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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Off Season School Search

March arrived, and while other parents received admissions decisions, you realized that your child needs a new school. Maybe you accepted a new job out of town, maybe your child’s school became more obviously a misfit, or maybe your public school option doesn’t work for your family.

Whatever the reason, don’t panic. Many of my clients have found schools over the spring and summer months. While it requires flexibility, it also works to your favor in terms of quick decisions.

Initial List – Look Broadly for Fit 

Teaching Style. Among parents, many have a preference for a more traditional or more progressive approach. Traditional schools will include testing and essay writing prominently, whereas progressive schools will have more projects and few tests. Prefer neither extreme? Balanced schools will offer some projects and some tests. Consider how your child will thrive in a specific model. Do they need to move a lot during the day? Do they focus well at a table? Do they bristle under structure, or do they prefer it? Do they prefer quiet or a bustling classroom? Your child’s current teacher is a great resource for hearing how your child reacts to the school environment as they see them among classmates without parents supervising.

Logistics and Cost. Perhaps the easiest to narrow down because logistics are factual, consider location, hours, holidays, and cost. If your budget is tight, consider whether your family would qualify for financial aid, and whether that’s likely to make the school affordable. Try a commute test, driving (or biking or taking transit) during school drop off or pickup hours. In our area, the pickup times can have worse traffic as we are a late start city, but that varies by neighborhood. Lastly, consider whether siblings can attend the same school, and if so, for how many years.

8th and 12th Grade. Many K-8 private schools do not consider 8th grade applicants, nor private high schools 12th grade applicants, largely due to the tight turnaround between when they would start school and when they would apply out. If you have a student in the current 7th or 11th grade needing a school for the fall, it’s best to contact admissions to determine their policy, or consider public school for that year. 

Special Needs. Some private schools have learning specialists to help children needing extra support, some do not accept children with even mild special needs, and some focus exclusively on special needs students. Public schools offer (by law) IEPs and 504s for kids with special needs, which, as a whole, is typically more robust than general-education private schools

Academic Precocity. For gifted or more advanced learners, gifted-only and gifted-friendly schools will offer opportunities for more challenging work, including single subject acceleration when appropriate. At the high school level, this manifests with AP or college level class electives. Both public and private schools can be either gifted-only, gifted-friendly, or gifted-hostile.

Step One

Contact Any School of Interest. While the more selective schools may be full, it never hurts to email admissions. Families move out of town due to jobs, or families may change schools late in the season. While schools have existing wait pools, many are open to the fresh candidate when surprise openings arise. 

Explain Why Looking Now. Use positive terms to express why your child needs a new school, rather than malign the current school. Like employers, schools prefer parents who will not besmirch their reputation in the rare instance that the fit isn’t there. Examples: moving out of the area, student prefers more structure (if in a very progressive model), student prefers less structure (if in a very traditional model), cost (financial aid reduced), or student seeks more challenge (if applying to a school with challenge options). 

Be Flexible. A school might have openings simply because it is new or under the radar of local parent chats. Fit matters more than reputation. High schools and colleges prefer a variety of feeders. Where you send your child to school only impacts their future to the extent that your child is happy and thrives. 

Role of a Consultant 

A consultant can help by reviewing your child’s needs and recommending potential schools. In addition, your consultant can help you weigh the pros and cons of each school, and support you in your decision process.

Want more input on schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select, apply to, and communicate with public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vicky maintains a principle of non-judgment. Hourly, VIP, and Season packages include a discussion to review school options, applications, essays, and key decisions. Vicky offers a limited number of packages each year to assure her availability. 

Vicky’s own children have attended both public and private schools, and have received both accommodations and curriculum changes; her elder is in high school, and her younger in middle school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her packages.

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