Why the right school is a community, what to look for, and the public vs private debate
JC Bowman, Executive Director & CEO of Professional Educators of Tennessee, recently shared his insights with MOST. We talked about four everyday things to consider when looking for a school, the question of public versus private education, and how obsolete education systems are holding students back.
“How can parents help children reach their best future? Studies show that children whose parents are actively involved in their education do better,” Bowman said. He suggests parents look at an array of factors to be best equipped to choose a school that can meet their child’s unique needs.
A School is a Community
Bowman suggests looking for a location with an easy commute, preferably in the community where your family lives and is already actively engaged. Ongoing parental involvement is critical and being close to the school helps.
Parents also need to consider the school’s responsiveness. Bowman told us about a friend of his, a principal whose policy is to stay on campus during the school day to be present for both parents and students. An absentee principal is a red flag. So is a disengaged faculty.
“Parents need to look at what type of enthusiasm for teaching is there,” said Bowman. “When you talk to a teacher, do they say things like, ‘I can't wait to see Billy today!’? When teachers aren’t present in the classroom, it hurts the academic experience for the kids.”
Teacher engagement benefits tremendously from effective leadership. When visiting a school, ask about how the administration supports teachers.
“I’ve seen examples everywhere of teachers who are not supported. They give up,” said Bowman.
Also, consider school transparency in literature and on the website. What sort of messaging is there? What is the communication frequency like? How frequently is information updated?
“I've seen prominent school districts whose websites are still listing 2021 information,” he said. “How can a parent know what’s going on when they can't find a current calendar?”
What to Look for
Bowman suggests four metrics to evaluate the best fit for your child: good teachers, a strong curriculum, competitive academics, and school safety. Luckily, there are simple ways to learn about all four.
For the three education metrics, examine the website to see how long the faculty has been working and their level of acumen. Curriculum is subjective, but a good benchmark is to ask, ‘are they meeting Tennessee standards?’ And looking at test scores helps understand the school’s academic standards.
The final metric, school safety, should be demonstrated in messaging, processes, and procedures. Do they have security staff on site? Do they have procedures for signing visitors in and out? Are emergency protocols in place and do they run drills?
Like every child, every school is unique. Each is a product of its culture and will lean into aspects like discipline, efficiency, creative freedom, and other factors to vastly different degrees. Whether your family is considering public, private, charter, or any alternative, visit in the fall semester to get an idea of the environment and observe interactions between students and faculty. Visit again in the spring and think about the school meeting the unique needs of your child.
Public vs Private Schools
Both public and private schools should support your child’s specific and unique needs, which can be complex and nuanced even within a single family. One child might require a challenge in mathematics and science but thrive in a freeing environment. Their sibling might flourish in the arts but need more structure.
“We are no longer making widgets and the factory mode of the 1950s doesn’t work anymore,” said Bowman. In many cases, public school systems are slower to make the systemic changes needed to best serve the changing needs of students, but not always. The number one school in Nashville is a magnet school, run by Metro Nashville Public School System. The reason for its success? The curriculum meets the needs of the kids.
Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust (MOST) exists because education is not one-size-fits-all. The idea that every child can be educated the same way is obsolete. If your child needs something that your family can't afford, MOST Scholarships can help.