Whether your family is moving to a new state or your child has expressed that they’re incredibly unhappy in their current school, you may have some tough decisions ahead of you as a parent. Regardless of the reasons, choosing a new district for your children can be a huge challenge — particularly if you aren’t familiar with the area or have any first-hand knowledge of a given school’s reputation. Of course, you’ll want to make this transition as easy as possible. But where do you begin? These tips can allow you to choose the right option for your family and help your child adjust to their new surroundings.

Test Scores and Graduation Rates

Parents need to remember that test scores and even awards aren’t everything. Although the Coppell School District came in fifth on the list of Best School Districts in Texas during 2018, you’ll need to really research how these ratings are calculated. Many of them will take only test scores into account without considering the impact of student body demographics. A school may be doing amazing things but could be located in an area with fewer resources and more children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. You absolutely should consider data like test scores and graduation rates when making your decision, as it can tell you quite a bit about the success of the district and the type of education your child may receive. But keep in mind that this doesn’t tell the entire story. You’ll need to consider other factors when making your decision, as well.

Teacher Turnover and Certifications

If there’s any evidence that teachers aren’t happy in a given school district (e.g., there’s been publicity about issues within a given school or there are high turnover rates), it’s probably safe to assume that students aren’t too thrilled, either. You’ll also want to pay attention to the number of teachers within each school who are certified. There may be a few educators here and there who aren’t and who are still hired based on experience, but most should be certified to teach in the state so that they have the experience and knowledge needed to create a positive learning environment. Keep in mind that public schools will often have a higher number of certified teachers than charter or private schools might. After all, if you’re expecting your child to obtain a high-quality education, their teachers should probably have high-quality educations, too.

Presence of Technology and Extracurriculars

On the one hand, a school district that invests in technology can be a sign that officials are embracing the need for STEM programs and the future needs of their students. It can also indicate that a district is more than willing to upgrade for the sake of innovation. However, parents need to definitively determine how this technology is being utilized. If it’s being used as a supplement that adds to the learning experience, that’s excellent news. But if it’s being used as a substitute for teaching or to make up for a district’s shortcomings, that’s a real red flag. Not only are two-thirds of parents worried that their children already spends too much time using electronic devices, but too much technology in the classroom could actually show that the district is willing to throw money at a problem in the hopes that it’ll resolve itself. Be critical about the learning tactics that are used in the classroom — but don’t dismiss the importance of digital learning, either. If it’s all in the name of STEM, this could have a positive impact on your child’s future job outlook.

In addition, you’ll want to focus on the presence and variety of extracurricular activities. Academics are important, of course, but the school experience isn’t all about classroom learning. Since only one in three U.S. children is physically active every day, make sure that there are plenty of opportunities for your child to be involved in sports or fitness in ways that could actually appeal to them. A wide scope of interests should also be covered with after-school programs and classroom offerings, like visual arts, stage performance, speech and debate, foreign language clubs, and more. A school district that’s rich in these kinds of activities can help your child zero in on their interests and find common ground with others as they grow.

Class Size and Diversity

For most parents and students, smaller class sizes are better for learning and for behavioral outcomes. While the links between class size and academic performance have been called into question, it’s definitely important to note that a smaller class will probably allow your child to thrive and to acclimate more easily. Districts that are rich in diversity should be on the top of your list, too. Children typically learn better when they’re educated alongside those who may have different skills, backgrounds, and abilities. Large, homogeneous classes won’t benefit your child nearly as much as a school that offers more individualized learning and that promotes diversity, acceptance, and cultural understanding.

Once you’ve chosen the school district you feel will be a good fit for your child and for your family in general, you’ll need to switch gears to ensure that your child is able to make this transition as smoothly as possible. Though you’ll certainly need to expect some bumps along the road, there are some things parents can do to support their kids during this time.

You can help your child adjust to their new school by…

  • Finding exciting ways to prepare (e.g., new school supplies, new clothes, or food for lunches)
  • Taking a tour or going to orientation together
  • Looking for interesting classes that might interest your child
  • Talking to your child about their biggest concerns and brainstorming ways to address them
  • Highlighting the ways your child has overcome challenges in the past and reminding them of how capable they are
  • Staying positive and reminding them that you’re there for them, no matter what
  • Encouraging them to become part of the community by attending after-school programs and extracurriculars that interest them
  • Sending your child to school prepared with everything they’ll need for class
  • Encouraging them to plan out their first day to alleviate rushing and stress
  • Talking to your child’s teachers ahead of time to help when possible

Ultimately, choosing the best school in the area and prepping your child can go a long way — but it’s not going to solve everything. These tips won’t absolutely eliminate those initial jitters or necessarily make it easier to navigate the social structure of a new school, but they can help your child to feel more ready to embrace this new experience — warts and all.