Many parents put considerable time and effort into choosing a school for their children — or, at the very least, choosing where they live based on the reputation of the public school their children will attend. What happens if, despite your research and best efforts, your children end up going to a school you don't like? This recently happened to me, and this is what I suggest for other parents who find themselves in the same situation:
Try to Work It Out With the School
Before you immediately jump ship and start looking for a new school, express your concerns and issues to the school administration. The school superintendent, principal, and teachers should know why you are unhappy and work with you to come up with a solution. In some cases, working with the administration of your school will offer great results! You will find an agreeable solution for whatever you don't like about the school, and you and your children can continue going to the school much happier than you were before.
In some cases, though, even expressing your concerns and trying to work out a solution will leave you and your children unsatisfied. There are some situations which simply can't be resolved within the constraints of the school system. If this describes you, it's time to make some changes for your children's education and emotional well-being. In my case, this meant pulling my fourth grader out of school in March and homeschooling him through the rest of the school year while we considered other options for schools. (It is legal to homeschool in all U.S. states, although each state has different requirements you need to follow.)
Look for Other Schools in Your Area
In most areas of the country, children are assigned to specific public schools based on where they live. There are exceptions to this rule, so check with your school district to find out what your other options are, if any, for choosing a different public school.
You may have charter schools in your area that your child can attend. Charter schools are public schools because they are tuition-free and funded by local, federal, and state tax dollars the same way other public schools are funded. Charter schools are non-sectarian and cannot discriminate for any reason, and the schools are held accountable to the same state and federal academic standards as traditional public schools — but the schools operate independently of the school district they are located in. This means charter schools have more freedom in how they plan their curriculum and may offer longer school days and a different approach to learning.
Research Private School Options
If there are no public schools or charter schools that will work for you, start looking at private school options in your area. Many public schools will provide transportation to local private schools for children who live in the district. There may be a variety of private schools in your area, including religious schools, college prep schools, and alternative schools such as Montessori and Waldorf.
You will want to research the differences between their curriculum and policies compared to what you are used to, especially if your children had previously been attending public schools, as private schools do not always follow the same guidelines or regulations. Depending on your personal beliefs and your situation, this may or may not be a good thing!
Don't assume that you will be unable to afford the tuition of a private school before you even apply. Most private schools offer tuition assistance and payment programs, and some will even adjust their tuition based on your income (even if they don't advertise that on their website or in their brochures). Do not be afraid to ask about tuition assistance if there is a private school you are interested in.
Narrow Down Your Options
Once you've found a few schools that look like good possibilities, visit the school and speak to the admissions team. Try to visit the school when classes are in session, if possible, so you can see what a typical day looks like. When you find one or two schools that seem like a great fit, ask to let your children attend for a few hours as a visiting student, if they don't automatically do this as part of the enrollment process.
If you have researched all of the available options in your area and are still not satisfied with the educational options, and you know that homeschooling indefinitely is not the right option for you either, you may want to consider moving to an area where the schools do fit your needs. This is obviously a huge decision, so you will want to spend a great deal of time ensuring the school and location you choose is going to work for your family.