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Choosing a school isn't rocket science, but it's not as simple as it once was in Shelby County. From your neighborhood public school to charter schools and private schools, you have a lot of options. Let's get started!

Step 1: Figure out what you're looking for in a school.

At MOST, we're big fans of the Picky Parent Guide as a tool to help parents identify which school characteristics are most important for your child and family. Lucky for you, the book's authors have made it available for free on their website.

If you don't have time to read the whole book, it's worth thinking about what it says are the two most important factors in choosing a school: quality and fit.

Step 2: Research your school options.

Regardless of what you might have heard, Memphis is full of great educational options — of all types and levels of affordability. You owe it to yourself, your child, and your checkbook to consider all of the available options:

  • Public schools — If you're here, it might be because you think your neighborhood public school isn't up to par. But are you sure? We recommend checking it out first because it's hard to beat the convenience and community you get from going to a neighborhood school — and it's free. But for some, it's not a good option. Beyond that, the local public schools also offer open enrollment and optional school choices that can be great (and, again, free) answers to your school questions.

  • Charter schools offer an alternative to traditional public schools, but at the same price — free! Many have a special academic focus or extended learning hours that could be just what your child needs to succeed. Most local charter schools are open to all students, though some must give priority to students who live in their zones. Visit Memphis School Guide or the Tennessee Charter School Center for more information about individual charter schools.

  • Private schools — Perhaps you are looking for a certain kind of learning environment (e.g. smaller class sizes, Montessori or classical education, single gender, etc.) or the incorporation of religious teaching. If so, then a private school might be right for you, but private schools charge tuition — they are not free. Financial aid might be available through the school or a scholarship organization such as MOST to make affordable what you thought was out of reach. But don't assume that paying tuition always equates to a great school. Do your homework and make sure the school is the right fit for your child and family. Remember, too, that private schools are "independent." Each one is different, and each one has different admission policies and guidelines. You will want to visit the website of each school you are interested in to learn more. 

  • Home schools — For parents who feel that father or mother knows best, homeschooling might be the right option for your family.

Step 3: Narrow down your options and visit the schools.

Armed with a list of questions about how each school will address the specific needs of your child and family, you can attend open house events, interview the principal, and talk with other parents. Generally, it's best to start in the fall of the year before your child will start at a school. You only want to make this decision once, so do the legwork the first time around. Chapter 15 of the Picky Parent Guide can help you more with this step. Also, this Time article is helpful on the topic of school visits, and it even quotes a couple of Memphis teachers. Find more articles on evaluating schools here.

Step 4: Choose your school and secure your spot.

You've done your homework, so you can now settle on a school with confidence and get your child a seat. Chapters 16 and 17 of the Picky Parent Guide can help walk you through these steps. Now, you're ready to go!

Picky Parent also has a thorough Glossary and Index of Resources that can help you understand unfamiliar terms and find out more about different topics related to your child and choosing a school.