Commitment to the community and an outstanding staff are two reasons why Wendy Jarchow was drawn to Lakewood Catholic Academy, where her children are entering fourth and fifth grades.
“The community at large is important, and for us it’s about how the school teaches students to be a good human, a good person and do what you can to give back to the community,” she says.
Selecting a school requires an understanding of your goals and your child’s needs along with asking administrators questions about how they can deliver what you expect.
“The best thing parents can do is communicate with the school,” says Patrick Straffen, vice president of advancement at Lakewood Catholic Academy. “Sometimes, I feel like there is a hesitation to ask questions because it seems like the admissions process is formal and you have to check the right boxes, but it’s really about establishing a relationship.”
At Lakewood Catholic Academy, parent ambassadors are available to answer questions from prospective families. Jarchow — now a parent ambassador herself — leaned on advice and feedback from Lakewood Catholic Academy parents when she was deciding which school to send her children.
“It’s important to get that feedback because you have so many school options,” she says.
With so many private schools in Northeast Ohio, trying to decide the school that’s best for you can be a daunting task. But, thanks to some tips from area school administrators, we’ve compiled a list that can help your school search process be as focused, seamless and successful as possible.
If you’re thinking about sending your toddler to pre-K, South Suburban Montessori School head of school Amy Mackie-Barr suggests starting the process a year in advance.
“If you are thinking of starting a child in school at age three in the fall, you want to start thinking the September or October before that,” she says. “A lot of preschool programs fill up quickly and by February or March they’re usually enrolling and doing admissions.”
One of the best resources to utilize when considering schools are “shadow days,” where families visit the school while the day is in session to get a feel for the experience.
“It’s about feel,” Straffen says. “When you go to visit, does your child feel welcome? Is it a place they could call home for however long they will be there? Is it a place where your family can make a commitment?”
Do your homework
While schools’ websites share insight about the mission, vision, curriculum and staff, most school’s social media pages do a better job of painting a picture of student life.
“Social media can show what is happening in the classrooms, on athletic fields, in service settings and religious settings,” Straffen says. “It’s more of a real-time picture of a school’s culture.”
While parental reviews are a resource to consider, keep in mind that every family’s expectation and experiences are different. Consider asking for referrals or even reaching out to families involved in the school who can share why they chose it, how they navigated admissions, what they appreciate about the school and how they think the school could improve. Even better, pick up the phone or send an email to an admissions officer.
“Get information directly from the school,” says Emma Maloney, director of admissions at Lake Catholic High School.
When calling about the high school level, Maloney suggests finding out whether the school has a “block” schedule along with inquiring about extracurriculars.
“If there is something you want your child to do in high school, specifically ask if it is offered,” she says.
Beyond gathering foundational information, area administrators also recommend researching the school’s sense of community. “Sometimes, families will have a laser focus on certain aspects of a school, but it’s important to look at it from a whole-school perspective,” Straffen says. “For example, if you’re not asking about opportunities for service or spiritual formation, if the school is faith-based, you could miss out on the spectrum of what a school can offer your family.”
Once you figure out which school is best for your children, being organized with the necessary paperwork can make everyone’s life easier. The paperwork aspect of admissions is a smoother process when families understand deadlines and necessary forms.
“On the back end, it’s easier when parents submit all the paperwork together, so we don’t have to track down this form or that application,” Mackie-Barr says. “Take time to understand what each school needs for enrollment, the timelines and deadlines.”
While there are several aspects of private school admissions that are the same regardless of your child’s age, families looking to enroll a child in pre-K are looking for different things compared to a family looking at private high schools.
“[The] primary years are focused on really letting the kids be kids and meeting them where they are and making sure a foundation is set in a strong way so when they move on to middle school, they are ready to hit the ground running,” Straffen says.
For the toddler and pre-K range, developmental learning should be on the forefront.
“Preschool is the foundation for everything that is to come later, so you want to help develop independence, concentration and soft skills you need to be successful,” Mackie-Barr says. “Preschool is an opportunity for children to socialize, but there is so much more developmentally.”
For middle school, the main focus should be on preparing your child for high school.
“We focus on literature and math, making sure kids are prepared to advocate for themselves and to be more independent,” Straffen says. “We want our kids to be prepared academically, socially, spiritually and emotionally when they move on to high school.”
Once your child gets to high school, you should ask schools about topics such as college prep, courses offered, opportunities to explore special interests and how the school is preparing students for college and beyond.
“Open yourself up to different possibilities and remember that it’s not about ‘the best school’ or getting sucked into the bells and whistles,” says Mackie-Barr. “It’s about finding the right fit for each child based on their personality, strengths and the parents’ goals.”