This is an article that I wrote for Bink's newspaper, North Texas Kids. It appeared in the November 2007 edition.
Having spent more than thirty years in private school education, both as a teacher and administrator, I know all too well the dilemma that parents face when they begin the process of selecting THE school for their child. I had one parent call me from the hospital delivery room to inquire about the process for placing his newborn on our school's waiting list! Now, that is an extreme case, but it is illustrative of the pressures parents are under.
On the other hand, I could never understand why some parents would not flinch at the prospect of spending $40,000 to $50,000 annually at an Ivy League university but go through excruciating agony while contemplating a $5,000 tuition investment in their local parochial school. It would seem to be self-evident that the child's early formation is the most critical.
Since my whole career was at the primary and secondary level, I know there is great wisdom in Robert Fulghum's premise that everything he ever needed to know, he learned in kindergarten. And so before a parent wonders if little Johnny can make it at MIT, he needs to evaluate little Johnny's possible prospects at the local Montesorri.
Selecting the correct school for your child is not an easy matter, but can be most successful if two things are evaluated and developed beforehand:
1. What are the values of the parent?
2. What are the abilities of the student?
Now these seem to be too obvious to be profound, but the honest answers to these two questions will go a long way in assuring a good choice for the student. As to values, do I want a religious or secular environment? Is community status or the schooling of the parent coloring the choice? What about the financial component and possible budgetary sacrifices? For what period of time can I commit? PreK through 12th grade? Perhaps just early formation?
Measuring and assessing the ability and capacity of the child is the toughest of all and demands the most candid appraisal. Psychological evaluation is helpful and most every private school does some preliminary evaluation to measure the social and intellectual potential of a candidate. But frequently a parent does not want to hear the truth. As my daughter once told me, 'de-nile ain't only a river in Egypt.' To be completely fair to the child, the best scholastic environment is at the confluence of the two rivers of Parent Values and Student Abilities.
In the Dallas metropolitan area there are private schools to meet the needs of most every child. Parents need to perform 'due diligence' in their search for the ones that meet the criteria they have developed. This involves site visits, review of curricula, interviews with faculty who would be teaching the student, or perhaps even contact with existing parents.
While not an infallible guide, I always could tell a great deal about a school by walking across the campus and strolling the halls. (With approval, of course) Each one has its own uniqueness, ambience and ethos. Such variety is among the 'charms' of private schools compared to the oft-times unfortunate uniformity of government institutions. I realize that a school is much more than bricks and mortar but one can learn a great deal by paying close attention to the use, management and condition of its physical plant and grounds.
However, after selecting what one has hoped to be THE best choice, the ongoing evaluation should not cease. Nothing is more unfortunate for the child than to have an unsuccessful school experience, and yet be forced to remain due to parental pressure. Even the best professional football team has to 'drop-back and punt.' Keep searching until the right fit is found. Your child will be happier and so will you.
But in the final analysis, it must be realized that the school is meant only to reinforce the healthy social, intellectual and ethical formation that begins in the home. The Latin root for the word 'education' means to bring forth what is within. The school only polishes the marble that has been carefully chiseled by the parent artisans. It is unreasonable to expect otherwise. Parents are and must always remain the first teachers...the best teachers.
By-line: Gordon is a retired school administrator. After choosing THE right school for each of his eight children, he is quite the 'expert.' He often writes about these and other experiences in his blog, www.dad2eight.blogspot.com