Step 4 - VISIT: Page 2

Monday
Jul122010

School Tours

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 & Language Immersion tours generally occur from January to early March before the lottery closes.
  • Neighborhood school tours happen during Connect to Kindergarten (formerly Kindergarten Round-ups), generally held during winter and again in the spring. 
  • Charter School tours may vary, but overlap for the most part with other public 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, Language Immersion, and Alternative programs - 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.
  • Neighborhood schools – Call the school to see if/when tours are being offered, or if they can give you a personal tour.  "Connect to Kindergarten" sessions are another way to get an overview of any school that serves as a neighborhood school, but if you are an "outsider" with older kids considering a move to the neighborhood your questions may not get answered.
  • 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.
So by now we’re guessing you have a set of schools you’re interested in, and hopefully a general sense of when you can tour.  Prepare your phone list, call the schools and get the dates inked in on your calendar.  And while you’re waiting for those dates to roll around, start thinking about the questions you’ll be asking on the actual tour, which brings us to the next step…

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