“So how do we even go about this?”
Our kids were playing together in our neighbor’s backyard about a year ago. Sitting on their patio, our friends had turned the conversation to asking us where to send their daughter to kindergarten the next fall.
My wife and I looked at each other not knowing where to begin. We are both former teachers and have been working in local public education circles in Indianapolis for over a decade. Despite having three young kids, we were avoiding the conversation about choosing a school for our daughters. Maybe it was because we had another year before our oldest daughter would be kindergarten age. Maybe we were afraid of making a tough decision knowing that there were so many factors to weigh.
We told our friends that they could apply to Indianapolis Public Schools and local charter schools through the city’s common enrollment system, Enroll Indy. We shared a few schools we planned to tour because we wanted to see them for ourselves and not rely on biased assumptions. Our friends started asking a lot of good questions, ones we should have been asking for ourselves. What schools could we consider? How would we manage transportation? What things do we value as a family?
I have strong opinions about K-12 education. My wife does too. I have long been interested in the enormous political, racial, and economic forces impacting our schools, but that night on my neighbors’ patio, I was forced to consider how to navigate it all as a parent. No longer was this decision hypothetical, now that we had actual kids, with unique personalities, strengths, and challenges. No one knows your kids better than you do, and where you choose to send them to school is one of the most personal decisions you’ll ever make.
We’d make the right decision, wouldn’t we?
I grew up in Pike Township, Indiana, and attended the closest elementary school to where my family lived. Schools were a huge factor when my parents were deciding where to buy a house.
When my wife and I decided to make a life together, we moved to the Fletcher Place neighborhood inside the boundaries of Indianapolis Public Schools, or IPS. We love where we live and have both been extremely active community members, sitting on local boards and associations. However, there are no public schools in Fletcher Place, even though historically there were three IPS schools within a five-minute walk from our front door. Like many families in IPS, there isn’t an obvious school where our kids would go.
This past summer, we got serious about figuring out where we would send our oldest daughter in the fall of 2024. We started writing the names of schools we’d like to consider on the refrigerator based on the distance from our home, where friends and family were sending their kids, academic programming, the new IPS zones, and other factors. We looked at Enroll Indy’s School Finder and identified seven schools that we wanted to consider.
Once the current school year started, I began calling to schedule tours. I had to coordinate work schedules and squeeze in as many tours as possible on a day we both had off. Some schools had set tour dates, others an online sign-up, but most just had you call the front office. We ended up touring five schools.
Most school tours are pretty similar. A principal or enrollment coordinator will welcome families and talk briefly about the history of the school. Then they take you to a kindergarten classroom to observe briefly. They always show off the media center (i.e. library). The tours honestly were really helpful. After a couple, we started to look for a few things:
- Were the students happy and engaged? Was there productive chatter? We really liked the school where we saw “buddy reading time” between older and younger students in the hallway. My daughters are really social and need many chances to engage.
- Look for student work on the wall. Some schools will have more than others. I think a school should use data to respond effectively to students’ needs, but I don’t like assignments that look robotic. I liked seeing student work that emphasized critical thinking and creativity, rather than memorizing the right answer.
- What’s the dress code? I personally hate strict dress codes, so I wanted to know how it was being enforced.
- Did schools put in effort to make you feel welcome? We wondered how we might fit into the school culture. We loved that Potter School 74 invited us to salsa night (both the dancing and the sauce), Center for Inquiry School 2 held the tour right after their weekly student-led community meeting, which we got to witness, and Garfield School 31 invited us to see them at the Bates-Hendricks Street Fest.
If our community is serious about families being able to choose schools, the system must make it work for all families — including those who can’t easily tour campuses during the workday, those who speak limited English, and those without needed transportation — to tour schools and join school communities. Taking time to call each school is asking a lot of families (and schools too). If our community is committed to unwinding the historic and present-day inequities in our city schools, we need to break down as many barriers as possible.
One small but meaningful step would be for Enroll Indy to establish a centralized tour-scheduling system on School Finder with tour opportunities that align with each Enroll Indy application round (Currently Round 1: Nov. 1-Jan. 24; Round 2: Jan. 25-April 19). All applications submitted within Round 1 will be considered together, so your best shot to enroll in your desired school is to apply by the end of Round 1. It’s important to schedule tours before Round 1 ends.
It was a lot of work, but we’re excited to identify Center for Inquiry School 2, Potter School 74, and Global Prep School 44 as our top three choices for our daughter. We’re comforted that there is a 95% chance we’ll be accepted into at least one of those three. We wish all Indy families the best as they begin the process of choosing a school.
Matt Impink lives with his wife and their three daughters in Fletcher Place near Downtown Indianapolis.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this piece incorrectly referred to Enroll Indy as the district’s enrollment portal. Enroll Indy is the city’s unified enrollment system and serves both district and charter schools.