I attended public elementary, junior high/middle, and high schools. So have my children.
I attended a large, public university for most of my college education.
I have worked for a public school system as a teacher and administrator for almost 25 years.
I have even served as an elected teacher’s union representative to local, state, and national assemblies.
…And my wife and I are sending our middle-school daughter to a private high school next fall.
This rising freshman is our family’s second high school student. Her sister, now heading into her junior year, attends the local public high school and is getting a quality education. To be honest, we briefly weighed the private school option 2+ years ago, but Big Sister was admitted to a rigorous program that seemed like a perfect match and through many successes and a normal bump in the road here and there she has never looked back.
But Younger Sister is her own girl, and she sees that her needs are also her own. (We all also had concerns about the general behavior of the other students in her grade, dating back to kindergarten–Hers was the class that teachers had always fretted about and that schools had conveniently decided not to take on traditional field trips–but that is another topic altogether.) So when we weighed options this time, private school was a much bigger consideration. At first, our 8th grader had zero interest in such a big change. But as she started to read brochures, visit websites, and reflect upon what she wanted in a high school and beyond, she decided private school just might be her path.
The big decision happened when she went on a shadow day at a particular school a few months back, attending classes with a current freshman. At the end of the day, she had an admissions interview, followed by our parent/student interview. On the way home–being a crafty parent–I had planned to ask a host of questions before cutting to the chase, but I never got the chance; her opening sentence of the conversation was “I want to go to THIS school.” Soon she was accepted, and now, with middle school behind her, she is registered there, working on summer reading, etc.–and once again it appears that there will be no looking back.
Uniforms? Single-sex? A daily, non-school-bus commute? Friends attending the local public high school? Wouldn’t these things bias a 13 year old AGAINST the private school option? Surprisingly, each of those issues turned out to be–in its own way–a positive. Other positives were clear from the start: smaller classes, a clear sense of school community, higher expectations for behavior, and even the opportunity to swim for the school (since our county’s schools offer swiming as a club instead of varsity sport). But in the end, that single shadow day offered my daugher what she needs most to thrive:
She felt safe. The students she met were friendly and happy to be there. And she could picture herself succeeding there.
Public or Private? Instead, our debate was about finding the best match for our member of the class of 2016, just as we think we did for our 2014 grad and as we will try to do in a few years for Mr. 2021.