School Guide Magazine

Triangle Private Education

Posted June 6, 2007 2:00 p.m. EDT

Without question, the public school systems of Wake, Durham, Orange and surrounding counties offer students excellent educational, athletic and extracurricular programs. However, in step with the national trend, a growing number of parents throughout the area are making the decision to send their children to private educational institutions for primary and secondary studies. For those who choose this option, the Triangle area offers a wide array of outstanding opportunities.

“Clearly, families have many options when choosing a school for their child—both public and private,” says Ed Costello, headmaster of Durham Academy. “There are many wonderful public schools in our area. But, independent schools like Durham Academy do offer something different.”

One of the primary differences Costello cites is the smaller class sizes offered in the private school setting. The resulting benefit is a lower teacher-to-student ratio, which allows teachers to spend more one-on-one time with their pupils and to place more focus on creative lesson planning. “At Durham Academy, we have a strong emphasis on helping students to become good thinkers and writers—and our teachers have time to spend fostering discussions and grading lengthy papers and essays,” explains Costello. “That is not a luxury that teachers have when they are responsible for 150 students, as they might be at a large public high school.”

Margaret Mills, marketing director for Raleigh’s Ravenscroft School, shares a similar philosophy. “We believe that all children perform best in an environment with small classes and individualized attention,” she says. “Ravenscroft School offers that environment to its students. We believe that children, regardless of their interests or talents, can realize their goals and develop to their fullest potential when they are learning in a small environment with a broad curriculum.”
Private primary and secondary educational opportunities abound in the Triangle. So, the hard part isn’t finding them. It’s deciding which of these excellent institutions will be the best fit for your child. Costello advises parents to begin their search by “talking as a family and determining what your educational goals are for your child. Then, read schools’ mission statements, visit their websites. Every school has a different niche, and I believe there is a ‘right’ school out there for everyone.”

Mills agrees that determining the needs of your child should be the first step taken in choosing a private school. Additionally, she says “a parent should consider the academic reputation and curriculum offered by each school. Parents should ask about the mission and philosophy of the school, consider the experience of the faculty, the quality of the facilities and campus and the breadth of the entire program.” Mills also suggests that parents find out if the schools they are considering have “expertise in the area of interest or talent of their child—whether it is a particular subject, such as science or math, or a co-curricular area, such as music visual arts, or a sport. At the high school level, it is very important that a school offers support to its students through a strong advisory and College Counseling department.”

Visiting the schools your family is interested in is also a critical part of the selection process. “For children in younger grades (pre-K through sixth grade), I would ask to sit in on a class,” explains Costello. “Once you are in the classroom, watch the children. Are they actively engaged in learning? Is the environment comfortable or still and rigid? Finally, would you (the parents) be comfortable in the environment?”

The decision regarding whether to send your child to a private school can certainly be a difficult one to make. And, once that choice is made, the search for the “right” school presents yet another challenge. Costello offers the following bit of advice for parents and children who are preparing for or are in the midst of the selection process: “The right school is the school that is the best match for your family—philosophically and educationally.”