It’s That Time of Year Again
Front yards are decorated with spider webs and ghost parties. Pumpkin spice is in the air. It’s officially… time to start thinking about next school year.
We all know that New Orleans is a unique educational landscape, to say the least. Personally, I love being a parent here, and I’m grateful for the unique and varied options my kids have for school. I also know and understand why this sentiment is not shared by all. I had 15 years of working in New Orleans schools to prepare for my first OneApp experience, and the process was still challenging.
If you can find the right school for your precious ones, I know you will love parenting a school-age kid here as much as I do. New Orleans Mom provides a great resource for school tours in and around New Orleans. As you gear up for school visits, or likely the virtual alternative, these questions will help you navigate the season ahead.
Before You Go
Kids spend a LOT of time at school. Before you visit any school, take some time to reflect and write down what you hope your kid will get out of their school experience. Consider academic, enrichment, and social experiences. Think about the situations in which your child thrives (quiet vs. noisy, independent vs. collaborative, etc.) and also recognize that your child will grow the most if they’re out of their comfort zone at times. Now, take your list of schools you know you’re interested in and add at least five more schools to the list. If you’re feeling adventurous, add three more. (This does not mean you have to visit all of these schools, but you should plan to cast a wide net.)
Ok, you’re ready. Let’s get to it.
Ask the School
- What makes this school special? New Orleans schools have amazingly cool educational and extra-curricular programs. Think language immersion, Montessori, edible schoolyards, performing arts, and award-winning robotics teams. I always recommend a school that is trying to do one or two things really well, over a school that offers it all.
- If you have a signature program, what does this look like at [your child’s] grade level? Implementation of academic and enrichment programs may vary by age, especially if you have a child in a younger grade level. Marketing pamphlets and school tours cater to a wide audience, so be sure to ask these age-specific questions when you have a chance.
- Can I see a daily schedule for [your child’s] grade level? To build from the question above, it’s hard to tell what a day-in-the-life looks like from an hour-long tour. Check out the schedule, see what your kid would be doing across a day and ideally across a week. Personally, when I see schedules I’m hoping for a mix of self-directed and teacher-directed learning, with time for enrichment, socializing, and open-ended play.
- What is the school-year calendar? Yes, you should check to see if the calendar works with your family’s plans. Equally important, see how much time teachers have to collaborate and learn together. If a school prioritizes professional development for teachers, this is a good sign. Also, teachers need time to do their work, which spans far beyond the time our kids are at school. A school that supports teachers to do their job well will also support your child.
- What time does my child need to arrive at school? What time do I need to pick them up? I agree, these are basic. However, in New Orleans, daily schedules vary wildly from one school to the next. Some schools share buses with other schools, making arrival times as early as 7 am, or as late as 9 am. Making sure the logistics work with your family’s schedule is a must.
- How much homework do you give? Oh yes, the homework question. I know we parents have strong opinions on this topic. Personally, I think homework has pros and cons, but I’d like to know what I’m getting into in advance. If you have strong feelings about your afternoons and evenings, don’t forget this one.
- How long has the school leader worked here? What percent of teachers do you anticipate staying next year? When the staff stays, it says a lot about a school. It says that the school is likely a supportive workplace where adults enjoy spending their time. Adult culture in a building manifests in kids’ experiences too. (I wouldn’t worry if there’s a new principal, or if my child will have a new teacher, but I would be wary of high turnover trends.)
- How do you support students who are struggling academically/ socially/ behaviorally? Whether you’re worried about your own child right now or not, a good school will have a clear plan to support all students. An answer to this question tells how your child will be supported if they encounter challenges, and it also tells what messages your kid will learn about accepting and embracing other children’s differences.
- How do you teach reading? Admittedly, I am an early literacy person. And you should be too if you’re looking for a school for your kid. In the younger grades, many schools don’t teach reading in a way that aligns with the science of reading. In the older grades, a quality literacy education will prepare kids for every aspect of their lives.
- How do you teach social justice and anti-racism? Kids of all ages need to have conversations about social justice and anti-racism. Schools should be places where students engage in open conversations about past, present, and their own role in the near future. If you only have time to ask one question, try starting with this one.
Ask a Parent
In addition to being able to answer many of the above questions, a current or recent parent is your go-to for communication questions: frequency, how communication gets to families, and if it’s easy to get in touch with someone at the school when a need arises. Communication between schools and families is very important, as it’s helpful for parents to know what’s going on at both a school and classroom level. Meanwhile, I personally don’t want an inbox full of school messages at the end of the day. I’m pretty happy with my once-per-week update and a text when there’s something urgent. Checking out a school’s website and social media will provide some helpful clues on their communication style too.
Ask a Kid
Whether age 4 or 14, a kid will tell you the real deal. If you know a kid who attends a school you’re interested in, be sure to get their perspective. Ask what they like and don’t like, ask what they’re learning, ask about their teachers and their experience making friends. You can find out some pretty interesting things in a quick conversation with a kid.
Once You Know More
As you learn more about your school options, you may find that there’s no perfect fit for everything you wanted. Or, you may find that there are many acceptable options and even a number of great ones. When I applied for my daughter’s pre-k year I ended up with seven public school choices on my OneApp list. Finding the right school for your kid can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. Decide what you care about most, and don’t hold back on the questions.