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Making Unconventional Requests of Public Schools

Recently I requested that my daughter be allowed to skip the fourth grade.  Now, I realize for some school systems grade-skipping (one form of acceleration) is not all that radical. But in Podunk Elementary School, where my children attend, it’s practically unheard of.

But I didn’t just waltz in to the principal’s office and ask him to make the change. I got my ‘ducks in a row’, as it were. But what I did to make that change can be applied across the board, in varying degrees, with any request a parent might make for their child’s schooling. If you want to ask the public school to “color outside the lines”, then be sure you are prepared

Know the administrators:  Get to know the principal, and any vice-principals. These people are the decision-makers and for good reason.  They are the connection between the superintendent in the district office (the big boss) and the teachers and staff who work with your kids every day. They look at the big picture (curriculum, budget, community), while still considering the needs of the students themselves.

Codicil:  Know also, the people who work for the administrators.

Know the system:  How do changes or modifications get put into action?  My kids don’t qualify for an IEP, so there’s no mandated structure or procedure for their education.  I had to learn if there was any program or support already in place, and how it would address my kids’ needs.

Know your allies:  For my kids, it’s primarily the Gifted and Talented coordinator and the behavior specialist, but remember that often (not always) the current year’s classroom teacher may be one as well.  Or, it may be the special needs staff, or other support staff in the building. The first person we contacted about accelerating my daughter was the G&T coordinator—when she endorsed the idea, we moved forward with the administration. It never hurts to have a professional who is on board with your request.

Know the language:  And use it.  Like it or not, lingo exists for a reason and tenor of lingo can go either way. I asked the principal to accelerate my daughter, not to ‘skip’ her. In using the more professional term, I illustrated that not only do I have an understanding of the request I’m making, but that I am likely familiar with other pedagogical terms.

Test Scores Matter:  I personally hate that they do, but it’s the current language of the public schools.  So, knowing that…

First, look at the school’s testing. Often you can glean useful information from your child’s test scores. If the scores reflect what you know to be a strength or weakness for your student, and it supports your request, point it out—don’t assume the person you are speaking with knows your child’s scores. My daughter was scoring at seventh grade levels in math, and higher in reading, but the principal was not aware of it until I pointed it out.

Obtain your own testing, if necessary and/or possible. Our health insurance provides mental health coverage, which covered all of our testing fees, for both kids–we paid only co-pays for our visits. Neither of my kids have any mental health issues, but because my son was having behavior issues at school, his was a clear case for covering cognitive testing.

Having third party assessments of my kids in hand, and on file with the school, has bolstered my positions when looking for modifications to address both of my children’s very different academic needs.

Be Ready: I made an appointment with the principal, and brought him copies of everything:  report cards, district testing, state testing, cognitive testing, and a formal letter outlining my request. Writing the letter helped me to clarify my position and my request, and meant I wasn’t stammering and nervous when I sat in the Principal’s office. It also meant that I had something to hand him at the end of the meeting that would sum up my request.

As it turned out, I didn’t need the letter, but the process of just boiling the information down into a straightforward, well-supported document meant that I was prepared to keep my verbal presentation brief and succinct.

We all want to be sure that our kids are getting the most out of their education.  Being well-prepared when you make a request can make all the difference when you are asking the public school to make modifications to their regular program for your child.

Margaret Barney is a 42 year old mom, writer, and the woman behind Just Margaret. Ordinarily shying away from incendiary topics like politics and religion, every now and then she feels compelled to write about them.