What all parents should ask before sending their children to a private school

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As you begin to look around for the perfect private school for your child, attend open houses to learn about a school and get to know the staff.

“An open house should explain what the school has to offer that is unique,” said Loring Strudwick, dean of admission at Lake Forest Academy in Lake Forest.

Strudwick and Rosalie Musiala, principal at Evanston’s Pope John XXIII School, suggest parents should be asking about the following topics when visiting potential schools.

Academics

“It is important that the academics be strong and the materials used are engaging to children and developmentally appropriate especially when considering the early childhood years PreK to 1st grade,” Musiala said. “Ask about the school’s philosophy of learning and their beliefs about how a child becomes a reader.”

For students entering high school, Strudwick said to find out if they need to take an entrance exam, as well as if the school offers different tracks and advanced courses.

Learning Resources

Ask how the school addresses gifted and advanced students and, on the flip side, how it supports students that are struggling, especially in reading and math, Musiala said. Additionally, Strudwick said to find out if the school has a learning resource center and provides additional academic help for students.

Grades and Test Scores

Find out how often students will receive grades, Strudwick said. Musiala recommended also asking about standardized test scores — what grades are tested and how the scores are used.

Fine Arts

Ask about arts requirements and what art courses and clubs are offered, Strudwick said. Does the school have theater and musical performances throughout the year? Are they are open to the public? Musiala said that fine arts offerings should include music, art, dance, performance, singing and playing instruments.

Foreign Language

“We live in a global community, and we must educate the future citizens to be global citizens,” Musiala said. “Knowledge of a second language will be necessary in the future of the next generation.”

Ask what languages are offered and if there are opportunities for studying abroad, according to Strudwick.

Character building

“Building positive character traits is important for now so children are happy and safe,” Musiala said. “It is important for their life success in the future. The climate of the school is valuable to notice. Anti-bullying programs and moral development should be conscientiously taught not just as a one-week unit or a one-time speaker.”

“Too often schools expect the character building to be done at home or at boys scouts, etc.,” Strudwick said. “Schools should have a clear direction and program to teach ethics.”

Extracurricular offerings

“Extracurricular programs are key if students are going to feel engaged and valued at the school for things other than just academics,” Strudwick said.

Ask about sports offerings and requirements, along with whether teams make cuts and if parents need to pay extra for sports or sports uniforms, she continued. Also, find out if community service opportunities are required or offered.

Discipline

Parents should ask about the school’s discipline system, Strudwick said. Ask to see the list of rules. How is discipline decided and by whom?

“The goal of any program should be to develop self-disciplined students who follow rules as a matter of daily routine,” Musiala explained. “Fairness and order are important to children; they provide security and safety. Consequences should be fair and fit the behavior so the behavior will improve, not just be a punishment. Good discipline and order allow the teachers to be efficient and let the lesson be effective. Precious academic learning time is enhanced with good discipline and order.”

Other important topics that should be discussed during an open house include the school’s dress code, homework policy, advisors and counselors available to students, and whether or not financial aid is available. Both Strudwick and Musiala agree that parents should have time to ask questions during any open house.