January 23-29, 2011 has been designated National School Choice Week. (http://schoolchoiceweek.com/home) As I survey the educational landscape around the country, I often feel privileged to live in a state like Colorado where parents have a multitude of school, and non-school, options for educating their children. As the parent of six children, we found that a one-size-fits-all approach was unworkable and really inappropriate for our children. As a result, all six have enjoyed an educational experience which suited their individual educational needs.
What does this mean for parents? Parents who wish to take advantage of alternatives need to do a little homework. If you find a program out of your district of residence, it's time now to apply for enrollment. Open enrollment for many school districts will begin in January and February for the school year beginning the next fall. Most charter schools will begin re-enrolling current families early in January and extending enrollment to new families in February. Planning ahead will improve your opportunities for enrollment. There are many programs which are very popular and where waiting lists can grow very long. If you think you may be interested in a particular program, it's best to indicate an interest in the school as early as possible
Network with other parents who already have children enrolled in the program. You may find that something you thought would be great for your child might not be as good a fit as you originally thought. Don't depend upon the glitzy marketing! Consider the opinions and experiences of families already enrolled in the program. They are experiencing it 'in the trenches' and while the overall program may be wonderful, perhaps the experiences with a particular teacher or staff member are not quite as good as you would hope for your situation. A good school will be willing to provide a parent or two who can give you great information about the school from the inside out!
Many schools have information sessions. You should attend at least one of these for the schools you are interested in. Speak with the school's administrator--ask questions which are specific to your child's needs and previous learning experiences. You should also be able to speak with a teacher about the program and how it works at the classroom level. You may need to make an appointment, but it is worth your time to speak with a teacher who works at your child's grade level to get a real sense of what the program will look like for your child.
As you consider schools, keep in mind that the culture of each school is very different. Does the staff seem happy? Are they passionate about what happens in their classroom and building every day? Does continual improvement seem to be a part of the overall culture? Do kids seem to enjoy being a part of the program? Are parents enthusiastic supporters of the administration and staff? Does the principal have time to speak with you? Does everyone in the office seem to believe that the school is worth investing their time and energy in? These intangibles are often what make the difference in a school for your child.
If you are considering enrollment in a program outside of your local neighborhood school, now is the time to act! It seems early to even consider "Back to School 2011" but it's time to start seriously considering options now.