Private schools offer affordable and outstanding education for children of all classes. Here is the information you need to find the right one.
You have your reasons: Maybe your child has special needs that you feel the public school system cannot provide. Perhaps you’re less than satisfied with the academic achievements or the safety records of the public schools where you live. Perhaps you attended private school as a child, and you want your children to enjoy the same experience.
No matter what the reasons are that you’ve decided to enroll your child into private school, the fact remains that deciding which school to send your child to is a tough decision. With so many schools from which to choose, the matter of selecting a school is not simple by any standards.
First you need to identify and prioritize your needs. Then you can survey private schools. After you’ve narrowed your list, you’ll want to set up school visits and interviews. Deciding on that final school can be very much a two-way street between your family and the private school. After interviews with the schools, you’ll need to prioritize your school list again, so that you can make that final decision as offers to enroll your child come in. We urge you to keep notes throughout because the process can become blurry without them.
Step I: Identify Your Needs
It’s important to work out your child’s needs and your family’s needs before you ever set foot onto a private school’s campus. Why? Because comparing most private schools can be like comparing apples to oranges. They offer such different strengths that it doesn’t make sense to compare them in a vacuum. You need to consider instead which school is the best fit for you. An analogy would be that it makes more sense to figure out what you need a new car for before you step onto the car lot. Otherwise, you might end up with a beautiful car but it may not be practical for your current needs. While discussing your requirements, segregate every requirement on the basis of practical, desired, and extra curricular elements as follows:
These needs must be met. No matter how wonderful a private school may be in other aspects, if it cannot meet your practical requirements, then you must rule that school out as a possibility. Consider:
• How far must the child travel back and forth to school?
• Will there be a need for transportation or does the school provide transportation?
• Is there a need for before- or after-school care?
• Does your child have any physical, emotional, linguistic, or learning needs that require special attention?
• What about costs? How much does the school cost? What is your budget for private school? If the school is too far for a daily commute, does it provide boarding?
• On that note, are you looking for a boarding school or must the school be within daily driving range?
• Must you have certain components in place at a private school before you’ll consider it? For example, are you looking for a military school? Do you want religion to be a part of your child’s education? Do you want a school where boys and girls are kept separate?
With practical elements, you’ll usually find that they rule out schools pretty quickly for you. After you work through your practical elements, use them as a filter to come up with schools that would at least work on a practical level for your family.
It’s important that you keep these desired requirements “front and center” so you don’t get swayed by other aspects of a private school. After you’ve ruled out any practical requirements, this is really how you’ll decide which schools are in your short-list. It is with these aspects that you’ll end up short-listing your private school list. For desired elements, consider:
Is college preparation a priority? Some parents look for science curriculum and some want a top music program.
Are modern school facilities important to you?
Does your child need small school environment, or a large school?
Do you want a school with several grade levels, such as K-12, where your child can remain for several years?
Consider the instructional model. Do you want a traditional, back-to-basics program or an alternative approach to learning?
Do you want a school where parents are expected to be involved with activities and decisions?
How does the school communicate with parents?
After answering these questions, make sure you prioritize your desired elements. For example, if academic achievement is more important to you than the instructional model, make sure you note that. At this point, you should be able to grade the schools on a weighted survey based on what was important to you in your desired elements list.
Extracurricular Requirements Extracurricular requirements are those nice-to-have aspects that probably will be more important to your child than to you. They’ll help your child decide between two schools that made it through your practical requirements filter, and have otherwise equal academic programs.
After you’ve worked out your practical requirements and considered your desired requirements, it’s time to put the icing on top of the cake. These requirements are what you’ll use to pick over two equally stellar programs. Be sure to include your child when deciding extracurricular requirements. Consider:
q What music and art programs are important to you?
q Are sports important? Which ones?
q What clubs would your child like to attend at school?
Step II: Survey Schools
Now that you’ve worked out what you’re looking for in a school, you need to go ahead and find out as much information about your short-listed private schools as possible. For every aspect that is important to you, make sure you get all of your facts and numbers about each school on your list. You should:
Read the underlying philosophy of the school; ask about the beliefs that guide the school’s program and teaching approaches.
Check the services available at the school such as counselors, an on-site nurse, librarian, and a secretary.
Look at the structure of the school year. Is it a year-round school or a more traditional school calendar?
What is the background and qualification of the teachers?
Examine the school discipline policy to see if the rules seem fair and consequences seem appropriate.
Look at the school curriculum and find out the homework and grading policies.
Find out about the facility in case of an emergency. How are parents notified in case of an emergency? What is the school’s policy on guns, knives, and other hazardous items, towards bullying etc.?
Does the school have any special program and policies related to parent involvement.
What type of relationship does the school have with local businesses and community groups for guest speakers, financial support etc.? This relationship can contribute to the quality of the school and the support that it enjoys in the community.
Is this school accredited? If so, how?
Step III: Visit the School
The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) recommends that parents consider the following when visiting a school; it will help them to observe the school more closely:
uLook at the school’s facilities and infrastructure. Basic features which a school must have include a well-equipped library with good collection of books and periodicals, a separate lunchroom, auditorium or large classroom for meetings and presentations, and adequate physical education facilities.
uHow often are textbooks and classroom materials reviewed and updated?
uWhat is the school homework policy?
uWhat is the school’s discipline policy?
uWhat is the school’s safety policy? What are the rules for playground activities and strangers on school property?
uWhat about school’s extracurricular activities. Does the school have student council and clubs for special interests like music, drama, and chess? Make sure you ask about any activities with which your child is particularly interested.
uHow does the school communicate with parents? Ask for a schedule of events and plan to attend the first meeting.
uHow many applicants are typically received for how many open seats? The higher the ratio, the more competitive enrollment will be at that school.
uWhat is their application policy? What selection criteria do they use?
uTo which colleges were last year’s graduates accepted?
uWhat is their student attrition like? This should give you a good idea of how happy other families were with this school.
uWhat about faculty turnover? 10-20 % turnover will occur in most schools due to retirements and folks moving on. But telltale signs of potential problems would be a high rate of turnover (40% or higher). A school that treats its faculty well will have a low turnover rate.
Look for schools policies regarding students:
• How are students graded?
• What is the class-size? Smaller class-size is better, especially in the primary grades.
• Is the library/media center well equipped and organized? Can children regularly check out books and use the center’s resources?
• What is their teaching methodology? Do teachers work by themselves with students in small groups or do they work in teams to teach larger groups.
• How does this school encourage and monitor students’ progress toward meeting academic standards? How does this school use technology to support teaching and learning?
• How does this school support students with academic, social or emotional difficulties?
• What is this school’s policy for students who speak English as a second language? What strategies do they use to teach students who are not fluent in English?
Look for school’s achievements:
What professional development opportunities do teachers have? In what ways do teachers collaborate?
What are some of the school’s greatest accomplishments?
What are some of the biggest challenges this school faces?
While going for elementary schools, find out:
q How does the school determine student placement in classes?
q How does this school inform parents of school information and activities?
q Is there an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA)? What other types of parent involvement take place at this school?
q Is childcare available before or after school?
When looking for middle schools:
How does the school guide and prepare students for academic decisions that define their options in high school and beyond?
Are foreign language classes (French, Spanish, etc.) offered to students?
If you are looking for high schools:
uDoes this school have a particular academic focus, such as science or humanities?
uDoes this school have any school-to-work programs or specialized academics?
uHow much does the school emphasize college preparation?
uDoes the school have a good selection of Advanced Placement classes?
uWhat percentage of students takes the SAT? What is the average SAT scores of students there?
uWhere do students go after they graduate? Are counselors available to help students make important decisions about classes and post-graduation plans?
uWhat percentage of students who start at the school in ninth grade graduate?
While on campus, you may have an interview with administration and teachers. If your campus visit does not include an application interview, make sure you set up a preliminary interview for your sake so that you can:
• Get a better feel for the staff there.
• Get any lagging questions answered before you head home.
Step IV: Make your Decision
After you’ve visited the private schools, you should prioritize the schools that you want your child to attend and then apply to as many as you feel you need to in order to safely get your child into at least one of them for the following year. It doesn’t hurt to apply to your top three choices with the plan that if your first two don’t accept you or run out of seats, you can always enroll your child into your third school.
Get financial aid information early in the process. Each school has its own programs and policies. You cannot actually apply for financial aid until you apply for admission. However tuition and other costs may be a factor in whether or not you choose a particular school; likewise the likelihood that your family will receive financial aid may fill in the big picture of whether a school fits your practical requirements or not.
Courtesy of Private School Review. For more information, please visit www.PrivateSchoolReview.com.