Tips for Choosing a School in Tulsa
Tulsa mom Michelle Cantrell admits she is partial to her three sons attending Tulsa Public School’s Carver Middle School and Booker T. Washington High School (BTW). Why? “I am an alumnae of both,” she laughed.
Jordan, her youngest, currently is in sixth grade at Carver. Her middle son, Dylan, is a freshman at Washington and her oldest, Daniel, a 2015 Washington graduate, is a freshman at Carleton College in Minnesota. “It was up to the boys to help us make the decision about middle school,” Cantrell said. “We visited both Thoreau Demonstration Academy and Carver. They all felt comfortable with Carver. They liked the structure, and I really liked the curriculum that prepares them for BTW’s Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Program.”
Cantrell and her family live a block from Lee Elementary School*, and both Jordan and Dylan are Lee graduates. “It was great. No driving and no stress. The boys walked down the street every morning with their neighborhood friends to go to school. At the end of the school day, they came home, checked in and went outside and played in the neighborhood,” said Cantrell, who likes the diversity of Lee’s student body as well as its academic programs.
Now Jordan and Dylan still walk to Lee every morning to catch a bus that stops at Carver and Washington. “I still don’t have to drive,” Cantrell laughed. “You can’t beat that.”
Two blocks up the street from Cantrell lives Sara Lenet-Rotenberg. She and her husband moved to Tulsa a year ago from Chicago, Illinois. “We did not know where we wanted to buy a home, so we rented for a year,” she said. “I did not want to switch my kids from school to school when we did buy a home, so I looked at private schools, and chose Riverfield Country Day School in west Tulsa.”
Last year, Lenet-Rotenberg bought a home in midtown Tulsa’s Maple Ridge neighborhood several blocks from Lee. She continues to drive her son, Charlie, and daughter, Lucy, to Riverfield. “Yes, I drive twice a day to take my children to school and to pick them up, but I love Riverfield,” she said. “Everything about the school works for my son and daughter.”
Moms, dads and children walk past Lenet-Rotenberg’s home each morning headed to Lee. “I see my neighbors every morning walking down the sidewalk to Lee as I get in the car to drive my kids to Riverfield. I’m a proponent of public schools, but Charlie has bloomed at Riverfield. It has the right mix of academic rigor, creativity and flexibility. And the school is small and cozy.”
A Variety of Options
From private to public school, charter to magnet school or language immersion to virtual school, local parents can choose from numerous educational options for their children. Gone are the days when parents automatically enrolled their child in the elementary school down the street. School districts offer school choice, allowing parents to enroll their child in a school miles from their home. With the creation of magnet and charter schools, parents can pick a particular program, and teens can enroll in a school with a curriculum focused on a specific career. And, private schools are more numerous than in the past.
Great School, Great Fit
An elementary-age child will spend more time in school and related activities than any other tasks besides sleep. So selecting the right educational environment is vital, not only for a child’s academic growth, but also for social and emotional development.
“Parents should think about two big factors when choosing a school. They are Great School, Great Fit,” said Emily Ayscue Hassel, co-author of the Picky Parent Guide: Choose Your Child’s School With Confidence, the Elementary Years, K-6 and co-director of Public Impact, a national education research and consulting firm based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“Great schools can meet the needs of multiple children in a family by setting ambitious learning goals and engaging students with differentiated or personalized instruction,” Hassel said. “But finding a great fit is critical, too. Part of a great fit is feasibility for your family.”
Narrowing Your Options
Hassel suggests narrowing school options that are feasible in regard to location and cost, and then select the school that offers the best quality and fit for your child and family.
An easy start to sorting through school options is visiting a school district’s website. There, a parent will find a list of the schools in the district, their locations as well as enrollment information. Also, if private school is an option, parents can visit the websites of area private schools to learn the school’s teaching philosophy, cost, admission standards, visitation and testing dates.
“Only you can say whether practical needs outweigh compelling needs of one or more of your children,” Hassel said. “Ask yourself this: If I choose a more convenient school but then my child has to do a ‘second shift’ of extra learning and activities after school, is that really more convenient? The ‘practical’ school may not be so practical. On the other hand, a close second school may really be just as good or better than your top pick, if you and your child have more free time and you use it well.”
Four Fit Factors
In Picky Parent Guide, Hassel recommends parents consider “Four Fit Factors” when selecting a school. The Four Fit Factors include: what your child learns, how your child learns, social needs, and practical needs.
“Narrow your list to the three or four ‘must haves’ for your children and family. Some kids will have one or more compelling or unusual needs that really need to be met in school, while the other children are pretty typical and may do well in many schools,” Hassel said. “What kind of environment will let your child’s strengths really shine? What kinds of experiences does your child need more of to develop weaknesses? And what kinds of learning experiences, such as social, academic and athletic can you provide outside of school? Within the options that are feasible for your family, which school or schools will do the most for your child?”
Involving Your Child in the Decision
The older a child is, the more involved he or she can be in selecting a school.
The process of selecting a school, says Hassel, can help your child get to know himself or herself.
“What really turns your child on to learning? What activities are most motivating? Find that in a school, if you can,” she said. “After you narrow the options to schools that are feasible for your family and meet your child and family’s most important needs, let your child visit. Ask your child what he or she likes best about each school. That will set your child to like the best qualities of whatever school you ultimately choose. Avoid putting one school on a pedestal or making negative comments about other schools until you know what your child’s real options are, after admissions and lotteries are done.”
Once you and your child have narrowed down school options, the next step is to schedule visits to schools for both you and your child. Many schools have “shadow” days in which your child will spend a day at the school with a student. A parent’s visit will most likely entail a guided tour, a classroom observation and a question-and-answer session.
Talking with parents from a school can offer a lot of insight into the academic and social environment of the school.
“Knowing the values and academic ambitions of other parents can help you determine if the school is a good fit for your child and you. If other parents will be spending a lot of time in classrooms, or if you yourself want to engage with the parent community, then who the other parents are matters more,” Hassel said.
For some children, a school’s extra-curricular activities, sports and clubs are important. Hassel suggests that parents make a school choice that enables their children to feel great about school and develop other skills that they value and, most importantly, reflect their interests.
“Working parents and those with multiple children may prefer more activities at school, while parents without those constraints may prefer a shorter or more academic school day coupled with non-school activities.”
Find information about Tulsa Public School enrollment information dates here.
*Editor’s Note: Lee Elementary School is now Council Oak Elementary