What to look for when visiting schools

I know it seems a long way off, but if your child is entering kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth next year, we hope you’re looking at schools now. I encourage you to take advantage of school tours this month and next, before the Jan. 15 deadline for school applications.

I’m lucky enough to visit schools every week. I’ve been an educator for more than two decades, and my child attends our public schools. So you could say I have some opinions about what to look for when visiting schools.

Logistics
Before you even head out for a visit, think about logistics. 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
Sometimes a school’s academics and culture are literally written on the walls for you. Take a close look at artwork, data charts, poetry, even how the 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 finding a good match.

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 problems are being addressed than to rely on rumors.

Classroom
If you have the opportunity to observe in a classroom, which may or may not be possible on your scheduled tour, look at whether or not students are engaged — this can sometimes look chaotic and noisy with small groups of children doing different activities throughout the room and 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.

I love visiting schools and I’m confident that you will, too. There are more than a hundred unique public schools in San Francisco. Come check them out!

The deadline to submit an enrollment application form is Jan. 15, 2016. To learn more, visit www.sfusd.edu/enroll.

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

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