Most parents are overwhelmed with trying to pick a school right now. They are researching school scores and learning pedagogical frameworks while interviewing educators, principals, and other parents to determine what school their child should attend.
As a former classroom teacher, curriculum developer, and development coach with a double master's in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, who has also taught at four different schools in the city AND is a product of NOLA's public school system - I have a little bit of expertise on this subject.
But what I am not - is the expert on your child. No one is, but you.
I've listened to a lot of parents’ struggles with the available choices... "Should I go public, private, charter, parochial, or homeschool?!" I’ve noticed that many parents and caregivers don’t know the right questions to ask or things to consider when you’re narrowing down your school choices. The truth is you can’t judge a school based solely on letter grades (but that’s another rant for another time). Additionally, you can’t just assume that private is better than public, or that parochial (religious) schools provide more structure. And Montessori exploration does not work for every kid. There is no one-size-fits-all model when it comes to choosing the perfect school for your child.
So, how do you determine the best environment for your child to flourish?
Consider asking these questions:
What is the teacher retention rate at the school? While people have a lot of different feelings about teacher certification, one good indicator of a strong teacher for school culture is the retention of teachers. Schools with strong teacher retention, mean that the leadership creates a safe environment for teachers to grow and become better at their craft.
2. What is the diversity of staff/students at the school? Even though New Orleans is a majority Black city and Orleans Parish is a majority Black district, that doesn’t necessarily mean your child can’t experience diversity from staff or classmates. Having Black staff and students provides your child's safety in the short and long term. Safety encourages creativity and authenticity, which increases self-confidence.
3. What is your philosophy on student discipline? There are so many approaches to student discipline. When I was touring daycares, we talked a lot about “biters” and what to do if Janelle became one. This is the same idea for older grades. Black children are at higher rates of discipline and the school-to-prison pipeline is REAL for children of all genders. Ask yourself: does the school believe in suspension and expulsion? If so, what behaviors warrant these punishments? Is this a restorative conflict or justice school? And don’t skip this! Even if your child is an “angel”, conflict is a natural part of childhood development. So, it’s vital to know what happens WHEN your child experiences any.
4. What is your philosophy on mental health? Rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are increasing for children of all ages. Are there mental health professionals on campus to help your child with any adverse feelings they may have? Are teachers being trained to identify signs of mental health concerns? In general, does the school offer SEL (Social and Emotional learning. SEL focuses on teaching students how to manage/regulate their feelings even if there is nothing “wrong”.
5. Do the values of the school align with your values? This is specifically important when you’re thinking about religious schools. For example, if you are pro-choice, will there be pro-life rhetoric in the curriculum? If you are a queer family, will the school only promote heteronormative families? Does the school recognize diverse cultural holidays/celebrations? As "woke" education comes under attack, it's important to know your school's stance on cultural holidays like Black History Month, Women's History Month, etc.
6. How does the school educate students with different cognitive needs? This question specifically addresses the school's desires and abilities. If you suspect or already know that your child has a learning difference, what steps will the school create or already have in place to assist you? While it's true that Black children are at higher risk for misdiagnoses, early detection and intervention are key for all children. Does the school offer services for inclusion classes, pull-out, or gifted services?
7. What do alumni and other parents have to say about the school? When I worked as an eighth-grade teacher, parents constantly asked me about high school choices. While many parents obsessed over straight-A schools, I had to inform them that a lot of these schools have very strict attendance, grading, and rules that their children may not be able to handle.
8. Will the school allow your child to be well-rounded? As in, do they nurture the whole child? Are there a plethora of extracurricular activities, social-emotional services, and other practices that will allow your child to grow both academically and socially? Are there programs in place to develop strong, interpersonal relationships and conflict management? If not, are you willing to consider sending your child to specific extracurricular activities that make up for what the school lacks?
The truth is, just like there's no perfect child or parent, there is no perfect school. No school will check all your boxes. That said, you should use this list of questions to empower yourself to make an informed decision. Gentle but not so gentle push: When asking these questions, be honest about who your child IS and what your CHILD needs. Bonus tip if you engage your child in the process!