Spring is traditionally a popular time for families considering a move to a new home; shop now and move in when school ends for the summer is the usual plan. In most cities, this time schedule works out just fine. However, Seattle School District's system of choice creates a bit of a wrinkle. Seattle allows its residents to choose the school they prefer to send their children. It many ways this system is wonderful and many feel the good points outweigh the bad, but if you are moving in the city after the Early Enrollment deadline at the end of February, some schools have already reached their enrollment maximum and all schools have finished with their organized school tours (scheduled during Jan and Feb). Now what do you do?
I was once one of those springtime movers with three kids in elementary school. I found plenty of ways to get into the schools and learn enough to make a great choice. Here are a few ideas I highly recommend:
1. Call the schools you are interested in and ask for a private tour. Most will be more than happy to oblige. It is very helpful to let them know right away what grade(s) your child(ren) will be in. Some schools initially gave me a flat “no more tours” response until I told them I was not interested in kindergarten. By this time most principals have a good idea of their enrollment for next year and can tell you the likelihood of your child being admitted. If you want to get into a grade they have empty seats in, you will probably be treated to a royal tour. But remember, your child's admittance into the school will be unofficial until you request and receive confirmation from the District office.
2. Check out the schools' websites. There are links to each school's site on the Seattle Public Schools website. You can learn a lot about a school's culture if the website is kept up-to-date. Some schools have photos, calendars, PTA meeting notes, and other inside information that can tell you more about the school than a tour. Be careful not to judge a school on its lack of website information. There are wonderful schools that just have not been able to find a dedicated team to keep their website up-to-date. You will just have to find other ways to learn about these schools.
3. Google the schools. Most schools have been in the news for some thing or another. Some schools also have chat groups, blogs, and other on-line resources for students, parents, and other interested parties. I would avoid sites that charge you for school information. There are plenty of free sites and most of the information is culled from school and district websites anyway. Remember many facts are not static! Test results, programs offered, enrollment demographics, even facility descriptions can change dramatically from year-to-year. To really know the current situation at a school you have to find current information – check the dates.
4. Attend school events. The last quarter of school is usually chock-full of school events. Find the event calendar on the website or in the school's office and attend those that fit your schedule. Science Fairs, Field Days, Carnivals, School Plays, and other all-school events are a great place to take the pulse of a school community. Do the parents seem to know each other? Will anyone talk to you? Are the kids fun and friendly? Do the teachers look happy to be there? For my family this was the most important part of our research.
5. Ask around. Everyone in Seattle has a favorite school. Ask kids and parents why they chose their school and what they like best about it. You will find the answers vary widely. Believe it or not, we are not all looking for the same thing in a school. Find your family's best fit.
6. Register as soon as you have decided on a school and hope for the best. The criteria the district uses to assign a child to a school can seem confusing and convoluted. Read Admission Services policies carefully. Common assignment questions are answered on the Seattle Schools FAQ page. The district is also always considering changes, for better or worse, depending on who you ask. Remember, if you don't end up with your ‘first choice' school you can always ask to be on the wait-list for that school and/or try again during early enrollment the following school year.
Everyone benefits when families take the time to determine their own needs and find a school that will best serve them. Don't worry that you are getting a late start. Take some time to learn the facts, process the rumors, assess the feel of the school community and then, once you have made your selections and been assigned a school, make a commitment to participate and support its success.