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Tips from a Mom who knows: finding the right school for your child

Sunday, October 16, 2011 Leave a Comment

I found this post so helpful when I was beginning the kindergarten search, I asked Kerri if I could just repost the whole article again - and they updated it for us. Enjoy! -- Liz

Getting Started

We wanted to provide you with something we wish we had when we were getting started in our school search.  This isn’t exactly a step by step process, as there are so many paths each family could go down together, rather we are sharing our loose guideline for this process.  Depending on whether you ultimately decide to send your child to a public, private, charter, magnet or catholic school there are different steps one must follow in order to maintain sanity during this quest.  Here is what we suggest:

Check Out Your DPS Neighborhood School
One of the first things to do in your search of the “right school” is take a look at your neighborhood school and see what it is all about. If you are unsure of your neighborhood school, you can find it at this site: what’s my neighborhood school? If you fall in love with all that it has to offer, you’re lucky, and you might stop the search altogether!  I know some parents who never did an ounce of research because they felt strongly about sending their child to their neighborhood school.  For any of a variety of reasons, it worked for them.  I also know a lot of parents who liked their neighborhood school but wanted to see what else was out there.  Just like when we go shopping for groceries or shoes, it’s always smart to do some comparison shopping….why not with schools?  Here in Denver, we are lucky enough to have a program through the Denver Public School system called School of Choice.  This allows our children the opportunity to be educated at a school outside of our neighborhood if need be. It’s our choice and it’s a great option to have!

Determine Your Interest in the Private School Option
If you are interested in the possibility of sending your child to private school, there are a different set of steps to follow.  You will find a comprehensive list and links to those schools at the right of this page.  The majority of these schools post their tuition and financial aid programs directly on their Websites.  Each of these schools generally have open houses and tour dates as well.  You will probably need to call each school where you have interest and sign up for a tour date or open house.  Once this is complete and you choose to apply, the application process can be quite tedious.  The Logan School, Graland Academy, and Colorado Academy require intelligence testing by a certified Child Psychiatrist.  Additionally, most of the private schools require an observation of your child, and on a separate occasion, the parents.  Lastly, keep in mind that many private schools also require a teacher recommendation or two.  Yes, it’s like college so get organized!

Advanced Kindergarten Testing
If you feel your child is a more advanced learner and is also socially ready for Kindergarten, you may choose to apply for the Advanced Kindergarten testing. Applications are accepted in December for the following school year, and testing generally takes place in January and February (Update: applications due in late October or early November for the following school year). There is a fee of $50.00 and your child is tested on basic concepts in reading and math. A recommendation from your child’s preschool teacher is not mandated but is a plus. If your child scores in the top 10% (Polaris, the top 5%), then you are able to apply for the Advanced Kindergarten program. Note, the Bill Roberts Elementary School in Stapleton is now only accepting applications from Stapleton residents. You will then be given a choice of two schools in your area that offers this program (ex: if your neighborhood school is Park Hill, your two options in north east Denver for Advanced Kindergarten are Polaris or Stedman, if slots are available). UPDATE: Not every neighborhood is given two choices to select from for the Advanced Kindergarten program. If you are not interested in sending your child to the AK program in your neighborhood or area, you can contact the AK office directly, to see what other choice(s) may be available (if any) for your child. Currently, there are eight elementary schools throughout Denver offering Advanced Kindergarten classrooms. These classrooms differ from traditional Kindergarten classrooms due to an accelerated curriculum, looking at where the individual child is now and where he/she needs to go, and more small group instruction versus whole group instruction. The Advanced Kindergarten Program is part of the full-day Tuition Based Kindergarten Program (click here to learn more about the program). If you get into a school  that offers the Advanced Kindergarten, be sure to ask what is offered in the next grade level to challenge your child. If you would like further information re: Advanced Kindergarten testing you can contact Terri Freund (DPS) at 720.423.8277 and check out our post on Testing, Who Needs It? If you’d like more information on gifted and talented programs, feel free to contact the individual school.

School Tours and Open Houses
By this time, you will have heard about certain schools that are being discussed by friends, acquaintances, and neighbors. You have discovered some on your own. You have explored our site to get the Scoop and checked out school Websites ahead of time (most schools have updated sites with plenty of useful info). Now it’s time to start calling these schools to see when their school tours are scheduled, along with dates of their Open Houses. You may even want to make an appointment directly with the Principal or Executive Director.  Feel free to use this School Comparison Spreadsheet to keep track of the schools you visit.  This will help you visualize this process and what is the best fit for your child and family.

What To Ask
While visiting the schools, it’s helpful to have a list of questions prepared to help you differentiate between them.  We have put together the list below to get you started:
  • How many children attend the school?
  • How many classes per grade level?
  • What is the percentage of neighborhood children attending vs. the percentage of children choicing in?
  • What is class size like?
  • Are there Paras or Assistants in each classroom?
  • Is there an active PTA or Parent Association?
  • Where are the fundraising dollars typically allocated?
  • What is the teacher turnover like? And what percentage of teachers have advanced degress?
  • How long has the Principal or Executive Director been there?
  • Is there a support staff available for the children with special needs?
  • What advanced or accelerated programs do you have?
  • Do children in each grade level interact with each other or with children in other grade levels?
  • What other special programs are offered (language, arts, extra curriculars)?
  • What makes this school unique to other schools?
Keep in mind how you feel walking through the halls. Is the person giving the tour enthusiastic about the school and what it has to offer? Do the children look happy and engaged? Is it cramped, institutional, chaotic, pretentious?  What do the classrooms look like? Is there a computer lab and a decent library? Could you picture your child in this school or yourself volunteering your time here? Do you feel that vibe?

Guidance From Professionals
Once you have decided on some schools, you may want to ask your child’s preschool teacher for a bit of guidance. You may want to ask out of school A, B, C, what do you think would be the best fit for my child?  They should have a good sense of the type of learner your child has become and the environment where he/she might thrive best.  Of course, you know your child best but additional opinions can be helpful in solidifying your choices.  Child Psychiatrists can also observe your child and give you guidance on how they learn best.  Additionally, there are “Educational Consultants” who can work with you as well.  Certainly, you will have to pay for the latter two options.

In Conclusion
ScoopToo plans to offer a series of posts that break down the majority of the subjects mentioned above and a lot more.  Have no fear; you will find the answers (we hope) to all of your questions at ScoopToo!


  • Unknown said:  

    Thanks for sharing!

    For finding the right school for your child just practice the 3 important things 1)Find Locations 2)Get Referrals and 3) Make Contacts. If you are looking for schools in Berkshire then go for Dolphin Day School a Nursery School For Children In Hurst, Berkshire. A day school which is a co-educational preparatory school providing creative approach to learning for children between 3-13 yrs.