How-to Choose a Private School can be a daunting task and requires much research, interviewing and time to make the right decision. A detailed guide has been written by local mom and writer, Nancy Reynolds.
You’ve weighed the options and have your reasons. Perhaps you attended a private school and want your child to have the same experience. Perhaps your child has special needs that a public school can’t address, or maybe you feel that a religion-based atmosphere is paramount to your child’s education.
No matter what the reasons, choosing a private school is a tough decision. With so many factors to consider and so many schools to choose from, the process can be complex and overwhelming.
Michael Drake, executive director of the Georgia Independent School Association, feels that finding the right “fit” is key. “Every private school provides statistical measures that they will be willing to share with you, but true success comes from fiding the right school that meets the needs of your individual child.”
Barbara Adler, former head of school for King’s Ridge Christian School, suggests beginning the process one year in advance. “Finding a private school that fills your requirements needs planning and homework. The admission season varies from one private school to another, so proper planning is critical.”
Start the selection process by breaking it down into simplified steps and making a few broad decisions.
DETERMINE YOUR NEEDS
Begin with an analysis of your needs, requirements and desires. If your child is old enough to provide input, now is a good time to get him/her involved. After all, your child’s future academic success and happiness rely heavily on the decision. Several important factors should be considered:
- What is your budget for private school? Will you require financial assistance?
- Does your child have any special hearing, sight, linguistic, physical or emotional needs to consider? Does your child have a learning disability that would require special attention?
- How close must the school be to your home?
- Do you need a school that proves before- and/or after-school care?
- Do you prefer a school with multiple grade levels where your child can remain for several years?
- Do you prefer a co-educational environment, or is your preference to have boys and girls separate?
- Is religion an important factor?
- Do you have a specific academic curriculum in mind?
- What extracurricular elements are important?
Jennifer Christianson, Roswell mother of two boys, encourages parents to determine whether their needs are short term or long term. “For me, I wanted a school that would carry my boys through high school. I didn’t want to have to move them later on. I wanted my boys to have a strong social environment where they could grow and thrive with the same group of friends throughout their education.”
For Stone Mountain mother of two, Miriam Johnson, something close to home was important. “We also wanted a Christian school – the thing that sealed the deal for us was the founding pastor’s reputation for academics while still placing an importance on God and religion,” says Johnson.
NARROW THE FIELD
For most parents, high academic standards top their list of requirements when narrowing the field. “It’s important for parents to lok for a school that is accredited,” says Adler. The Southern Association of Independent Schools and The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools are both accreditation agencies that will assist parents by providing a list of member schools.
GISA’s website, gisa-schools.org, provides a wealth of information, including a list of member schools, detailed information about each school, a map of member schools, as well as a search function that allows parents to search by county, enrollment members, gender, and day or boarding schools.
A school’s reputation is another important factor. Talking with other parents who have their children in private school can provide valuable information. Johnson was introduced to her children’s school, which they have been attending for three years, by friends from their previous Montessori school. “They had all expressed a positive experience, so it was definitely a place I wanted to look into further,” says Johnson.
Tracy Buchanan, a mother of three in Atlanta, recommends doing your research and networking with other parents. “Before I chose a private school for my children, I talked with other parents. I took the time to listen to their experiences and thoughts and found the information invaluable,” she says. “I also visited the school and talked with teachers. I wanted to know that what I wanted for my children was the same as what the school was able to provide.”
To assist in the process, some parents opt for a professional consultant. When so much is at stake it can be difficult to maintain a clear view of your objectives. A consultant can provide unmatched knowledge and an unbiased view of your unique set of circumstances while saving valuable time. When working with a consultant, communication is key. Be specific when conveying your needs and desires and thoroughly discuss each school on your list with the consultant.
Now that you’ve narrowed the field and made a list of your top 5 to 10 schools, you can begin the process of finding out as much information as possible. Contact each school on your list and request brochures and inquire about admission practices and standards.
Take the time to research the philosophy and culture of each school on your list. Ask about the academic program, homework and grading policies, teacher/student rations, and services available to the school, including counselors, librarian and nurse. Find out the background and qualifications of teachers, tenure of the staff, and discipline policies. Does the school welcome parental involvement, and if so, in what way?
VISIT THE SCHOOLS
No amount of research or networking can compare to stepping foot on campus grounds. As you enter the school doors, you’ll begin forming an opinion that will eventually lead you to your final decision. During the tour of the school several important factors should be considered.
What is the ambience of the school? One of the deciding factors for Buchanan was observing the relationship between the teachers and students. “When I took the tour of the school, I looked to see if the teachers were engaged with the students. I wanted to see if the children looked happy.”
Ask if the school provides alternatives to accomodate different learning styles. Determine what and how the children are being taught and what the teaching methodology is. Observe the class size and inquire whether children are broken down into smaller groups and challenged based on ability. Also, inquire how students’ academic standards are monitored and measured. Now is also a good time to ask about extracurricular programs. Find out if the school has programs that match your child’s interests.
“We met with the counselor and principal of the school during our tour, and then again after the interview process – it really helped me know that our decision was the right one,” says Johnson.
“Before taking the tour, I suggest parents attend a school meeting (the equivalent of a PTA meeting) and learn what issues the school is facing and what concerns the parents have on their minds,” suggests Shannon Wright, an Alpharetta mother of three. “Iwould also request refereneces from other parents. By taking these few extra steps you’ll have the ability to make a more informed decision.”
Keep in mind that the questions you ask during the tour may vary greatly depending on whether your child is entering an elementary versus a high school grade. Write out your questions before taking the tour. The better prepared you are going in, the more information you’ll gather to assist you in making your final decision. For high school students, you may want to focus your questions on how the school emphasizes college preparation.
Another important question is what percentage of applicants are offered enrollment. If you’re dealing with competitive enrollment, you’ll be better off applying to more schools to ensure a spot for your child for the upcoming year. In addition, because each school varies in its admission practices and standards, you will need to find out what selection criteria it follows. Many schools will conduct testing for the child to establish placement, review the child’s previous standardization test scores and grades, solicit feedback and recommendations from teachers, and set up a one-on-one interview with the child.
YOUR FINAL DECISION
Now that you have done your homework, gathered information and asked every question you can possibly think of, chance are you’ve eliminated at least a few of the schools that didn’t meet your criteria and narrowed the field even more. Whether you decide to apply to one or all the schools on your list is your personal choice. Many parents will apply to three or more private schools to provide them with more options.
Once the applications have been submitted to the schools, it then becomes a waiting game. In most cases, parents are required to respond to a letter of acceptance in a very short period of time. After all your hard work, now is not the time to procrastinate. It’s a good idea to have your schools prioritized, enabling you to make an educated and prompt decision once the letters arrive.
In the event your child is not accepted into the private school of your choice, take into consideration that applications are accepted on an annual basis, so the slate is wiped clean every year, giving you an opportunity to make a second attempt. Also keep in mind that many schools have a very limited number of open seats, so the competition can be very stiff.
In the end, the most important piece of advice is planning ahead. The process of choosing a private school is a discovery and learning process that requires time and plenty of homework. You don’t want to force a decision based on your constraints.
“Keep an open mind,” says Adler. “Good schools will always made a decision based on the needs of the child.”
Original article Jan 13, 2011