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Educator Voices: Choosing the Best School for Your Child

A professional educator in Tampa Bay shares the questions you should ask when choosing a school for your child.

In the Tampa Bay area, we are fortunate to have scores of great schools where we can send our children to engage in the learning process. The school options landscape is markedly different from what it was even ten years ago. Gone are the days of choosing between either the neighborhood public school or a private one. These days, parents can choose from myriad magnets, charters, attractor programs, partnerships, Hillsborough Virtual, and private schools. The responsibility is weighty, but both the school options research and ultimate selection processes are manageable. Some of the best and brightest Tampa Bay area educators share their insight for navigating school options on the current terrain.

Related: Hillsborough Schools: Magnet Schools? School Choice? Unlock 50+ Options

Dr. Stacy Hahn is a mother of three and the Director of Professional Development and Partnerships at the University of South Florida’s College of Education. With 11-year-old twins and an 8-year-old, she brings parenting wisdom and professional-educator-expertise to the school choice process. Graciously, she offered her insight: “Whether you are choosing a public or private school or homeschooling, whether or not you are paying tuition, careful planning is a must. To find the best school a parent must ask some fundamental questions around academic curriculum, school culture, student achievement and family engagement.”

Related: Fall Open Houses in Tampa Bay

Q: What are the top things you believe parents should consider as they choose a school for their child?

A: Parents need to ask, How well does the school help students learn? As a parent, I want to know how likely it is that a school will help my child progress beyond their current abilities to reach his/her full potential. If my child has learning challenges, I want to know how successful the school is at catching kids up and getting them on track academically; if my child is on track or gifted, I want to know whether they are likely to coast or continue to be challenged through enrichment courses.

Next, parents ought to ask, How are students at this school performing overall? Growth is important, but so is reaching the finish line. I want to know not only how much students are growing during their time in school, but also where they end up. How many are on track for college readiness? What is the graduation rate?

Third, parents need to consider, How do students experience this school? Does it have a very regimented, strict culture, or a more flexible one? Do they feel cared-for and safe? How much attention do they get? How engaging do they find their classes and teachers? What resources and activities are available to them? Some of these questions are factual and easy to answer; others are highly personal and subjective. The best way for parents to get answers about school culture is to visit the school and talk with teachers, administrators and students.

Finally, parents should work to uncover, Is this a school that families love or one they endure? How well does the school communicate with families? Do they feel welcomed and involved, or mostly shut out? When they have a concern, are they satisfied with the response? Having discussion with other families in your neighborhood that attend the school or researching school reviews online can give parents insight into the level of parental engagement taking place at the school.

Dr. Hahn knows that, for a parent, selecting a school is one of the most important decisions. She encourages parents to consider the individual child, remember the importance of teachers, and look beyond school report cards because they can’t capture everything that parents need in order to make the best decision possible. The school choice process does not have to be daunting or overwhelming. With both careful planning and utilizing of local resources, like USF College of Education faculty, parents can be confident about the decision they make.

Related: 7 Questions to Ask to Make Your School Open House Visit a Success

Read: Tampa Bay Parenting’s Education Guide: A Guide to Schools in Tampa Bay


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