Wednesday, March 6, 2013

choosing a school (3) an example

Why we rejected some schools
We visited a few secondary schools with new buildings and a nice paint job, but here are some things I observed:
  • the kids looked disengaged and miserable. There were no smiles or greetings as we entered the classroom, just sullen looks. 
  • the principal - yes, the principal! - talked disrespectfully to one of the kids, and she responded in kind (a debate over something she wasn't supposed to be doing). 
  • when I asked, "Why should we send our children to your school", the principal looked blank, then came up with "New buildings". Hmmm...
  • the discipline seemed to be lacking: there was uncontrolled rowdiness in one class; and when I asked about the bullying policy, there was no talk about consequences.
  • there was clearly little effort to enforce the uniform policy. This is really no big deal, but it may show they've run out of energy for the small issues.
  • when I asked about Christian groups, I was told, quite belligerently, "No, we're a secular school." That's fine - of course they are. But to have an antagonistic attitude to religious groups is another thing.
  • at one school, there was no academic program: it focusses on the "tech" end of things. I really like that, but it's not suitable for our kids.

Why we chose our kids' secondary school
It has old buildings and is in need of a new coat of paint, but here are some things I noticed:
  • the kids smile at you. They're polite. They look happy and engaged.
  • the principal thoroughly impressed me. He loves his school, and he's totally committed to making it the best it can be. He's warm and well-liked but also a good disciplinarian.
  • there's a clearly stated chain of consequences for discipline matters
  • there's an academic program, but the school has a great "tech" program too. There's no exclusive effort to get only the "smarties" along to raise the school's score.
  • most of the teachers I've met have been enthusiastic and engaging. (In any school there are some poor teachers, but lots of good ones shows they're getting their employment policy right.)
  • when I asked about Christian groups, I discovered there's a chaplain at the school, and they're open to churches running groups at lunchtime (in fact, there's one starting soon). There are lots of Christian teachers: not something I ever expected, but a bonus, and at least the school doesn't feel anti-Christian.
  • I love the range of facilities and subjects: animals in the science room, hospitality kitchen, vege garden, automotive and tech programs, great music faculty, etc... Not essential but attractive all the same.
  • my daughter walked in and instantly felt at home. That clinched it for me!

Lots of question, close observation, and getting a "feel" for the school: that's how we did it.
I know parents have different methods, but this worked well for us.

What was your experience of choosing a school for your kids? 

Tell us here.


Gordon Cheng said...

Good one Jean!

I have a slight preference for state schools because that's my background and Fifi's as well. But the local girls' high school has a bad dress code and at the time we were looking into it, a headmistress who was antagonistic to Scripture classes and defensive about educational standards. None of these things appealed.

We also checked out the selective stream at another school, but really my main concern is on the Christian side of things, so I asked whether there was any school Christian group. The headmaster was neither antagonistic nor concerned about the question, just completely ignorant. The answer was something like 'Oh, I think a few kids get together on Thursdays for a BBQ occasionally'.

We went to an Anglican girl's school to check it out, and found out that 1/3 of the girls are in voluntary, student led Bible studies. Good chaplains, a headmistress that wants all girls to come to know Jesus, and a school population with a full diversity of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The educational stuff was good, the students were polite and friendly, so many good things. We get the clergy discount, or we couldn't afford it.

Far too many rich people with big houses, but apart from that, lots of good things.

Valori said...

Hi Jean! I am quite surprised that you are even allowed to choose a school for your children. You may already know this, but here in the U.S. you have to go to the school that is in the district of your neighborhood. They will at times make an exception if you have really good reasons, but if you want to really be able to have a choice, you either have to pay money for a private school or home school. (Prices of homes are even affected by the school districts they are in.) Maybe that's one of the reasons that home-schooling is so much more popular over here in the U.S.? Not sure, but it's a thought.

Jean said...

Hi Valori,

That's interesting - and no doubt, as you say, is one reason why so many more American families homeschool compared to Australian families.

There are some particularly popular public secondary schools here - e.g. known for their academic or music programs - where they won't let you go unless you live in their "zone", and yes, people buy homes in those suburbs so people can go to those schools.

But most schools are just keen to get people to enrol!