Do you know where you’re sending your child to school next year? It’s decision time for parents in Newark, and soon it will be in Camden, too. We put together this list to help parents think through such an important decision. Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below.

School culture and environment matters

What does it feel like when you walk in the door? Is it warm and inviting, or cool and disconnected? Your first impression when you walk in probably won’t be much different than your child’s.

So take a look around. Look for classrooms that have personality. Look for rooms that are neat and orderly, rather than overcrowded. Look for evidence of joy and learning. When you walk through a school, especially if classes are going on, you should hear learning. You should hear classes responding, students (not just teachers) talking and the occasional chant or call and response.

Academic approach

Obviously, every parent wants the best for their child. They want schools that put their child on the path to and through college and prepare them for what’s next in life. Academics, results and a school’s approach to teaching your child are the most important factors to ensure your child has the choice to go to college one day.

Take a look at the curriculum and methods schools use. Are there separate blocks of time devoted to phonics instruction, reading, math and other basic skills? Do kids have adequate time to recharge during the day? You can, and should, ask all of these questions. Also ask for or find test results. Tests aren’t everything, but they do give you a good idea about the quality of instruction inside a school.

Character education

Like we said before, test scores and academics aren’t everything. If we send kids to college who are great at reading, writing and math, but don’t know how to relate to their peers or how to persevere when the going gets tough, we’ve missed some things. When you look at schools, consider what they are doing to educate the whole child. Do they have values that are alive throughout their curriculum? Do they tell kids how they are doing against character standards like optimism, perseverance and self-control? Ask these questions and look for evidence when you visit.

Attentiveness to special needs

“It takes patience to help a child with special needs,” Dreya Drayton, a KIPP SPARK Academy parent wrote in a blog post on My Child My Choice.

“A teacher must have the training, skills, understanding and love to nurture a special needs child. Most of all, a teacher needs the infrastructure and support so they can do their jobs.”

Drayton found a place for her son, who has special needs, in a school community equipped to manage his disability. Charter schools and traditional public schools are required to serve students with disabilities. The best ones have highly trained special education teachers who are committed to working with you and your student to craft a plan to address their needs and put your child on a path to college, or whatever is right for them.

Conclusion: Make the choice that’s right for your family

To sum up, though lists are great, you ultimately have to make this decision for you and your family. We think these factors are important, but not everything. Talk to friends, family and your children to figure out what’s right for them.

Do you have any more questions about choosing schools? Ask your questions in the comments section below, or Tweet at us @KIPPNJ.

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