When we learned my husband’s job would bring our family of five to Indianapolis, one of the first questions to run through my mind was, “Where will we send the kids to school?” This isn’t a decision we take lightly–I’m a former Florida public school teacher, and education is one of our family’s top priorities. At the same time, our son has some special needs that make our decision feel more complicated. How could we go about choosing a school in an unfamiliar city?
Before I had children, I thought my education background would make choosing a school for my kids easy. (It’s just one of many things I thought I had figured out before my children were actually born.) Once I knew the ins and outs of my three kids’ personalities and needs, things seem muddled. It’s challenging to balance so many competing factors: location and transportation, staff and administration, academics and extracurriculars, testing, and discipline.
Meanwhile, I know American public schools face incredible challenges–we have lived in Orlando, Grand Rapids, and Indianapolis, none of which are immune to this reality. But as we prepared for our move to Indy and I began to research schools, I was dismayed and shocked by how almost everyone we talked to said we’d be better off staying away from the public schools (except for a select handful, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you which ones).
In our previous homes, we heard similar narratives: the schools are terrible, the students are unruly, and there’s too much emphasis on testing (and kids don’t perform well on those tests, anyway). But it turned out that none of those concerns mattered during my son’s amazing kindergarten experience last year–he learned, he grew, and he did so surrounded by awesome classmates and wonderful teachers and staff. Was the school perfect? Of course not. But it was right for us.
This made the reality that we were moving before first grade a hard pill to swallow. Deep in my heart, I hoped and prayed for a similar experience in Indianapolis Public Schools, but I was nervous. It seemed as though nay-sayers came from every corner. I began to doubt my convictions and, frankly, my sanity.
But along the way, I asked myself a few simple questions that helped get me back on track, gave me peace of mind, and brought me out of the black hole of never-ending pro/con lists.
Three Questions to Ask When Choosing a School
First, I asked, “What matters most to our family?” Our family values include things like seeking out diversity and relationships with people who are different than us. I knew we wanted to establish connections within our neighborhood. At the same time, I care less that my kids will beat out all their peers on their college applications and more that they will love to learn and are curious. And, most importantly, I believe public schools have an essential role to play in our society. When choosing a school, I can take each of these values and priorities into account.
I asked, “Whose opinions matter most to me on this topic?” I realized the barrage of critical opinions I heard mostly came from people who did not know my son well and did not have children enrolled in the schools we were considering. The truth is, every family is going to approach choosing a school differently. When I talked to my husband, dear friends who were educators or have chosen public schools, and others who know and love my son, they reminded me to trust my mother’s intuition, trust God’s care for my son, and remember that school decisions can be taken one year at a time. It helped weed out some of the opinions of those who weren’t “in the arena” with us, so to speak.
I asked, “Is my decision-making being motivated by fear or love?” This is a question I learned to ask from one of my favorite writers and podcasters, Emily P. Freeman, and it’s a question that helps me navigate decision paralysis. I realized when it came to choosing a school, most of my hesitations came from fear of unknowns and “what ifs,” and that’s not a good way to make a decision. When I shifted my perspective to think more about the love I have for my son, for our neighborhood, and public schools in general, the decision seemed much simple.
Of course, what works for our family won’t work for every family. We each get to think through the needs and priorities of our family, our children, our neighborhoods, and our communities. It helps me remember that no decision is permanent; most decisions are not as simple as “right” and “wrong,” and children are amazingly resilient.
Ultimately, we decided to send our son to a local IPS school. The school atmosphere is warm and inviting, full of smiling staff who make my son feel valued and welcome every single day. He learns, makes friends, and is happy to go to school each day.