School choice: Figuring out what’s right for your child is no easy feat

School choice: Figuring out what’s right for your child is no easy feat
(File Photo)

By Anna Harris (File photo)

Not all schools are created equal. Every child is different, so no school is going to match every student’s needs and wants. But recognizing a poor fit is the first step.

It’s possible that your child already likes the school he or she attends. If your child gets decent grades, has friends and keeps a positive attitude throughout the year, then it’s probably a good match.

But if classes are too easy, too hard or your little one consistently comes home having a negative overall experience, then it might be time to start looking elsewhere.

Examine your child’s interactions with their teachers. In a parent-teacher conference, the teacher should have a firm understanding of your student. If it feels like you’re talking about two completely different children, that’s another sign that your student is not clicking with that environment.

“You know your kids, so when your child doesn’t feel happy at school, it’s time to look around,” said Hannah Williams, who intimately understands the pressures facing parents.

A local mother, Williams has enrolled her children — who are in fourth, sixth and eighth grades — in public and private schools. Ensuring each child is in the right place is a never-ending effort, she said.

“We are constantly revisiting the assessment,” Williams said. “It’s a work in progress every year.”


It starts with examining your child. Look at personality, learning style, interests and strengths. Knowing what makes your child tick will point you in the right direction.

“If the kid loves to talk about animals, then that’s important to them. … It might not be what you’d think it is. You learn a lot. Listen to your child,” said Leigh Cahill, director and educational consultant at Independent School Options, which assists parents with these tough decisions.

A conversation with your child’s teachers helps too, as they see students in the school environment. Mining their insight might help you figure out what’s needed for your child.

One of the best things you can do, said Cahill, is keep calm. It’s not a competition, and it’s not impossible. It’s about finding what’s right.

“Think of the next nine months as an adventure and a learning experience,” she said. “[You’re] going to learn a lot about each other through it. … Make it as healthy and positive an experience as possible.”


It’s no secret that the choices facing parents have grown increasingly complex. With all these options, it’s easy to get turned around.

Kim Smith Kidd, mother of four and an academic coach, said it’s OK to ask for help.

“Talk to people,” said Kidd, whose children also attended a mix of public and private schools. “Talk to friends. Ask who they know that you can talk to.”
Williams found it helpful asking for recommendations from friends who had gone through the same process. She said knowing people who work in the schools also helps.

To start, tour schools and talk to teachers, like Williams did. This gives parents a good sense of the institution. Pay particularly close attention to the students already there. If you observe a child similar to your own having a positive experience, your youngster might have one too.

Even if your child is older, Kidd said the same principle applies. Pick three schools and visit them with your budding scholar. For older students, school shadowing for a day aids in the assessment process.

“You’ll have a much better sense of what you’re looking for,” Kidd said. “Your child will have a good sense of what they’re looking for and what fits for them.”

Another piece of advice: It’s best to look for schools early, when application deadlines aren’t looming, according to Kidd.

“Just go look and see what you like,” she said. “You don’t have to do anything about it. [There] is much less pressure to do it now.”

As Williams and Kidd know, stress can become overwhelming in this situation. But keeping everything in perspective will help the process.

“You want the best for your child,” Williams said. “Your fear is that you’re going to make a mistake, but ultimately, you just have to try to do … the best thing for them.”