When House Hunting Is Also School Shopping, Get Personal

I’ve been writing about real estate for years – and I’ve been writing about schools even longer than that.

I routinely get the same question: How do you find the right school in a good neighborhood in Dallas?

That question has become even trickier in the age of COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean the basic tenets don’t still apply: Do your research, ask other parents, and get out and get moving.

How do you research? For me, it starts at txschools.org – the state’s accountability site. If you’re looking for across the board comparisons, it’s a good starting point. Other options can deviate wildly from reality, often because part of the algorithm used to determine the score is dependent on reviews. And, as anyone with a public-facing business can tell you, the people most likely to leave a review are the mad ones.

There’s also the matter of the age of some of those reviews. A bad review can hang around for years, and in the meantime, the school could have a new principal, a new playground, or even a whole new wing.

Take, for instance, Hillcrest High School, which has a 4/10 ranking on GreatSchools, and a high C on TXSchools.gov. If you look at where GreatSchools has sourced its data for its scoring, you’ll find that it was from 2016. State accountability data is sourced more recently and allows you to drill down and see where the struggles and triumphs are.

“Do your research, ask other parents, and get out and get moving.”

But data isn’t the only thing that makes a school. In normal times, this is where I’d tell you to make sure you arrange to tour schools in your dream neighborhoods and drop in on PTA meetings. But, of course, that likely won’t happen anytime soon (although most schools will be opening eventually for at least some on-campus instruction, so it never hurts to call and ask if you can have a tour – just be prepared to have your temperature taken and wear a mask).

You can also look for the school’s PTA website, and email the president for the low-down on the school. Look for PTA and neighborhood groups on Facebook, too.

And of course, if you’re in Dallas, many schools have open enrollment. Just because the school in your neighborhood may not be what you’re looking for, doesn’t mean you need to discount the house. Look at the schools on the drive to work, and don’t be afraid to widen your parameters.

If you have your heart set on a house within walking distance to school, but you’re not finding what you want near Preston Hollow Elementary, for instance, maybe look at Pershing Elementary or the National Blue Ribbon Walnut Hill Elementary.

Of course, in Highland Park, which is not open enrollment, finding a home zoned for a specific school may prove a little more difficult – but again, having a second or even third choice school in your back pocket is helpful.

For nearly 40 years, People Newspapers has worked tirelessly to tell the stories—good, bad, and sublime—of our neighbors in the Park Cities and Preston Hollow. To support our efforts, please contact advertise@peoplenewspapers.com for advertising opportunities. Please also consider sharing this story with your friends and social media followers.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, former Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy.

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