How to pick a private school for your child

Today more Americans than ever before are choosing private school for their children’s education. Many reasons have led to this phenomenon, among them concern about public school safety, a desire for quality standards, and religious values.

If you are thinking about enrolling your child in public school, here are some things to consider:

  1. Do a thorough search of local private institutions. Some of the smaller or more elite schools are not widely advertised. In addition to checking the phone book, public school system, and board of education, you also may want to make personal inquiries of neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Try a Web search for private schools in your area.
  2. When you’ve compiled a list, start making phone calls or check the Web to eliminate those that won’t work for your family. Reasons may include transportation distance, school hours that conflict with job schedules, tuition fees, curriculum concerns, and personal values.
  3. After whittling your list to those that meet your initial criteria as indicated in Number 2 above, make a telephone inquiry to ask more detailed questions like the following:

-Which curriculum is followed?

-How does student performance compare to public school student performance?

-What are the grading criteria?

-How many children are enrolled?

-What is the teacher to student ratio?

-Are there volunteers or teacher aides that help?

-Which extracurricular activities are provided or are available for individual students? (Music, art, foreign languages, creative writing, etc.)

-What is the school’s discipline policy?

-Are parents required to volunteer a certain amount of time each month?

-What happens if tuition payments fall behind?

-Are uniforms required?

  1. Reviewing your list of responses with spouse and child (if applicable), schedule visits to the top three or four schools for a tour and to meet with the administrator. Try to go when school is in session. As you go through the school tour, consider these points:

-Is the facility functional, neat, and attractive?

-Are students respectful and well behaved?

-Do teachers appear to be confident and in control?

-Is the setting conducive to learning?

-Is student work posted for display?

-Are honors, awards, and trophies in evidence?

  1. During your meeting with the administrator, be prepared with focused and open-ended questions:

-What is the drop-out rate?

-What is the average grade point accumulation of a graduating student?

-What percentage of students go on to college after graduation and successfully complete a degree or commence a career training program at the vocational school level or as an apprentice?

-What is the communication network between teachers and parents or the school and families like? Is there a monthly newsletter or Website in addition to take-home handouts?

-Are there field trips or other off campus outings?

-Are values taught or practiced? If so, what are they?

-What advantages does this school offer to public school or other private institutions?

  1. Follow your instincts. Try to observe students at lunch, on break, and in the classrooms. Get a sense of how well this system seems to work. If you have doubts, visit other schools until you find one that you feel good about. If possible, bring your child for a visit before making the decision to enroll.

Private school can offer an attractive alternative to public school these days. But take time to find one that meshes with your family’s academic goals.

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