You've finally decided: private school is a better option that a public education for your son or daughter. But how on earth do you choose the best match to your family's circumstances?
Denise Yearian, former editor of two parenting magazines, has developed some helpful criteria shared in Washington Family Magazine.
How to Organize Your Search
Although you might already have a lot of information, developing a checklist will save you time in the long run and make it much easier to narrow the field to just a few private schools. Here's what you need to do:
Be realistic. No school offers 100 percent satisfaction for every student and parent. Search for one that looks like it could be the best fit for your son or daughter.
Make a list. On it, write exactly what your family wants in a private school. Describing your wants in very specific terms is helpful. So is assigning a priority to everything on the list.
Note your child's needs. What is his or her learning style—auditory, visual? Is a structured environment necessary? Also consider strengths, weaknesses, talents and interests.
Consider family values. Only consider schools whose values match yours.
Reconsider expensive schools. Even though a school seemed beyond your budget, take a second look if it otherwise meets your family's needs. Make an effort to contact the school about any available financial aid.
Visit your short list. Once you've checked out websites and any information mailed to you, make an appointment to visit the private schools that appear to best meet your needs.
Meet the staff. Talk to the principal or administrator honestly about what you want for your child and discuss any strengths and weaknesses. For younger children, it's important to sit in on a class and talk with the individual who would be his or her teacher. In the case of older students, ask to observe two classes in subject areas he or she would take the next term. Look for an environment in which educators strive to build relationships with their students and their families.
Keep written records. Keep track of what you see and hear. Include observations on how you think any staff members would interact with your child.
Talk to other parents. Due to privacy laws, you will probably need to locate families whose children currently attend the school on your own. Ask what the parents and kids like and dislike about it.
Let your child visit. Once you've conducted your visits, bring your child to the school of your choice for a reality check. If possible to do so, make sure he or she meets other students and teachers and gets a chance to sit in on a class. Then ask for feedback.
What to Ask a Prospective School
There are hundreds of questions you might think to ask a prospective private school. Here are some of the most helpful:
What's the philosophy on teaching reading?
Which types of books does the school expect students to read and who selects them?
How and when does the school teach writing and composition and is there time for creative writing?
Is there a set curriculum or does it derives from students' interests?
How frequently do the kids use textbooks, workbooks, worksheets and computers?
At which grade level do students start receiving homework and how much is there per grade level?
How does the private school grade or otherwise assess students?
Which extracurricular activities are available and for which children?
How much time does the staff devote to music, art and physical education?
Are there opportunities for any cooperative learning?
What is the policy on discipline for improper behavior?
What are the qualifications of the teachers?
Who makes final decisions about the school?
To what extent does the school allow parental participation?
Since no two schools are alike, you'll be looking for the best fit, not a 100-percent match. Using these tools should make the job of finding the right private school more focused and end in a confident decision.