The Atlanta metro area is fortunate to boast a diversity of independent schools, from small academies dedicated to students with specific learning disabilities to college prep institutions noted for excellent academics. Selecting the one that will provide the best learning environment for your child requires sifting through a list of criteria. To get started, admissions experts suggest key questions to explore.
What is the school’s philosophy around educating children?
Each school has its own mission designed to meet the needs of a specific audience. Its philosophy sets the guidelines, and fully understanding that philosophy is an important factor in determining how close a match a school is to a family’s values. “I’d say it’s first and foremost,” says Anne Beisel, admissions director of the Howard School on Atlanta’s Westside. “Parents need to know the mission and vision to make sure they’re aligned philosophically. For instance, what are the school’s teaching and learning practices? Are they traditional or nontraditional? College prep or not? Is there a focus on extracurriculars—sports, music, clubs? The school should be about the whole child, not just education.”
What are the school’s credentials?
News of failing schools is reported on an almost daily basis. Ensure that the independent school you’re considering won’t be one of them. “It’s very important to ask basic questions about the stability of the school and its accreditation,” says Jerri King, head of school at Springmont in Sandy Springs. “Those things tell a lot about the strength of the school.”
What are the class sizes?
A classroom with a low ratio of students to teachers and aides may provide opportunities for more one-on-one instruction. In some cases, that sort of attention is critical. “A child who is very gifted, has ADHD, or who struggles with reading may need to be in a small class,” says Janie Beck, director of admissions at the Lovett School in Buckhead.
How many students do you send to college, and which colleges do graduates attend?
For families with college-bound students, this question can determine a school’s commitment to preparing and assisting with a rigorous process. And the level of that commitment is often indicated by the particular colleges or universities the graduates attend.
What opportunities are there for parents to visit the school before making a final decision, and what opportunities for involvement exist after?
Many schools encourage tours, visits, and interviews as part of the selection process. “These interactions help parents see patterns over time, so take as many as you can,” says King. “I also advise parents to interview with the head to learn about academic standing, philosophy, and governance, as well as the quality of the staff. If a meeting isn’t possible, read the welcome message, speeches, and background of the lead person.” In addition, studies have shown that education is most successful when parents are partners in the process. Learning about the various ways parents can be involved will reveal how committed a school is to developing that partnership and what it expects in terms of parental contribution.
How can this school address the interests of my child?
“We probably offer similar programs, class sizes, and sports,” says Beck. “But it would be helpful if parents could think more concretely in regard to their student. How can little Jenny capitalize on community service activities, or what opportunities are there for her to take advanced classes or get an internship?”
What are other parents saying about this school?
King encourages parents to ask other parents for their insights. “Ask for some names to speak with,” she says. “They may have an important perspective.”
What specific information about my child can I share with you?
Don’t think of it as boasting. Posing this question provides the chance to make your student stand out by sharing particular details about interests, talents, and abilities. “Parents say they feel like they’re bragging, but you’re a mom! You should brag on your child,” says Beck. “Let us know what gives them confidence, what helps them become the person you hope they will be.”
What are the logistics involved in getting my student to this school?
Given Atlanta’s traffic woes, this question can be a determining factor in where a student attends school. Parents should consider how they will get their child to the location and then to baseball practice near home in the afternoon. “Ask about the hours and the carpools, and really think through if this is going to work for you as a family,” says Beisel.
What is the tuition, and are there additional fees?
Don’t be afraid to talk dollars and cents, advises Beisel. “Parents need to ask about tuition, as well as fees and costs for books, trips, and labs. They need to think about how they’ll pay for all this. Financial aid is a big part of the logistics, and families should not be shy about asking and getting the answers.”