Navigating a New School District

Possip / /

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When Kate and her family relocated from Portland to a new, larger district this Summer, there was a lot of new. A new job, a new city, and, naturally, new schools for her first and fifth grade kids. In many ways, it was daunting. As a long time educator, though, she thought she knew how to navigate a new school district, but quickly found that it was more challenging than she’d expected.

Their family landed in a nearby suburb, and despite her background in education (Kate is a former teacher and has worked extensively in education non-profits) she still found navigating the new school district to be daunting. “It’s so overwhelming when you’re moving from somewhere else,” she said, adding that when choosing a neighborhood, “schools are a good lighthouse.” 

Kate’s new district is open enrollment, and it’s large. Families are entered into a lottery—where there are multiple rounds of enrollment— and siblings aren’t necessarily guaranteed to be at the same school. Kate said she’s been “struggling to understand the why” behind that, as both of her kids (her youngest isn’t school-aged) ended up at a school five miles away, despite the fact that there are multiple elementary schools closer. “I can hear the bells,” she says, of the school that’s so close it’s quite literally a stone’s throw away.

The transition has her thinking a lot about how parent engagement in schools, especially when enrolling your kids in a new school. “It’s a big leap of faith,” making that decision about where to send your kids. “It’s inherently the most vulnerable a parent can be.” And while kids sometimes struggle to transition into new school environments, parents can as well—and, schools aren’t always actively reaching out to parents and bringing them into the fold.

Kate and her family did navigate the system — but as an educator she couldn’t help but think about parents who weren’t as familiar with the ins and outs of school districts and the priorities of principals and educators. “It’s not anybody’s fault,” she says, when thinking about the ways that schools and districts work to engage parents and families. “It’s just the way it’s always been done. I think the power of transitioning to this new big urban district where I was having to figure everything out– that probably mirrors a lot of experience of a lot of parents,” especially those parents who maybe feel intimidated by engaging with the school, or perhaps speak a language at home other than English.

Despite the challenges of relocating her family and her kids, now that they’re settled, she’s been thinking a lot about how to best be engaged as a parent. “All the research tells us that parents are more likely to be involved if they’re close to [the school].” Still, despite the fact that she’s not as close to her kids’ school as she’d like to be, she’s thinking about the why and how for parents to be engaged. “Parents are the biggest untapped resource,” she says, noting that they are a “whole bench of people who can be enlisted. How great would it have been when I moved here if I had gotten a text prompt that said; what questions do you have?”

Of course, this is one of the gaps that Possip hopes to bridge by streamlining the lines of communication and feedback for schools and districts. Many families have “no clear idea of where to get these answers,” she says. Simple things—like what should I do if my kid forgets his lunch? Opening up those lines of communication can have a big impact. “It’s going to be unique to every single community,” she says, in understanding how, when, and what parents hope to be engaged in. But right now, it doesn’t always seem like anybody’s asking.