We are military families.
We move. A lot.
And everything is fine, kind of, when it’s just you and your spouse and maybe a dog/cat/goldfish.
Luckily, you have a milspouse who is also a teacher on your side. I’m ready to break down the things about schools to consider when you move.
1. GREAT SCHOOLS Ratings
This is a phenomenal resource for anyone moving at all, but it is beyond helpful when you are moving across the country with no chance to do boots on the ground recon. And it’s super duper easy.
From the Great Schools homepage, simply plug in your potential address (zip code, town, or school name). I picked Falls Church, VA for my test run. Immediately, a list of ALL schools within a several mile radius popped up. Next to each school’s listing was a button with a number or an NR in it. The numbers show the rating scale, from 1-10. A higher number means a higher rating. NR means a school is not rated or there isn’t enough information about the school to provide an accurate rating.
What I really like is the comments section: it gives the parents and community members a chance to provide feedback.
2. Facebook Pages
Hear me out.
As military families we rely on Facebook support pages to get info about every other aspect of our military lives, and even somethings that are not related at all. I’ve seen posts about everything from Tricare programs to best wineries to housing listings.
When you get ready to PCS, use your current location’s spouse page to connect with your next location’s page. Then post this exact question:
I am moving here with kids that are (insert ages here). What are the BEST schools in this area? Why do you like them? Are there any schools or districts we should avoid? Why?
You will likely get a TON of responses, so be prepared to read and evaluate.
On this same page, reach out to teachers who currently teach in that area. Ask them where they would send their kids. As a teacher, there are certain districts around my last teaching assignment that I would never advise anyone to live based on word of mouth from other teachers. There is a teacher network, and it pays to use it!
3. State Testing Scores
These I would take with a HUGE grain of salt. Standardized test scores only show so much. As a teacher, I don’t hold a lot of faith in what these measures show on their own. A good test score, for me, only shows that a kid knows how to take a specific type of test and has absorbed enough info to pass it.
These don’t show the quality of the teachers, the school climate, or factor in those intangibles like extracurricular activities, special education programs, gifted and talented programs, or socioeconomic demographics.
Once you have your choices narrowed down just a bit, take a glance at the district and school websites. Be on the lookout for:
- sports and clubs offered and the cost
- before/after school care
- gifted and talented programs
- special education programs
You should also find the teacher pay scales, which should be available online if you are looking at public schools. You do not want to attend a school or district where the teachers are underpaid. A well-paid and appreciated faculty is a (mostly) happy faculty. And happy teachers are better teachers.
5. Public VS Private
There are a ton of factors at play in the education world: curriculum, program focus, religious beliefs, class size, student population, location, academic rigor, and, actually, way to many to list.
One thing you should always consider is private schools. Like public schools, some are excellent and some are not quite so excellent. Unlike public schools, you will be paying out of pocket for private schools.
If your child has special education needs, I almost always recommend public schools simply because of the availability of resources.
Private schools might have more freedom over curriculum and less standardized tests. A religious school might help to instill the values of your chosen faith.
The bottom line is: how much are you willing to pay for this? In Northern Virginia, where we just PCSed from, private school starts at 10-15K/year and it only goes up from there.
6. Non-Academic Interests
This is more important as your child grows up. Your baseball crazy child might not want to attend a high school with a low performing team, or without a team at all. The same is true for all of the interests that your children might hold: drama, singing, sports, science, chess, Key club, whatever. If you child is committed and passionate, you want to find out if their area of interest is offered at the school or in the area.
If there are no options in your first choice of neighborhood, check surrounding areas. If the commute is reasonable, and their interests are met, you might consider living farther away from your next duty station in order to accommodate your child’s needs.
There is a lot to consider when you are moving with school aged children.
I hope that my these guidelines help you as you start your search for your next awesome school or home!
What do you think about when you move?