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Today's Family Magazine

Finding the right private school for your family

By Jan Pierce

You want a top-notch education for your children and choosing the perfect school is probably one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make.  Depending on your location, you may find your public schools offer everything you want.  If not, you’ll need to embark on a search for the right private school.

In general, private schools exist to provide smaller class sizes with greater individual attention to each student and a safe, focused environment free of discipline problems.  They tend to set a higher bar than public schools in academics, and build a culture of shared values.  They offer a strong sense of community and may tailor lessons to the needs of the student.

In reality, each private school is a world unto itself.  It may or may not hold accreditation with a national education association, or hire credentialed teachers.  It may have many extracurricular offerings or just a few.  It may charge a very large tuition plus additional fees, or may be more affordable, offering scholarships and sliding scales.  It may have a long history in your community or be a brand new charter school.

To find the right private school for you, you’ll need to consider the following:

1. What are your educational priorities?
Some private schools are faith-based and some are not.  You’ll want to decide as a family your basic priorities.  Is it most important to find high academic standards, or more important to support your family’s faith?  Do you expect accelerated programs such as advanced placement classes or extensive access to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs?  How important are extracurricular activities?  Are you comfortable with homework policies and school rules?

2. What is the culture of the school?
In a faith-based setting the culture of the school will place religion at the forefront.  There will be religious studies as part of the curriculum.  The school may be all boys or all girls.  Does this suit your goals?  What is the relationship of staff to students?  Is it casual and friendly, formal and strict?  How are parents involved?  What is the balance of academics to sports, the arts, clubs and other activities?  Does the culture “feel right” for your children?

3. What role do parents play in the school?
Some private schools make great use of parent volunteer time and emphasize whole family participation in their programs.  Others minimize parent involvement to occasional visits or conferences to report progress.  Which best suits your family’s needs?

4.  What are the costs?  Are there scholarships available?
It’s a sacrifice to pay for your child’s education when public schools are free.  And there are huge variations in the expenses involved. When researching possible schools, be sure to check not only the tuitions, but also book fees, sports or other extracurricular expenses and possible transportation fees.  Check on scholarships available and the possibility of a sliding scale based on family income.

5. Is the staff credentialed and the school accredited?
Some faith-based schools and newer charter schools don’t require their teachers to be credentialed.  How important is this to your family?  In addition there are many different education associations nationwide offering accreditation.   If a prospective school has received accreditation, they’ve shown the initiative to meet high standards.

6. Is the curriculum up to date?
In this technological age, you’ll want to be sure your private school has kept up with the times.  Do they offer appropriate college preparation standards in science, math, languages, writing and more?  Do they offer a well-rounded education in art, drama and music?  Are textbooks current and in good condition?  Are computer labs or individual screens available to students?

7. Does the school provide transportation?
Do buses transport students to school?  Are they available for after-school activities?  Does the school coordinate carpools?  Are there extra expenses charged for transportation?

8. How well do students transition into or out of the school?
If a particular school offers classes such as K–6 or K–8, do they work closely with a sister high school?  What provisions are made to make a smooth transition from one school to another?  If students transfer into the school either at the beginning of a year or mid-year, what provisions are made to welcome them?  How do children fare when they need to move from this school to another?

9. What is the school’s reputation?
Most private schools have a reputation to uphold.  Are they the best in college prep?  Are they known for a friendly, family community spirit?  Who do you know with firsthand information and experience with the school?  What recommendations can you find amongst friends and acquaintances?         

10. Is the school open to visits and drop-in observations?
All schools need to make sure their campus is secure and will have procedures to follow when visiting.  But as a parent, you want to feel comfortable visiting the building to observe or take care of business. You’ll want to find a school that makes parents welcome and is proud to show them around.

When you’ve narrowed your search to several schools, be sure to take the time for a personal visit.  Talk with an administrator, take the tour and gather any written information they’ve prepared for prospective students.  Discuss pertinent questions and voice any concerns you may have about your child’s specific needs.  Above all, gauge your “feel” of the school.  Is it the right place for you and your family?

Selecting the perfect private school is well worth the time it takes to research, visit and finally make your selection.  This is the place your children will make important friendships, learn and grow, and pave the way to their bright futures. 
Nicely done, parents!