Charlotte can be overwhelming when it comes to schools. The CMS system is huge = one of the biggest in the country (18th). And more Charlotteans send their children to private a.k.a. independent schools than anywhere else in the state.
There is a wealth of choice; 88 private schools in Mecklenburg County. It’s not easy to decipher the independent school landscape: where you live and work, your family’s budget & priorities, and where your friends attend are just a few of the factors that go into the decision.
Those ‘first day of school’ pictures are adorable, but the actual preparation begins long before that first day at the right school for your child. It’s our responsibility, as parents, to make the absolute best decision for the entire family. We know that the primary school years will change the family dynamic – friends will be gained, challenges met, goals achieved.
How do we find the right school for our student?
For our family?
That process starts now. Yes, now – for the 2016 school year.
Did you drop your coffee? Don’t panic.
Scoop has partnered with PROVIDENCE DAY SCHOOL and established an exclusive series: The guide to choosing the right Independent School for your children.
You prepared = your child prepared for success!
Here’s the good news. Providence Day School Director of Admissions and Enrollment Management Cecil Stodgill confirmed what we already believed – many of Charlotte’s independent schools provide an excellent education, ample extra-curricular activities, great athletics, up-to-date facilities and technologies, and solid preparation for college. Finding the one that best fits your child and your family is far more nuanced than checking the average SAT scores of the graduating class.
Here’s the hard news. Getting in to one of the top 3-5 independent schools is competitive. PDS has 55 openings each fall for Kindergarten, and received 115 applications last year. And the opportunities narrow significantly after K admission. Last year Providence Day School had 15 slots open for a 9th grade class of 135.
So, what do you need to do?
Your First steps:
- Understand the timeline. Fall 2015 is the time to get ready for a child starting Kindergarten in Fall 2016. YES, that’s right: Start NOW. Starting to think about this next spring will be too late.
- Open House Season is Oct-Nov. Open Houses are big, informational sessions to be used for fact gathering and introductions.
- School Visits & Tours in Nov-Jan. Tours are where things get individualized. This time allows for your child/family specific questions, seeing the school, looking at classes, campuses, curriculum, and getting to know the school and faculty.
- Applications in Jan-Feb. Many independent schools require specific testing & interviews as part of the application process. Allow for time for all of it, so neither you nor your child is stressed out.
- Decisions are made in March-April
- Do your homework BEFORE you go to your first Open House. Admissions Director Stodgill tells us that parents feel best about the school selection process when they feel fully informed:
- Research each school on their individual website.
- Note the Open House Dates.
- Understand the difference between the Open House vs. the School Visit/Tour. And be sure to do both.
Tips on Narrowing Down Your Options:
- Plan on picking 3-4 schools to visit for Open Houses.
- Talk to friends and family for recommendations and feedback. You are not just picking a school for your child, you are committing to a community for the next 13 years or more.
- Be sure to visit at least 2-3 schools for a personal tour. Get to know your chosen schools close up and in action. Build a relationship and allow the school to provide you with valuable feedback. The fit will feel right from both sides.
- Definitely visit all the schools you plan to apply to. You want to know the schools and you want the schools to be familiar with your family & your child.
- Apply to your top 3 schools, says Director Stodgill. Plan to be happy when your child is accepted to any one of them.
Things To Consider & Questions to Ask When Looking at Schools:
- What is the overall feel of the campus? As you park and walk up how do you feel?
- Where in Charlotte is the school in relation to home/work/after school activities?
- What role does the school play within the city of Charlotte?
- Are you looking for a formal environment? More relaxed?
- What is expected from the parents?
- Volunteer opportunities?
- Test Scores: CAIS Testing consortium (Charlotte’s 6 largest Independent Schools)
- What expectations are important to your family:
- Secular? Religious?
- Grades and Academic Offerings?
- Sports or Arts Facilities?
- Small Pond vs. Large Pond?
- What are the retention rates?
- What are the student:teacher ratios? Average class size?
- How is technology used to support teaching and learning at this school?
- What are the school’s core competencies?
- Do you want a school known for high-powered academics?
- Do you want a school with concentration in Global Education, creating a global citizen?
- Do you desire a school with a stellar Fine Arts program?
- What about the balance of social and athletic development at each school? How does this relate to your family’s goals?
- Admission to an independent school is expensive. Can you afford it?
- It’s about the value proposition. For many Charlotte parents, an independent school education is worth significant sacrifices.
- It’s not just your first child. For most, it is a family commitment for 2, 3 or more.
PDS assured us, throughout this process schools are looking to accept families, not just students. This offers the opportunity for the partnership it takes to grow their learning environment. Independent schools don’t want your student to look and talk like everyone else – they are looking to graduate individuals. They truly care about the families they partner with and the children they educate. You want to be yourselves and for your child to be his or her self, so both school and parents can find the best fit.
Remember this when you begin to become overwhelmed or intimidated. There is a school out there for each child. We, as their parents, need to do the work neccessary to find that school that complements our budding learner.
It’s not about picking the BEST school…
It’s about picking the best school for YOU.
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