There are fantastic schools of all types in St. Louis, but the sheer number and variety of options can make finding the right school daunting. This guide will arm you with a high-level understanding of this process, and provide a few tips.
Each neighborhood in the city is serviced by one or more traditional public schools covering Kindergarten to 12th grade, operated by the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS) district, supported by local, state and national tax dollars. Your child is assigned a school based on your address. Like all public schools, these are tuition-free and follow curriculum and evaluation guidelines established by the state of Missouri. A couple notes:
Magnet schools are also (tuition-free) public schools within the SLPS district, but with a couple key differences:
Charter schools are also public, tuition-free schools and receive public money, however, charter schools are not part of SLPS. Each charter school is governed by an independent school board and adheres to rules defined in its charter. This independence allows each school a lot more freedom in how they operate, the curriculum they choose, and how they serve their students. Some schools have themes and/or a geographic enrollment focus. Advanced application is required and spots are usually allocated by lottery.
Private Schools are tuition-based, though almost all offer some form of financial aid. They're typically run by an independent body (a school board, the Archdiocese, etc.) and because they're exempt from state oversight and mandated testing, they have the freedom to choose their own standards and educational approach. While the majority (80%) of the private schools in St. Louis have a religious affiliation (over half are Catholic), there are also many nonsectarian schools focusing on a wide variety of methodologies and approaches.
Choosing a school is very personal, and every family will approach the decision differently. With that in mind, here are some questions you'll want to consider as you identify the most important characteristics of your ideal school:
It helps to consider each of these before you start your search, then revisit them often as you look at different schools.
"When our family was considering elementary education choices for our oldest son, a child for whom school was not as easy experience, the process was at first fraught with anxiety and stress. It was so important that he get a good education, my husband and I believed. Then we started asking ourselves questions like the following:
Thinking about these questions and talking about them with our child helped us to develop a more coherent approach to the options we were considering and allowed us to make a choice with greater clarity than we'd had in the beginning."
Always visit the schools. Things may look great on paper, but every school has a different personality, and you'll want to experience it first-hand before making your decision. Come prepared with questions and if you can't get answers on the tour, don't be shy about asking for a contact to follow up with afterward. Do students look happy and engaged in learning? Take note of how you feel when you leave, and trust your parental instincts. The school you pick for your child should make you feel at least a little excited and happy!
This process can take a long time. Plan ahead and leave yourself as much time as possible. For instance, applications to the magnet schools are due almost a year in advance of the school year. Put together a timeline right away and make sure the important dates don't sneak up on you.
You are your child's #1 advocate for a great education. As parents, it's our responsibility to do everything in our power to fight for our kids. That may mean following up many times to get our questions answered, or hounding someone repeatedly to get a tour scheduled, or to check on the status of an application.
Many of the popular schools now have lotteries and/or waitlists. There is a very real possibility that your child may not get to attend your first choice on your first try. Don't depend on winning a lottery. Don't bank on your child attending a gifted school if they haven't yet tested gifted. Don't put all your educational eggs in one basket – have contigency plans and stay flexible.
It may take a couple years to end up where you want to be. Stick with it, and be prepared.
We meet city parents everyday that have been in your shoes and found places for their children to thrive. St. Louis is on the rise, and the more organized and engaged we are as parents, the more quickly we can improve the educational situation in the city. A cohesive group of parents can quickly turn a good school into a great school through their advocacy and involvement. There's strength in numbers.
You can do this! If there's anything we can do to help, or additional information that you think would benefit others, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, go find some schools!