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Help! -- Our Child Needs a School Placement -- Part Two
Putting Your Best Foot Forward
by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Publication: Mishpacha Magazine

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Although these columns are primarily about selecting a new school setting for your child who has been asked to leave the present one, I strongly encourage you to go back to the school your child is currently attending, and ask the administration members to reconsider their decision to expel your child. A new school setting is often quite disruptive to your child’s social life and emotional wellbeing; so give it your all to avoid having to go to ‘Plan B.’ All the more so if this happens during the course of a school year, as it is far more difficult for a child to adjust to a new school mid-year, where his classmates are already settled into the rebbi’s/teacher’s routines. Attending school is far more than the x’s and o’s of what children learn in their Hebrew and General Studies classrooms. It is also about socialization – developing friendships and navigating the (what often seems like) minefields of personal relationships.

When a child switches schools, it is a very, very big deal for him. I have found that parents often think in adult terms, and mistakenly compare a child’s school change to an adult who is faced with the prospect of switching shuls or jobs. Not so. It is far more traumatic for a child to change school settings, because at that age peer pressure is so much stronger. It is also important to note, that due to a host of legitimate reasons, school principals are generally reluctant to take any transfer students for their graduating classes – eighth grade for elementary school, and twelfth grade for High School.

Before you appeal to the head of school asking him to readmit your child, please prepare a multi-layered educational and social plan of action. In other words, explain how things will be different this year, and what concrete steps you have taken as parents to improve things. If, for example, you embarked on the path I suggested last week, which involved seeking an educational evaluation, reflecting on your parenting skills, and reevaluating the importance of being home for your children, your child’s principal is far more likely to give your child a fresh start, when you share with him these concrete measures, rather than if you simply appeal for mercy, or use ‘protektsia’ to get him back in school.

If you must change schools, I suggest that you be upfront with the administration of the ‘new’ school. It is often tempting to suppress information that will impact negatively on your son, but that is an unwise course of action. The principal will almost inevitably discover what you were trying to hide despite your efforts, and this will put a significant damper on your application. Even if you slip by and get your son accepted by withholding critical information, your new partnership will be started on the proverbial wrong foot. Getting your child accepted in the new school is not as important as getting him into a school that will work with you. Duping the Head of School is not a recipe for future synergistic cooperation, for unless the administration members are superhuman, they will feel like they were betrayed into a ‘mekach ta’us,’ an agreement made under false pretenses – increasing the likelihood that you will, chas v’shalom, be looking for a third school in a short period of time.

Even if you are understandably upset with the school your child previously attended, please make sure that you are gracious and respectful when discussing past history with the prospective school head. You may think that a principal might secretly enjoy hearing negative information about a competing school, but the reality is that, there are few things that will derail your application as quickly, as speaking poorly about your experiences with the previous school. After all, a reasonable school head will assume that sooner or later you will speak disparagingly about him as well. (I know this sounds elementary, but you would be surprised to hear how many people put their worst foot forward in this fashion in school or job interviews.) The best thing that you can say is something like, “the chemistry was just not right.”

Come prepared to your first interview armed with all relevant documentation that the Head of School may request. Bring at least one year of report cards – Hebrew and General Studies – and any reports of educational testing that you may have done over the past few years. Coming prepared is a sign of respect for the principal, and you will present yourselves as thoughtful, hands-on parents – in short, people an educator would love to partner with. Putting your best foot forward will dramatically increase the likelihood that your child will get the fresh start he may need to regain his footing and get back on the path to success.

Help! – Our Child Needs a School Placement

Part One – Taking a Step Back

© 2008 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

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