October 1, 2008

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An Educated Decision

Making the Grade in Private Education

Linda T. Kennedy

October 1, 2008

With about 122 private schools open and operating in Utah (non-treatment and non-correctional facilities), the variety of programs available for the private education of your child is so extensive that local, comprehensive rankings comparing one private school to another are rare. Private schools don’t use public funding and are not required to report their statistics to the State Office of Education. Also, some private schools are affiliated with associations that expect their schools to withhold from participating in rankings, such as the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). The Sutherland Institute, though, a conservative, non-profit, state-based public policy group, makes a yearly effort to rank Utah’s public and private schools by academic and environment excellence. “You kind of have to look at it as if you would rather have no information and go off what the school is telling you or do you want as much information as possible to make an educated choice?” says Lisa Montgomery, assistant to the president at The Sutherland Institute. Montgomery, who compiles the institute’s rankings called “Schools At A Glance” (www.sutherlandinstitute.org), says about 40 percent of Utah’s private schools participate in their annual surveys. A questions link on the site explains some details about the rankings, such as what they’re based on. If a school doesn’t participate, the institute attempts to gather information other ways, such as from the school’s Website. But experts from some of Utah’s largest private schools say rankings are not the key criteria you should consider when determining which private school to select for your child. “We don’t participate in any rankings because we adhere to the NAIS position which says that the best school is the one that uniquely meets the needs of each particular child,” says Todd Winters, director at The Waterford School, an independent school in Sandy, adding that in admission interviews, school officials try to learn whether the school’s mission is compatible with the family’s educational goals. Private school’s offerings vary greatly depending on whether they are independent, parochial or non-sectarian. Sister Catherine Kamphaus, CSC Superintendent of Catholic Schools at the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City says students enroll in their parochial schools largely for their association with the Catholic faith, but says their surveys also report high academic programs, safe environments and diverse student bodies attracting students. Natalie Six, a teacher and secretary at the Layton Christian Academy (LCA), a preK-12 school in Davis County, also says many choose the school for its faith-based curriculum, but also for the diverse environment. “LCA has one of the most diverse student populations in the state, partly due to its proximity to Hill AFB,” says Six. “We attract students from many different ethnic backgrounds, including many foreign exchange students.” Some families are attracted to Realms of Inquiry, a non-sectarian school, for its small student body, says Jochen Schmidt, director of operations. “We have a tight knit community where people know each other well,” he says. “The head of the school makes it a point to know each child by name and his or her circumstances.” At Utah’s oldest independent college preparatory school, Rowland Hall — St. Marks, Susan Koles, director of marketing and publications, says many people don’t know that in addition to the faculty determined curriculum, the school has a strong athletics program. “We won Deseret News 2A Sports School of the Year last year with five state championships,” she says. Although Sutherland ranks schools in numerical order, Montgomery says the rankings are intended as a guide to help parents learn about schools, not an answer to the question about which of Utah’s schools are the best. “Speak with the school’s administrations and parent organizations before making a decision,” she says. Finally, many private school administrators agree that the best private school is the one that meets its students particular needs. “We’ve tried to find out why [parents enroll children in their schools] and there’s so many reasons and if you look at one individual person [their choice] really depends on who their child is,” says Kamphaus. “I think I would look at your child and ask yourself what they need most, then find the school that will meet that need.” Quick Notes Utah Business learned some interesting facts during our tutorial on private schools — take a peek at our notebook: Tuition “Private schools’ tuitions in Utah range between $1,650 to $52,500 per year per student.” - The Sutherland Institute. Many private schools offer discounts with particular payment options and tuition assistance based on need. Private School R.O.I. “A recent graduate attended LCA (Layton Christian Academy) since preschool, paying roughly $45,000 for his education. He received over $150,000 in scholarships, including four years full tuition at five Utah universities.” - Natalie Six, teacher and secretary, Layton Christian Academy “Two-thirds of Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s graduating classes are offered some form of merit-based scholarship.” - Susan Koles, director of marketing and publications, Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s School Myths “[It’s a myth] that class sizes in private schools are always smaller than public schools. A couple of our schools are under 20 because of low enrollment in their area…but some have 25, 28, 32.” - Sister Catherine Kamphaus, CSC Superintendent of Catholic Schools Diocese of Salt Lake City “Some parents believe a private school will solve all their student’s problems and if they pay for it, they’ll have greater say in how their student is educated.” - Jochen Schmidt, director of operations, Realms of Inquiry
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