Choosing a Good Kindergarten; and the Fraser Institute Report

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As the parent of a 4 year old boy who will attend kindergarten (in 2013) in the Coquitlam School District, it has been a challenging process to get the information I need to choose the right elementary school for my son. One of the only resources that is readily available is the Fraser Institute elementary school report card. You can get some valuable information from this annual report including the school’s ranking in the province this year and in the past 5 years, academic performance in reading and numeracy on standardized tests, gender gaps in learning, and the percentage of French Immersion, ESL, and special needs students in each school. View the most recent report at  www.compareschoolrankings.org.

I believe taking a look at this report card is a great place to start for parents whose children will be starting kindergarten to get a sense of the schools in your area. But a report will only take you so far.

We had a number of other questions and it has been a process to get the answers. We wanted to know:

  • what programs does the school offer to engage students and parents and make them feel like they are part of the school?
  • what is the school policy on bullying, and how is bullying handled at the school?
  • what extracurricular activities are available in the school?
  • what involvement does the schools’ Parent Advisory Council (PAC) have? how active can I be?
  • are there music programs?
  • is there an onsite daycare?
  • what sports programs are available?
  • if my child is advanced in his learning, what kind of programs will keep him interested?
  • what about French Immersion or other specialized learning programs? Is that something we should consider or not? How do you decide?

My next step was checking out local elementary school websites where I typically found a message from the principal, school newsletters, Parent Advisory Council stuff, school policies and program info for the school. The school district website also provides a ton of info on programs offered district-wide such as French Immersion, Mandarin Immersion and Montessori as well as school catchment, registration info and even school satisfaction surveys.

In November, I sent emails to four schools in our district that I was interested in finding out about. Only one principal offered to meet with me. Our catchment school suggested we wait until the spring after registration (duh?) when there would be some sort of information sessions available and despite numerous requests never got back to me about an interview. Two of the schools didn’t bother to respond at all.

We had a terrific interview in November with the principal at the one school that did respond and we are likely going to be attending this school assuming our cross-catchment application is accepted. The principal is also a parent and told us he thought our approach to have a meeting at the schools we are interested in was the right one. He answered all our questions thoroughly and gave us a personal tour of the school.

As for our catchment school, it doesn’t have a good reputation in my neighbourhood except for their Montessori program which is supposed to be good. Many parents prefer to send their kids to the French Immersion school or cross-catchment for the English kindergarten program because the catchment school is in a lower socio-economic area. Don’t get me wrong, my family comes from very humble beginnings but what is worrisome to me is the low academic ranking, reading and numeracy scores on the Fraser Institute report. I need to know that my child has the best chance to do well in school and that the learning environment is a good one.

I’m not even going to go into the convoluted Kindergarten registration process in our school district except to let it be known that we have filled out 4 separate application forms  – one for the catchment school which is mandatory, one for the cross catchment school, one for Montessori which we are considering in case our first choice doesn’t work out, and one for a private school.

At the end of February, after kindergarten registration was complete, I attended the Ready Set Learn program at our catchment school. I can’t say I really knew what it was for except that it targets parents of three and four-year-olds but I thought it would be another opportunity to learn about our catchment school.

I met the principal and tried to have a discussion with her about my concerns. She was nice enough but simply ignored my question about the Fraser Institute school ranking and the low reading and numeracy scores. I get that teachers and principals do not like this ranking system and that to be fair a lot of what makes up a good school can’t be covered by a few lines of data on a report, but I left feeling unsatisfied and even more convinced that this school is not a good fit for us.

I also thought the Ready Set Learn program was a complete disappointment. Stay tuned for my blog post on how I think that program needs to be tuned up!

We don’t know which school our son will be going to yet – hopefully we will find out next week. But I will tell you that when the Fraser Institute Report came out this morning and I saw our school of choice did reasonably well, it gave me some reassurance that we are on the right path.

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8 thoughts on “Choosing a Good Kindergarten; and the Fraser Institute Report

  1. I found that the system seem to expect you to NOT have any questions or expectations about kindergarten or the school..and yeah NEVER mention the Fraser Inst rankings to a school…they hate them and campaign against you having your children do the FSA’s. It is true the rankings don’t help and affect funding for schools….but I would also like to see a school show why the rankings are wrong by having some sort of enthusiasm for talking to parents and kindergarten parents about what to expect and so on…..welcome to the system. 🙂

    1. Thanks Kerry…ya, I think I have a lot to learn about the system. When I was talking to that principal the other day, I kept thinking to myself “don’t make her hate you!” in case we end up going there. LOL!! And here I was just asking a completely reasonable question t0 get some information. If she doesn’t like the FI report that is fine, but please just tell me why the school is great and what the kids who go there will benefit from! That’s all I want to know!

  2. Such big decisions ahead of you, Lori! Being a Kindergarten teacher and having worked at a highly sought after school for many years, I know that “shopping” for schools is something most districts really try to discourage, which MAY be why the majority of the principals didn’t reply to your email. My advice would be to pop in one day shortly after school has ended and see if you catch the principal out on duty to have an informal chat… You may even be able to score yourself and impromptu tour or visit to the Kindergarten classroom. I know I had many parent and kiddo duos pop by my classroom door after dismissal to introduce themselves and have a peek in the classroom and I never minded. In my {humble} opinion, kids’ Kindergarten experiences are very much in the hands of the teacher, and not so much the school (but you of course have to look at the bigger picture), so having a quick chat with the teachers may be really helpful too. Good luck!!!

    OH – and don’t give up on the ‘Ready, Set, Learn’ programs yet… In my experience, the planning of the school’s RSL program is left entirely to the Kindergarten teacher, so they vary WIDELY. Perhaps a good sneak peak into the Kindergarten classroom….

  3. Thanks Jen. For some reason the Ready Set Learn program we went to was promoting Strong Start instead of Kindergarten. I wish it had been an opportunity to meet the Kindergarten teachers at our local schools like you suggest and to get a peek in the classroom. That would be perfect and what I was hoping for. I have already been to the Strong Start at the school and while I liked the teacher and the activities, I never connected with the parents there (there were a lot of daycare people there too though). The principal basically told me to start attending Strong Start where I could meet parents whose kids were in the school and find out what the school was like (huh?). I didn’t find that helpful at all. We also kind of felt like Strong Start was better for younger kids but that’s just my opinion.

    Thanks for your ideas on dropping by the schools for an impromptu visit. That sounds like a good idea too : )

    1. That’s so weird! We WERE gone for four years, but when I was teaching in BC, Ready, Set, Learn was always to build 4 year old kiddos up and get them excited for Kindergarten the following September. The whole purpose was for parents and kids to meet the potential teachers and see the classrooms (my attendees even got to join my regular kindergarten class for 1/2 hour sessions), which I think is much more helpful! So, so strange that they’re promoting Strong Start now. What a disappointment for you!
      We’ve had the same experience with Strong Start… The free play is great and G enjoys it, but the structured parts are difficult because the adults are harder to rein in than the children, very little English is spoken in the room, and I’ve never really connected with any of the parents either. Too bad…

  4. Im curious ..so which school is your son going to? We live in coquitlam, close to those high rises next to coquitlam centre mall and boy oh boy..it is a big decision for us. My girl is turning 4 and we still couldnt make up our mind yet. We should make some “field trips” just like you did though. Our catchment school is Glen but Walton has way higher ranking. Even though private school is another good choice but im not sure about teaching religious at school, where i want her to be as most neutral and open mind as possible).

    1. Hi Ti, Just for privacy I wouldn’t post publicly which school we go to but I know people whose kids go to Glen and they seem to really like it. I would meet with the principals of the schools you are interested in and talk to other parents whose kids go to those schools. You will know the right school once you get some firsthand information. Good luck!

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