The Titan Talk blog gives the faculty and staff at St. Timothy's School a chance to post relevant information to our community. Feel free to leave comments or questions for our bloggers!
Why Choose a Private/Independent School?
From time to time, I'm asked to speak about the benefits of attending private or independent schools. Below are the three key points that I normally share... but first, two acknowledgements:
We support our public schools, too; the strength of our community and local economy is dependent upon their success. The Wake County Public School System has many talented, dedicated, hard-working teachers, leaders, and students who are our friends, neighbors, and family.
What is the difference between "independent" schools and "private" schools? Independent schools are non-public schools governed by an independent board of trustees. Private schools refers to non-public schools who might have some wider variations in their governing structure (including those governed by religious institutions and nonprofit or for-profit corporations).
Here are what I consider to be three benefits of a private/independent school education:
1. Autonomy, Predictability, Stability
Any parent who wants to better understand the rationale for a particular curriculum choice or policy, or to help improve/shape any policy, can simply come in and talk to the teacher or an administrator—there are no “higher ups in the system” or bureaucratic complexities that factor in. The private/independent school head of school has total operational authority for every aspect of student life, teaching and learning, admission, hiring, and school culture. This also means that private/independent schools experience little-to-no impact from partisan election shifts, policy debates, or state curriculum changes. Private/independent schools are remarkably stable places; a parent enrolling their child in first grade can reliably and comfortably predict the education they’ll experience many years later.
The Wake County Public School System is the largest in the state, the fifteenth largest in the country, and among the fastest growing. The public school population has tripled since 1980 and is expected to increase by 9,000 students by 2020 (http://www.wcpss.net/domain/100). Responding to this growth requires constant new construction, reliance on voters approving new bonds, regularly revisiting student assignment and busing protocols, and temporary classroom space. Private/independent schools fully control their own “growth destiny”, carefully maintaining school sizes to ensure that each student will always be individually known and cared for, without concern for reassignment, elections, lotteries, overcrowding, redistricting, or busing.
2. Teaching Excellence
One of the hallmarks of any private/independent school is its diverse and outstanding community of teachers. Every private/independent school is small enough to determine on its own what constitutes the “best teacher”- there is no need for a one-size-fits-all teacher qualification requirement. St. Timothy’s classes are taught by—among others—a former UNC professor, a former attorney, a successful entrepreneur, a professional musician, an off-Broadway actress, and a West Point graduate. Our head of school is a two-time valedictorian with a Georgetown graduate degree whose AP Government class was once named by College Board as the top in the nation... who discovered the private/independent school world when he was told he “lacked the proper credentials” to teach in public schools.
In a private/independent school, teachers have great autonomy, flexibility, and opportunities for creativity and innovation. They get to design special projects and whole classes according to their (and students’) interests and passions. Each school sets clear curriculum benchmarks and assessments to measure student growth, and uses nationally normed testing to ensure students compare favorably with their peers across the country. However, there is not an over-reliance on testing—teachers are not under pressure to “teach to the test.” This draws some of the most talented and creative educators to private/independent schools.
3. Transparency and Accountability
There are a number of high-quality regional and national agencies that accredit private/independent schools. Every five years, St. Timothy’s receives dual accreditation from AdvancED (the same body that accredits most colleges and universities) and the Southern Association of Independent Schools. Accreditation requires that a school meets key benchmarks for governance, legal compliance, financial oversight, and transparency. Most private/independent schools administer one annual standardized test (ERB CTP IV, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the Stanford Achievement Test) that compares each student’s performance with all students nationally to ensure appropriate skill acquisition and growth. Finally, because private/independent schools receive no taxpayer support, there is clear and unambiguous accountability to the tuition-paying parents—who must always remain certain of the school’s benefits in order to justify the financial sacrifices every family makes to pay tuition.
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