Home buyers with school aged children have more than just location, property values and home features to consider when shopping for a house. A good school district rises to the top of their search parameters, and many families will settle for less property, and less square footage, if they know their school district has good educational choices. Plenty of resources are available to help separate the good schools from the not-so-great ones. Hard data on test scores, graduation rates and SAT performance is aggregated on sites across the Internet. But there’s more to a good school district than test scores. What’s just as important is what numbers can’t tell you.
Jenny Nauman, Principal of Richard A. Shields Elementary, a 2013 National Blue Ribbon School, knows what parents should look for in a school district.
Nauman says that good schools are accessible. She recommends calling the school and requesting a tour. ‘Do they call you back right away? Or do they make you feel like it’s an inconvenience?’ That will tell you a lot. In any school, or any district, you will have good years and not-so-good years. Sometimes the chemistry in a classroom just isn’t right. But if you can talk to administrators about your problems, more often than not, you can make things better.
Test scores can’t reflect school culture. You need to experience that in person. Nauman recommends when visiting a school, to make observations. How are the children acting, and how are the teachers acting? What’s the interaction like? Actions speak volumes, and your gut impressions of the environment will inform you.
Choice and flexibility are important. If a school is not a good fit for you and/or your children, you want to have other options available. Nauman advises you understand the district policy on school choice and charter schools. Those policies can change based on demographics, so know your rights.
Communication is key. Good school districts promote conversation at every level, whether it’s district policies, school emergency protocol or the daily back-and-forth with teachers. Find out how they communicate. Do they have an e-mail newsletter? Is there an app? When you call, do you get a call back?
Great school districts are on the cutting edge of educational practice. What does the curriculum look like, and does it have a clear and coherent mission? Look at the facilities. Are they up to standards? Is a long-term facilities plan in place? What technology are they using, and how will they keep pace with innovation? What do the demographics look like, and is the district prepared for growth? A good school district has answers for these questions and will happily share them with you.
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So, how do prospective home buyers assess these softer, less data-driven, qualities in the school districts they’re considering? Nauman has recommendations:
- Visit. Nauman insists, ‘All parents should tour the school during the school day, so they can feel what it’s like. Meet the principal. When you walk in and meet the staff, the principal and the secretaries, what kind of feeling do you get? What does the principal talk about first? Academics or sports? Because whatever they lead with is what’s most important to them. And whatever is important to them, will be important to the teachers and staff.’ Visit the middle school and high school as well, even if your child is years away from attending. You want to get a sense of the overall experience.
- Research. Visit the district and school websites. Is enough information available? Is there a clear way to communicate? Nauman encourages people to dig deeper. Who are the Teachers of the Year, and what are they doing that’s special? Go to the library for the local paper’s articles focused on schools in the last year. That will reveal what’s happening across the board.
- Talk to people. As a newcomer or visitor, this may be the hardest part. But Nauman says you’ll get far more, and better, information talking to parents in the community than you will attending a school board meeting. Strike up conversations at the local library, the playground or even the grocery store. ‘There’s no dog and pony show there,’ she says. ‘They’ll tell you the real deal.’
Top 10 U.S. school districts for 2016
Niche.com compiled their list of top U.S. School Districts for 2016, basing their findings on test scores, college readiness, graduation rates, SAT/ACT scores, teacher quality, student and parent reviews and more. The top 10 school districts in the U.S. are as follows, with median home prices supplied by Point2Homes.com. Just remember to view the numbers as a starting point in your home search. Then get out and do your own investigation, in schools and with people — face-to face.
1. Tredyffin-Easttown School District, Tredyffrin Township, PA
Median Home Price (Greater Chesterbrook): $314,323
2. Eanes Independent School District, Austin, TX
Median Home Price (Westlake):$521,250
3. Jericho Union Free School District, Oyster Bay Town, NY
Median Home Price: $671,014
4. New Trier High School District No. 203, New Trier Township, IL
Median Listing Price (Winnetka):$690,000
5. Princeton Public Schools, Princeton, NJ
Median Home Price: $435,000
6. Highland Park Independent School District, Dallas, TX
Median Home Price: $757,563
7. North Allegheny School District, McCandless Township, PA
Median Home Price: $211,000
8. Rye City School District, Rye, NY
Median Home Price: $1,238,750
9. Indian Hill Exempted Village School District, The Village of Indian Hill, IL
Median Listing Price: $193,231
10. Glenbrook High Schools District No. 225, Northfield Township, IL
Median Home Price: $420,375
Want more money-saving advice for your family? See our Education section.