5 steps to find the perfect private school fit

Private SchoolFinding the right private school for your child is a process, says Maggie Melson, associate head for advancement at Indian Creek School in Crownsville. A school should fit a family’s values, morals and ideas about education.

“First, the parents should have a clear understanding of that before they start the search for schools,” Melson says.

Within an hour of visiting St. Anne’s School of Annapolis, Austin McNair, who was 4 at the time, knew without a doubt he wanted to go to school there.

“He said, ‘This is where I want to go to school. Please, Mom, please,’” says Austin’s mom, Tia McNair of Severn. “The choice was clear and done.”

Though Austin’s decision was immediate, his parents had diligently researched and toured private schools; spoken with neighbors, friends and family members; and determined the characteristics of their perfect school.

Here are five tips for finding a private school that is the right fit for your child.

Determine your child's needs

This is especially important if your child has any special needs, including adaptations for developmental delays or advanced/gifted learning opportunities.

“Parents need to understand their child’s learning styles and have questions in their mind about [whether] this school can educate their child,” Melson says. “Does the child need to be challenged in a certain arena or does the child face challenges in a particular subject area? Are enrichment and support services offered?”

Children might need occupational or physical therapists, speech services, or counseling services for emotional or social issues. Parents need to ensure the needs of their child will be met, Melson says.

Click next below for more tips on finding the perfect private school fit.


Ask for recommendations

Talk to parents of children who are thriving, McNair says. Before choosing which schools to visit, McNair spoke with friends and neighbors to get an idea of what they liked about different schools in the area.

“Listen to neighbors and friends whose children are having a great education experience,” Melson agrees.

Visit several schools

Don't limit the number of schools you visit and visit multiple times.

“Visit a variety of schools to hone an understanding of what it is you’re looking for as you prepare to make this investment in your child’s future,” says Alyssa Jahn, director of admissions and outreach at St. Anne’s School of Annapolis. “While it’s time consuming, it is well worth it to tour several settings and to imagine your child thriving and your family participating in the life of each school. You’ll begin to sense a match, and that will carry you forward to the next steps.”

Its also best to visit the first time without the kids to determine if the school fits the family vision or not.

Before choosing St. Anne’s, the McNair family visited three schools and went to each several times.

“Know what makes each school different,” McNair says. “Visit the same school multiple times and at different times of the day to get a full picture of the day to day activities.”

Involve your child

Involving children, especially older children, in the process of picking a school is important, Jahn says.

Parents should talk with their child about what is most important in a school — whether it’s small class size, religious education, visual or performing arts programs, after-school enrichment, athletic opportunities, or high school or college placement.

There are plenty of opportunities for both parent and child to get the feel of a school through open houses, shadow days and other events, Jahn says.

“Particularly at the older grades, ‘buy in’ is important for a student to make a successful transition to any new environment,” she says.

Meet with teachers and administrators

Set up an appointment to meet with teachers and administrators to get a feel for the school community. Come armed with questions, Melson says.

“We love when parents come in with questions,” she says, explaining they can help parents understand whether their school is the right fit for the family.

Here are some possible questions to ask:

  1. Does the school offer enrichment programs or support?
  2. Are there onsite counselors or occupational or physical therapists available if needed?
  3. Does the school provide visual and performing arts?
  4. How does the school handle physical education and exercise?
  5. Is there summer programming?
  6. What is the student to teacher ratio?
  7. How many teachers are there and how many have advanced degrees?