When looking for a new neighborhood to call home, school is often one of the most important deciding factors for a family. There’s no single solution to finding the right one, but there is more to consider than test scores alone. Things like commute times and the school’s PTA scene, in addition your child’s classroom experience, will shape your daily existence in a neighborhood. So how can you assess a school from a distance? And, really, what does it mean to find the “right” school for you?
1. Ask yourself important questions
Before beginning the process, it’s key to do a little soul searching about what matters most to you when it comes to your child’s education. Consider the values you want to come through not just at home, but in a school setting.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- What are some places where my child has thrived in the past?
- What unifies those experiences?
- Do we prefer a traditional or alternative educational style?
- How important are extracurricular enrichment opportunities?
- What sort of contributions (time or money) are we interested in making as a family?
2. Use your network to get insight
Whether you’re hoping to move five blocks away or you’re picking up and heading to another state, you have a useful network easily at your disposal. It’s worth a shot to reach out to everyone you know to start to do some research. “Just like you use your network online and off to find a job, you should make use of any and all contacts you have that may be able to advise you on the area you are looking in,” suggests Dana Points, former Editor in Chief of Parents magazine and mom of two school-aged kids.
Post a question on Facebook letting everyone know that you are investigating schools in a certain area, and find out if they have any experience or insight to share. You can also ask your network to share your post so that it gains even more exposure. It could turn out that your uncle’s best friend or your daughter’s soccer coach grew up in your new town and would be able to give an insider’s perspective on a school you’re looking into — or perhaps point you to a school you might not have even considered.
3. Call schools directly for information
Once you’ve found a few options in your new neighborhood, reach out the old school way: by phone. Use Trulia’s school directory to find school contact information. When you get someone one the line, you’ll have the opportunity to ask more nuanced, personalized questions. You can also request to have school catalogs sent by mail, along with any other printed material available, particularly about how this school or district compares to others in the area.
4. Surf schools’ websites
Most schools and school districts have their own websites (many of which can be found on Trulia), and they can include a wealth of information. Spend some time reading newsletters or PTA meeting notes if they’re available. Look into what awards or certifications the schools have recently received. If you’re eager to dive even deeper into the school website, look for downloadable calendars, and sign up for a weekly newsletter, which can give you insight into any events or news at the school.
5. Visit in person, if possible
It’s always ideal to visit a school in person. While it seems logical to visit during school hours, that may not be possible. You could be 1000 miles away—or a school may have restrictions on visiting hours for prospective families. If you’re local, ask about coming in after school hours to see classrooms and common areas. Look at the art in the hallways and any posters around the school to try to get a feel for the school’s values, teacher engagement, and what the administration prioritizes. Whether you encounter the crossing guard or the person at the front desk, try to engage people in conversation to ask them any questions you may have. If you get the chance, ask to meet with the principal. Among other things, you might want to find out how teachers are evaluated.
Here are some other questions to ask:
- What is the school’s approach to discipline and homework?
- What does current parent involvement look like?
- What are the rates of teacher turnover?
- How is information shared with parents?
- How does the school support children with any unique academic, social, or developmental needs?
6. Read reviews
Parent reviews, like those from sites like GreatSchools and SchoolDigger, provide helpful additional insights. Families of children currently enrolled often share important details about things like class sizes, current events, and what the school is doing well (and what they believe needs work) in real time.
Originally published June 20, 2017. Updated January 25, 2018.