School Search K12 is a locally owned company with in depth experience and expertise related to school choice offerings in the greater Charleston region of South Carolina. A total of two hundred twenty-five schools are in operation and represent a variety of school-types. One hundred and sixty-five schools are within the four public school districts: Berkeley; Charleston; Dorchester 2 and Dorchester 4. Within the public domain are magnet, charter, partial magnet and Constituent magnet schools. There are also private, independent, parochial, Christian, and virtual schools. While the region is blessed with “choices”, the portfolio of schools is complex, difficult to navigate and requires fairly sophisticated skills to compare and contrast school quality. Additionally, enrollment procedures, deadlines and admission criteria vary significantly from school to school.
High School’s Over, Now What?
By: Dr. Lee OX
A friend of mine, a deeply experienced college admissions counselor, recently came across a Gallup-Purdue index (published annually) which delineates key components of a successful college experience. He accurately surmised that there is a high correlation between these characteristics and those which accrue to the advantage of high school seniors seeking admission to post-secondary institutions. And, the more selective the institution, the more significant these characteristics will become. Some of these pertinent characteristics are:
Having a professor (or teacher) who cared about them as a person or a mentor who encouraged them;
Working on a project or research initiative that took more than a semester to complete. In high school this might take the form of some kind of capstone project;
A high degree of involvement in extracurriculars;
Having a job or internship related to a specific field of interest.
All of these have obvious parallels in a high environment and offer opportunities for students to distinguish themselves and set themselves apart in the college application process. It’s not all about grades and test scores! Questions to ask of any high school you are considering should include:
A consistent record of successful college placement—e.g., list of schools where recent graduates have been accepted; percentage accepted at college of first or second choice;
Having a knowledgeable college placement person on staff whose primary responsibility is college/career advisement;
Faculty who know your student well and can speak and write persuasively on his or her behalf.
This may well be some of the most important research you can undertake for the welfare of your children. School Search K12, with its depth of experience and expertise, is prepared to be your helpful partner along the way.
PERSONALIZE LEARNING WITH THE RIGHT SCHOOL
Nancy J. McGinley
"Personalization" is not another new fad that will fade from our daily lives or schools. It is too powerful, motivating, exciting, and stimulating to ever disappear. It, flat out, makes sense since one size can never really fit all.
Technological innovations have absolutely transformed how children (and adults) learn, where learning occurs and from whom we obtain new knowledge. These advances have also changed instruction inside individual classrooms, modified entire school operating practices and armed a new generation of parents and caregivers with the knowledge and awareness that "all schools are not created equal".
Schools may exist within the same state or community. They may even teach the same academic standards and curriculum content but, schools are not "the same" when it comes to their capacity to meet the academic and developmental needs of children. The reason is simple: every child is different!
It is not just the technology that makes schools different. A school's mission statement or operating philosophy signals what the school values and expects from students. Do they embrace diverse learning styles? Are they responsive to individuality and the array of needs, interests and abilities that exist within every group of children? Are they willing to provide every child in the class with an individualized spelling list and work assignment? Or, are the kids who come to school knowing how to read expected to “tread water” for weeks while the teacher introduces "cat, bat and rat" to the non-readers.
In schools that are committed to meeting a diverse student needs and abilities, teachers use a variety of strategies, including technology to accelerate instruction and challenge the more advanced students while still addressing the needs of those who need more support. Today’s kids probably cannot fathom why schools ever taught the same exact content to every student in a class when, clearly, every child has varying abilities, interests and goals.
One trend we see in elementary and secondary schools today, is a shift toward specialization. Perhaps it is a simple recognition that a generic approach to instruction fails to motivate many young learners. Or, perhaps it is the realization that successful organizations change and adapt over time to stay ahead of societal changes. Most children are “digital natives” who expect to be able to access information quickly and are accustomed to making independent decisions about content and issues that are of interest to them. And, that is why today's parents want choices.
We live in a world of ever expanding personalization. Individually, we decide how and when to communicate, conduct business, shop, purchase music, look for cars, make travel arrangements, search for recipes, read, monitor our children's whereabouts and train our pets.
In virtually every aspect of life, including elementary and secondary school selection, we have choices that did not exist fifty years ago.
Gone are the days when your home address dictated your school assignment. Today, the menu of school options is staggering. Within the portfolio of private and independent schools are religious schools and “special focus” schools. And, the competition for students means that private schools find creative ways to make tuition affordable for more families.
The old approach to school selection and enrollment is becoming as obsolete as lectures, whole class instruction, rote memorization, and "mimeographed" worksheets. Going to your neighborhood school remains one option to consider. However, in these exciting times, there are many excellent schools with unique cultures and a variety of focus areas (specializations). That's good news for parents because “turning a child on to learning” begins with the right school.
Increasingly, there are a myriad of school options within the free public education system. Magnet schools, open enrollment, special admission, thematic schools, district charters, state charters and virtual schools bring a smorgasbord of choices to today's families. The key to unlocking this rich treasure trove of learning options is reliable information.
Many parents are well aware that the internet provides mountains of data to search through when it is time to enroll or transfer students. Unfortunately, plowing through the data and making sense of it is both time consuming and challenging for those who are new to educational jargon and the nuances of standardized testing.
Additionally, there has never been universal agreement on the factors and characteristics that define a good or excellent school because, even within the same family, there are significant differences among children. One child may excel in a large high school with highly rigorous Advanced Placement courses while another sibling needs a smaller, more personalized environment.
To give each child an optimal opportunity to develop and maximize learning potential, parents and caregivers cannot judge a school on just one data point, whether it is school location or test scores. In this age of personalization the factors to consider involve the match between the school and learner.
Important decisions related to school selection become more clear with more information. A lifelong love of learning starts with the right school.
Let’s Talk about Affordability
By: Dr. Lee Cox
First of all, it’s important to understand that affordability is a two-way street. For obvious reasons, it is a primary concern for families who are considering an independent/private school option. These schools, however, also have an incentive to make themselves as affordable as possible to as broad an array of income groups as possible. While it is good practice for any non-profit organization to operate in a business-like way, independent/private schools are indeed businesses that must compete in the educational marketplace. Their success and survival is contingent upon their ability to provide customers (families) with a service (education) for which they are willing to pay (tuition). Marketing to different income groups is also one of the ways in which independent/private schools strive to achieve diversity within their student bodies.
Here are some key considerations:
Family values, needs, and expectations should drive the search process. “How much?” is not the first question to ask.
Don’t assume a correlation between quality and cost.
Don’t assume that if a school appears to be financially out of reach, that it is.
Investigate financial aid opportunities. (You don’t have to be poor to qualify.)
Always remember that independent/private schools need customers. That’s you!
As you delve deeper into the independent/private school options in the Charleston area, you will notice that there is a significant range in the amount of tuition charged by schools. Here are some observations on this phenomenon:
A lower tuition rate is thought to be a competitive advantage by some schools.
Historically, tuition at faith-based schools tends to be lower than at secular schools.
Schools with lower tuitions will tend to have somewhat larger class sizes but will, for the most part, be smaller than public school counterparts.
Lower tuition rates may be offset by additional fees (e.g., food service, technology, activities); and, conversely, higher tuition rates may be more inclusive of other expenses.
Information on tuition, fees, and financial aid will be found on each school's’ websites. However, some sites are easier to navigate than others, so you may have to do some searching. And some information may not be included (e.g., whether tuition covers food service or not). Also, many schools require uniforms and this represents an additional expense. Finally, there may be testing fees, application fees, and registration fees. Always look and ask.
Independent and Private Schools in the Charleston Region:
What You Should Know
Dr. Lee Cox
The first thing you should know about independent and private schools in the Charleston area is that there are lots of them, over 50, and they range from large to small, from traditional preparatory independent schools to private faith-based schools: Hebrew, Catholic (parochial) schools, and a wide variety of other Christian schools. There is also one school that focuses entirely on special needs students. This blog, and the ones that follow, is intended to provide information that should prove useful for families that are considering the independent/private school option.
So let’s jump right into the question of “Why consider independent or private education?”. The answers vary from one family to the next. But, since families pay money (tuition) to attend these schools, they attend closely to what they perceive as a positive value proposition. Among the assets parents cite are:
*Small class size;
*Safety (physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual);
*Preparation for the demands of college work;
*College placement services;
*Extracurricular activities and the chance to participate;
*Opportunities for parental involvement;
*More accountability to the paying customer; and,
*Shared values (moral, ethical, religious, etc.).
Different families will place different values on these attributes and there are doubtless others that could be listed. Four common themes, however, tend to arise most frequently: academic rigor, class size (which impacts the quality of individual attention students receive), and safety. Again, these four qualities may also vary in terms of relative importance from family to family.
Whether you’ve been in independent/private schools or not, due diligence is key. Three questions should always be answered prior to considering any school. They are:
What are the most important qualities my family is looking for in an independent/private school?
What are our expectations and the “end results” we want to see for our children?
Are these expectations realistic?
Can we afford it and is the cost/benefit (value proposition) worth the financial investment?
The fourth question is the last one that should be asked only after you have addressed the first three. For more information on this topic, please see my blogs on affordability and financial aid.
These are many more topics to follow, so stay tuned!
The Greater Charleston Region of South Carolina: School Overview
Dr. Nancy J. McGinley
The greater Charleston region of South Carolina is comprised of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. Locally, it is sometimes called “the tri-county area” or “the low-country”.
The area offers a rich portfolio of school choices. In the greater Charleston region there are a total of two hundred and twenty-five schools. This total includes traditional public schools (including magnet schools), public charter schools, private, independent and faith-based schools.
There are four distinct systems of free public schools. Each district operates under the authority of an elected Board of Trustees (school board). The boundaries of two of the districts - Berkeley and Charleston - coincide with the boundaries of the county. Dorchester County, however, has two school districts: Dorchester 2 and Dorchester 4.
Charleston County S.D. is the second largest district in South Carolina with a total enrollment of over 48,147 students in eighty-four schools and programs. Berkeley County S.D. serves 33,287 students in forty-six schools and programs. Dorchester 2 S.D enrolls 25,589 students in t schools and programs. Dorchester 4 enrolls 2,237 students in six schools and one program.
In addition to the public schools, the greater Charleston region has thirty-seven independent, private or faith-based schools and twenty-one district and/or state sponsored charter schools.
Standardized Testing Varies From State to State
By Nancy J. McGinley
For public schools across the United States, each state’s department of education dictates what standardized assessments must be administered to students. State assessments vary in difficulty and content from state to state. Unlike other nations, the U.S. has no national assessment that is mandated for all students.
In recent years, some states have agreed to adopt common tests which would help ensure the validity of state by state comparisons of student achievement. However, there is no requirement to do so. Therefore many states elect to develop their own standardized assessments which they believe are more closely correlated with the curriculum standards within the state.
To read about the tests that each state requires Ed Week provides
An Interactive Breakdown of States’ 2016-17 Testing Plans. Go to: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/02/15/state-solidarity-still-eroding-on-common-core-tests.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news1-RM
edweek.org An Education Week survey finds smaller shifts in testing this year as more states embrace the SAT and ACT and the number of states using PARCC or Smarter Balanced holds steady.
What you should look for in choosing a ‘right fit’ school for your child
Choosing an appropriate school for your child(ren) can be a daunting, often laborious task because the stakes are so high. The right school can spark a love of learning that lasts a lifetime. A school that is not a good match may actually shut down a child’s curiosity, initiative and communication - the very attributes that are essential for future learning and life success.
As a parent and a lifelong educator, my perspective is that before you look at schools, you need to really look at your child and think about the situations and experiences where he/she truly shines. As you contemplate your journey and forge your own pathway to find a school that is right for your child you may want to consider how I approached this labor of love fifteen years ago.
Write down four or five attributes that are really important when you think about the type of adult you hope your child will become.
Make a few notes about how your child likes to spend time. What does he/she love to do? What motivates him/her? Brings out confidence? How does he/she like to learn?
Now that you’ve listed what is important for you and your child(ren), start off by reading a school’s Mission and Vision Statements. Do they align with your values and beliefs? Do they communicate inclusivity? Are they easily understood ?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about teaching and learning. What will my child be learning - what’s the curriculum in each grade? What kinds of programs exist at the school… gifted offerings, services for students’ with disabilities, counseling, tutoring options, etc. Does the school accommodate various learning styles? Does the school offer extra-curricular activities, athletics, after-school programs?
Check out parent involvement. Is there an active Parent Teacher Association? Are parents welcomed into the school as volunteers? What does the school expect from you, the parent? After all, the school has to be a good fit for you as well. Ask for the names of parents that you can speak to about the school.
Data, Data, Data...Look at all of it. For public and charter schools, look at the South Carolina State Report card. Specifically, look for standardized test score results, school climate statistics such as: suspension rates and student, teacher and parent satisfaction ratings. Look at a school’s graduation rate, AP offerings & successful completion rate of the AP offerings. Don’t forget to locate college placement rates for high schools.
For private/independent schools, you’ll need to research each school’s website to gather the available data. They have it; you may just need to ask for it.
Finally, make sure you visit the school prior to enrolling your child(ren). Request a tour of the building while school is in session. Get a feel for the climate, the reception you receive upon entering, take note if it is child-centered, look into classrooms and get a feel for the classroom experience your child will receive, and surely look at the student work displayed throughout the building.
Note: If a school does not want parents to visit prior to enrollment ask why?
Keep in mind that no school is the perfect school. However, if you do your research, you’ll find a school that is best suited for your child(ren) and you.
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