This page covers:
- When the various tours happen
- Setting up a tour
- Things to take note of on your tour
By now you have the basic info on your schools of interest; and hopefully parents have given you some inside scoop. But you’ll only be able to get a gut level read by visiting the school itself – which in most cases is mandatory if you apply or enter the lottery.
Timing of Tours
Tours happen at various times during the year and you must check with each school for specifics. But to give you a general picture:
- Private school Open Houses can start as early as fall the year before enrollment, with formal tours for applicants happening in winter.
- PPS Focus Option tours generally occur from January to early March before the lottery closes.
- Neighborhood school tours (for your own neighborhood or for transfer spots) happen during Kindergarten Round-Ups, generally held in February and early March.
- Charter School tours may vary, but overlap for the most part with PPS Focus Option and neighborhood schools, occurring January through March.
Setting Up a Tour
Check with each school’s website or PPS web page to find out when they’re scheduling tours and learn next steps, which go something like this:
- Focus Options - Call the school to get your name on the list for a tour date.
- Charter schools - Each have special information sessions that include tours, some of which may require advance sign-up.
- Non-Focus Options (i.e. neighborhood schools) – Call the school to see if/when tours are being offered, or if they can give you a personal tour. Kindergarten Round-Ups are another way to get an overview of any school that serves as a neighborhood school, but they are almost entirely geared toward up and coming Kindergarteners who live in the neighborhood, and thus go over details that may not be relevant to an “outsider.”
- Private Schools - Check with each school for specifics.
What to Look for on a Tour
While we expect you’ll want to ask specific questions, plenty can be taken in by simple observation. Based on our experience, we suggest keeping an eye out for these key points:
- Basic cleanliness, safety controls and hazards on the grounds and in the building. Does anything stand out as a red flag?
- General facilities. Is there a library? Computers? An auditorium? A decent playground?
- Quality of the work on the walls. It may be hard to discern “quality” in terms of kids, but it should give you a sense of what the teachers are doing in the classrooms. We’ve noticed more than a few egregious spelling errors on classroom walls – made by teachers themselves – that gave us pause…
- Orderliness with the kids. We had an administration insider tell us once that observing classroom transition times can reveal quite a bit. If the kids are orderly, the teacher probably has good command of his/her class and one can expect the kids are learning. If it looks more like the teacher is herding cats, well… not so much.
- An informed principal. Assuming the principal is on the tour, take note if s/he has clear and ambitious plans for the school while demonstrating a depth of knowledge about what’s going on in the classrooms. S/he may defer to teachers to fill in details, but you should get a sense there’s a firm understanding of what is happening academically and socially at the school.
- Other parents on the tour. What are they asking? This might give you insight to the potential parent population.