How to Research Schools Before a PCS

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How to Research Schools Before PCS
If you have children, an important part of each PCS military move is finding a new school for them to attend. It's time to research schools!
Table of Contents
  1. Online Resources to Help Parents Research Schools
    1. State Laws
    2. Websites that Compare Schools
    3. Real Estate Websites
    4. Your Installation’s Spouse Facebook Page
  2. Important Questions to Ask about Your Child’s Next School

If you have children, an important part of each military move is finding a new school for them to attend. Ideally, you should learn as much as you can before you move. Your choice of school may influence other decisions, such as whether to live on or off base. Since you have to choose a school district before you look for housing, you will need to research schools from afar.

Luckily, the internet allows parents to learn a lot about new schools before they move. The following resources can help you make an informed decision about your child’s school at your next duty station.

Online Resources to Help Parents Research Schools

State Laws

Some states require children to start attending school at age four, so these states have public preschool programs that are free. Other states don’t begin public school until age five, when students start kindergarten, so you may be on your own to find a preschool there. Be sure to see if your base offers child care options or if any child care fee assistance programs are available.

You will also need to check your child’s birthday with the state age requirement. This is especially important when you are planning to send your child to kindergarten.

Some states use a calendar cut-off of January 1, while other states require that the child be 5 years old by August 1 or September 1. Know the law so you know your options. Find your state education website via the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3) web site.

Websites that Compare Schools

There are now online tools that let you look at different schools or different districts side-by-side to determine which will best fit your family’s needs.

Public School Review compares public schools. You can either research multiple schools in your new area or compare a new potential school to your child’s current school.

Great Schools gives ratings and reviews for both public and private schools. It is important to note that these ratings generally consider aggregated test scores.

If your child has special education needs it is important to dig a bit deeper on these sites to ensure the school offers a robust program that meets your family’s unique needs.

Real Estate Websites

Since the quality of a school district often influences home value, real estate websites can give you valuable information about local schools. Use the options on Trulia or Zillow to see the distance to local schools, the home values in each neighborhood, and your district’s Great School’s rating.

You can also read parent reviews of different schools and teachers. Additionally, if you don’t have the luxury to choose where you live, these sites also allow you to quickly determine what school is assigned to your location.

Your Installation’s Spouse Facebook Page

Although Facebook isn’t always the best place to gather facts, it can be helpful when you want to connect with other parents. Once you have chosen a potential school on or off installation, ask about it on the Facebook page for spouses at your next location. There are sure to be other military families attending the school. These parents can be a great resource to learn the pros and cons of a particular school, grade, or a teacher. You might even meet other parents in your child’s class!

Important Questions to Ask about Your Child’s Next School

Once you have done your research, it is time to contact the school and get some official information. Typically, you cannot register your child in a school until you have a local address, so that part can’t be completed until you have actually moved to the area. There is a push for legislation to allow for remote enrollment, but it is still pending.

However, a few phone calls can make the registration process go more smoothly so your child misses the least amount of school. When talking to a future school’s principal or administrator, be sure to ask these questions:

What documents do we need for registration?

Typically, you should hand-carry these with you when you move so they don’t get lost in storage or moving boxes. Most states require a child’s original birth certificate, shot record, doctor’s physical noting any medical problems or allergies, and proof of residency. You will also need to complete an application form that can either be downloaded from the school website or picked up at the school office.

What is the school day schedule?

When is the first day of school? Are pick-up and drop-off times different for various grades? What time will my child have lunch or recess? Does school vacation match certain holidays?

Is there a school bus?

Not all schools provide a bus, especially if they live on the installation. Many military kids walk or ride a bike to school, so discuss these options with the school and your child.

What electives and special classes are available?

Of course, the school will teach your child reading and math. But what about foreign languages? Art? Music? Science programs? And sports? If your child loved certain activities or clubs at their last school, see if a similar option will be available at this one. Perhaps there is an after-school activity or a fee-based program. The MIC3 compact provides protections for military kids so they are not excluded from these activities if deadlines have passed.

Are there many military families?

While this may not be important to some people, it’s a good idea to ask so you know whether or not you have to prepare your child and their teacher for situations like deployment. In areas with a lot of military children, there is usually a School Liaison Officer who provides resources for military-connected children.

Can the school accommodate my child’s special needs?

Whether your child has a disability, a learning impediment, behavioral problems, allergies, or special medication, it’s important to discuss these with the school upfront so you make sure it is a good fit for your child. If you are not sure what questions to ask regarding special education check out military advocacy groups like Partners in PROMISE.

Choosing a new school can be a daunting process, but using these resources and asking the right questions can make things go more smoothly for you and your military child.

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About Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot is a military spouse who has been following her Marine around the world for 15 years. A mom of 4 young children, she loves military resources, and anything free. Lizann is a published author, and the voice behind The Seasoned Spouse blog.

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