Last Week, National School Choice Week brought attention to every child’s right to an effective education option.
As the principal of a virtual school, I see students come to us who weren’t thriving in their previous environment. Many find the increased personalization and flexibility of online school better supports their academic success, since they can work at a pace and level that best fits their learning style. Yet for all the students that succeed online, I also recognize that this form of public education may not be a good fit for every student. Ultimately, parents have the right to choose the education option that works best for their child, whether it’s traditional public school, private school, home school or a virtual school.
A family might consider switching schools mid-year, or start exploring new options for the following school year, for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons why parents switched to our online schools last year, according to a national survey, were they wanted a change in learning environment, a more flexible schedule, and a more controlled educational setting.
Through our three California schools, Connections Academy serves more than 2,000 students and customizes each student’s learning plan to meet his or her individual needs. Our staff of certified teachers and trained counselors work one-on-one with students, including those who need to learn at a different pace from their peers, as well as students who need a flexible schedule to pursue passions such as acting, ballet or even barrel racing!
Whatever the reason for making a school switch, families should consider several important factors when exploring other education options. These include quality, planning ahead, and credit transfer policies, among other factors.
Based on 15 years of education experience, in both traditional and virtual schools, the number one expectation from my students’ parents is quality. Not all schools are created equal and parents should ensure that the school has professional and state-certified teachers, is an accredited program with a proven curriculum that meets state standards, and requires a high level of accountability.
Insider perspective from other parents is one of the best ways to learn more about other education options, as you’ve likely had similar school experiences. Most high-quality programs will provide parent testimonials and feedback right on their website. Like many charter schools, our school hosts open houses and parent-to-parent information sessions for families to learn more. We are also eager to connect prospective families with current parents and teachers, so they can hear other families’ experiences and feedback first-hand.
Planning ahead is another important consideration for families when switching. For high school (and some middle school) students, we recommend they finish the current quarter or semester and then start in the new school at the beginning of the next period. Of course, sometimes life throws curve balls – unexpected job changes or other family events seldom come with advance warning – and from an administration standpoint, we always aim to do whatever possible to accommodate each student’s circumstances.
Whether switching schools right away or considering it down the line, parents should reach out to the guidance and enrollment officials at their child’s prospective school, and the appropriate staff at their current school, as early as possible. School officials will be able to provide guidance on required documents, transfer of credits, enrollment guidelines and deadlines, which vary based on the type of school to which the student is transferring. They can help with the process of getting all the required documents in order, including transcripts, birth certificates and immunization records. Fall semester or second quarter report cards may also not come in the mail until spring semester starts, in which case, it’s important to coordinate on alternate paperwork with both sides, to ensure correct placement at the new school.
Keep in mind that the staff’s level of support and willingness to help during the transition can be a good indicator of what a family will experience throughout their years at the school. Like they say, “how it starts is how it goes.”
Change can be difficult, but parents can arm themselves with knowledge and available resources to ensure their child has a smooth transition. Every student deserves a quality education and parents have the power to navigate their child towards success.