The Washington Post ranking of US high schools has just been released and, as you can imagine, parents around the country are either congratulating themselves on the great choice they made or having an anxiety attack because their child’s school didn’t make the cut. While we could argue about the methodology used, we mostly want to convey that school choice should be about where your child fits and can succeed as much as anything else. We thought hearing from high school counselor and CS board member Lisa Spengler on how she helps her students choose a high school would help provide some perspective on an alternative way to think about high school choice.
Each April, I wrap up my high school counseling work with the eighth grade class at Katherine Delmar Burke School, a kindergarten through eighth grade school for girls in San Francisco, and everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief. Each girl has found the school where she fits.
When the cycle starts again next year I will begin like I always do—by asking parents to consider “Who is my child?” This is a big question that can take families in many directions. When thinking about high school, though, reflect on your child’s previous and current school experiences. What worked or didn’t work for them, both in the classroom and in the school community? How does your child learn best? What size school, and what size classroom, would be ideal for them? Do they need or want close relationships with their teachers?
As you generate answers to these questions, it is important to start having conversations with your son or daughter to gather their thoughts as well. Students will be able to offer their own important insights to these questions, and they should have a clear voice in this process. With everyone’s initial input gathered, the family should establish parameters for the search, including whether you will look at public, parochial and/or independent schools and whether or not you will consider boarding schools.
There are a number of factors to consider when determining which school or schools will be the best fit. It’s easy to get swept up in rankings of high schools such as those produced by publications such as US News and World Report. However, these rankings look at schools through a narrow lens, primarily through courses offered and test results achieved. It can also be easy to get caught up in gossip or other people’s opinions about different schools. I believe that while all of this information might be interesting and somewhat useful, there are other more important things to assess when determining the best high school fit.
Consider the criteria listed below and where they relate to your student’s learning profile, their social-emotional development, and their interests. Developing an understanding of how or if these criteria are important to you will allow you to more thoughtfully define your search process.
These criteria should serve as a launching point for your family’s search. There are undoubtedly more criteria that you will develop as a family as you move deeper into your search. The right high school for your student goes well beyond statistics available about standardized testing results and the number of advanced or honors level courses offered. The high school that your student eventually enrolls in should be the absolute next best place for them to learn and grow, in all facets of their life. Best of luck as you embark on this fascinating journey as a family!