The 5 W’s of School Search

If we have learned anything as parents in this crazy time I hope it’s that we need to approach our own capabilities and our children’s with grace and compassion.  I have often given young moms the advice to lower the bar, why don’t we do this with our kids?

Part of my intention with SchoolUp is to create a movement in which we reframe the way we think about our kids by looking at their abilities through a positive lens. Having a child with a lot of energy who prefers not to sit still is a strength not a burden. I myself would like a lot more energy. Having a child who is observant instead of outgoing is a strength not a concern. I challenge us all to rethink how we identify our children’s strengths and how we advocate for them. Through this approach you can give yourself permission to find a school that cultivates your child’s energy and encourages children to move around and use their hands if that is what they need. Give yourself permission to find a school that is small and nurtures your quiet and observant child. 

Last Spring, the ever insightful Dr. Emily (if you don’t follow her, you need to, immediately) wrote a beautiful article on her blog about rethinking how we measure student success. She argued a similar idea in that she encouraged her readers to “reconstruct the boxes we’ve put our kids in based on arbitrary timelines”.  I love the way she advocates that we meet our kids where they are and pace their learning to their needs rather than try to fit our kids into curriculum standards that aren’t relevant in this post pandemic world. This framework plays a huge role in how we navigate school choice; finding the right school is more important than ever. 

There is a great school fit out there for everyone. No school is perfect, and there will undoubtedly be bumps along the road. But if we reframe the way we measure student success and we celebrate strengths, we can all find schools that fit our children’s unique talents. 

Here is my road map for touring and evaluating schools:


Think about “who” a school is by asking questions about their philosophy and culture. You can look into a school’s mission and values, their theme, and their management. What type of school is it? What grade levels do they have? What does the school value most? What is their basic philosophy on education? For example, a magnet school with a specialized theme may have a very different approach to teaching than your base school. And a charter school may be smaller and contain more grade levels than a traditional school.

A great way to learn about a school’s culture is to check the school calendar and see what events they have coming up. This is a great way to get to know what they celebrate and where their values lie. See what kind of work is hanging in the hall, what messages are on bulletin boards.



Ask about the curriculum and specials. Wake Co. Public Schools uses common core curriculum, but many charter and private schools don’t. Find out what curriculum a school uses and ask them why they made that choice. Many schools also have a wide array of electives and specials. Find out what different opportunities will be available to your student. This applies to enrichment as well, you will want to look into what accelerated classes a school offers, and how a school determines access to those accelerated classes. At the elementary level you will more often see enrichment pull outs or small groups. Explore all the opportunities from enrichment to intervention and electives. 



Be sure you know when applications open and what you need to apply. Magnets, Charters and Private schools all have a different application process. You can use this timeline to help you know when the deadlines are, and when placement happens. In general, parents will navigate this process during their student’s final year of preschool, starting in the late fall, but you can change schools at any point that is appropriate for your family. 



More often than any other question, this is overlooked. Community is important, and location plays a big role in the way community will be fostered for your student. Consider location and transportation options when you are evaluating a school. Remember, this is where your child will make friends and get invited to birthday parties. If the location is inconvenient and transportation is stressful it will affect your connection to the school. 



Here we circle back to the beginning. What are your child’s strengths and what are the values your family is not willing to compromise on? Think through what is most important to you in finding a school home. Is it rigorous academics and being in an environment with peers who challenge your child? Is it a school culture that’s inclusive and diverse? Is it community and having a school in your neighborhood where you can walk to school with friends? Or perhaps a small school where they excel at differentiated learning and meeting students where they are (remember students are complicated human beings, they don’t fall into buckets of enrichment or intervention, most students need a combination of these interventions and those combinations will change overtime. You can excel in one area and need support in another. It isn’t stagnant). These values are the most important part in finding the right school. It’s your baseline for evaluating what a school has to offer. And more often than not, you should trust your gut. Only you know if it’s a good fit for your family. Tune out all the other voices. 



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