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Choosing the Right Private School for Your Child

When it’s time to make a decision about school for your child, it seems like everyone has an opinion about what you should do and they aren’t afraid to share it.

When you’re looking at private schools, much of the information out there can begin to look the same.

Every kid is happy. Every child is learning. How do you decide which one is best for you and your family?

If you know the right questions to ask, the process can be easier and quicker. Armed with them, you find a school that fits your child and your family.

First, you should take some practical concerns into consideration to narrow your list. If you need to adhere to a strict budget or if driving your child to and from a school that is far from your home would create issues for your family, think about culling expensive and distant schools from your list. In the same way, if you would like your child to attend the same school from kindergarten through high school or would prefer one that is affiliated with your family’s religion, these preferences will help you remove – or keep – schools on your list.

Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential schools, schedule tours and meetings with the heads of the school or admissions directors. During your tour, pay attention to the ambiance of the school – does it fit with your child’s personality?

While private schools have many advantages, areas in which they often compare poorly to public schools are in the arts, athletic activities in the middle years and resources available in their media center. Because of the steep costs of maintaining them, many private schools do not offer the vibrant band and orchestral programs found in public middle and high schools. Private schools’ art offerings may also be more constrained.

And while public middle schoolers can play on interscholastic teams in track, basketball, soccer and volleyball, many private schools don’t offer these opportunities until their high school years.

While students can pursue interests in music, art and sports with outside club sports teams and organizations like the Tampa Metropolitan Youth Orchestra or the Straz Center, all of these can come with substantial extra costs. If these are important pursuits for your child’s well-rounded education, ask questions about them when weighing private schools during your visits.

When you are visiting classrooms during your tour, it is important to be aware of how adults interact with students – not just in the classroom but also throughout the school. If your child has a specific interest in a certain subject, be sure to ask if you can see meet those teachers. 

Take notice of students’ work on the walls and in display areas – writing samples, projects and artwork. This can tell you a lot about not only the types of projects students work on at the school but also what they are learning.

Be sure that you see the school’s facilities, such as lunchroom, library, gym, common areas and playgrounds. Any of these may or may not be important to your child and the experience you hope they have at school so it is important to take them into consideration early in your search process.

In addition to school life, be sure to research a school’s academic record and, if needed, explore if they offer programs for children with special needs. Ask questions about student/faculty ratio and average class sizes. Find out if teachers are available before, after or during school for student/teacher conferences. Be sure to find out what kind of technology is used in the classroom. Many private schools only use iPads now instead of textbooks. While that might be great for your child, it might not work for others. Ask about teacher training and how they stay on top of new trends in education as well as how often textbooks and classroom materials are updated.

Depending on your child’s age, you may have other specific concerns. If they are in the elementary grades and you need before and after care, be sure to check on its availability. Keep in mind that even if you don’t need it now, you might one day. Also at this age it is a good idea to ask how classroom placement for students is determined.

For middle school students, ask how the school guides and prepare students for high school and beyond. If it is important to you that your child begins learning a foreign language early, find out if those classes are offered in middle school. For schools that offer Grades K-12, you may want to find out the percentage of students who start the school in sixth grade and ninth grade versus how many have attended the school since elementary age, especially if your child is older than elementary age.

If you are hoping to keep your child in one school from Grades K through 12, be sure to select one that also meets your expectations for high school. While it may seem odd to be asking about a school’s record of college placement success when your child is 6, you don’t want to overlook this and unexpectedly discover a need to switch schools down the road.

For private high schools ask for their yearly averages for the ACT/SAT tests; try to acquire three to four years of averages. Be wary of any school unwilling to share this information.

In addition to looking at the overall curriculum, find out how many advanced placement classes are offered, how many students take them and what percentage of students earn a 4 or 5 on the test. Be sure to compare these statistics to those at other schools.

If your child has his or her heart set on a specific university, you may want to ask the school if has had any students attend that university. In general, you want to find out what universities to which their students apply and from which they win acceptances. Again, ask for several years of data.

High school guidance counselors can be extremely helpful to students when they are researching and applying for colleges. Find out how many guidance counselors are at the school and how many students each counselor helps.

Armed with this information, your family should be able to make an educated decision.

Questions to Consider When Researching a School

• What is your budget?
• Is transportation an issue?
• Do you want a school with a religious affiliation or would you feel uncomfortable if the school’s religious affiliation is different from your own?
• What grade is your child in and what are your plans for future education?
• What is the student/faculty ratio?
• What is the average class size?
• Are teachers available before, after, or during school for student/teacher conferences?
• How is the school using new technology in the classrooms?
• How do teachers implement or stay current with new teaching approaches?
• What are the backgrounds and qualifications of teachers?
• How often are textbooks and classroom materials reviewed and updated?
• Is the library well stocked? Does the school have a librarian/media specialist?
• Do they have enough computers for students?
• Are there indoor and outdoor common areas for students?
• Are the P.E. facilities and/or playgrounds well maintained?
• Do the students have a lunchroom?
• Is there an auditorium for assemblies and presentations?
• How strong and stable is school leadership?
• What is the turnover rate for administrators and teachers?
• How does the school communicate with parents?
• What is their safety policy?
• Are there opportunities for parents to get involved?
• How is the school committed to diversity?
• What is the school year calendar?
• What is the homework and grading policy?
• What extracurricular activities and clubs are offered?
• How do their art, music and sports programs compare to local public schools’ offerings?
• What percentage of students who apply to the school are accepted?
• What are the selection criteria the school uses?

By Marcy Sanford

2017 Education Special Sponsors

WOW thanks the following schools for helping to bring you our Education Special.

The business listings on these pages represent paid advertisements in conjunction with WOW’s Education Special. Paid advertising is not an endorsement by WOW, Inc. Interested residents should contact the businesses and ask all relevant questions prior to enrolling.

Berkeley Preparatory School
(813) 885-1673
An independent, Episcopal day school for boys and girls in Pre-K to Grade 12 dedicated to putting people in the world who make a positive difference. Learn more at http://www.berkeleyprep.org

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Calvary Christian High School
(727) 449-2247
CCHS is a cutting-edge high school providing a college preparatory, Christian education for students in Grades 9-12.  Bus transportation is now available from Westchase.

Cambridge Christian School
(813) 872-6744
Cambridge Christian School has served Tampa for over 50 years! Strong foundations, Biblical worldview, and a sense of community result in an exceptional academic experience.

Carrollwood Day School
(813) 920-2288
Carrollwood Day School is the first IB World School in Florida fully authorized to offer the complete continuum of IB programs from preschool through upper school. Visit CDS at http://www.carrollwooddayschool.org

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Corbett Preparatory School of IDS
(813) 961-3087
An extraordinary environment for learning in Tampa since 1968. International Baccalaureate Programme for all students in PreK3-Grade 8. Visit us at http://www.corbettprep.com

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Kids ‘R’ Kids
(813) 926-5437
Kids ‘R’ Kids schools of quality learning: Infants-Pre-K and after-school care. Serving Westchase and NW Hillsborough County families since 1999.

Primavera Preschool
(813) 855-6718
Primavera Preschool is a private, family-owned business that strives for excellence in early childhood education along with their exclusive infant care. Experience the difference...

Rainbow Garden Preschool
(727) 799-2700
The Rainbow Garden is a long-established Christian preschool providing a well-balanced curriculum that develops a strong foundation for reading, writing, science and math skills and includes art and music.

Tampa Preparatory School
(813) 251-8481
See how innovative teaching methods combine with custom spaces and technology in our Middle and Upper School. Attend an Open House to learn more: http://www.tampaprep.org/OH

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Westlake Christian School
(727) 781-3808
A college preparatory learning environment, accredited by the Florida Kindergarten Council, the Florida Council of Independent Schools, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools/AdvancED.

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