It's January -- Time to Choose a New School

BOSTON - FEBRUARY 27: Three Boston Public Schools which may be targeted for closure such as Middle School Academy, 215 Dorche
BOSTON - FEBRUARY 27: Three Boston Public Schools which may be targeted for closure such as Middle School Academy, 215 Dorchester St. in South Boston. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

One of the most important decisions a parent will ever make is selecting a great school which is the right fit for your child. If you don't choose a school for your child, the school district will choose one for you. Bad idea.

Last year in the Boston Public Schools, 25.4% of eligible parents made no choice at all when it came to selecting a school for their kids entering 6th grade, for the critical middle school years. These students ended up being administratively assigned - and in most cases those assignments were to the least desirable schools in Boston.

There are plenty of things we can't control when it comes to parenting, like acne and bullying. Choosing your child's school is not one of them.

For most schools across the country, including traditional public schools and charter schools, the registration period or selection process begins in January. You should visit your school district's website for actual dates to register or apply.

Most of the top-performing schools in a district have long waiting lists, and usually after the registration periods are over, only the lower-performing schools have seats available.

There are many factors to consider when selecting a quality school for your child. In 2014, the Boston Public Schools (BPS) created a School Quality Working Group made up of BPS parents, academic experts, and business and community leaders. The Group identified 5 key criteria for judging the quality of a school:

1. Student Performance. How has the school performed on the MCAS? Although test scores are not the only way to evaluate a school, they do reveal important information about the level of achievement and how much progress students are making from year to year. Don't just look at the test scores. Look for trends that show the scores are improving over time. If you're selecting a high school, look at graduation rates and college matriculation rates.

2. Teaching and Learning. Is the curriculum culturally relevant and engaging? Are their unique opportunities like experiential learning, and internships offered? Is there a focus on science and technology? Does the school offer AP or Advanced Work Classes?

3. Community, Culture and Climate. Is there a sense of school pride? Do students and staff celebrate academic achievement? Is there strong parent and student engagement? Does the school have an active Parent Council?

4. Student Access and Opportunities. What types of after school and enrichment programs does the school offer? Does the school provide classes in the arts like dance, music, visual art, and drama? Does the school have a library?

5. Leadership and Collaboration. Who is the school principal and leadership team, and what is their vision for the school? Are teachers empowered to collaborate and learn together? Which community partners does the school affiliate with? Often, these partners bring a wide array of offerings that enhance the learning experience.

In addition to these five factors, there are other things to consider. How close is the school to your home? You will want to be an active parent, so it helps if you can get to the school easily for parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and other events. Do you have other friends and family members who have children at the same school? Having a strong sense of community and support is important.

Ultimately, you can never know the whole truth about a school by visiting the website or reading a brochure. Go visit the school and see for yourself. Most schools hold Open Houses in December and January, where you can tour the school and meet the principal and staff. If you've already missed these dates, you can still contact the school for a private visit.

You can tell a lot about a school from the moment you step foot in the front door. Does the school staff welcome you when you arrive? Does the physical space seem inviting and conducive to learning? When you look down the hall or into classrooms, are students orderly and engaged in learning, or is there a sense of chaos. If you can bring your child with you for a school visit, that's even better. Your child will have a good sense of where he feels most comfortable, and so will you.