School choice expert and former educator Kanesha Baynard offers five essential tips to families considering schools other than their neighborhood schools next fall.
Q. I can’t believe it’s time to think about school for next year already. I have a fifth-grader and want to evaluate a few middle schools. How do I know which school might be the best fit for my son?
A. As we enter the month of November, many of us are focused on gratitude and the end of the election season. If you are a parent of school-aged children, you may be adding open enrollment to this list.
For many Colorado public school districts, November signals the gear up for open-enrollment meetings and Q & A sessions. School leaders and teachers continue to serve their communities while preparing to showcase the strengths and highlights of their schools. District open-enrollment offices ready themselves to answer numerous questions from parents and to assist families as they go through the open-enrollment application process.
For parents, this time of year means doing research, talking with other parents, looking at state test scores, attending meetings, keeping fingers crossed and stepping into moments of being overwhelmed. Open enrollment affords families the opportunity to select schools within their neighborhood boundaries or to branch out and select a different school – within their “home” district or outside – if they feel it would be a better choice for their child. School districts and individual schools provide a lot of helpful information on their websites. The Colorado Department of Education also provides an open-enrollment resource page. These are great tools that can make open enrollment relaxed and easy. At the same time, all this information can cause families to enter into a mental competitiveness that overwhelms, causes stress, and has parents second guessing school choice options.
If open enrollment is on the horizon for your family, here are five steps to help you positively approach the process:
Write your dream school end game
Take some time, as a family, to identify the top factors of a school that would help your child thrive during the next academic year. Capture the feel, look and events of an ideal school day. Describe interactions with teachers, classmates and school leaders. List the activities and classes you would like your child to have access to. Write down parent engagement opportunities that would support your interactions within the school. Makes sure you list specific details to add clarity to the proper school fit for your child. This will help you focus on selecting the best school for your child – instead of selecting the school with the “best reputation.”
Identify any fears
When parents are making school choice decisions, they often do not realize the role fear may be playing in their decision-making. If there are fears or apprehensions that are affecting how you approach the school selection process for your child, call it out. Identify the drivers of this fear (e.g. media, school rumors, neighbors, other competitive parents, family members, etc.). List any thoughts or feelings that are coming up due to this fear. Analyze actions that are being driven by the fear. By addressing this head on, you will put less pressure on yourself to select the absolutely perfect school for your child.
Give yourself some credit
As your child’s first teachers, there are many tools, skills, and knowledge you have provided. Assess your “home learning environment” and list what’s working well and contributing to your child’s academic success. Then list the ways you would like the school community to enhance and support what you are already doing. This will help you form thoughtful questions to ask during the open enrollment process.
Create your own team
If you have friends and family members who are supportive, know the needs of your child and are entering the open-enrollment process too – form a team. Within your team, you can divide and conquer the school research and help each other make sense of what you are learning. You can also share the responsibility of attending the various open-enrollment events so you are not stretched too thin trying to be everywhere. If you have supportive people to brainstorm with, you will create a safe space to tackle fears and move positively ahead.
Remember you have a choice
Even though the open-enrollment process is made available to all families, you can opt out. You can choose to send your child to your neighborhood school without participating in the open-enrollment cycle. Some parents may feel guilty and tell themselves they are not doing enough if they choose to select a school based on what is closest to their home. Remember, you get to decide how you want to best support your child’s academic experience. Be sure to remind yourself of this.
About Kanesha Baynard
Kanesha Baynard is a veteran educator and professional coach. Baynard offers "Parent Office Hours" to support parents in making sense of today’s educational system. She is offering a workshop called Open Enrollment 101: Decreasing the Overwhelm about School Choice on Nov. 15.