You want to know what’s more complicated than a PCS? Try adding in the extra responsibilities of moving with kids in school. Yup, once your kids enter school, moving becomes a whole new ball game!
Between finding a good school, organizing the paperwork and making the best school work within your BAH or ideal commuting range, it’s quite a lot to juggle. Luckily, if you follow a few super simple tips you can make your PCS with school-aged kids so much easier.
PCS Success for MilKids in K-12 Schools
Now, making your move easier will (ironically) take a little bit of planning and prep. I promise that it’s so worth it!
Learn How to Triangulate
Over in the Stress-Free PCS Challenge, the first step is to connect the dots and triangulate your wants. What’s on your must-have and nice-to-have lists?
Here’s a peek at our family’s list:
- Commute, door to desk, under 30 min
- Walkable neighborhood with public transit options
- Homes available at/under BAH
- Parks & playgrounds
- Schools ranked average or higher
As we’re house hunting, these are the criteria we are looking for in our next community or neighborhood. Now, obviously, getting everything on this list is the best case scenario. So we’ve decided that having at least three of these five “wants” is going to be enough for us.
Before you even start your deep dive into which schools are “best,” get your priorities straight and start your house hunt. Keep your list of ideals in mind at all times.
Once you narrow down your search area based on your criteria, it will make your moving process so much simpler.
Narrow Down Your Child’s School Needs
Every child is unique. Not every school will work for every child. And that’s okay!
To figure out your child’s baseline needs, consider:
- Education Plans: IEP, 504 Plans, Gifted & Talented
- Athletics & Extracurricular Activities
- Past Experiences – good and bad
- Future Goals: college, military, entering civilian workforce
- Academic Interests: science, tech, vocational, arts, humanities
Creating a small overview of your child will help you to rule schools in or out as you search. For example, you wouldn’t really want to send your soccer loving child to a school without a soccer program.
If you’ve been around the PCS block a few times, you probably already have a binder (or 10) floating around. You might not exactly want to add another binder to your collection, but it’s 100% worth it.
You can set up a binder for each child or just create sections in one master organizer. Either way, you’re going to include copies of:
- “Unofficial” school records: report cards, grades, attendance records
- Personal records: birth certificates, SSN card
- Education plans: IEP, 504 Plan, Gifted & Talented
- Medical records: medical plans, physical exams
- Legal documents: custody paperwork, adoption paperwork, etc.
- New enrollment paperwork
- Athletic & extracurricular records
- Recommendation letters
- Notes on the school search
You can grab a free binder organizer, along with other great checklists, in the Stress-Free PCS Challenge!
Having all your documents in one place makes it easier to find just the right item when you need it most. It’s also important to make multiple copies of essential info, like the academic records and any education plans.
Know What the Rankings Mean
There are three major ranking websites: Niche, GreatSchools and School Digger. Each draws on the same hard data, like state testing scores and demographics. The numbers are run in several different ways on each website, with the final “grade” based on a variety of factors.
These scores, plus the state Department of Education’s school report card, give a great snapshot of the school’s success. You’re looking for a high passing percentage on state tests, a high graduation rate, and average or better community reviews posted within the last five years.
When it comes to these scores and websites, you’re looking for consistency across platforms. It’s a red flag when a school is ranked average in several places, with a super high ranking on a different website.
It’s also important to remember that the ranking websites compare schools in one region or state against each other. So a 5/10 in a high achieving area, like Northern Virginia, may not mean the same thing as a 5/10 in another area. Before you right off a school because of a perceived lower ranking. Instead, check the actual percentage of kids in the school who are achieving proficiency or higher on state tests.
Always Connect with Schools Personally
A high ranking is great. Hearing positive things from other parents is good, too. But it’s not everything. A high achieving school with good reviews doesn’t mean your child will feel comfortable or successful there.
To really nail down your child’s options, always connect with the schools personally. That might mean sending an email or making a phone call. You should try to connect with:
- School principal
- Special education coordinator
- Gifted education coordinator
- Coaches or extracurricular mentors
- Grade level lead teachers
- Subject matter lead teachers – sciences, humanities, tech, vocational, arts
Building a personal connection can be the make or break factor in deciding where to live and send your children to school. Remember to keep notes on your conversations, storing everything in your binder.