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Choosing a Private School


Top 10 questions to ask schools you are considering



January 2014

Daunting.

That's the word Sheila Roumpf of Indianapolis used to describe her private school selection process. "We really struggled with trying to figure out which school would be the best for our (then) three-year-old to attend from pre-K to 8th grade." Roumpf and her husband toured several schools before landing at St. Richard's Episcopal School. Seven years later, Roumpf is pleased with her decision and affectionately refers to the school as the "right fit."

Finding that "right fit" is a process that requires forethought and footwork. Those who have been through it recommend walking into prospective schools armed with the following key questions.

1. How safe is the school?

Kristen Hein, Director of Admission and Marketing at The Orchard School, says she fields many questions on school safety and bully prevention. Schools should be ready to discuss what safety measures are in place, including staff training and facility preparedness. If a school seems uninterested in broaching this topic, warning bells should be ringing.

2. What is the philosophy or theology of the school?

The heart of a school is its core philosophy or theology. Parents need to determine if a school's teachings gel with the family's values. Director of Admissions at Sycamore School Dr. Susan Karpicke warns, "If you find yourself wanting the school to be or become something that it isn't, it is probably the wrong school for your child and your family."

3. How long has the school been in operation?

Private schools stay open as long as they successfully educate students and meet parent needs. Hein suggests that the age of the school may be an indicator about the school's health. However, a younger school should not be discounted and should be evaluated by its curriculum and staff.

4. What is the student-teacher ratio and average class size?

Private schools tend to offer lower student-teacher ratio and smaller class sizes than many public schools. Full-time teaching assistants and resource teachers may have a presence in the classroom too. Roumpf touts the low student-teacher ratio as a "direct reflection of the individual attention your child will receive in the classroom."

5. What degrees and accreditations do teachers hold?

Private school teachers may escape some of the requirements enforced upon public school teachers. Karpicke recommends inquiring into faculty qualifications including any advanced degrees and specialized training. Faculty turnover rate should also be explored.

6. What opportunities are there for parent involvement?

Parents need to understand their role within the school community. Hein suggests asking, "How will they (teachers) communicate with you? Is there an open door policy and are parents frequently seen within the building? What kind of volunteer opportunities are there for families?"

7. What special programs or offerings does the school provide for its students?

Many public schools have slashed special programs, while private schools may still provide an array of offerings, such as music, art and athletics. Parents must assess what's important to their family and how a school can meet those expectations. For Roumpf, a second language topped her list with strong athletic and music programs as additional considerations.

8. What is a typical school day schedule?

A typical school day schedule may tell a parent whether a child will thrive in that environment. Examine school hours, recess, lunch, snacks and class offerings. Roumpf advises exploring aftercare and holiday care options.

9. How will the school address a child's unique needs?

Parents must evaluate a child's unique needs and determine if the school has the resources and staff to accommodate. Karpicke encourages parents to be honest with a school about a child's needs. "It is very frustrating to make an investment in a private school only to find that the school is not a good fit for your child."

10. What is the cost?

Sending a child to private school is a financial commitment. When examining costs, think about tuition increases and additional charges (uniforms, lunches, field trips). Many schools offer financial assistance, scholarship opportunities and payment plans. Hein explains, "Schools understand and appreciate the financial investment required when families choose a private school Education."

Ultimately, selecting the right private school is a process. Parents should be prepared to do the research and ask the right questions. The time spent investigating schools will pay off in years to come.


Tags: Education, Featured Article, Featured Article, In This Issue

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