's individual differences.<br><br>
Diversity. This is one thing I wonder just a little about at DS's tiny school....but then, for the size it actually is, (it's really small) it seems to have about what *any* school would have if you looked at any random 100 kids....there's a couple schools in town that would be more diverse, but overall, it's OK.<br><br>
**FOR ME** an emphasis on fun and the time of the year when it comes to parties, *not* specific holidays. And an openness to discussing *all* cultures. This is the difference between having something called a "Winter Party" with treats and games in the month of December before the break, and having a "Christmas Party" with a gift exchange, "write a letter to Santa", Christmas trees in all the classrooms, and a school sing-along during the day with church Christmas hymns. (yes, I even saw that in a public school and I would not have known it except that I was an employee.)<br>
I'm not even opposed to a little bit of "christmas" being discussed, as I recognize that I live in a culture where that's the majority and especially little kids are going to discuss it as a part of their lives. What I *am* opposed to is the teachers making it a focal point and *not* discussing other tradtions. (which is *not* something I've personally seen, as far as refusing to discuss other cultures.)<br><br>
And yes, all the stuff about diverse projects and children's work displayed. And parental involvement, and smaller class sizes--I personally would *not* enroll my child in 3-4 schools in my district based on class size alone.
 

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I find this thread so interesting!<br><br>
I value great classroom management, so my quiet kid gets heard, and my more active kid focuses. I don't mean silent classrooms, but the kind where kids know what they are supposed to be doing.<br><br>
I think loads of outdoor time, and an excellent phys ed program is very important. That takes care of a lot of behavioral issues.<br><br>
The school does become one of your communities, so make sure you feel comfortable. I remember before DS started K, walking through the hallways, and wondering if I would ever feel safe leaving him there, and like we belong in the school, and the answer is yes. <img alt="" class="inlineimg" src="http://www.mothering.com/discussions/images/smilies/thumb.gif" style="border:0px solid;" title="thumbs up">
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I appreciate all these thoughtful replies! We are going to tour the school next week and I will keep all this in mind when I am there. It's so interesting hearing everyone's priorities.
 
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