What Exactly Is “School Finding”?
When families anticipate a relocation, their children are their most precious cargo. They may feel guilty about uprooting them and therefore focus on doing everything possible to assure their well-being. Getting the school right is key. Not only is the family concerned about their child’s academics, but schools are a place where the entire family will seek community. So, both the curriculum and the culture have to be spot on. Making that student-school match is essential. But families may be unfamiliar with the education landscape in their new hometown. They are confronted with making a high-stakes decision at a time when they lack complete information.
This is the beginning of the school search. School finding is the process of discovering school options at a destination, evaluating their desirability, and ultimately enrolling the student. This may include a review of public, private, faith-based, magnet, choice, or charter schools. Families will be considering location, facilities, teacher credentials, governance, student demographics, curriculum, academic results, and accreditation. In some cases, the local public school may be a great choice. In other cases, the family may have to undertake a lengthy admissions process to selective independent schools. In all cases, school finding involves discerning each child’s unique learner profile, articulating the family’s educational values, and then selecting a school where the student will thrive.
School finding touches on various other relocation activities and may go on throughout the entire relocation process. Families may prioritize school placement among the other relocation tasks, including home searches. They will want to lead with the school and then begin to explore related home options. For public schools, the family may need a very specific address to attend their target school. Even for private school families, being strategic about home location can assure proximity to a bus stop or residence in a community where other school families live. There is often a push and pull between home and school selection, as the search process for both is happening simultaneously. This is normal, as families are trying to get up to speed quickly in a completely unknown school and home market. Ideally, the realtor and education consultant understand this dynamic and exchange information about the family’s target schools and neighborhoods.
For international relocations, a school search may require appropriate visas or residency permits. Sometimes they are required very early on in the admissions process. Other times, they do not need to be produced until the children actually start school.
The school search is one of the first tasks in a relocation. Having a six- to nine-month lead time is optimal, especially in a competitive private or international school market, since families will likely confront a range of tasks: attending virtual school tours, sending transcripts, completing essays, scheduling interviews, booking admissions exams, reviewing curriculum, and comparing academic results, all the while they are hosting the household goods estimator, applying for visas, consulting with the tax advisor, and crating the heirloom mirror for sea shipment.
We find that once the school is settled and the kids have seats secured, the entire relocation proceeds comfortably. The beginning of a school search is often also the beginning of the relocation process. Families are anxious because there are so many unknowns. How will this ever work out? Then, as they begin to explore schools, they can imagine their children enrolled and happy. Ultimately, with the school decision made, the family shifts focus to their new hometown, anticipating their move and looking forward to arriving at their destination and the beginning of a new adventure.
By Sara Schmidt
Sara R. Schmidt is the Director of Business Development & Client Relations, Co-Director of Private Client Services and a Senior Education Consultant for Bennett International, based in Seattle. As a member of an internationally mobile family, Sara has navigated the school search process for her own children on three continents, finding the right fit for them in public, private and international schools. She is very familiar, therefore, with the anxieties and hurdles faced by parents relocating their children around the world, and her work is informed by her own extensive experience. Sara serves as Trustee and was President of the Bellevue Schools Foundation in Bellevue, WA, and is a member of Pacific Northwest Relocation Council and Bay Area Mobility Management. She holds a B.A. Ed., Summa Cum Laude, from Wheaton College and an M.A. in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School and is also fluent in Spanish.
Over the years, Bennett International Education Consultancyhas worked with hundreds of corporations across the globe, many of them Fortune 500 companies, providing domestic and international school advisement & placement services - preschool through university - to the dependents of relocating employees. In addition to education placement, our team provides customized consulting for corporations with a range of education issues: education policy writing & benchmarking, tuition studies, group move advisement & planning, and remote education solutions.