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How to Research Local Schools

June 04, 2021
Woman on her laptop on a white couch in a Brookfield Residential home

Whether you already have kids, plan on having kids, or are happily enjoying the kid-free life, when you’re buying a home, the school district it’s located in is important for a number of reasons. First, if you have kids or they’re in your future, you’ll want them to be in a good school system. If the public schools are iffy, you may have to consider private school which can get expensive. Second, the resale value. Even if you don’t have kids and don’t plan on having any, if this isn’t your “forever home,” it’s important to think about the resale value and what other buyers will consider important when it’s time to sell.

So how do you know if the home you’re looking to buy is in a good school district? We’ll walk you through how to research local schools:

Pencils in a holder and journals organized on a desk in a Brookfield Residential home

1. Determine the school district your home will be in

Depending where you are in your homebuying journey, there’s a few different ways to go about this. Maybe you’re homeshopping in a general area and want to get an overall feel for the schools. Maybe you’ve found the specific neighborhood of your dreams and want to be sure your kids will get a quality education. A great starting point is the county’s Department of Education – you’ll see a breakdown of all the K-12 school districts, alternative schools, special education, as well as community colleges. You can also use online tools such as GreatSchools, Niche, and SchoolDigger to search by state or zip code.

2. Review school ratings and rankings

Once you dive into one of the online resources available, you’ll see each individual school, as well as the district as a whole, has a rating and rank within the state. It’s a lot of information – what does it mean and how do you act on it? Each site has its own criteria for calculating a school’s overall rating so be sure to understand what the score represents and how it’s determined.

Young couple on a laptop researching schools near their new Brookfield Residential home

GreatSchools

If you’ve spent any time on the major homeshopping websites and apps, this is the numerical school rating you’re most likely familiar with. GreatSchools will give you an overall rating of an individual K-12 school as well as ratings based on testing scores, college readiness, student progress, and more. Take some time to understand how these ratings are calculated and decide what it means to you. For example, if a school ranks lower due to standardized test scores, but highly for student progress, you may place more importance on how ready a child is for the next grade level than how students perform on state tests.

Niche

Compared to other school rating sites, Niche is different in that you can see the rating for not only K-12 schools, but colleges and grad schools as well. You can search by individual schools, district, or overall area and see the letter grade each receives. There’s a breakdown for each school showing how it ranks in the state, overall academic performance, student/teacher ratios, and more. Niche calculates their grades based on a variety of data points including state assessments, student and parent surveys, and teacher demographics.

SchoolDigger

Another resource available is SchoolDigger. This online tool gives a more generic rank of a school within the state and highlights data points such as student/teacher ratio, test score averages, and enrollment information.

Kids running with backpacks in front of a school

3. Connect with those who have experience

Student engagement is critical for learning and the best way to gauge how a school does is to talk with students and their parents directly. Join a neighborhood social media group and see if parents are willing to share their opinions on different schools. Call the school directly and see if they can connect you with someone on the PTA so you can learn more. If you have friends or family in the area you’re looking to buy, see if they know anyone that attends the schools and if they’d be willing to talk to you about their experience. How do they feel about the school in general? Do they like the teachers? Are their kids excited about their classes? Do they offer fun and interesting extracurricular activities? They say it takes a village to raise kids and you’ll find many parents are ready and willing to help each other out with insights and opinions on schools.

4. Tour the school

Once you get a better understanding of the local schools, make a call and see if you can schedule a tour or if they’ll be holding an open house soon. Pay attention to how people interact, what the classrooms look like, how students are behaving, and how well the facility is maintained. Come prepared with a list of questions for the faculty so you have all the information you need to make a decision about enrollment.

Exterior of Gold Path Academy at Snowden Bridge in Stephenson, VA

Good schools don’t just provide a good education, they also contribute to the stability of your home’s value. Even if you don’t have kids and they’re not in your future, buying a home in a good school district can help ensure your home maintains a stronger value even in a changing market. Not only are the values for these homes higher, but they tend to take less time to sell.

Whether you’re looking for a good school district for your own children or to build long-term equity for your home, Brookfield Residential is here to help you find your new home. Connect with one of our knowledgeable sales team members today! We’ll be expecting you.

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