Consider the benefits of staying close to home in a choice district.

Denver Public Schools’ choice season begins this month and runs through mid-February. As parents and teachers, we’ve seen the frenzy and the anxiety that can happen during this time of year. Whether it be Denver or another school district with a choice system, it’s wise for parents faced with many choices to take a step back and consider the many reasons to support your neighborhood school.

While it’s true that a choice district gives parents options to help meet children’s unique needs, the unfortunate and likely unintended consequence of school choice is that it has become competitive and leaves parents questioning whether they’re compromising their child’s education by not seeking out a top-rated option for their child. The five-color School Performance Framework (SPF) status and growth rating system of Denver Public Schools designates schools a color from red (accredited on probation) to blue (distinguished). While the SPF data is certainly relevant for making an educated choice, parents will sometimes shy away from their perfectly good assigned neighborhood school if that school hasn’t received a green or blue rating.

At School Deets, we’ve had the opportunity to spend countless hours in many, many schools, as parents, teachers, and service providers. Working with so many different leaders, teachers, and school communities has made it abundantly clear that a “good” school is made up of factors that go far beyond the ratings system. We invite parents participating in school choice to consider the following:

What do you want for your child?

Most parents agree that at the end of the day, they want their child in a school where they feel welcome, safe, and have a great learning environment. Each of these factors depends on relationships, culture, and climate, which can’t easily be measured on paper. It’s probably easy for you to name your most important family values. Which school has the community that will reflect those values? If you’ve chosen your city or specific neighborhood because you wanted to be around like-minded people, you and your neighbors may all benefit greatly by collectively choosing to stay at your neighborhood school.

Visit multiple schools – including your assigned boundary school

The “grapevine” of parents talking about their school experience can be influential, but it’s important to experience a school first hand rather than relying on others’ accounts. If you’re participating in choice for elementary, middle school, or high school, take the time to get to know multiple options, including your neighborhood school, and consider where your child is most likely to thrive. Take a tour during the school day and get a feel for the climate and culture. How do leaders interact with their community? How do teachers and students interact with one another? Request to sit in on a PTA or School Accountability Committee meeting to hear how parents are involved in the school.

Invest in your pipeline

Many parents in the community will recall their own school experience, when everybody simply attended their neighborhood school and the stress of choice wasn’t a factor. Most parents want their children to be able to walk to school, to attend the same school as other kids on their block, and not to worry about whether they are missing out on a “better” option. Parents do have the power to influence the success of their neighborhood school by staying there and then getting involved. Neighbors who support one another will benefit from the village mentality of watching out for one another’s children, growing up together, and coming together to raise support for the school.

Your neighborhood school may not be perfect, but no school is. Every school has some great teachers, and every school has challenges. If you’re overwhelmed by school choice, we suggest that you move away from online ratings sites and discussion forums and instead go out into your community, spend some time in your neighborhood school buildings, and ultimately try out a school that you believe reflects your values and where your child will thrive.


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