Tips for parents when applying for schools

I know the holidays are in full swing, and your calendar for the next few weeks might be full with family get-togethers, shopping and cooking.

But let’s take a peek at your January calendar. If your child will be enrolling in kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth grade, be sure you finish up your school tours and complete your school application. The deadline to apply to the San Francisco Unified School District is Jan. 15, 2016.

I’m lucky enough to visit schools every week. I’ve been an educator for more than 20 years, and my own kids have attended our SFUSD schools. So you could say I have some opinions about what you want to look for when applying to schools. Here are some things to think about:

Logistics: Before you even head out for a visit, consider the basics. Where is the school located? How will your child get to school each day? Does the start and end time work for your family’s schedule? Do you need an afterschool program at the same school?

Show and tell: A school’s academics and culture should literally be written on the walls for you. Take a close look at artwork, data charts, poetry, even how teachers’ names are displayed. (Some of our teachers include their college alma mater next to their name as a way to remind students that we are a college-bound culture).

Ask: When you talk with the principal, parent tour guides, or teachers, ask them what they like about the school. If they talk about things that you want for your child, then you are well on your way to having a good match. More importantly, if you’ve heard the school has challenges, go ahead and ask directly about them. It’s so much better to hear from school staff about how issues are being addressed than to rely on rumors.

In the classroom: If you have the opportunity to observe a classroom (which may or may not be possible on your scheduled tour), notice what students are doing. It can sometimes look chaotic and noisy with small groups of students doing different activities. Or it may sometimes look like everyone listening to the teacher. Either way, upon close inspection, you should be able to see whether or not each child is participating in his or her learning.

Please fill out that application on time! Submitting your application on or before Jan. 15, 2016, (Round 1) means you have the best chance to get one of the schools you chose. It also means you are able to amend your choice or appeal during the next application round if you decide you do not want the school that you are initially assigned.

Richard Carranza is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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