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Sizing Up the Schools

June 13, 1993|ELLEN MELINKOFF

For parents, the most important neighborhood amenity is usually the schools.

Real estate agents can tell you the designated elementary, junior high and senior high for a property. And they may be quick to tout the school or system (ads will even boast "Third St. School" or "Beverly Hills schools"). But there is no substitute for visiting the school yourself. No vaunted reputation, no real estate agent's scuttlebutt can tell you if a particular school is right for your children. It boils down to this: Is it the right school for your child?

Most schools will allow prospective parents and students to visit and observe in the classroom. There's also a lot to learn from visiting at lunch time. You'll see the entire student body and how the children interact with one another.

Real estate agent Temmi Walker suggests to her parent/clients that they talk with the principal. Many education experts feel the principal is the key figure in a child's education. A good one creates an environment in which teachers can teach and students can learn.

Do you have strong feelings on the ideal school: progressive or conservative? Is the school compatible with your own philosophy? If sports are important to your child, find out if the school has the space and administrative commitment to provide a strong program. (Some schools are big in the intramural world; others don't bother to develop competitive teams.)

With a musically inclined child, it's important to find out about music programs. What opportunities are there for gifted children? If you'll be needing after-school care, ask if any is available. Inquire about student body stability. Do most of the students who start the lowest grade finish the highest?

In these days of budgetary cutbacks, the difference between a so-so school and a special one can be the amount of parental commitment to making the school great. Ask about parent groups. What have they done for the school?

Have they raised money for computers or an art teacher that wasn't in the budget? Do they volunteer in the classroom? Good signs.

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