Superintendent’s Corner: School choice is a family matter
Parents all want to make the best decisions for their children. While choosing the right school can be important, research shows that the home environment is the strongest determinant of a child’s outcomes in life.
Given the realities of work and family circumstances, not every family has the luxury of making an active choice about where to send their children to school. If you are one of the lucky ones, trust your own judgment and research, and don’t worry about what others think.
The Roaring Fork Schools have just announced our registration windows for the 2020-21 school year, and parents are starting to think about where to send their children to school in the fall. We strive to make all of our schools great, but we know that students and families have different needs, and we trust parents to make the right choice for their child.
We have found that most parents choose to send their children to the school in their home enrollment area. Some choose schools near where they work. But for a few parents in our valley, and for more around the state, deciding on school for your child is an important choice. You can find enrollment information on our website, as well as a schedule for visiting a school.
If you are considering a decision about where to send your child to school — whether it be preschool, kindergarten, or another grade level — here is some advice: make the decision carefully, and stick with it.
Just as kids benefit from a stable and consistent home environment, they benefit from constancy at school. They need time to develop peer relationships, to get to know teachers, and for teachers to get to know them. They will inevitably struggle at one time or another at school, perhaps socially, emotionally or academically, and like any good relationships you should commit to helping them work through the ups and downs rather than giving up at the first sign of trouble.
What should you look for when choosing a school? Here is what good schools have in common:
Clear mission and purpose manifest in daily activities.
Explicitly stated curriculum and instructional practices, and ongoing assessment of student learning.
Strong and positive adult-student relationships and structures to enhance them.
A schedule that supports student learning, including time for core academic subjects and flexibility to kick in extra support when needed.
Expert teachers provided with ongoing professional development.
A commitment to equity, which means holding high expectations for all, serving all students and families, and providing flexible support for individual needs.
Strong, responsive leadership that keeps the focus on learning.
How can you find information about a school? First, there is a range of available data, and you should be looking at more than test scores and ratings. The Colorado Department of Education SchoolView School Dashboard platform is a great source, which you can find by entering those terms into your web browser. You can easily look up any public school in the state and find lots of data including test scores, population statistics, attendance and graduation rates, and the state’s overall accountability rating.
Beyond that, and equally importantly, you should be looking at information about how students, parents and teachers perceive their schools. Our schools publish results from annual surveys, which you can easily find by searching “Roaring Fork school level data.” You want to be looking for schools where students feel they get help, where teachers feel is a good place to work and learn, where parents feel they have a voice, and where everybody feels they belong.
There are many popular school models, usually affiliated with national organizations or schools of thought. They can give coherence to a school and help make sure that everybody is working in common purpose. But they do not guarantee school quality and there are as many high-performing unaffiliated schools as there are high flyers with a particular brand.
Deciding where to send your child to school is a personal and family choice. Family considerations, such as convenience and transportation, as well as your own values, should come into play. If you continue to love and care for your children, no matter what school they attend, they will thrive.
Rob Stein is superintendent for Roaring Fork Schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt.
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