With four more Chicago public schools closing and over 14 Catholic schools shutting their doors this June, many parents are seeking creditable (and credible) schools for their children to attend. Selecting an institution that will give your child a quality education is similar to finding a career that’s right for you; it is one of the most important choices that you can make.

Unfortunately?”like job-hunting?”when positions are limited, we find ourselves settling for a career that just barely pays the rent, or, in the case of finding a school, settling for a place that has a warm body willing to teach your child. With more charter schools and new public schools (thanks to Renaissance 2010) opening on Chicago’s West Side, the ability to attain an excellent education for our children is well within our reach.

First, do your research. No two schools are alike. There are many ways in which you can research to find potential schools for your kids. For example, the Chicago Public Schools’ website, www.cps.k12.il.us, has a school locator option through which you can identify all public and charter schools within your area. The website for the Office of Catholic Schools, http://schools.archdiocese-chgo.org/, also has a listing of schools organized by area.

Once you’ve identified prospective schools, you may research them by going to www.greatschools.net, a website dedicated to listing information about schools all around the country. Their website will inform you of the school’s racial make-up, student-teacher ratio, and even standardized test scores from previous years.

After narrowing your choices, visit the schools you’ve chosen as potential candidates in order to ask school principals, teachers, and/or office managers the following pertinent questions that will provide you with more insight than a blurb in the local newspaper or a mission statement on a web page. Their answers will give you a foundation for determining whether or not a school is the right fit for your child:

How many students were suspended last academic year?

Unfortunately student misbehavior is what drives many parents to transfer their children to a better school. According to the Chicago Public School Uniform Discipline Code, students can be suspended for incidents, such as fighting, assault, and vandalism. Therefore, when you inquire about a school’s suspension rate, you are also inquiring about the number of inappropriate occurrences which your child may witness or be involved in.

What is the teacher turnover rate?

A good measure of a school’s success is one where the majority of teachers remain until retirement. Classroom failing and poor instruction are the most common reasons why teachers’ contracts aren’t renewed, as reported by Rosalind Rossi of the Chicago Sun-Times. Thus, successful schools are those that select quality teachers to teach your children.

How many of your students met and exceeded the state standards on standardized tests?

Although test scores are not a true measure of student success, they do indicate how prepared children are for high school and college. Schools that have students meeting or exceeding state standards are schools that have high academic expectations for their students, preparing them for standardized reading, writing, and math tests, which they will have to master in order to matriculate into an exceptional university.

What type of parental involvement is required or encouraged?

Schools that work with parents and the community are schools that care about their students as individuals. Many schools encourage parents to get involved in their child’s educational success by hosting open houses, having an open-door classroom policy, and/or providing parents with many opportunities to chaperone on field trips. Other schools require parents to volunteer so many hours out of the academic year. How much parental involvement do you want to have in your child’s academic success? Know that before committing your child to a school.

Are there any extracurricular or tutoring programs in place at your school?

Ask if the school has programs that will be advantageous to your child. If you suspect your child needs extra help or individualized attention with reading, math, etc. based on grades or test scores from his last school, identify whether the potential school has tutoring. Many schools have volunteers that come in during school hours to pull out kids who are low in certain areas. Some schools have after-school tutoring programs. Perhaps your child doesn’t need academic help, but wants to learn to play an instrument or create a mosaic painting. There are schools in the Austin area that place emphasis on music and/or the creative arts.

May I observe a specific grade level classroom?

Going along with the job search model, research is key, but the personal interview is even more important. Never send your child into a school without having observed instruction taking place. Ask school leaders if you can observe a classroom in session in order to scope out the number of students in the class and the way student learning is being managed. If administrators are leery about you observing their teachers, second-guess your child’s attendance at their school. Their response to your request for an observation may indicate their openness to parent questions and concerns.

Take an active role in your child’s educational well-being this year. Find a school that will lead them to enjoy their school career and lead you to love the fact that you were instrumental in choosing it for them.