Smart Moves : Finding the Best Schools for Your Kids

Here’s how I rate a school:

Park in front of the school at pickup time. Observe the percentage of children going home by bus or walking home versus children picked up by parents.

For younger grades, observe the number of parents going to the classroom door versus waiting in cars and observe how much interaction occurs among parents and between parents and teachers.

Warning signs: If a lot of parents come late (beyond 15 minutes of school ending), if parents expect younger kids to cross streets alone or between double-parked cars, or if older kids just hang around beyond a half-hour of the end of school.



The writer has a doctorate in education from UCLA.


When making a school visit, knowing who to talk to is important. The head counselor or assistant principal in charge of pupil personnel services is a good person to talk to. He/she knows about the overall operation of a school and can refer parents to other personnel in the school for information.


Counselors at a school may also provide information such as class size, what special classes may be offered that are unique to the school or any special programs, such as team-teaching.

Another good person to talk to is the college advisor at the high school level. He/she may give statistics on college-bound students, thus indicating the quality of the curriculum at a school.



I strongly recommend that parents look at how the school and its entire staff meet the needs of students from culturally diverse backgrounds.

The administration, teachers and other support staff must demonstrate and encourage sensitivity to all students, particularly those from diverse backgrounds. This is not to say that these students should be treated differently or special, but we must take into account the hardships some children undergo.

For example, children from the inner-city areas must learn to cope with the danger of gangs and drugs in their everyday lives.

Parents also should consider if the school promotes a healthy learning environment and provides students with a safe and secure campus.


Finally, I would suggest that parents meet the teachers at the school and ask them why they chose education as a career. Hopefully, the parent leaves with a feeling of caring and service from the teacher toward their students.


The writer is a teacher.


Look at the turnover rate of the teaching staff. Schools that have a lower turnover rate have more teachers with a special interest in the school and its students.

Find out if the school has sufficient textbooks for all the students. If the students don’t have a textbook to take home, it will be difficult for them to do their homework.

Investigate the percentage of experienced teachers at the school. The experienced teacher is not always the best teacher, but when a disproportionate number of the teachers are new, many students may not progress as rapidly as they could.

Check to what extent parents participate in decision making at the school. The more the parents are involved with the different aspects of the running of the school, the more likely the students will be successful, due to the fact that the parents have a vested interest in the school.



Pico Rivera

The writer is a bilingual coordinator in a Los Angeles high school.


As an educator, I agree that merely looking at a school’s test results can be misleading. My method of grading a school is to observe the school’s climate. Are there parents volunteering at the school? How are they involved (with teachers, staff and students)? How does the atmosphere feel? Is it one of cooperation and mutual respect?

Do the stakeholders (the administration, certified and classified personnel, parents and the community) have a common goal for the school?

Does the goal have the children’s best interest at its core? One way of obtaining the answers is to ask questions of all the stakeholders. Compare the answers to obtain a realistic picture of what is taking place.

I look to see if the school is following the state’s framework for each subject. Do the teaching methods being used consist of collaboration, cooperation, higher-level thinking, exploration and hands-on learning?

Do the children have input into how and what they are learning? Are the parents aware of what their child is expected to learn at his/her grade level?



The writer is a teacher at Rowan Avenue Elementary School in East Los Angeles.


I feel that cultural diversity is an essential component of any educational program. Questions for interested parents to consider when seeking an appropriate school are the following:

What kind of cultural diversity exists among the teaching, clerical and custodial staff? Is the cultural diversity of the staff a model reflection of an equitable world or that of an oppressive society? What kind of cultural diversity exists among the student population? Is it reflective of our society? Does the school’s curriculum expose the children to our country’s plethora of cultural diversity. Does it teach mutual respect and tolerance for each other?

Concerned parents should be mindful of equity issues that girls and women face. Are girls given the same opportunities as boys? Are girls encouraged to take advantage of such opportunities? Are the role models for the girls valued and rewarded by society?


Science Educator

Sunrise Elementary School

Los Angeles


I am the parent of a 9-year-old daughter. My husband and I are shopping around for a public school for her when she reaches fifth grade. The first thing I would look for is student-driven curriculum. That is to say, is there time for individual attention? We do not want a “sage on the stage” but rather a “guide on the side.”

Is multiculturalism embedded in the curriculum for a global perspective of the world? Are teachers willing to spend extra time with individual students? Do teachers make regular contact (both positive and negative) with parents? Are parents welcome on campus? Is parent participation valued? Are ethics and character part of the curriculum? Are students given a chance to reflect on their work and not just receive a grade?


Los Angeles

The writer is a middle-school teacher at Forshay Learning Center, Los Angeles.


The school’s philosophy should match that of the child and his/her family. Class size, curriculum, parental involvement and test scores all share an equally important part in the decision-making process. I feel that the mutually shared philosophy is of utmost importance.


The writer is a teacher at Broad Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles.