Finding the best possible school to support your child’s academic, social, emotional and spiritual needs can sometimes be an overwhelming task. Many parents share the same hopes and dreams for their child and envision an ideal setting where their child could build positive friendships; have caring and inspiring teachers; develop a strong academic base; learn important life skills such as perseverance and self-regulation; feel capable, confident and challenged; believe that their efforts matter; feel intrinsically motivated; and enjoy the learning process.
With a plethora of educational options, including private, public, charter and home-schools, the choice may simply come down to location or finances. Yet, children have unique needs, personalities and gifts, so taking the time to find the right school can make a critical difference.
Parents shouldn’t have to feel confused or frustrated when they attempt to weigh all their options for their child’s education—this is when a checklist can come in handy. While exploring school choices, answer Y (yes) or N (no) to the following questions.

❑ Y  ❑ N    Teachers and administration seem enthusiastic, knowledgeable and communicative.
❑ Y  ❑ N    The principal is confident and interested in interacting with children, teachers and parents.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Students are provided with opportunities to work at their own pace independently and collaborate in small groups.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Curriculum is differentiated to support all learners.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Classrooms look cheerful and engaging.
❑ Y  ❑ N    High standards of academic rigor and excellence are in place for all students.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Students are taught social skills and expected to act respectfully toward each other and build positive peer relationships.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Art, Music, Science, Social Studies, Character Education and Technology are included in the daily curriculum.
❑ Y  ❑ N    The math curriculum is proven and effective and provides a deep understanding of concepts, e.g., Singapore Math.*
❑ Y  ❑ N    Language Arts curriculum uses authentic literature and includes a strong writing component, e.g., Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Workshop.*
❑ Y  ❑ N    Multiple measures are used to assess student learning, and student data are used to drive instruction and show growth over time.
❑ Y  ❑ N    The science program, e.g., FOSS,* provides hands-on experiential learning and investigation and is research based.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Facilities are well maintained, and the grounds look safe and inviting.
❑ Y  ❑ N    School size feels personal, with a strong sense of school community.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Before- or after-school programs/childcare are available.
❑ Y  ❑ N    A language immersion/bilingual education program is available.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Homework is used to enrich and extend student learning.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Teachers are responsive to students’ needs, well qualified and experienced in their subject matter.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Technology is used to enhance student learning and engagement.
❑ Y  ❑ N    The philosophy or mission of the school is aligned with family values.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Positive Discipline* is employed, focusing on problem-solving, intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, belonging and connection.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Student health and safety are always taken into consideration.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Parents’ involvement and communication are valued and encouraged.
❑ Y  ❑ N    The school’s communication is consistent and transparent.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Students’ individual strengths and needs are taken into consideration.
❑ Y  ❑ N    A small class size/student-teacher ratio is in place to enhance student learning.
❑ Y  ❑ N    The curriculum is religious based, with Jewish traditions and holidays celebrated.
❑ Y  ❑ N    Tuition is affordable.

The process of choosing a school entails being a keen observer, asking thoughtful questions and assessing the needs and strengths of your child, as well as your family values. This checklist is one way to start reflecting on what is most important to your family and child. In turn, you can begin to better understand how the right school can make a significant impact on your child’s development. Ultimately, feeling empowered to make a decision that you can feel good about will also help you become your child’s best advocate.

*Singapore Math, Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing Workshop, FOSS Science and Positive Discipline are embedded in the Irvine Hebrew Day School Curriculum.

Tammy Keces is a contributing writer to JLife magazine. Published in Jlife 2014.