Best fit: finding the right school

It is a sobering experience to have to admit that my wife and I committed more effort to our daughter's productive and positive transition from Grade 6 to middle school than to the selection of our respective post-secondary educational institutions.

You find yourself being guided by the conviction that the most enduring legacy you will ever bequeath to your child is her education-her passport to the future. The quantity and quality of time, energy and inquisitive focus that my wife, Annette, and I invested in identifying the ideal learning environment for the next six years of our daughter's life were informed by a simple but compelling perspective: "The only two things we can give our children are roots and wings."

As our short list went from six candidate schools to four serious contenders, some integral background concepts associated with "choosing appropriate schools" were at the forefront:

  • "Best fit" varies with your child's needs.
  • Choice involves compromise, flexibility and knowledge of your values.
  • Making the "right decision" requires access to information and resources (human, paper, online), transparency of facts and process (ask questions), balancing needs and opportunities, and respect for your "gut instinct."

We took time to outline our strategy in terms that our daughter could understand, and to communicate the reasons for each consideration within our process. However, while her involvement in the process was essential in determining the "best fit," the final school selection decision was ours, and not a choice ceded solely to her. In our family's experience, the following were key considerations that helped us simplify and focus the search and comparative analysis process.

  • Can the school articulate its vision, values and mission statement simply and with clarity?
  • Would our child's needs be best served by a single-gender or coed learning experience?
  • Are the school's values reflected in the scheduling of academic and extracurricular activities?
  • With which academic framework was the school aligned: Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Montessori, or none of these?
  • What minimum academic and non-academic qualifications are required of the teachers? Is ongoing professional development a priority? What is the rate of staff turnover?
  • What personal qualities does the school value highly in assessing a student's "fit" with the school's "culture"?
  • How broad a spectrum of extramural and international learning experiences would our child have access to?
  • How geographically and ethnically diverse is the student population within which our child would be exchanging ideas and learning?

At the end of our assessment of potential schools, Appleby College, in Oakville, Ontario, was the choice for our family. It was especially compelling to us that the school communicated its vision, values and mission powerfully and concisely in Five Pillars of Strength.

I would encourage parents beginning this process to be fearless in asking questions, involve your child in the process, and make the best decision you can based upon your knowledge of your child's unique needs and the information you consider relevant. Whether you get it right or not, it's an expensive decision (financially and otherwise) for you and your child.


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