Are you a parent looking for the "perfect" school for your child? Or maybe you know the school your child is going to, but want to know what to look for. Two years ago, I had a spreadsheet of about 10 schools. I listed pros, cons, locations, lottery numbers (for charter), and tuitions (for private). Thankfully, I had been a teacher at 3 different Title 1 schools over the past 10 years. I had an idea of what to look for, but so many of my friends didn't have that insight. I quickly found that what I looked for in school was very different from what other families were looking for. When I talked to others in my mom group, they told me that they were looking for performance scores, google reviews, and building conditions. These are amazing things to look for in a school, but they were not my top priority. Here are the top 3 things I looked for.
That's right, that was my number one thing to look for. I know that it's not on everyone's radar, but let me explain why this was my number one. Teacher happiness stems from a good school community, great leadership, and a good work environment. There is an old saying, "If Momma ain't happy, nobody's happy." It rings true in a classroom environment as well. My kid already learns so many things from home and I knew that would continue. I wanted my kid to be in a classroom where his teacher smiled every day, where he/she was happy to be at work, and where my child would get to smile and laugh too. Happiness is contagious, and I would love for my child to be in a classroom all day with a happy teacher not in an inflexible classroom where the teacher was unhappy to be there. Teacher happiness will spill into things like making your child love school because it is a happy place. Teacher happiness will help your child be comfortable with making mistakes because that is how we learn. Teacher happiness is so important for your child to truly find the most success.
You are about to embrace a community for the next 5-6 years. That number is even bigger if you have more than one child going through. (I'm looking at 10 years at my boys' school!) So, this is a big investment mentally, emotionally, and socially. If you are looking to be involved and spend time with this group, you need to look at it as a relationship. Does the parent group meet your requirements? Are there areas that you could help with? Can you see yourself spending lots of time with this group of people? Will you make this group better by adding to it? You are about to spend the next 5+ years with this group, you want to make sure it fits you just as much as the school fits your child. While you may not spend as much time there, you will see these parents regularly make sure that you are ready to start that relationship with them. You will likely never find the perfect PTA, but make sure it fits your needs too.
Honestly, this comes down to organization. What does safety look like at this school? Can anyone come in and pick up my child in the carline? What are the procedures for fire drills, shooting drills, etc? What does a lockdown look like? How does this school communicate with parents? Obviously, I wish every school would use Pickup because it makes dismissal super safe. But dismissal is only one piece of the puzzle. Many of you have heard my story about being a teacher in Blacksburg, Virginia when there was an active shooter on Virginia Tech's campus. The school that I taught at was amazing. They had a plan in place, and there was open communication. We were able to keep our students safe during a crisis. Safety is such an important part of schools because your child will spend much of their time there. As parents, we want to know that there are safety procedures in place for when the unknown happens.
I think this is where I put in my plug for Pickup. Schools that use Pickup and give parents resources on how they keep their students safe during dismissal. They can communicate their plan, and ensure parents know exactly who picked up their child and when. These schools also have a plan and procedure in place for when something out of the ordinary happens like crazy weather or a lockdown. Having a plan in place is so important for schools. The last thing any school wants is to have a chaotic dismissal during a chaotic time.
If you are lucky enough to have many choices, that's great! I know you will choose what is right for your family. If you only have one choice, then make the best of it. Help with teacher happiness. Be the parent liaison who creates an awesome environment. Encourage safety with your school. I would ask for communication and school plans. If they don't have them, help them create the plan! Tell them about Pickup and we can help your school too!