Navigating School Choice

Guest Correspondence

Image courtesy Pixabay

With the expansion of universal school choice in Florida, parents and guardians have newer—as well as established—options to find the best academic fit for their children. With so many choices, finding that fit can feel daunting though, especially to families with limited resources, time and knowledge of the school system. 

While daunting, the process is so important, and a good approach is to start with self-reflection. What values are important in my child’s education? What classroom and school environment would help my child thrive? What does my child love to study and how would the school nourish that love?

From there, you can explore the public schools and the choices that reside within the district. You might be surprised by how many of the schools have unique features. Even though we often reference Sarasota County Schools as one district, there are many school options within it. 

Throughout this process, ask questions that will illuminate each school’s unique features. Will my child be challenged? What special programs does the school have? What languages are taught? How about the school culture? What’s the average class size? What clubs and extracurricular activities are available? What sports are offered?  

While you might not immediately know all these answers, each school has its own website, where they post information about their academics, their special programs, their extracurriculars, and more. You can check out this list of the district schools . Reach out to schools and, if you have the time, talk to the principal or an administrator, and schedule a tour.    

You can also consider charter or magnet schools or programs. With charter schools, magnet schools and schools with magnet or special programs, there are many opportunities for learners to find a unique program that best suits their needs. Some schools focus on arts and sciences. Others offer everything from Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) to International Baccalaureate (IB) to pre-Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) to a Law or a Marine Science Academy. There’s even a dual language school. Each program has unique criteria and application guidelines, and it’s important to start the application process early. 

Another option to get into the school best suited for your child is controlled open enrollment. As part of school choice, districts must provide a plan for controlled open enrollment, which affords students and their families the opportunity to enter a lottery to attend up to three schools other than the school in their attendance area (their zoned school)—anywhere in the state of Florida. That controlled open enrollment is now available throughout the month of February. Learn more about how it works .

The Education Foundation of Sarasota County has developed resources to help families learn more about school choice and find the right fit. We hosted an episode of our podcast Education Conversations called “Navigating School Choice.” I talk with Millie Wheeler, the Supervisor of the Office of School Choice and Student Assignment for Sarasota County Schools. Millie provides a practical overview of school choice and how students and families can access opportunities and resources to find the best fit. 

We have also developed a School Choice Resources page, where you can find answers to frequently asked questions. You can check out out website to find these and other resources.

Sarasota County Schools and the Florida Department of Education provide excellent school choice resources. Below are two great starting points: 

-      Sarasota County Schools School Choice and Student Assignment.

-      The Florida Department of Education School Choice.

Amid the many school choices available to students and families today, it can certainly be challenging. Yet few decisions are as consequential as where and how a young person will develop into a successful, lifelong learner. That’s why it’s essential to find the right fit. 

Jennifer Vigne is president and CEO of the Education Foundation of Sarasota County.

 

Image courtesy Pixabay

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