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What would you do - local, mediocre school or great school accross town?


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aostun February 22, 2012


Is it better to enroll your children in your local community school so that they get social interaction with children from their neighborhood (but the school ranks a 4 out of 10)...or is it better to send them to a school that ranks a 7 out of 10, but is a 20 minute drive?

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surpmomma February 22, 2012


I drive my son to an awesome school 30 minutes away. I'm not fond of the drive. He loves everything about school. The payoff is great. I feel it is totally worth it.

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MagnetMom February 22, 2012


Hi aostun,

It really depends, and you've nailed the question squarely on its head. There is something to be said for kids being able to play with their friends after school, on weekends and in the summer. Randomly, and not scheduled.

On the other hand, you want to get the best education possible for your children.

Have you talked to both schools and toured them? When you look at the test data, does the data look better in the subgroups that contain your kids? For instance, in a school population with many English Learners, it can affect the overall score, but might not be affecting the gifted students. Or a school with a well regarded special ed program might appear to have lower scores, when it simply admits all students, when a nearby gifted magnet might only have bright students in it--making the numbers look higher.

In the end, only you can know what's right for your kids, but do your research and if they're old enough, let them be a part of the decision. Good luck.

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mariamaria8 February 23, 2012


I am facing a similar dilemma. There is a local neighborhood school that I have to drop my child off to everyday about an 8 minute drive from my house and it rates a 7 on great schools. The other one is 20 minutes away and gets a 10. The test scores are amazing and it's one of the highest ranked schools in the state. If he goes to that one, I have to apply each year to get in - though I've heard once the child is in, they stay in. It isn't popular since it's away from the highways and would be out of the way for most people to get to work. They do have space.

The demographics of the schools are radically different. In the neighborhood school, 50% of the population is on reduced fee lunches, it is racially diverse and many parents do not speak English. There is a large transient poulation that lives in low income housing. But, there are are also middle class families with English speaking parents as well.

In the 20 minute away school about 2% of the population is on reduced fee lunches and there is a huge caucasian population.

My neighbors all send their kids to the neighborhood school. All of them seem to like it, it's very small compared to others in the district and many say it is a nice community feel.

What should I do?

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athomemama February 23, 2012


I chose to send my boys to a better school back in 2005 when my oldest was starting kindergarten.. I have been happy with that decision. Our home schools are not great and I am now researching schools for my 7th grader next year. Do your research, ask questions, tour the schools... that way you can make an informed decision. Best of luck to you.

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ratstail February 24, 2012


Really depends on how bad the local school is. Have you met with the principal and been on a tour. What feeling does it give you? What do the other parents have to say?

Our local school is a 4/10 and didn't give me a good feeling. All the problems were blamed on budget and the parent reviews were poor. We choose to enroll our son across town at a school that was 30 minutes away and had an innovative program, a good feeling, but no better rating. That lasted about a month. The drive got to be too much and what was a class size last year of 21 was a class size this year of 34. Our child didn't excel there.

Then looking to enroll our child closer to home but not the 'local' school we happened to come across a bit of gem. A school out of our district (and a lower rated district at that) but only seven minutes from our house. School rated a 7/10 and has an excellent principal and our child ended up in a class with an outstanding teacher. He's excelling more than we could have expected.

We still see kids getting off the bus from our local school on our way home and it would have been nice for our child to socialize with them. However, we are fortunate to have found an excellent school with room for our child not too far away.

I don't think it's all about the school rating. I get a little worried with a school that is a 10/10 that the focus is too much on teaching for the test. Really got to get out there and talk with the principal and other parents (nearby parks) and see what the school is all about. As far as distance I prefer a school closer to my house; it also makes it easier to volunteer. Anything over 20 minutes seems to far unless it's near a place of work.

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TeacherParent February 25, 2012


As a general rule, I wouldn't choose a school based on any ranking. Rankings are inexact attempts to judge schools and many things that are important in schools can't be measured such as - the general tone of the school - do the teachers and students seem happy to be there? Are people in the school generally smiling and happy? What is the physical condition of the school? Is it well kept? Bright, sunny and airy? Are the teachers receptive to potential parents visiting the school?

Questions like those can tell you a lot about a school but information like that isn't put into any ranking. I always suggest - spend a morning and an afternoon in any school in which you're interested. Get the feel of the school and see if it feels like a place you'd want your child to be.

You're fortunate to have a choice of schools - not everybody does. I drove my own children 20 minutes to get to school each day - it was worth it but there's a great deal to be said for the convenience of having your children in your neighborhood school.

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BigPaws12 March 4, 2012


I also drive both my kids across town. I did try the zoned school. Horrid.
Even within the same county my "so gifted " DD rose behind the other first graders in the new school. My kids still have neighborhood friends. Of course the parents don't like to hear that the school my kids attend is great and the local one isn't, but frankly they're not my worry. I drive 25 min each way twice a day and it's entirely worth it.

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ksboardmember March 4, 2012


We chose to keep our daughter at the nearby school. In addition we joined with other parents and worked to help the teachers and the principal make the school better. We pledged to invest the time into her school that we would have otherwise spent driving her across town. It has been very satisfying to see the improvements that came about thanks to a successful collaboration of parents and educators. By working to make our daughter's educational experience better, we helped make it better for all of the students there. And now there is no need for parents to have to weigh the question posed above. Plus we modeled behavior for our daughter and the other students that they can carry forward. Moving to another school may work better for your child, but it does nothing to help the community.

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mytwogreatkids March 5, 2012


I agree with most of these post. You have to visit the school and get a feel for the principal, staff, and teachers. Don't let a rating be your sole decision. Our local schools rank extremely high...however, the principal is impossible to work with and they don't encourage parent involvement at all. Our school year as been a complete flop with many, many stresses throughout the school year. Our kids will be going to different schools next year that is about 15 min. away. We've made this commitment in the past to drive our kids to school daily and it worked out fine. It all has to be commitment of giving your kids the best and not taking the easy way out because your local school is closer. Many parents in our neighborhood complain consistently about our schools but most of them will not make the commitment to move their kids. They just put up with it.
Also, don't worry about social interaction. Your kids will still play with the neighborhood kids on weekends and in the summer. Not to mention you want to relay to your kids that education is far more important then socializing. Good luck with your decision but I would recommend to make the commitment to drive your kids where ever they will get a better education and experience.

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teachergran March 8, 2012


I think the points others have made, about checking out the schools are important. Also, go to a PTA mtg - are these parents you would like to have as friends? Would you want your child absorbing their values? Test scores really tell very little about a school. They are essentially a one-day (per curricular area) snapshot of how kids were doing. Some tests instruct the proctors to essentially throw out any tests where the child is noted to be making patterns with the bubbles. Often the higher scoring schools are more vigilant about doing this, so it makes it seem like their scores are higher than they might be if the renegade artist had not been noticed.
The population of the school can make a huge difference (see the earlier post about the effects of large numbers of English learners and/or Special Ed students). If you have more than one child, you also need to keep in mind that what might be a fabulous school for one child might be significantly less so for another one. Look at how the teachers speak to the students. Look at how many parents are volunteering (and is it only to raise money, or do they help in the library or in classrooms?).
Is it easy to get an appt with the principal? Do you feel comfortable with him/her? In my years as a parent of three kids, I found that it was important for the principal to have a vision for the school, and a plan to make that vision happen. It was less important that I agree with every part of that vision and plan (though you would want to at least be in the same book, if not on the same page). You don't want a school where a principal tells every parent what he or she wants to hear, or is reluctant to stand up to pushy parents when necessary. You also don't want one where the principal is so rigid that he/she never really listens to what others are suggesting. When you find the happy medium, you are more likely to find happy (and thus more productive) staff, children who understand what is expected of them, and families who want to work together to make their school an even better place.



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