Choosing a Secondary School
This has less to do with the college search process than most of my posts here, but it’s a question I get asked with some regularity, so I thought it might be helpful to try to “think out loud” about it. When I worked in college admissions, alumni who were about to move halfway across the country would occasionally call and say, “I’m moving to Suchandsuch City; what school should I send my student to?”
Many people won’t have any real choice in the matter. But if you do, here is the most current version of my answer to that question:
1) Before you start considering schools, consider your student. How has his/her experience with the current school been? To what would you attribute his/her success or struggles? And think about how much of a “vote” in the final decision your student is going to have. If you’re going to be the one making the decision, make that clear from the outset. If the process is going to be more collaborative, spend some time thinking about what that will look and feel like. How you choose this school might end up serving as a sneak preview for how you’ll go about choosing the NEXT school; intentionality and extra listening will go a long way.
2) Gather information.
Once you’ve figured out how the decision is going to get made and what the school options are, start gathering data. Spend time on each school’s website. Ask each school for a copy of their profile, which is a document that typically gets mailed out with every transcript sent to colleges. This is one iteration of that school’s public persona, and it can sometimes be telling. Some of the things to look for are 1) courses offered, 2) curriculum structure, 3) makeup of the student body, 4) average class size, 5) grading/ranking policies 6) range and diversity of college matriculations, and 7) counselor : student ratio. (Of course I think that last one is important!) 😉
3) Assess for leadership.
The more time I spend in schools, the more convinced I am of the importance of leadership. The best folks to assess this are those inside the building, so put some time and energy into figuring out how to get that perspective. Schools with clumsy and/or non-existent leadership can quickly devolve into disaster zones.
That might do it. Depending on how many options you have, just those three steps might get you there. If you’re faced with the problem of too many great schools to choose from, then you can do a little more winnowing along these lines:
4) Require flagrant creativity.
Are students in the schools you’re looking at being encouraged to think of themselves as artists? Do students take art and music classes all the way through to graduation? Where do students from this school go next? (The more diverse and off-the-beaten paths chosen next, the better.)
5) Demand cutting-edge tech-savvy.
Technology is transforming the way some of the best teachers think about their work. It is also leaving a lot of teachers in the dust. Find out if teachers in the schools you’re considering are leading the way or being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Ask about Moodle, blogs, podcasts, wiki’s, and which conferences teachers have attended or presented at in the last few years. Skeptical about how much this tech stuff really matters? See this video or this recent blog post describing a job search.