Choosing our Future Elementary School (Part 2)

25 February 2014

Yesterday I posted about the first step for choosing an elementary school for us. That first step was defining our expectations. I narrowed down my expectations to 4 and in this post, I will highlight the steps I took to evaluating how the schools available in my city met some of those expectations.

School systems
In Calgary (and most big cities) this consists of public, private and charter school systems. Depending on how they are run, charter systems combine the best parts of both the public and private school systems

School Districts
There can be one or more school districts within each of the school systems. For example, the public school system in Calgary includes the Calgary Board of Education, the Palliser school district and the Catholic School District

Now that the definitions are out of the way, here's the 10-Step program for evaluating schools

  1. Determine which school districts we're qualified to attend and which we are not.  
  2. Obtain and compare academic ratings either through a private rating system like the Fraser Institute or by checking the state/province test results
  3. Compile a list of public, private and charter schools that meet your academic requirements. My requirements are that the school be ranked among the top 20% in the province of Alberta.
  4. Check the state or province's youth sports website. Which schools are featured regularly and which are not? If sports participation is important to you, give one negative point to all the schools that have no showings whatsoever in the youth sports arena
  5. Check the private schools. Eliminate the ones that are not affordable for your family (we're talking twins here). BUT before eliminating based on tuition only, confirm that there are no scholarships your family could qualify for.
  6. Check the charter schools' websites and admissions criteria. Put a "?" on those that have extremely long wait lists that you're not on already. There's a school here that informed me that we're number 300+ on the wait list for kindergarten. Considering that they have around 60 available spots, I'm not holding my breath for a phone call
  7. Spend a few hours on the public school board's website and read the long, boring reports on school closures, planned new schools, school capacity utilization numbers, zoned neighborhoods, class sizes etc. Put a "?" on schools that are over-capacity and students can only get in by a lottery system.Why? Even if you live within the neighborhood, you're not guaranteed a spot. And if you don't get a spot, your kids will be bussed to the nearest school with spare capacity. In Calgary, this usually translates into a one hour bus ride to a school that's not a high-performer
  8. If a second language is important to you, narrow down the school list even further
  9. Map your current or future neighborhood and your current or future workplace to the schools on your shortlist. Eliminate schools that are outside of driving/busing range and zoned to neighborhoods you will not be moving to. 
  10. Trade off: If there's no school left on your list, start again with more relaxed criteria. If there are too many schools on your list, be more stringent with your criteria. Bottom line for me was that I wanted just one likely public elementary school that the girls would attend. Then all the charter, private and alternative schools were evaluated against this public school. 

This is part 2 of my In Search of our Future School Series.

In Search of our future school series
In Search of our future school series
Part 1: Defining your expectations
Part 2: Evaluating the schools that meet those expectations
Part 3: Building the final shortlist of elementary schools

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