Let the buyer beware

Student enrollment season is in full swing in the Puget Sound, King County Region.

Because of the funding model utilized by state and federal agencies, the competition is fierce. Traditional and charter public schools want your children to attend their schools because “students in seats” drive the amount of financial allocations sent to their districts from big brother, the state. In other words, districts are competing for the same amount of dollars from the same kind of state accounts and we need your students.

Our enrollment brochures and marketing materials are slick and fancy. Our elevator speech is well-polished. Deceptive practices may sometimes inch its way into what districts say to future families and students for our own gains, as reported by a few of Tukwila School District’s English Language Learner families, who recently were victims of this type of practice from another district out recruiting in their neighborhoods.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase, let the buyer beware, which means it is up to the buyer to see what stuff he or she is buying. In this case, the family is the buyer.

I think back to when my husband and I were those nervous, young parents trying to determine what school district our two children should attend.

We were so nervous and afraid to make that decision readily because we knew that it may inform our children’s success or failure for the rest of their lives. Wow, such a heavy burden as I now reflect on those times.

Now being a little wiser, I ask the question, “What do I know from my own experience about helping young parents make the right decision about selecting where their children should attend school?” In other words, “How can I help families know what they are buying from school districts and do they even need everything the district is selling?” We want you to be ready for us when we come knocking on your door, when you receive information in the mail, or when you see our infomercials on TV and in social media campaigns, make sure you are armed and ready.

Sit quietly with family members and include all children in the conversation. Make lists of what the hopes, dreams and aspirations are for the family and for each young member of the family. Is your child interested in science, art, music, sports, communication, history, technology and more?

What are some of the special needs of your child?

Are there special education services that are needed?

Do you have a gifted and talented son or daughter? Are there some physical, emotional or behavioral challenges that need to be supported?

Are there health and wellness services in terms of food choices that need to be supported?

What academic interventions might assist your child?

What opportunities are available for exploration?

How does the technology in the classroom inform the parent about the opportunities for their children?

What exposure will your children receive in terms of field trips, project-based learning, workforce development opportunities, and partnership programs with other agencies and communities?

What are some of the partner programs available such as before and after school programs, tutoring services, translator services, dual enrollment programs with K-12 skill centers, post-secondary providers, online school providers, and more?

What summer programs are available for academic intervention and enrichment opportunities?

What Family Liaison Support Programs are available?

After your family meeting(s), you are armed to discuss your family needs with district personnel.

You should be most impressed with the district that allows your family to lead the conversation than with the district who takes the lead to tell you what you need.

Be wary of the “sympathetic conversationalist.” While you want the district personnel to show signs of understanding, compassion and caring, you also want them to have a responsiveness to your individual family and children needs.

While the district may sell your family on the wonderful Before School Program that they have, if you do not want or need that kind of program, it is no value to your family. Yet, your family may need an English Language Learner Support Program and the district refuses to share with you a robust ELL program, perhaps your needs can best be served in another school district.

Take your time to visit school and district personnel at their sites. If you are enrolling your kindergarten child, visit the various kindergarten classrooms available in the district.

Do you particularly like one kindergarten classroom over another? During your visit look to see how the students in each of the kindergarten classrooms are engaged.

How much time was spent on each task in reading and math?

Visit the school for the day and live the life of your future kindergarten child. Write down what you liked and disliked. Eat lunch in the cafeteria and reflect on the interaction of the staff and students. Were there kids sitting alone. If so, why?

Visit the principal, support staff in the buildings and look at what the district’s website tell you.

Visit with the central office staff such as the superintendent and ask about the strategic direction of the district and how you can get involved. Attend a PTA meeting to get other parents’ viewpoints about the district.

Lastly, honor the diversity of thought among staff during your visit. What I most like about public education is the diversity of thought among teachers, staff and students. Rich dialog and viewpoints give students confidence and help them to grow and thrive in an ever-changing world.

So as I close, I wish you well in your school district selection for your children to attend. And, I leave you with one of the most powerful thoughts that I wished I had internalized so many years ago to make me less anxious as a parent. Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation summed it up so simply:

“Whatever the conditions of people’s lives,

Wherever they live,

However they live,

They share the same hopes, the same dreams as you and I.”

So for my husband and me, it all boiled down to “Where could our two children go to school that would prepare them for the rich opportunity to explore their hopes and dreams that so many of us have the privilege to enjoy.”

Best wishes on your decision making and I welcome you to stop by my office and chat about your hopes and dreams for your family and your children.

Interim Tukwila School Superintendent Judith Berry can be reached at 206-901-8037 or berryj@tukwila.wednet.edu.

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