Do Your Homework: Be an A+ Agent - Helping Families Study-up on Schools

shoprealtor_icons-02-client-presentationWHEN IT COMES TO ADVISING CLIENTS in their search for the perfect home – and school – the process may not be as “easy as ABC.”


Realtors® must be cognizant of fair housing laws and provide clients with unbiased information so they can make their own decisions. As community experts, Realtors® can be a valuable resource by offering objective facts and figures, connecting clients to schools and providing equal professional service to all.

While test scores can explain a lot about a school, they don’t paint a full picture. Daryl Johnson, a communications coordinator for Arlington Public Schools, recommends reaching out to the PTA president and school staff to learn about the school climate and enrichment programs.

Realtors® can build relationships with schools and encourage clients to visit schools in-person.

“The only way you actually get to understand the culture of the school is really by visiting the school. It’s more than test scores and demographic data,” said Karen Corbett Sanders, chair of the Fairfax County School Board who represents Mount Vernon.

What to Say (and What Not to Say!)

“How are the schools here?”

Not to Say: “I’m not allowed to talk about schools.”

Say: “The Fair Housing act prohibits me from providing that kind of information. I recommend visiting the VDOE School Quality Profiles and school district websites. I can also provide you with a list of contacts if you’d like to set up a specific school visit.”

“Is this a good school district?”

Not to Say: “Yes, I would send my kids here.”

Say: “What makes a school good for you? I recommend doing research to learn which school might be the best fit for your family’s needs. Here’s a list of resources to consider.”

In addition to looking at usual metrics of test scores, annual spending per student and class size, Marybeth Connelly, director of community outreach for Falls Church City Public Schools, said she recommends reviewing student-teacher ratios; access to special education programs; availability of world language, fine arts, STEAM and extracurricular programs; community involvement; opportunities for parents to volunteer; and availability of before- and after- school childcare.

Corbett Sanders explained that many valuable features of a school aren’t represented in online ranking systems such as For example, with 13,500 students whose parents are active duty military in Fairfax County, the school system is focused on providing military support to its students and their families, she said.

Career and workforce development is another important piece for families to consider, according to Corbett Sanders. Internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing and academy programs, such as the Governor’s Health Science Academy in both Alexandria City and Falls Church, can help prepare students for college and future careers.

Every family has different needs! Ask your clients what they're looking for in a school, so you can provide them with helpful resources.
  • AP/IB classes
  • Language immersion
  • Fine arts
  • Childcare
  •  Scholarship programs
  • Military family support
  • Career development
  • Nontraditional learning environment
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Access to special education programs
  • Parent engagement
  • School culture
  • STEAM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education
  • More!

Alternatives to neighborhood schools can also offer students specialized learning programs and nontraditional learning environments. For example, an option school in Arlington County, H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, focuses on student choice and gives students the freedom to decide how to use their time to meet their education responsibilities.

“The biggest advice I always give families, and to Realtors® as well, is not to apply to option schools because it is an alternative to a neighborhood school, but to make sure that the option school is a program that will actually benefit the student and help them grow in a specialized environment,” Johnson said.


As families are researching schools, Realtors® can remind them that school boundaries may change.

“We have a lot of organizations [coming to Northern Virginia] and obviously, Amazon – the other “A” here in Arlington – is moving in, so there’s a lot of interest. Consequently, school boundaries will have to change more often, because we want to make sure students aren’t in schools that are over capacity,” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that issues stemming from overcrowding include additional lunch shifts to accommodate a growing number of students, so some students might be eating as early as 10 a.m. and others late in the afternoon.

“We understand for families that it [a boundary change] is hard, but all of our schools are great schools, and we are just doing this in the best interest of the students,” Johnson said.

Children are assigned to a neighborhood school based on their home address, and the boundary process varies from district to district. Individual websites can be the best places to learn about any upcoming changes.

“The focus is always going to be on ensuring that our students have a great place to live and learn,” Corbett Sanders said. “There may be boundary adjustments in the future, but they are only done in a fair, transparent process that allows the community to be part of the process, make suggestions, and understand how decisions are made.”

Resources for Realtors® and Families

Realtors® can advise clients to review the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) School Quality Profiles, which offer unbiased data on topics such as student achievement, college and career readiness and teacher quality. Families can also review the websites of each school district to learn about its programs. There are 19 districts in Northern Virginia, according to VDOE’s website, and the districts in NVAR’s geographic footprint are:

School representatives often meet with Realtors® to provide them with helpful information. Reach out and invite a school staff or school board member to present at your next office meeting.

Kate O'Toole is the NVAR digital content manager & senior editor.
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