Choosing the Right Independent School for Your Child

by: Smith and Howard

January 26, 2015

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The recession contributed to declines in many areas within our economy, with the independent (private) school industry particularly hard hit. According to First Industry Research, “Enrollment at US private schools in fall 2014 was the lowest in nearly 60 years, and the decline is expected to continue for at least five more years.” All is not gloom and doom, however. The Georgia independent school sector appears to be doing very well. In an article recently published by the Atlanta Business Chronicle, current enrollment levels for independent school students were shown at 74,767, which is less than a 2% decrease from enrollment levels prior to the recession. 

As economic conditions continue to improve and individuals seek out alternatives to the public school system, demand for independent schools will increase. If you have a school age child, you may find yourself wondering what you should be looking for within an independent school. Although price certainly does play a factor in deciding which school is best for your child, there are other – very important – considerations.

Values Matter

When searching for an independent school, parents should consider how closely the core values of the school align with their own. According to Jeff Jackson, Georgia Independent School Association’s President, parents should seek to learn whether “the school – and other families there share the values that my family has” (Atlanta Business Chronicle). An excellent way to develop a sense of the school’s values is to schedule a campus tour. Many independent schools are happy to set up campus tours and walk parents through the school’s day-to-day activities. Some schools have a shadow program in place which allows children to follow a student of the school for a day. An additional way to develop a sense of a school’s core values is through the institution’s website. Most independent schools will have a website containing the school’s mission statement, which provide parents a better perspective of the school’s overall mission. Both campus tours and informational sites provide excellent means for determining the core values of a school.

Programs and College Prep

Parents should also consider the academic resources, extracurricular activities and preparation for the future that the school can offer their child. Extracurricular programs such as athletics and arts departments may be very important to you. Find out if the programs available align with your child’s interests.  Parents should also consider the feeder schools and ultimately which colleges the students from a given independent school are most likely to attend. When interviewed in the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Father John Harhager, President of Marist School, stated “college prep is important, and most of the independent schools in the area offer that in various degrees. Parents need to find out how that aligns at a particular school and find one that matches their values.” (Atlanta Business Chronicle).

Other Parents

Perhaps the most obvious resource for wading through the independent school options is the opinion of other parents. Talk to parents who have children in a variety of private schools to find out how their children’s experience has not met – or has exceeded – their expectations. Discuss the research ideas above: are the school’s values a core part of the day-to-day operation? What programs and extracurricular activities are available and which ones have their children participated in? How is their child’s academic preparation coming along?

Deciding on an independent school can be a difficult decision. However, with careful consideration of the school’s values and academic resources parents can make a wise selection of an independent school for their children.

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