Is there a welcoming atmosphere within the school?
Is there evidence of a community of learners in which students and teachers, together, are engaged in the learning process, demonstrating their knowledge and skills appropriately? Are there a variety of learning activities from which students choose so that their learning style and varying intelligences are challenged and heightened?
Is the school open to inquiry about your child's progress?
A mark of a healthy school is the willingness, even enthusiasm, of the leadership and teachers to establish a process for parent communication, including visits to the school. Obviously, there will be inconvenient times for you to sit down with your child's teacher, but it is a real danger sign if school personnel do not have time to meet with parents, never initiating communication with you or responding positively to your overtures.
Beyond basic contact regarding your child's achievement and development, do the teachers help you to understand what you can do at home to reinforce what is done at school?
The educators in a quality school know that the parent-teacher partnership is the cornerstone to effective teaching and learning.
Are you welcome to volunteer your time and talents to the school?
If there is a parent volunteer program, is involvement perfunctory or are your professional, business or parenting skills used in meaningful ways within the curriculum and program, consistent with the mission and goals of the school? It is also essential to have a forum for parents to work together, emphasizing group awareness and involvement.
Does the school have strong leadership?
Schools do not need authoritarian leaders; schools do need leaders who have the ability and personality to organize and inspire, to represent, articulate and evaluate. The successful school has leadership that is knowledgeable and forthright and contributes to an atmosphere of respect, trust and open discussion.
Are all faculty and staff involved in the school, analyzing needs, solving problems as a team, helping the leadership to make decisions which will improve the school?
The research is emphatic: Teachers, students and parents must feel pride and ownership for their school to be effective and successful.
Is there a clear mission, a statement of philosophy about what the school family believes in?
When there is no mission discussed frequently or displayed prominently, there is often no sense of purpose and direction.
Based upon the mission — whether it is written or simply understood — is there an action plan defining where the school is now, where it is going and how it plans to get there?
Is there a written curriculum, or is the school a hodgepodge of courses, activities and services without focus and coordination? Common sense suggests that order is imperative.
Are there high standards for your child and all students in the school?
If so, does the school provide the support that children need to succeed? Are there Advanced Placement (AP) and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs offered? Teachers must be well prepared to provide that support; this includes ongoing staff development and access to the physical resources necessary to meet the needs of all students.
Is the school physically attractive, the buildings and grounds clean, neat and well lighted?
If everyone has pride in the school, everyone will help to maintain it.
Does the school have a way to measure student achievement and is it communicated to parents?
Be careful of this one. Standardized tests, within the grades, are not the end-all of instruction: You should know what your child understands and can do, beyond the taking of tests, so a portfolio including your child's work, in secondary as well as elementary and middle grades, is an important part of assessment.