How to Find the Best School for Your Child

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By Payton Hobbs, head of Lower School

Choosing the right school community for your child has never been more important—or more challenging. The variety of educational options available for families to consider can be exciting and overwhelming. Many begin the process by researching the “best school” in the area, and we want to encourage a shift in language to researching the “best school for your child.”

The school that will position a child to be a successful, happy and contributing member of society will be different for everyone because each child is a unique individual. Families interested in private and independent school options should consider the following when exploring the best school fit for their child:

1) Know your why

Why are you seeking a private or independent school education? What goals are you hoping to accomplish by making this decision? Your answers to these questions will serve as guideposts as you sort through all the different aspects of the school choice process.

Based on the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) research on the top reasons parents choose to send their children to independent schools, here are four “jobs” families might consider as their “why”:

Job 1: Overcoming obstacles
Help me find a school that will support my child overcome the obstacles they face academically, socially, emotionally and/or physically.

Job 2: Finding a values-aligned community
Help me find a school that will nurture my child’s gifts, so they will fulfill their potential, mature and be prepared for college.

Job 3: Developing a well-rounded person
Help me find a school that will focus on my child’s social and emotional development, so my child will be a well-rounded and productive member of society.

Job 4: Realizing a plan for a talented child
Help me find a school with an excellent academic program and an outstanding reputation, so my child gets into one of the select set of schools and fulfills his or her potential.

As you consider selecting a school, make sure your child is at the center of the decision making. Get clear on their strengths, areas for growth, learning style, passions and individual identity.

2) Research your options

Now that you have clarity on your purpose and guiding values, it is time to research your options. It is best to begin by exploring specific school websites, reviewing social media platforms, and talking with family, colleagues and friends. There are also area-specific resources, similar to the website used by the San Diego Consortium of Independent and Private Schools, that provide an overview of options. Some families utilize online resources such as Niche and Great Schools that use ratings and reviews to compare a set of identified characteristics for schools across the country.

As you research your options, it is important to identify your key requirements. Get clear on the school’s mission, core values, educational philosophy, curriculum, tuition, financial assistance, transportation, after-school program, and other logistics that impact your family.

3) Interact with schools

To truly know if the school community is a place where your child will thrive, you and your child need to experience it first hand. Schedule a campus tour, attend an open house, and participate in special events offered to prospective families. In addition to the formal presentations, take time to observe classroom instruction, talk with students and teachers, and spend time watching the informal communication that occurs within the community. As families interact with the school community directly, they can begin to envision their child’s experience and assess whether it aligns with their vision and goals.

4) Engage in the admission process

When you have determined which schools appear to be the best fit for your child, it is time to begin the admission process. Most private and independent schools have an admission process that begins in October/November and concludes in February/March. It is important to have a clear understanding of the timeline for completing the application and the different checklist items that are required by each school.

The admission process will typically include:

  • Application
  • Parent and student questionnaires
  • Transcripts or previous school progress reports
  • Teacher and administrator recommendations
  • Standardized test scores or admission assessment
  • School visit and interview

Families exploring private and independent school communities are encouraged to engage early in the research and admission process because it is comprehensive in nature and requires an investment of time and energy. The investment is well worth it and will position families to make the best possible decision for their child’s educational journey.

Payton Hobbs
Payton Hobbs

Head of Lower School

Payton Hobbs began her work in the field of education learning with the youngest students as a classroom teacher. She taught kindergarten and first and second grades at both public and private schools. As Mrs. Hobbs’ career progressed, she wanted to expand her impact with learners of all ages and transitioned into leadership positions that included director of curriculum and instruction, assistant head of Lower School, associate director of admission, and head of Lower School. Prior to joining the LJCDS community, Mrs. Hobbs was the head of Lower School at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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