Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Langley School District Special Report by Susan Semonick - How to Select a School for Your Child

Report on the June 19th Presentation by Mr. Hugh Burke
How to Select a School for Your Child

Although there were only a few in attendance, 13 to be exact, I believe that everyone left with some very good information.

The low attendance was unfortunate and in my view, could have been helped if Langley District PAC, a communication tool for parents, had advised their membership about this educational opportunity. My understanding is that the executive chose not to. I personally found the presentation enlightening and wish I had heard it at least 13 years earlier. This year, DPAC was heavily involved with ‘how to do your income tax’, yet when it gets down to ‘what to look for in a good school for your children’, they view it as not within their purview. I’m confused.

Here are a few highlights from the presentation:

Mr. Burke promoted parental involvement and gave his view of what things should be considered to find a good school for your child. Whether your child is about to begin preschool, or their final years of secondary school, the informal dialogue on the range of educational choices open to families was valuable.

This is the second opportunity I have had to hear him speak. The first time was at TWU where he spoke about the Charter of Education and Independent schools at the 2004 Educational Forum of Deans, along with our former Superintendent, Mr. Truscott, who was also on the panel.

He started off his presentation with “ I am not here to promote Meadowridge School,” which has 500 students currently, with a capacity of 520. At the present time they do not need to recruit, and it is not his job to do it. The school is expensive and difficult for Langley students to get to. He does presentations as a community service, to model for his students who are also expected to volunteer.

His key points:

• Parents are the primary educators
• Human Rights Act states that it is a parent’s right to choose the education for their child.
• Do your research – Ask and Observe
• Do not rely on labels or aggregated statistics
• Choose the school that will be the right “fit” for your child

His opinions on what not to consider:

Don’t use Fraser Institute results. It is like comparing a cancer clinic and an obstetrics clinic and stating the one that is ranked the highest is the one with the most discharges and least deaths.

Labels on schools mean nothing. eg. Traditional, Fundamental, Montessori etc… Sometimes, the curriculum being taught is the same as regular schools. Sometimes, schools with the same “label” do not have the exact same program and vary greatly depending upon the director of the school.
What to do and what to ask in order to make an informed decision.

• Drive around the school and observe students, staff and parents at different times of the school day.
• Visit outside the school when parents are around (drop-off in the morning, pick-up after school) and ask them questions. You will learn a lot but speak to more than one or two people to get a diversity of opinion.
• Book a visit with the principal and ask for a tour. Take a day off work and spend the day.
• Ask to visit a classroom and observe. Ask teachers questions.
• Invest time to ensure that you have the right fit for your child.
• Ask more questions

Here are a few questions parents should be finding answers for.

Quality of Care
• What supervision is provided if child must arrive early or stay late?
• What is the feel? - Is it a warehouse for children or a place for learning?
• Are there mats for the children to sit on?
• What types of snacks are served? Is it healthy?
• How many staff are on the playground before during and after school?
• Will their essential needs be met? They need: caring, nutrition, soft place for consoling and hard place when not behaving well.
• Are the able to meet your child’s emotional needs?
• Are teachers happy working there?

School Facilities
• Are the school grounds clean? Litter?
• What do the washrooms look like?
• Are the classroom floors dirty?
• Is the ventilation adequate?
• What is the lighting like bright and cheery or dark and gloomy?
• Would you want your child to spend 6 to 8 hours there a day?

School Climate
• Drive by the school and observe the socializing during recess and lunch break
o Are there a lot of loners, only two large groups, many small groups?
o Are there students intermingling among the groups.
• What is the population diversity? Is there a wide range of Expression?
• How would your child fit in?

• Do they pay close attention to attendance?
• Do they report attendance more often than just once in the morning and afternoon?
• Do they advise parents of any absenteeism, or only if the do not arrive in the morning?
• Are they allowed off school grounds during spares? (Is it a closed campus?)

Programming and Academics
• Is there a balance arts, athletics, academics, etc?
• Is there a uniqueness of opportunities?
• Is there a great range of achievement between classes? Look for sequence in learning.
• Literacy - Do the teachers know their goals and the strategies?
• What do they use to measure or know they are being successful?
• How much professional development, cooperation and sharing between teachers is there?
• How well do the students achieve on provincial exams?
• How many students take the provincial exams?

Some other comments from Mr. Burke in response to parent questions from the floor.

• Ask questions and find the school program that fits your child. Location should not be the key driver in deciding where to place your child - it should be the school that best fits your child.

• French Immersion – it is not what most think and not good for all children. There is a gender issue - by the senior high school years there are very few males in the class. Late French Immersion starting at grade eight is the best for student success.

• An emerging demographic that has contributed to the decline in enrolment is more families are having only one / fewer children. So parents want a larger involvement into how, where, and what their child learns and is exposed to for their investment is greater.

It is neither the community nor location of a school, but most critically it is the environment within the walls that is of the most importance.

• Small schools of less than 600 are the best teaching climate. This would override the class size issue. School is small enough that everyone knows everyone.

• K –12 on same campus is the best model. It does not necessarily require one facility.

• Community is an extension of you .

• Middle school model he is familiar with - 20 students per teacher 4 teachers per group (no more than eighty students)

Middle schools – the concept is not for grade sixes – a 6 to 8 middle school makes no sense. A grades 7 to 9 middle school configuration works better. Gender issues are very important and adversely affect the 6 to 8 configuration. Leadership issue is also of concern – there is no natural ‘king of the hill’

• K-8 configuration is fine.

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