Opinion: Educators offer advice to parents

What advice do educators have for Rogers, Elk River, Zimmerman and other Minnesota families starting to think about what schools their child/children will attend next year?

At one point, families had no public school choices. But over the last 25 years, the Legislature has given families new public school options via open enrollment, area learning centers, charter public schools and Post Secondary Options.

So I asked educators for two to three questions families should ask as they make decisions about next year.

Here’s some of their advice.

Roman Pierskalla, Rogers High School Principal recommended these questions:
“Does the school provide a safe and welcoming learning environment for my student?
Does the school provide classes, both required and elective, that meet the needs and interests of my student?
Does the school provide a variety of extracurricular activities, both academic and athletic, in which my student can participate?

Vanessta Spark, director of Spectrum Charter in Elk River suggested asking:
“What is the average number of students per class?
What are the extra curricular activities are offered?
How would you describe your school climate?
What makes your school unique?”

Joann Knuth, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Administrators, offered the following questions:
“Does the school offer programs, courses that will nurture my child’s passions/interests?
Does the school set high expectations for all students to succeed and be prepared for post secondary success?
What is the evidence?
Does the geography work—can my child get there easily and feel a community connection to it?”

Eugene Piccolo, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools suggested asking about:
“What is the school’s mission and vision,academic goals, class sizes and the licensed teacher to student ratio, attendance rate of students, retention rate for both students and teachers?”

Other questions could be:
“What programs exist to support the school’s academic goals?
What are the areas the school has identified for improvement?
How is the school performing on the mandated state testing program?
What are the assessments the school uses?
What opportunities exist for parental involvement in the academic program and governance of the school?”

Finally, Charlie Kyte, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators recommended asking:
“Have the teachers and Principal treated students and parents with respect and in as positive way as possible?
How can we expect to be treated?
What is the schools results in terms of academic success–will my student learn at the level expected for a school serving the specific age group?
What strategies does the school have if my student runs into trouble with learning?
Has the school designed a wrap around program so that my child is cared for in a way that fits my work schedule?”

Questions should reflect needs of both the overall family, and the individual student. Asking at least some of the questions suggested above increases the likelihood that families will be satisfied and that children will succeed. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan is a former Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. He welcomes reactions at jnathan@macalester.edu)

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