Updated: Feb 2, 2019
By Laura James, Fairmont Agency
If you have a young child (like us!) then a new home might mean a new school. My son is 4 (and a half) and will be starting kindergarten in the fall. This fact played a huge role in us deciding to move from our current home (which I LOVE but has a less than desirable assigned school and school district). So in looking at new homes after confirming adequate bedrooms and bathrooms and scrolling through some picture, I checked what the assigned school was and the local school district's policy on intra-district transfers.
A great starting resource for looking at your child possible new school is Great Schools. Great Schools allows you enter an address to find out what the assigned schools are and to learn about the school's enrollment statistics, standardized test score, student/teacher ratios, reviews from current and former parents, students and teachers. In addition to your assigned school you can search schools nearby and obtain the same information on those schools as well. While a GREAT resource, Great Schools evaluation is very focused on standardized test scores and the reviews are skewed as either amazing or awful. People have also expressed issues with posting reviews and having reviews denied or deleted by the site, so you may not be getting the entire picture.
A similar website for researching schools (once you know your assigned schools) is Niche. Niche is designed as a ranking website for schools in a particular area. It assigns a rank and letter grade to the schools in that area. In addition to its rank and grade, Niche will provide you with information on academic scores, teacher education ratings, student enrollment, etc. In addition, it will give a quick snapshot of the community as a whole.
After getting a basic idea of the assigned school and the nearby schools, I like to go directly to the school's and school district's websites. I read the principals letters, school policies, schedules, teacher bios, events, etc. to get a sense of the school. I also look at the school district's policies on intra-district policies (how to transfer schools within the district), in case your assigned school is not your ideal.
Then a drive by is warranted to get an idea of what the school facilities look like. Most schools are very amenable to school visits and meeting the principal (or other administrative staff) and I HIGHLY recommend scheduling one before enrolling. I have visited a handful of schools and have learned invaluable information from walking the grounds, standing in classrooms (unannounced) for a few minutes and having a one-on-one with someone who has extensive knowledge of how the school works, its positives and negatives.
Lastly, speak with neighbors and friends. When you move chat up your neighbors or the parents at sports or parks about where their kids go and their feedback. Your experience as a parent (and what you like and don't like about a school) may be very different from the perspective of the school administration. Parents are likely to be more concerned with teacher communication and drop-off policies rather than say diversity and school statistics, so they will provide a different prospective.
After ALL of this, you will have a wealth of information to make an informed decision on the best school for your family.
Happy House Hunting!!