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How to find the right school for your kid

Published: Friday, June 6 2014 4:10 a.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, June 6 2014 9:36 a.m. MDT

Finding a school to fit for your child's education may be one of the most important steps in their educational process.

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Elementary school enrollment deadlines are just weeks away and it’s crunch time on getting your child into the right school.

What used to be the clear choice, neighborhood schools are now only one of many viable options for students.

“Gone are the days of simply sending your kid to the neighborhood school,” said Brittany Fellows, 32, whose daughter will be starting kindergarten in Boise, Idaho, this fall. “That’s what my parents did, but things are different these days. I can’t just make the decision to send my daughter to a school just because it’s close.”

Though still considered pillars of the community, neighborhood schools are losing their first-choice standing in the sea of increasing public and private school options. Registration deadlines moving up the calendar every year can make the decision intimidating, especially for first-time parents and families new to the area.

“Decisions have to be made, and it’s best when they are made thoughtfully,” said Stephen Boone, an administrator of admissions in Oregon’s Coos Bay District. “Time is winding down, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have options.”

Most schools with traditional schedules have enrollment deadlines through mid-July, but year-round schools are looking to close registration this month.

Know what your looking at

Delores Thatcher is a school-placement specialist in New York, and she said the No. 1 mistake parents who send their children to private schools make is not researching what makes each school different.

“Parents often think that the more expensive a school is the better it is,” Thatcher said. “But that’s hardly the case. This may be shocking to some, but education isn’t really a riddle you can throw money at to solve.”

Thatcher said you have to know what each type of school has to offer, that way you’ll better match one to your child. She finds that most parents don’t know what makes a charter school different from a private school or even that charter schools are public institutions. According to Thatcher, there are five types of schools available to students that are worth looking into: neighborhood, charter, private, magnet and virtual schools.

Public Schools

Neighborhood Schools

“Most obviously your neighborhood school is public and can often times be your best bet,” Thatcher said. “Unless you’re in a low-income or inner city area, your local school will be pretty competitive.”

What makes a neighborhood school appealing, beyond academics, is close proximity. Not only can the child walk to and from school, classmates will live nearby and teachers are often community members.

“Local schools thrive in community-based areas,” Thatcher said. “If you live in an area where everyone is dedicated to making it a clean, safe, family-friendly environment, your school will likely be as good as gold.”

An increasing number of districts are offering a selection of public schools to choose from. These new options allow parents to tailor their children’s education to fit each child’s strengths and weaknesses.

Charter Schools

A charter school is an alternative to traditional schools without the high cost of tuition associated with private schools. Charters have control over their curriculum, grading systems and teacher-accreditation policies.

Charters are increasing in popularity because of their freedom from government mandates. According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 2011 1.8 million students went to a charter school and a projected 2.6 million students will be enrolled in a charter school.

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