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No Substitute

Jul 25, 2013 10:10AM ● Published by Lisa Drake

A school visit is an invaluable way to learn about whether a particular school is the right place for your child. Dropping in on the seemingly sacred world of a school may feel awkward, but you can be sure that you're not the first parent to peek in with great interest, and you certainly won't be the last. Even after a short visit, you'll have a much richer sense of the school's strengths, challenges and approaches toward teaching and learning. 

How To Plan An Effective Visit
  • Do your homework before visiting schools. Read about the schools you'll be visiting. Examine their school profiles on GreatSchools.org and make note of any questions that arise about student performance, resources or teacher background. You'll want to ask the principal these questions when you visit each school. Talk to other parents or search online for articles about the schools. 
  • Schedule your visit. Call the school's main telephone number and ask to speak with the school secretary. Explain that you're considering enrolling your child and would like to make an appointment to visit, ask questions and get a feel for the campus. Find out if you'll be able to meet the principal and a few teachers while you're there. 
  • Ask and observe. When you visit a school, be sure to ask questions and observe the environment. The sample questions below can help you get started. 
Key Questions To Ask
  • Does this school have a particular educational philosophy or mission?
  • What is this school's approach to student discipline and safety?
  • How does this school encourage and monitor students' progress toward meeting grade-level standards?
  • What kinds of library resources are available to students?
  • How is technology used to support teaching and learning at this school?
  • How do the arts fit into the curriculum? Is there a school choir, band or orchestra? A school play? Art classes? 
  • What extracurricular opportunities (sports, clubs, community service, competitions) are available for students?
  • How do students get to school? Is free school busing available?
  • How does this school support students who have academic, social or emotional difficulties?
  • What strategies are used to teach students who are not fluent in English?
  • What professional development opportunities do teachers have? In what ways do teachers collaborate? 
  • What are some of the school's greatest accomplishments? What are some of the biggest challenges this school faces? 
Things to Look For
  • Do classrooms look cheerful? Is student work displayed, and does it seem appropriate for the grade level?
  • Do teachers seem enthusiastic and knowledgeable, asking questions that stimulate students and keep them engaged?
  • Does the principal seem confident and interested in interacting with students, teachers and parents?
  • How doe students behave as they move from class to class or play outside?
  • How well are the facilities maintained? Are bathrooms clean and well supplied, and do the grounds look safe and inviting? 


Especially For Elementary Schools
  • What are some highlights of this school's curriculum in reading, math, science and social studies?
  • What criteria are used to determine student placement in classes?
  • How does this school keep parents informed of school information and activities? 
  • Is there an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA)? What other types of parent involvement take place at this school? 
  • Is child care available before or after school?


Especially For Middle Schools 
  • How does the swchool guide and prepare student for major academic decision that will define their options in high school and beyond? 
  • Are foreign language classes (French, Spanish, etc.) offered to students?
  • If the school is large, does it make an effort to provide activities that create a sense of community?

Especially For High Schools
  • Does this school have a particular academic focus, such as science or humanities?
  • Does this school have any school-to-work programs or specialized academies?
  • What kind of emphasis does the school place on college preparation? 
  • Does the school have a good selection of Advanced Placement classes?
  • What percentage of students take the SAT? Where doe students go after they graduate? How many attend four-year colleges? 
  • Does the school offer a variety of career planning options for students who are not college bound?
  • Are counselors available to help students make important decision about classes and post-graduation plans?
  • What percentage of student who start at the school in ninth grade graduate?
  • Does the school staff set high expectations for all students?
  • How doe students get to school Is there a parking lot, and are buses (public or district-provided) available?
  • Is this school accredited?

Especially for Charter Schools
  • When and why was this school created?
  • Does the school have a specific focus?
  • Who is the charter holder, or the group that created the school?
  • How does the school select teachers? Are the teachers certificated? 
  • Is this the permanent location or facility for the school? If not, will the school be moving to another location in the near future? 

For more resources on evaluating schools visit www.greatschools.org


Local private schools - visit their websites for more information:

Grace Preparatory Academy www.graceprep.org
Pantego Christian Academy www.pantego.com
St. Paul's Preparatory www.St.PaulsPrep.com
St. Joseph Catholic School www.stjosephtx.org
The Oakridge School www.theoakridgeschool.org


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