When it comes time to buy your next home, your decision will be based on dozens of criteria. If you're like many home buyers, good schools will be at the very top of your list. Even buyers without children are often concerned about the quality of schools. They know property values often reflect the reputation of local schools-both public and private-and that a home near good schools may be easier to sell later on. Plan Ahead It pays to look at schools early in the house-hunting process so you can narrow your focus to particular neighbourhoods. Consider the following approaches and available resources for determining whether a school or school district is right for you and your children. Define Your Idea Of Good The first step is taking an honest look at your child's educational needs. Is he or she average, exceptional, or is there a learning disability to consider? What are the student's interests and natural abilities? Cerebral? Artistic? Athletic? It won't matter that a school is tops in math and science if your child's educational focus is in language and fine arts. Identifying your child's individual needs will help determine the types of programs and educational approaches you're looking for in a school. Get An Overview You can tap the resources of several organizations to find out what schools are available in a particular area and how they rank compared with others in the system, the state and the nation. (See the side bar for details.) Take a look at the programs that would most interest or benefit your children. Is the local public school song in those areas? If not, there may be good private-school alternatives in the vicinity. Keep in mind that what you see on paper may not provide a complete picture of the school, its resources and the capabilities of its educational staff. Identify The District It's easy to find out what public school district a house is in-the information is nearly always included in the MLS listing, available through your Realtor. Note, however, that school boards frequently re-draw districts. To help ensure a home is likely to remain in a particular district, you may want to find out how close it is to district lines-being central to a district increases your chances of staying there. Contact the local board of education to obtain a district map. Go To The Source Also ask the local board for any information available about the school system, special programs, etc. Many boards will provide you with standardized test scores, often broken down for each school and subject area. Private schools often provide test-score information and college-placement statistics as well. See For Yourself Make plans to visit the schools you are interested in. Schedule appointments with the principal and some of the teachers in your child's grade. Inquire about school policies and procedures. Discuss your child's strengths and weaknesses, asking how the school would handle them. Interview The Neighbours Perhaps the best way to investigate a school is to talk with parents whose children attend. Visit neighbours in the area and ask them to be candid about what they like and dislike about local schools. Let Us Get You Started We'll be happy to provide the phone numbers and website addresses of the schools and districts in our area. Be aware, however, that complying with fair housing practices, we may not be able to provide you with all the information you seek. Discussing school quality can be construed as steering buyers to or away from particular neighbourhoods, which could be viewed as discrimination-even if unintentional. That being said, we'll do everything we can to support your efforts to locate the right home and the right schools to meet your family's needs. THE SCHOOL HUNTERS American School Directory: (800) 444-4488. P.O. Box 7003, Murfreesboro, TN 37133-7003.Web With over 108,000 individual websites, provides every K-12 school in America (public and private) a free Internet presence and identity. Includes pictures, maps, art, information, calendars, etc. National Association of State Boards of Education: (703) 684-4000. 277 S. Washington St., Suite 100 Alexandria, VA. 22314. Web. E-mail. Offers quick reference state profiles for basic education information and data taken from U.S. Department of Education statistics. For a fee, you can receive a report card on any public school or one of thousands of private schools in the U.S. At an additional cost, they will list up to 15 schools that match your criteria identified by their questionnaire. They also assist families with special-needs children and those moving overseas. All reports are confidential. If you are making a company move, your company may pay for School assistance.You'll find a state-by-state directory of schools and their websites, along with other useful information.