What to Look for in a Private School

What to Look for in a Private School


If the public school assigned by your district seems inadequate, you may decide your young scholar would thrive better in a private school. How can you choose the best option for your family?

First off, don’t commit to anything before making a personal visit and observing a typical day firsthand. If at all possible, bring your prospective student along.


To help with both advance research and firsthand observations, here’s a checklist that covers most attributes of top schools.

  1. Do they provide a wide variety of curricula topics and extracurricular programs? Some schools “teach to the test,” emphasizing mastery of “standardized test” skills and neglecting everything else. Their students miss out on many valuable growth opportunities.
  2. Does the diversity of the student body reflect the diversity of the community? If not, students may not be learning to appreciate people from different backgrounds.
  3. Does the school demonstrate understanding of any special needs or interests your child has? A school can be excellent overall and still be a bad fit for your
  4. Does the school make genuine effort to keep prospective students from being barred for purely financial reasons? If they show signs of being in it for the money, look elsewhere.
  5. Have a high percentage of students gone on to higher education and other significant accomplishments? Ask to connect with some recent graduates.
  6. Is everything possible done to keep students safe and secure? This doesn’t just mean locking doors and having visitors sign in: in fact, if the school resembles an armed camp, it may do more harm than good. Find out how well school officials understand actual risks, how well they know neighbor businesses and residents, and whether personal-security training for students uses a confidence-based approach.
  7. Are students encouraged to seek out personal challenge in their work—to aim for the highest level of achievement and reach it by trial and error?
  8. Do students relate well to school staff and to each other? Do teachers and administrators respect students as individuals, and influence them to treat each other the same way?
  9. Does the school take a firm but non-stifling approach to discipline? Neither a totalitarian nor a laissez-faire environment bodes well for effective learning.
  10. Is there a high-energy, open-interaction atmosphere? A complete lack of bustle and chatter probably means the student body is either cowed or burnt out. You wouldn’t work in an office that mandated nonstop dutifulness; why wish that on your child?
  11. Do students have daily free time that includes opportunities for physical activity? The “workaholic” mindset has so permeated Western society that even small children are often deprived of recess. True productivity is at its best when balanced with exercise and unstructured time.
  12. Do teachers and administrators display innovation, commitment, dedication, respect, and patience? For other attributes to look for, read my “Top Qualities of Effective Teachers” series.


What does your child think of the school? So often, we parents see the decision as ours to make, and disregard input from the one who will actually have to live with it.

Remember, Shady Oak is also a private school. We hope you’ll consider us for your needs!