Advice from local administrators in selecting tools

Guest Editorial––Joe Nathan

What advice do educators have for Braham, Cambridge/Isanti and other
Minnesota families starting to think about what schools their
child/children will attend next year?


Joe Nathan
Contributing Writer

What advice do educators have for Braham, Cambridge/Isanti and other Minnesota families starting to think about what schools their child/children will attend next year?

At one point, families had no public school choices. But over the last 25 years, the Minnesota Legislature has given families new public school options via open enrollment, area learning centers, charter pubic schools and Post Secondary Options.  So I asked educators, “What are two to three questions that you suggest families ask as they make decisions about next year?” Here’s some of their advice.

Cambridge/Isanti Superintendent Bruce Novak responded, ”In the elementary and middle level the most often asked questions is: ‘What are your class sizes?” (Student to teacher ratio.)

The second question…is: “What kind of special curriculum do you offer outside the regular curriculum?” (Gifted and talented, fine arts like music and art, science clubs, etc.)

The high school (question) most often asked is: “What do you offer in electives and what are the advanced placement courses offered by your school?”

Mark Ziebarth, principal of Isanti Intermediate School and School For All Seasons, recommended asking: “How will the school communicate my child’s progress to me?

What is done to monitor and measure my child’s performance against the standards and benchmarks?

What is the school doing to make certain that the academic and social needs of each child are being addressed?

What is being done to help my child in the areas they are in need of extra help and in areas they are being successful.

What is the school doing to build relationships with children, families, and the community?”

Braham administrators did not respond to this question.

Eugene Piccolo, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools suggested,

“What is the school’s mission and vision?

What are class sizes and the licensed teacher to student ratio?

What is the attendance rate of students?

What is the retention rate for both students and teachers?

What are the academic goals of the school?

What programs exist to support the school’s academic goals?

What are the areas the school has identified for improvement?

How is the school performing on the mandated state testing program? And other assessments the school uses?

What opportunities exist for parental involvement in the academic program and governance of the school?

Finally, Charlie Kyte, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators recommended asking:

“Have the teachers and principal treated students and parents with respect and in as positive way as possible? How can we expect to be treated?

What is the schools results in terms of academic success–will my student learn at the level expected for a school serving the specific age group?

What strategies does the school have if my student runs into trouble with learning?

Has the school designed a wrap around program so that my child is cared for in a way that fits my work schedule?”

Questions should reflect needs of both the overall family, and the individual student. Asking at least some of the questions suggested above increases the likelihood that families will be satisfied and that children will succeed.

Joe Nathan, former public school teacher, administrator, PTA president, parent of three public school graduates now directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, [email protected]