Wednesday, October 28th, 2009
In photos: How you know you picked a good elementary school
Alternate title: From principal to rock star in 30 minutes.
I just want to share some photos, but I’ll say some things you disagree with first. Let’s brush over the three ways parents shouldn’t select elementary schools.
1. Not test scores! Parents decry the mess made by No Child Left Behind… then turn around and meticulously pour over standardized test scores. Hey, unless a school’s scores are absurdly low, don’t sweat it.
2. Not what other parents tell you. Parents love to believe ridiculous rumors and isolated incidents taken out of context. Case in point, one trusted parent told me something about my daughter’s teacher that isn’t just wrong, it’s demonstrably not true. People love to believe word-of-mouth over evidence they see with their own eyes (assuming they bother to look).
3. Not poor families! This is often done by looking at the percentage of school lunches that are provided with government assistance. Having great personal income doesn’t make you a great parent. If you’ll believe the poor people stereotype, I’ll believe the stereotype of rich parents who send their kids to the “best” schools and absolve themselves of any further responsibility for their child’s education.
1. You matter. The most important component for your child’s academic success is your involvement. Know your teacher. Assist with homework as a home educator. Read with your child. View your free time as teaching time. Education doesn’t end when the bell rings.
2. Other parents matter. How active is your Parent-Teacher Association/Organization? A thriving group of parents in indicative of a healthy school, helping provide enrichment activities whether by volunteerism or fundraising. Ask the PTA/PTO parents about the size of their annual budget. The entire region I live in is economically depressed, but you wouldn’t know it from our PTO budget.
Involved parents keep the school on track. When parents don’t care, it’s that much more difficult for teachers to care in the face of the challenges they tackle every day in their classrooms.
3. Check out the school library. Administrators often cut libraries first. Choose a school that prioritizes books. How many hours is the library open? Is it open during lunch (a safe haven for awkward kids)? Is there a librarian on staff? Can parents check out books too? How varied and large is the selection of books?
4. How do teachers and staff view their own school? This is an after-the-fact thing you learn if you volunteer. The word I’ve heard again and again at my school is family, that the teachers are bowled over by the support from parents and between the teachers themselves. The school feels like a family to them.
When you’re browsing elementary schools, also consider schools that don’t fit into your neat little definition of the best institutions. Some parents treat the phrase “charter school” as magic. Umm, no. Also look at traditional public schools. Also look at the schools nearest to you.
Attend enrollment information events. Request the school newsletter. When you get serious about a school, attend a PTA/PTO meeting to gauge parent involvement (understanding that you’ll be talking to the choir). If a school holds a community event, even just a carnival, attend it.
Enough already. Get to the photos!
So, our school has two big fundraisers. For one, the principal agrees to do something crazy if the financial goal is met. One year he donned a chicken costume and clucked around the cafeteria at lunchtime. Another year he wore a pink gorilla costume and got drenched in a dunk tank.
This year he agreed to dress as Tarzan and get a Mohawk… not some Mohawk scalp cap, but a real shaved head. What do Tarzan and a Mohawk have to do with each other? Well, nothing really. So what?
This fundraiser will be paying for field trips, computer lab upgrades and for an out-of-state science museum to bring a portable planetarium to the school during a week of science activities. Well, the planetarium is my vote. I don’t know which science program the parents will choose, but it’s nice to be able to sit down and debate what flavor of coolness you want to provide your kids.