A Pre-PCS School Checklist
by Dawn Smith
School Shopping, Where to Start?
The U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity reports military children move six to nine times throughout their school years. As parents, this is a daunting statistic when realizing how important each one of those schools is as the kids move through grade levels. Interrupted schooling isn’t ideal, but one of the best perks of military service is the opportunity for the kids to attend the schools of our choice each time we PCS.
The options are plentiful and it is reassuring to have this little facet of control over an unpredictable military lifestyle. The amount of information may seem overwhelming when beginning a school search because the intent is to choose the best school that will easily mix in with other important quality of life factors such as BAH restrictions and commute times. By maintaining a portfolio of trusted resources, each move and school roundup will be a little less mysterious.
Deadlines and Timeliness
Families learn through their own experiences the best ways to begin their hunt, but there are research tools designed to make the process simpler and more efficient. Two factors remain steadfast when school shopping: timeliness and word-of-mouth reviews.
Regardless of the avenue--public, private or homeschooling--there will always be a deadline to meet. In particular, the most popular magnet or charter schools will often require a lottery for acceptance and specific dates for registration to enter. It’s wise to begin understanding those processes as soon as the "Where are we moving next?" questions begin.
Personal experiences and referrals from your friends and their friends are invaluable. Begin networking and exploring. Read blogs, Facebook pages, and neighborhood forums relevant to your next city. Post a general inquiry about what the schools are like in the area, and the answers will pour in. Moms and dads love to talk about their kids’ lives! Examine the general trend and ignore the worst and best comments to formulate an opinion based on the overall tone of the reviews.
Best Places to Begin Research
State to state moves are somewhat more difficult than intra-state moves. The knowledge you’ve gleaned from your school district in California will not likely be relevant to your new school system in Florida. This Department of Education site compiles important testing scores, national rankings, and state-to-state comparisons. It allows parents to see how public and private schools stack up by assembling results from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The Military Child Education Coalition provides families this resource to navigate the entire process of moving, not solely school searches. In addition to an extensive library full of military child related topics, there are many articles on easing the transitions to a new home and new school. There is also a guide to understanding the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission.
State Boards of Education explain an overall view of education philosophies and goals for each school year. Budget information and state standard testing information will also be available. The local school district websites will describe, in detail, a wide variety of topics from specialized education programs to before and after school care and school boundary calculators. Don’t underestimate the importance of investigating boundary lines and proposed future changes.
· Local Resources
Newspapers for your new city will always report on school happenings. Local news websites such as the Patch
network have reporters relaying neighborhood and school events weekly, often with an archive to read previous stories. This is an efficient way to learn about school specific issues, such as scheduled building improvements or the new bell schedule taking effect for the high school.
Families should consider visiting perspective schools for a tour and schedule time for questions with the principal. Topics should include the average number of children in a class, extra-curricular opportunities, and curriculum inquiries, to name just a few.
PTAs and PTOs are a wealth of information regarding the level of parental involvement, the need for fund raising and representation at school board meetings. Some may even have a committee or volunteer to be a welcome wagon to new families, providing useful school and neighborhood information.
Most military installations provide a School Liaison Officer
to help navigate the process of school transition for all military children and their specific needs. The SLO can offer advice for private and public school research as well as homeschool activities and often has relationships with local principals and teachers.
Familiar standbys such as GreatSchools and SchoolDigger still offer very relevant information and reviews from families. These, compiled with the previously mentioned information, should produce viable choices for a new school where your child can thrive!