Only a few years ago your child was a blob of cuteness and now, well, they are entering kindergarten and... are still cute and a bit less blob like. But guess what isn’t cute... navigating the private school selection process.
There are many reasons why you might find yourself exploring local private schools. Perhaps your local school district is underfunded and lacks the breadth of learning and extra-curricular activities you’re looking for. Or you're uncomfortable with the lottery systems governing charter or magnet schools.
Whatever the reason, we’d encourage you to first ask “why”?
The answer to this question is critical to determining what school will be the best fit. Is it because your child has particular or special needs? Is it based on where your friends or family have sent their kids to school? Think about the long-term. This school is where your child will spend countless formative hours - it’s crucial to find an environment where he or she will blossom. Remember, your ego should not be driving this important decision.
Consider the following:
- What is your ideal educational program? What does it offer? How is it structured?
- What makes your child tick? How do they learn? How does their learning process align with those of the schools you are considering?
- Talk to your child’s preschool teacher and the program director. They should have detailed feedback for you as well as loads of experience and perspective. Afterall, hey have engaged with far more children in a learning environment than you have. While their opinion is not the rule of law, they can be truly helpful, so listen to what they have to say.
- School visits are hugely beneficial. See the classrooms, the facilities, the other students and the staff. Trust your gut. How does it feel to you?
- Does it matter to you whether the school you’re looking at goes through 12th grade or are you comfortable switching schools? There are pros/cons to both - for example, consistency of school and students is great, while on the other hand, your child might have very different needs and desires by middle or high school so the need to change schools could be very welcome.
- During the visit, don’t only view the lower grades. If the school has a middle and/or upper school, make sure to see those as well. Can you imagine your child moving through this system?
What are some key questions to keep in mind when evaluating a school?
(We’d recommend creating a checklist - the process can become overwhelming and exhausting, staying organized will help)
- What is the student to teacher ratio? How does that evolve as your child ages?
- Do teachers employ a range of teaching methods to promote intellectual curiosity? What are they?
- Does the school subscribe to a particular approach or philosophy?
- What does the school do to foster community? How actively involved are families? Can you speak to some families of current students? This can be a great way to gain additional insights.
- How and what does the school do to foster diversity?
- What is the application and interview process? What’s the deal with their waitlist?
- Facilities: outdoor play areas? Toys, music, charts, paintings etc throughout?
- Does the environment feel happy, engaging and stimulating? Or maybe more serious, studious and structured?
- What does the school do to ensure safety? Not something parents ever want to think about, but an unfortunate reality today. What systems are in place and how often are the practiced, reviewed and updated?
What to ask about the teachers:
- What are their educational backgrounds? Do they have specific expertise or training focused on the relevant age group?
- Staff/Assistants - has the roster been stable? High turnover could be a bit of a canary in the coal mine.
- How are the teachers documenting their students’ learnings and progress?
- How are the teachers keeping you informed? Ad hoc as well as clearly defined meetings?
- How does the school foster professional development and continued training for the staff? Are they given access to ongoing learning platforms, do they have the ability to attend conferences, are additional trainings paid for and encouraged by the school?
Hopefully these questions have given you a lot of food for thought. While the private school selection process can feel overwhelming, we’d truly encourage you to do site visits, ask these questions and use a critical eye as you evaluate what school is right for your child.
- Understanding the “why” - your motivation/reason for selection a private school
- Seek alignment between your child’s learning style and the school’s educational philosophy
- Visit the school, keep a checklist
- Trust your gut