By Mike Sweet
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re thinking about scheduling an in-person tour of an independent school. Congratulations! There’s no better way to get a feel for a school’s culture, curriculum, and teachers than visiting the school and seeing it for yourself, first hand.
But there’s a lot that happens during a school visit. How can you make sure you’re gathering the best information to help you decide whether or not the school will be a good fit for your family? What should you look for on your tour? While the quality of a school’s academics are obviously important, what other things should you watch out for that could impact your child’s experience?
Here are some suggestions for making the most of your school visit.
1. School safety and security
Be observant of the school’s safety protocols, or lack thereof. Things to consider include:
- Is there a main visitor’s entrance where visitors check-in and show their identification?
- Do school employees wear badges that identify them as employees?
- Are exterior doors to the school locked?
- Does the school employ security and/or safety officers?
- Are visitors asked to wear a “visitor” badge?
Many schools will highlight the quality of their faculty members, classroom facilities, and student engagement, but how can you assess those qualities for yourself while on a tour? The best way is to observe a classroom in action and consider the following factors:
- Are the students engaged and participating in the lesson?
- What is the teacher’s demeanor in the classroom—are they positive? Excited? Engaged in the activity?
- Does the teacher draw input and participation from the students, or is the class more of a lecture-style? It should match with the school’s philosophy and the educational goals you have for your child.
- What is the student-to-teacher ratio?
3. Quality of faculty
In addition to observing a class in action, there are other clues that can indicate the quality and expertise of the school’s faculty:
- What is the average faculty tenure at the school? The rate of faculty turnover can indicate whether or not the school is well managed and a good place to work.
- Do faculty members enroll their own children?
- Does the school offer funding for, and support, faculty professional development?
4. School facilities
The condition of a school’s facilities can tell you a lot about how well the school is managed. Things to watch out for on your tour include:
- Cleanliness: Are bathrooms clean? Carpet vacuumed? Do you see any custodial staff working?
- Campus grounds: Is the campus well maintained? Grass mowed, snow plowed, athletic fields maintained, etc.?
- Where do the students eat, and how well is that space maintained? Are the students offered a variety of nutritional food to eat, and how does the school accommodate allergies?
5. Will the school’s schedule fit your family’s schedule?
Many students are coming from homes in which both parents work full time. If that’s the case in your family, does the school offer before- and after-school care? If so, what do those facilities look like, and what are the hours of availability? Is morning and/or afternoon transportation available for students?
While there are many indicators that a school would (or would not) be a good fit for your family, the best thing you can do is to trust your gut. If it feels like it would be a good fit, chances are it will be. But as with any investment, the more information you have, the better prepared you will be to make a decision.
About Mike Sweet
Mike Sweet is the associate director of Enrollment Management, and he also serves as the 7th grade basketball coach. He has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Kansas and a master's degree in educational leadership from Cardinal Stritch University. He began working at USM in 2013 as a 3rd grade teacher.