It is that time of year when some parents "shop" for a school for the upcoming year. This is especially the case for families who are about to transition to junior high or high school. School shopping can be daunting for both parents and students.
Everyone wants the best for their children and with a parent-friendly open enrollment policy in Arizona, parents have a great deal of control as to where their children attend school. Some parents believe that the best schools are the ones with the highest test scores and are willing to drive a considerable distance so their child can attend a certain school, when in fact the best school and best fit for their child may be in their own backyard.
As an educator of 40 years, a parent and grandparent, I recommend to parents shopping for schools to look at more than just test scores. You want a school that can address your child's academic needs regardless if he or she is an average student, an excelling student or one who may have a slight learning disability.
You want a school where your children are safe. They are safe physically but they also feel safe in their learning. Some teachers and schools place so much emphasis on covering the curriculum and the student getting the correct answer quickly that the student is reluctant to take a risk in their learning, which can lead to unnecessary stress and lack of enjoyment that should come with learning.
Oftentimes we place the attainment of the student's grade above student learning and the student's ability to demonstrate true knowledge and understanding of the curriculum. At Andersen Junior High School in Chandler we are able to address our students' academic needs, regardless of their ability level, and provide them with a safe environment where they feel safe physically as well as intellectually.
It is important to choose a school that has a curriculum and instruction focused on the critical elements of the state standards, and to compare students' achievement among teachers of the same curriculum thus ensuring quality instruction regardless of who your child's teacher may be. It is important that teachers' grade books are standard referenced, which enables instruction geared toward state standards, and that all homework, class work and assessments lead to students demonstrating knowledge and understanding of the standards. Most neighborhood public schools have developed programs to attract families and to ensure student success. For example, at Andersen Junior High we are the only public school in Arizona to offer both single-gender and mixed-gender classes.
We know that boys and girls learn differently and there is research to support it. In 2006, AJHS began implementation of single-gender classes and after six years has evidence that many students perform better, have less discipline issues and have better test scores when placed in single-gender classes. Fifty percent of the student body is enrolled in single-gender classes and the program has been the resource for two doctoral dissertations. Single gender classes do not work for all students and all teachers, but they are an option, an option that has proven to be very successful for a number of students.
Your neighborhood school reflects the social and ethnic diversity of the community and is an asset rather than a liability. The shrinking of the global community has required people of different cultures to be more understanding of one another. Because our schools are a microcosm of our state and nation we must teach young people tolerance and intercultural awareness. Programs like the International Baccalaureate educate and equip our youth with the intellectual and social skills they will need to be successful and compete in our ever shrinking world. Schools that are predominantly composed of only one ethnic social grouping have a difficult time preparing students for the multicultural world they will live in and work.
Your neighborhood public school has a lot more to offer than you may realize and I strongly encourage all parents to visit their local school, talk with the principal and let him or her explain why they can better educate and prepare your child for the next level, be it junior high, high school or college.
Jim Anderson is principal of Andersen Junior High School and can be reached at (480) 883-5300 or via email at Anderson.Jim@chandler.k12.az.us.