Q: What were you looking for in a private school?
A: Location was part of it. The other main factors were cost, school philosophy, and feel.
Q: Why were you looking for a private instead of a public school?
A: We had a bit of a sense that we could frontload their education. Maybe they don’t always have to be in private school, but if we help develop the right study skills, and the basics, to read and write well, and know their math well, then they could be better prepared for the public school system.
Q: How did you research private schools?
A: We looked at school websites, and created a shortlist of schools to visit. We prepared lists of questions for each of the schools we visited. We met with principals and asked them questions. Evelyn, our older child, also visited the schools we seriously considered for her.
We also met with students at some schools. They talked about their day-to-day experience: what projects they’re working on, their extracurricular activities, etc. Since this was at an open house, they were probably trying to show the best aspects of the school. That said, we did feel they were being honest.
Q: What kind of school did you select for Evelyn?
A: Evelyn is a smart girl, but she’s not always self-driven. We just felt like she would get lost in a classroom of 30 to 35 kids, where everybody is coming in at different levels. We found a school for her that was academic, with a focused curriculum and smaller class sizes. We did have reservations about it, especially its intensity for the Grade 3 level, but overall it seemed like the right fit.
Q: How did you arrive at this choice?
A: We weren’t quite sold after my husband and I visited the school. It was Evelyn’s visit that cinched it. She had a three-hour visit and sat in on a class. She also met separately with the principal, who, along with a teacher, assessed Evelyn’s academic skills. They gave us a report on these and outlined an academic plan for her. They were very thorough. Evelyn also felt like it was a good match. She said, “Everybody was so well behaved and working so hard. It was a really peaceful and nice place to be.”
Q: Did any other factors play a major role in your decision?
A: When you have multiple children you’re trying to find the best fit in many ways, for your whole family. You can’t have one child at one end of the city and another child at the other end. We’re in two schools right now, but they’re two blocks away, so it’s manageable.
Q: How is Evelyn’s school working out?
A: It’s been a good fit for Evelyn and for the family. But I suspect that if I started looking again, it’s possible I might find something better for her, knowing her better now too. The school that’s the best fit for your child is probably not a permanent answer.
Q: Do you have any advice for parents?
A: Identify the deal breakers: a school has to tick your necessary boxes first. For example, living in downtown Toronto, we couldn’t send either of our kids to a school in Etobicoke: it would just be too long a commute.
Also, go to open houses. That’s your first contact, your first way to get a feel for the school. Then go for smaller visits, meet with teachers, principals, and others. Talk to parents. Just gather as much information as you can. But don’t cast your net too widely, as you can get overwhelmed.
Child-specific advice on school choice
For child-specific insights on choosing a school, read our guide. We explore how school choices crucially depend on kids' unique traits, such as their mental and academic focus, social tendencies, activity level, academic interests (such as art and STEM), and other attributes (such as giftedness, special needs, learning disabilities, and social issues).
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Read the rest of our parent interviews on choosing a school: Jennifer Reynolds, Lisa McCabe, Felix Wong, Caitlin O’Leary, Karim and Shafreen, Catherine Wang, Holly Wykes, Nicole Morell, Shanti, Shemin Jaffer, Zoe Mitchell, Kim Bridgeman, Sabine Kussman