Smart School Selection - Creating a Personalized Scorecard to Build Stronger Kids

By: Dwight Bain LMHC

Which schools build the best kids? College Prep, Charter, Home, Magnet, Christian, Virtual, Public, Private, Military… The list of school options can get confusing if you don't have a plan.

Every parent wants to see their child succeed, and all parents know you need the ‘best’ school to accomplish that goal. So how can you pick the right educational experiences to bring out the unique strengths and talents in your child especially when there are so many options?

Some parents are afraid of their child changing schools or don't realize they have so many choices available in guiding their kids toward their unique strengths. Here are some logical steps to bring out the best in your child, while not getting confused by all of the marketing websites about how one school is better than another.

First look at what makes a 'good' school actually 'good.' Since it's not really one thing it's a combination of many factors combined together to create a learning environment which brings out the best in your child. Here are some of the most common elements to consider when you begin the process of selecting a school to bring out the best in your son or daughter.

-Key factors of a 'good' school:

Strong parental involvement, as the old saying goes, a school is only as strong as the level of parental support it receives. Clear community support, especially from elected officials. Focused school leaders, especially in administrative roles. Well-structured academic programs to cover different learning styles. Committed and caring teachers focused on the needs of their students. A safe and secure learning experience. Budget’s that allow for extra-curricular activities to positively impact multiple areas of development, such as the arts, music, journalism, ROTC, languages and sports. Guidance departments focused on a personalized plan to help students achieve who 'think outside the box'. STEM academics. Smart classrooms with cutting edge computer and Internet technology. A learning experience that honors the faith and values of your family; instead of a school system that leans toward attacking or shaming your child for holding onto a strong system of faith.

Of course any parent would want the best for their children, but it's been my experience that the word 'best' actually floats on many variables through the different stages of childhood. So, since 'best' isn't actually a single school campus this opens the door to explore many experiences that often accelerate the learning environment for the kids who live at your house.

This can only happen when you find out your child needs at this stage of development to then select the school that can guide them to a position of greater strength. This means you can’t just go along with whatever may have worked for your child last year. Remember, a child's maturity changes year to year, and for many kids this means their academic choices should change with it.

- Chart to solve the confusion of discovering the best schools

Begin to make smart school choices to help your child be their best by building a chart to literally 'score' the school options available to your child on a legal pad or spreadsheet running across the top of the page. You should include every option you can think of to do a complete analysis of what is available to your child.

Seriously sit down to consider the school choices available to your child in the coming school year are the best fit. This way you will be able to actually track the metrics to see a visual number at the bottom of the page to evaluate what each school choice brings to the table in best meeting the needs of your son or daughter at this particular stage of their educational development.

Here's a sample of how to structure across the top of the page, except it's more personal and more powerful when you actually place the name of each of the schools you are considering in that particular column, (for instance list out the choices facing your child, like: Orange County High, Mountain Prep, Holy Family, The Community School, Math Magnet Prep, Military Leadership Academy, City Charter, or the names of the online virtual schools you may be considering)

Smart School Options:

Public- College Prep- Christian- Homeschool- Charter- Boarding-Private- Magnet-Military- Online or Virtual School and so on

Once you have created a list across the page of every available option you have available to meet the needs of your child, then it's time to add the list of variables, (preferably in order of importance in meeting the unique needs of your child), to rank or score each school choice against your own personal standard of what's most valuable to bring out the best in your son or daughter. Create this list on the left margin of your legal pad or spreadsheet to include important variables like the following.

Smart School Features includes a combination of major factors:

Consider the following: Safety, Academics, Great Teachers, Strong leaders, Involved parents, PTA-PTF groups, Location, Transportation, Costs or Tuition, Friends/Peers, Fits child's personality, Fits child’s future career goals, Fits academic goals, School size, Well equipped classrooms, Class size to teacher ratio, STEM, Smart Classrooms, Campus design, Campus maintenance, Clean school facilities, Hot lunches or cafeteria on site, Wide range of sports, After school activities, Sports, Tutoring- academic help, Music, choirs, band, Fine arts and drama, Bible, world view or faith building classes, After school activities or child care options, Clubs, FCA, DECA, OJT, and so on for social connection, School life- socials and proms, Trips- unique learning experiences, SAT or ACT prep classes, Strong guidance department, Tuition assistance programs, Partnerships with community groups (Boys & Girls Clubs, Scouting, etc), Partnerships with business groups to develop early career success, (like Junior Achievement, career training)

TOTALS of all of your comparisons of core values measured against each school option - A stronger score reveals a stronger school choice to meet the needs of your child.

Once you have developed your as many categories as fit the unique needs of your child, then it's time to go back and score each school at the top of the page against your specific priorities listed along the left column on a numerical scale of

10, (best) down to 5 (average) then on down to 1 (terrible).

Be honest and don't play favorites as you really consider the needs of the students in your family, since this process works from selecting a pre-school all the way to college. Selecting the school based on the needs of the child, instead of the zip code they may live in is challenging, but the results can profoundly change your child’s future. Leave any areas blank that are unknown to you, yet since this will greatly reduce the score for that particular school it indicates you need to do more research to create a fair analysis on some of the schools you may have selected for your child.

Another technique you can use is to complete a detailed web search about each school. I recommend you take your child with you to preview new schools in person. Walk the campus, talk to teachers or other students, see what it “smells” like in the hallways or classrooms and if possible visit the school when it's in session and 'shadow' a host student throughout the day to see what the school culture is like first hand.

This school choice process can be repeated every year as needed based on the needs of your son or daughter. Add in the maturity level of your child to complete the process of selecting what's best by identifying where you believe your student to be at during this stage of their academic career.

Child (up to age 13) - Dependent and Irresponsible

Teen (ages 13-19) - Developing, Maturing and Growing

Young Adult (ages 20-25) - Independent and Responsible

Consider the maturity level of your child since some school settings will require a higher level of responsibility or independent decision making. Once you have identified the maturity level then just factor in the scores from your school choice chart to narrow down your search to find the best school. Remember, the higher the score, the more likely that it's a better fit to help your student to reach their best during this or any school year. 

Strong students often are able to build strong lives years ahead of their peers, so the time you take now to guide your children into the best direction, (even if it means making the sacrifice of car-pooling different kids in different directions for several years) will lead to strong and confident young adults for a lifetime, and that's an excellent trade.

About the Author: Dwight Bain is a Nationally Certified Counselor & Certified Life Coach who guides people to rewrite their story through positive change. Find more resources on counseling and coaching topics at

To schedule an appointment with Dwight Bain, please call our office at 407-647-7005.

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