How To Choose The Best Private School

Selecting the best private school for your child can be a lengthy process. It is important to know what to look for and what to ask.

Parents select private schools for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a child has special needs. Other times, the child is gifted and the parents seek an accelerated academic environment. In many cases, the parents are simply looking for a more structured learning atmosphere with smaller classes and more careful supervision.

Where do I begin the search for a private school?

Ask, ask, and ask! Ask friends, neighbors and educators for recommendations. In some cases, public school administrators or teachers are familiar with private schools. Ask them for an opinion.

If you have friends with children at private schools, ask for recommendations. Are they happy there? Why or why not?

If you are new to an area, check the phone book. Make sure the school is accredited before going any further with your search. Ask your Realtor, and even your children's pediatrician.

As you ask around, compile a list. Make a "Private School" folder and use it to add information as it is collected.

What should I look for in a private school?

That answer depends on what you are looking for for your child's education. Maybe you want a rigorous academic program, like a preparatory school. Or perhaps you would like a certain emphasis, like in the arts or music. Look at class size and compare with the public schools in your area. Maybe you want a nurturing, warm environment. Decide what you want and then seek it out.

Once I've narrowed my search to several schools, what should I do?

Schedule a visit and tour! Meet the teachers, the administrators and the students. Check out the facility.

What should I expect from private school teachers?

Check out the credentials of the teachers. Do they have specialized degrees in their areas, such as math or chemistry? Or did they graduate with general degrees? How long have the teachers been on staff? Is turnover a problem? Are the teachers well paid?

If the teachers are experienced, and have a long-term history with the school, that will tell you that most likely they are happy there.

Check into the Principal or Headmaster/Headmistress. What are his or her qualifications, and how long has he or she been there?

How can I find out about the academic program?

When you visit the school, ask specific questions about the curriculum. What math book do they use? Ask to see it and page through it. What is their language arts curriculum? What books do they read, and what writing assignments do they have?

What is the school's philosophy on homework? Is it given daily? During weekends? How many hours should it take, and what is the punishment if it is not turned in on time?

Ask to see the science lab. Is it a regular classroom or is it really a lab? What does the science curriculum teach at each grade?

Do the children go on field trips? How do they travel, by bus, car, train or plane? Who supervises them on these trips?

Inquire about test scores. What standardized tests are taken and how do the school's scores compare to national standards. Also, where do these children go after leaving the school? Do they have problems getting into their schools/colleges of their choice?

Ask about grades. Is there grade inflation where everyone makes an "A." Or are the grades distributed fairly. How many tests are there per week on the average? What is the test taking policy (in other words, can they make-up a test if their score is low?).

How do I ask about discipline?

Be very direct, and ask how discipline is handled. Is it time out, visits to the Principal, or extra assignments? As you tour the school, look at the behavior in the classroom. Is it under control or out of hand? Do the students appear interested or bored? Be sure and ask to enter classrooms during your tour. Visualize your child in the room and ask yourself if that feels "right."

Ask direct questions like, "What action has been taken in the past to handle those who cheat on tests?" "How are drug problems handled?" "Have you ever expelled a child, and for what reason?"

What about extracurricular activities?

Ask if there are clubs to join, sports teams and enrichment classes. Request a list of opportunities for the child.

What should I look for in the facility?

First and foremost, does the environment appear safe? Are stairwells properly lit, with sturdy railings? Are there sprinkler systems in effect? Do they have fire drills?

Is the building in good repair inside and out? Check for water leaks (ceiling stains), hanging items that could fall, proper kitchen facilities (especially if older children can do some of their own heating up of food).

Is there a cafeteria? Is it clean? Would the lunch menu appeal to your child?

Is there a gymnasium? What kind of surface does it have? Is it large? What about the science lab, computer room and audiovisual equipment? Are they up to date? Ask to see the playground and note the condition of equipment. Is it rickety and old, or new and safe? Is the surface safer than grass? Pea gravel or other soft surfaces are superior to grass.

How will I know if my child will fit in?

If the school looks good to you, schedule your child for a visit. After spending a few hours there, he or she may have a sense of fitting in, or not.

Can parents be involved in the school?

Again, be sure to ask for the level of parental involvement. Is it hands-on in the classroom? Will you feel welcome at the school? Is there a parent-teacher organization, and what activities does the group perform?

Who should I ask for references on a particular school?

It is advised to talk to parents of current students or recent graduates. Ask what the positives and negatives are. Remember that no school is perfect. It is your job as a parent to locate the school that comes closest to meeting your child's educational needs.

© High Speed Ventures 2011