Making a private decision

Making a private decision

Parents must do homework when choosing private schools
by Kathryn Christ

The crowd quiets as Blake Butterworth takes a shot. Then the room erupts in wild cheering as the ball sinks into the basket and St. Johns scores two points.

Later, as Blake, an eighth-grader, leaves the locker room, he’s beaming from ear to ear. Surrounded by his family, it’s clear Blake is happy with his place at school.

A few months ago, Blake was the new kid on the block and in the classroom. Today, he is at home at St. Johns Country Day School.

For Mark and Jane Butterworth, the satisfaction of providing Blake and their daughter, Brooke, a fourth-grader, with a quality education made the research into private schools worth the effort.

“I was recently transferred to Jacksonville from Atlanta. For my wife and me, the quality of education was absolutely paramount,” Mark Butterworth said. “We also wanted our children in an atmosphere similar to what they experienced in Atlanta. We were looking for a college-preparatory school that provides individual attention, offers smaller class sizes and is focused on the teacher-student relationship.”

Initial research

To begin their search for a quality school, the Butterworths started by talking to their Realtor.

Agents who intimately know their sales area are great sources of information. They may provide lists of public and private schools, including contact information.

Some Realtors may be able to provide further information such as class size, student enrollment, standardized test scores and more.

“Most people today are very concerned about schools. If they have kids, quality of education is the most important issue,” said Susan Kennedy, a Realtor and relocation specialist with Susan Kennedy and the Kennedy Team.

“I help out new families by encouraging them to contact schools and ask questions of people nearby. We also hand out copies of the education guide,” Kennedy said.

Published by Clements Publishing Co., the “Northeast Florida Education Guide” provides information on private and public schools within the seven-county area.

“The guide provides all types of contact information as well as the percentage of kids who are college-bound, the number of [advanced placement] classes available, teacher/student ratios and more,” said Mike Clements, owner of Clements Publishing.

Standardized test scores, college admittance rates and SAT scores are the top criteria for most parents in selecting a school.

The quality of academics is generally judged on the students’ achievements. Students who are accepted at top colleges and who consistently score higher than the national average on standardized tests reflect positively on a school’s reputation.

It’s also important for students to have the opportunity to take advanced placement classes and participate in athletics and extracurricular activities. Larger schools may offer a wider range of class choices, while smaller schools may provide more opportunities for athletic and extracurricular activities.

At the elementary level, accelerated placement allows exceptional students to be academically challenged while remaining with students of the same age group. “Our first-grader excelled academically and we were able to accelerate him to a higher level of reading while keeping him in the same grade with his peers,” said Delores Chow, mother of a first-grader and kindergartener.

Parents look outside the classroom as well.

“We were looking for a school that promoted a sense of community,” Mark Butterworth said.

In a well-rounded school, students not only study together, they play sports, participate in extracurricular activities and socialize. This extended sense of community builds confident, poised students.

Ethnic diversity can be a critical factor, as well.

“As my children are of Chinese descent, it is important to me that they are in an environment that values diversity,” Chow said. “I want them to feel comfortable at school.”

Visits to the school and individual classrooms give parents an opportunity to observe interactions among students and among teachers, administrators and students.

“Orderly classrooms and a disciplined environment are important to us,” said Pete Bernard, father of fifth- and sixth-graders. Students who learn organization, discipline and other good study habits are likely to excel in their day-to-day learning environment.