If you're looking to buy a new home and you have school-aged children, the quality of the school systems in the towns or cities you're considering needs to be a major component of your decision making process. As you're looking for homes, be sure you research the schools, both public and private, in the region where you'll be living.
First, what sort of school would you like for your children? Does one of your kids want to seriously pursue athletics? Then a school with a strong team sports culture might be a perfect fit for that child. If your child is not an athlete, you may want a school system with more emphasis on health and individual physical development, with many options for non-athletes, and less emphasis on team sports.
Do you have a budding genius in the family? An honors program or advanced placement program is a plus. Do you have a special needs child, or one who needs just a bit of extra help? A school with a solid special ed program and lots of built-in support for every child would be a good fit. Is your child artistic? Pay attention to a school's arts and music programs, and the variety of course offerings and extracurricular activities for students. Some schools offer the bare minimum, while others have a rich selection of activities for kids. Once you've defined your children's needs in terms of a school, you're ready to ask questions.
Your Realtor may very well have a lot of information on the schools in his or her area, and information from the real estate agency is a good start; but you need to go beyond that. State and local governments should offer basic information on the supervisory unions in the area; many of them supply information on the Internet. Once you've identified a contact person at the supervisory union, make appointment to meet and quiz him or her about each school in the district. The staff of the supervisory unions will often have a good sense of the atmosphere and learning culture in each school, and when asked specific questions, should be able to suggest a school compatible with your child's needs.
Once you've gotten an inkling of the schools you've like to explore, make arrangements to visit each school and meet with the principals. It's a good idea to prepare questions in advance; some suggestions are to ask about the academic programs, and in the case of high school, any vocational training or guidance available. Beyond that, consider the following: Does the school have a written policy on bullying and cliques? Is there a variety of extracurricular activities for different students, and active encouragement for all students to become involved in the school? Or is there a dominant football or basketball culture that leaves a lot of kids on the sidelines?
Safety and security are surely important issues; does the school deal with these issues by enforcing a strict disciplinary code, or by creating an atmosphere of acceptance and diversity?
Talk to members of the local PTA to find out how the school administrators and the school board deal with parent concerns. If you've got time before your move, subscribe to the local newspaper and follow local issues regarding school. And, if you can, connect with former and current students, and get their view of the school; kids' opinions are often very different from the official viewpoint, and need to be taken into account.
With kids in school, a big part of family life is going to be centered around issues of learning, extracurricular activities, and school culture. Doing some research on the school systems, and finding a house in a district where you have a positive impression of the schools your children are going to be attending, will increase the chances that living in your new community will be a positive experience.
Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire and frequently contributes to Tips and Topics. She has published numerous articles in local and regional publications on a wide range of topics, including business, education, the arts, and local events. Her feature articles include an interview with independent documentary filmmaker Ken Burns and a feature on prisoners at the New Hampshire State Prison in Concord.