Considering a Private School
As a parent, you know your child’s strengths, shortcomings, and dreams. You are therefore in the best position to determine whether private school is appropriate for your child, and if so, which school will be best. Schools are available to suit your family’s values as well as your child’s learning style and interests.
A Florida Department of Education survey found that in the 2012-2013 school year, about 10 percent of Florida’s prekindergarten through twelfth-grade students were enrolled in private schools. Because private school attendance is a family choice, private schools see higher graduation rates than public schools.
Private schools in Florida must register with the state Department of Education, but they are not licensed. Although private schools are subject to inspection for health, safety, and building code compliance, the state does not regulate any academic elements of private school programs. Teacher certification is not required, and curriculum choices are entirely at the discretion of the school’s operator.
The Department of Education does not oversee private schools, but it does maintain a comprehensive database of private schools at http://floridaschoolchoice.org/Information/PrivateSchoolDirectory/. Starting on the following page, you’ll find a directory listing to over 130 private schools in Central Florida. To best understand the chart notations, see the Abbreviations Legend on page 98.
Private schools vary widely in size, from those with only a few students meeting in a home to those with large campuses and over 1,000 students. A private school may be for profit or nonprofit, and may or may not be affiliated with a religious group. Religious schools in Central Florida include such denominations as: Christian, Baptist, Catholic, Jewish, Seventh-day Adventist, Muslim and others. They may be nondenominational or can be a ministry of a denomination or an individual congregation.
Some schools adhere to a particular teaching philosophy, such as Montessori style, while others provide college preparation or serve students with special needs. Many schools offer a wide variety of sports, music, drama, and other extracurricular activities, along with academic enhancements such as exchange student programs and Advanced Placement courses.
Parents who homeschool may choose to register their student with a private school that acts as an umbrella school, providing guidance counseling and access to extracurricular activities normally unavailable to homeschool students.
Florida does not require private schools to be accredited. Nevertheless, most of the schools in our directory are accredited by a state, regional, or national agency that provides oversight. Over two dozen agencies accredit private schools in Florida. Visit the websites of the agencies that accredit the schools you are considering to learn how rigorous their application process is and what it covers.
Accreditation benefits schools and students by ensuring teacher quality and holding pupils to high academic standards. Membership in an accrediting organization can also smooth students’ transition to higher education.
The accreditation process can be lengthy, often taking years to complete. Procedures vary by agency, but generally the school must already have been in operation for at least two years before applying. Schools typically pay a fee to apply and undergo an evaluation and onsite inspection to determine whether they meet the agency’s requirements.
If sports competition is important to your child, choose a school with accreditation approved by the Florida High School Athletic Association. High schools must be properly accredited in order to compete in the state championships for 32 sports, including football, soccer, basketball, baseball, and track and field. The association’s list of approved agencies is at http://fhsaa.org/departments/ membership/accrediting-agencies.
Private schools are not required to use standardized tests like the FSA. For many parents, this is one of the attractions of private schools, as the efficacy of standardized testing is the subject of much debate among educators. Nevertheless, many private schools choose some form of testing for student evaluation. These tests may include the Stanford Achievement Test, the Preliminary Scholastic Achievement Test, or the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test. The directory listings show which schools offer testing and which tests they use.
Costs and Scholarships
Tuition costs range widely, from a few hundred dollars at small religious schools to thousands of dollars at some larger schools. Many schools offer scholarships or other forms of financial aid. The directory listings show the tuition for each school and the financial aid and or scholarships available.
Visit the School and Ask Questions
Once you’ve narrowed down your choice of schools using the directory, plan an onsite visit and interview the school’s staff. In addition to a well kept facility and accommodating staff, you want to ensure that the school has the ability to meet your student’s needs and is a good fit for your family’s values. Some schools offer visitation opportunities for potential students to attend for a day or partial day so they may better observe the school culture.
Things to look into include the school’s curricula, its educational philosophy, and whether its teachers have flexibility to address different learning styles, for example, whether hands-on activities are available for students who learn best kinesthetically.
Also inquire about extracurricular programs that are important to you, such as sports, activity clubs, or after school tutoring. Check to see if the school has a well-stocked media center with access to computers. Some local schools provide electronic devices or require the use of a specific electronic device and accompanying software as part of their operating procedures.
Consider whether it’s important to you that the school follow the same calendar as your local school district. Look at the school’s calendar to see whether the holidays that are important to your family are also school holidays.
The U.S. Department of Education offers a free guide for parents, Choosing a School for Your Child, which can be found at http://.ed.gov/ parents/schools/find/choose/index. html.
Using the information found in the Private School Directory will help you narrow your search from the wide variety of local private school offerings. Schedule a personal visit and tour with the admissions director to get the most information possible. By doing your research with due diligence, you can identify the private schools that will best fit your family’s values, meet the unique needs of your child, and be most likely to achieve your educational objectives.