Starting The School Year Right: A Parent’s Guide

No matter what grade your child is in, it might help to know ahead of time whether this is the year he or she will learn fractions or photosynthesis.

“Reviewing that information and getting a sense of what is my child going to learn, I think is really important in helping prepare them for the new school year,” said Victoria Paulino, a former middle school teacher and a parent advisor in the Boston office for EdNavigator, a New Orleans-based non-profit that provides educational advice as a workplace benefit.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education publishes comprehensive guides outlining what’s expected of students by grade and subject — helpful information, if you know where to find it.

Research shows that parent involvement is crucial to a child’s success in school, but it’s not always clear how to be involved. But in most things education-related, parents who move fast have an advantage.

Teachers recommend establishing clear communication with your child’s teacher as soon as possible into the school year.

“It’s a lot easier to get in contact with the teacher at the beginning, before the school year kind of starts to unroll,” Paulino said.

Parents should ask teachers the best way to communicate with them, so they can ask questions, express concerns and share “hopes and dreams” for their child, said Ilene Carver, an organizer with the Boston Teachers Union and a longtime teacher.

“Parents know their children better than anyone else ever will. And that knowledge is really valuable to teachers,” Carver said.

When it comes time for teacher conferences, or a meeting to talk about a child’s poor academic performance, Paulino recommends asking what report card grades measure in that particular school. Some schools use traditional letter grades, but some, such as Boston Public Schools, use numbers. Parents should always ask if their child is reading or doing math at grade level and ask to see sample work.

If a student isn’t meeting expectations for learning, parents should ask teachers how to address those gaps at home.

In Boston, parents of children starting school for the first time or students planning to change schools next year will need to navigate the school assignment process. For students in kindergarten through eighth grade, Boston uses an algorithm to generate possible school choices based on a child’s address. The family then ranks those choices.

Boston holds multiple rounds of a lottery to assign seats. Families are more likely to get their top choices if they sign up in January during “priority registration.”

A 2018 study published in Sociology of Education, an official journal of the American Sociological Association, showed white parents in Boston were more likely than black and Latino parents to apply for kindergarten seats during priority registration.

According to the study, many black and Latino parents register late because they have just moved to the city. But many also didn’t know it matters to sign up in January.

“Honestly, you should start looking now,” said Latoya Gayle, a mother of three Boston Public School students and the founder of Boston School Finder, a website for comparing schools in Boston, including private and charter schools.

“You should start doing that research, because there are so many schools here in Boston, it’s going to take you some time,” Gayle said.

In addition to the options within Boston Public Schools, there are also charter schools, parochial and private schools, along with METCO, a program that sends children of color to public schools in the suburbs.

Some of the deadlines come surprisingly quickly. For example, if you want your child to attend one of Boston’s prestigious exam schools, you need to sign up for the entrance exam by Sept. 20.

Our coverage of K through 12 education is made possible with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

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