How to Find Your Ideal School Community

  • Tips for homebuying families

    Nearly 30 percent of homebuyers list school quality as a deciding factor in their home purchase, but typical home sales sheets only list the names of local schools. The Fair Housing Act also limits what guidance real estate agents and brokers can give homebuyers.

    Find out how to get the details you need to make an informed purchasing decision for your family with answers to these common questions.

     

    Q. What is the easiest way to find general information about local schools?

    Start with the school district website. Most, if not all, districts have a website that provides news and information about local schools. Some websites are more comprehensive than others, but generally you can find information about academic programs, support services, school hours, special events, the registration process, a staff directory and other contact information. Just enter the name of a district or school in a search engine to find its website address.

    Q. Whom should I contact for information about a specific school building or program?

    Secretaries in a school main office have a wealth of information about what goes in a school building daily. When they don’t have an answer to a question, they also know whom to send parents to for additional help. If you can’t find the information you need on a school district website, look up the main phone number for the school, select the extension for the principal’s office and ask the principal’s secretary to point you in the right direction.

    Q. What publications are available to help me get to know the district?

    School districts often communicate with families through printed publications. Call the district office, a school main office or the registrar’s office to find out which of the following publications are available:

    • High school curriculum handbook
    • Brochures on:
      • Academic programs
      • Athletic programs/sports teams
      • Fine and performing arts programs
      • Before- and afterschool clubs and activities
      • Adult education programs
    • Events calendar for schools and the district
    • District and school newsletters

    Q. How can I get a feel for the school community before I decide to live there?

    Social media is a great place to find photos, information and community conversations about what happens in local schools. Many school districts now have a presence on one or more social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Search for the district’s name on a social media platform, and for an extra level of confidence, check to see if the page is verified as authentic. District websites also may include links to social media pages.

    Q. Where can I find out how the school district compares to others in the region?

    New York state reports on a variety of school district data such as state assessment results, graduation rates, school finances and population diversity. Visit data.nysed.gov to view this data for school districts or individual schools.
    Some news publications rank schools based on the state data. Two annual ranking publications frequently referenced by Capital Region schools are The Albany Business Review’s annual guide to Capital Region Schools and the annual schools guide from Buffalo Business First. These are subscription-based publications, and much of the online data is released only to subscribers.

    Q. How can I find out what support services the local schools provide to students and families?

    Schools today provide much more than classroom instruction. Many also offer psychological and social services; career and college counseling; medical and dental health checkups; mental and behavioral health supports; free meals for weekends and vacations; before- and afterschool extracurricular programs; academic intervention and homework helps; individualized special education programs and more.

    Support services often are listed and explained on a district website or individual school web pages. When not posted online, find the information you need by calling the main office of a school.

    Q. How do I know if children walk to school or if they take a school bus?

    The Board of Education for a school district establishes transportation policies for local students, within guidelines set by New York state. Districts may bus all, some or no students, depending on local policies. Or they may have students ride public transportation to school. To find out about transportation options in a particular district, visit the district website and look for a “transportation” link. You might also check under department listings or the staff directory for a transportation department contact.

    Q. How do the local schools integrate new students into the classroom?

    Each school has its own process for welcoming new students and helping them adjust successfully. To learn more about the process at a specific school, contact the school counselor. Contact information is often listed on a “guidance” or “counseling center” page on the school website. You can also call a school main office and request to be transferred to the school counselor’s extension.

    Q. How do I know if there are children in the neighborhood who attend the local school?

    Districts do not share students’ home addresses with the public, but there are a few ways to find out if a neighborhood has school-aged children.

    • Knock on a door! If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, find a home near the one you are considering buying and ask the homeowner about the neighborhood.
    • Attend a parent-teacher association meeting at a local school to meet parents who are active in the school community. They are often familiar with local neighborhoods. You don’t have to be a PTA member to attend a
      PTA meeting.
    • Drive through the neighborhood in the early morning or late afternoon, during typical school bus pick-up and drop-off times. If students ride buses to school, the volume at a bus stop can give you an idea of the number of children in the neighborhood. But keep in mind, it’s never a good idea to approach students who are waiting at a bus stop.

    Q. Where can I learn about the safety of local schools?

    All schools in New York must develop district and building-level safety plans, in accordance with the New York State Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (S.A.V.E.) law. They also must conduct 12 safety drills annually, including evacuation and lockdown drills. The state details these requirements and other statewide safety initiatives and resources at safeschools.ny.gov.

    Additional safety precautions typically include staff training through workshops, presentations and tabletop exercises; secure entrance procedures for buildings; close partnerships with local law enforcement; and facilities renovations to support school safety.

    The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) also requires schools to promote a safe and supportive learning environment, free from harassment and discrimination from other students and adults. DASA establishes a number of standards for schools, when it comes to instruction, certain district policies and procedures, and identifying and reporting incidents of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

    New York state reports on school safety and the educational climate at www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/school_safety/school_safety_data_reporting.html. Visit this site to find data on the number of reportable safety incidents in a district or individual school.

    Q. How do I go about registering my children to attend school?

    For incoming kindergartners who have not yet begun school, districts generally hold a kindergarten registration event in the spring prior to the start of the new school year.

    For all other grade levels, families generally work with a school staff member, known as a registrar, who is designated to register new families.

    Look for a “registration” link on the district’s website, find a phone number for the “registrar” in the online staff directory or call a school main office for more information on the registration process.