Parent interview on choosing a private school: Karim and Shafreen

Karim and Shafreen share insights about choosing a school for their son

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Karim and Shafreen were looking for an academic preschool for their son, aged three. They visited four schools and made a pretty quick decision after that.

We asked them several questions about this process. We covered topics such their goals, research methods used, challenges faced, and plans for the future. Here’s what they had to say.

If you’re interested, read the rest of our parent interviews on choosing a school. You can also read our comprehensive education expert advice guides on choosing a school and getting into a school

Q: When did you first think to send your kid to a private school?
A: Our son was in daycare when he was a year old, and it was a fun, play-based environment. We had friends, however, who told us that they thought their kid’s optimal learning started at around 18 months to two years, so we knew we wanted make a transition to a preschool by the time he was 2.  

Q: What were your expectations of private school?
A: We wanted an academically-based environment to begin learning, writing, etc. 

Q: Were you trying to escape anything in public schools? What were you looking to get in a private school? 
A: We wanted a small pupil-to-teacher ratio; not just for preschool and JK but for when he enters elementary school. The ratio at the school we chose is 6 or 7 to 1. 

Q: Do you know when you “began” your search? How did you begin it?A: We started searching well before he was 2, we knew this was a critical time from talking to parents who had taken their kids out of daycare and put them into Montessori schools. 

Q: Was there anything you found annoying about the school-search process?
A: Some schools definitely do some fear-mongering around space; if you don’t sign up soon, you will be out of luck. We actually got onto the waitlist at our school of choice, and then space became available and we got in a month after the school year started.  

Q: Describe the family conversations you had about school choice.
A: We were both on the same page in knowing what we wanted for our son. 

Q: How many schools did you consider at first?
A: Four schools; which were all quite different. 

Q: How many schools did you apply to?
A: Two.

Q: How many schools were you accepted to?
A: We were initially accepted at one and waitlisted at the other.

Q: How many schools did you have on your final shortlist?
A: Only one, the one we ended up choosing

Q:When exactly did you know which school you would choose? Describe the process. Describe the reasoning. Was it a matter of reason or just a feeling?
A: I talked to friends and did research on the internet. I visited four schools for a half-day each; some of them twice. We were looking for academics first (reasoning), and in visiting and talking to the staff at our chosen school, my gut feeling was that this is what we truly wanted.  

Q: Did you or anyone in the family experience any doubts about your ability to choose the right school?
A: No.

Q: Who was involved in the decision-making process? Was anyone in particular driving the search? Describe how responsibility was divided.
A: We actually had a bit of a decision tree for answering questions and getting what we wanted. I would take time off from work to spend pretty much a full day at each of the four schools. My husband joined me on a couple of occasions.

Q: Did everyone with a say in the search agree on the parameters of the search?
A: We were both in agreement. We had our priorities and were able to stay the course.

Q: What were your sources of information when doing your search?
A: First, we talked to friends and then of course I used the internet. We got recommendations from friends with kids at two of the schools we considered. 

Q: What sources of info did you find most valuable during your search? Why do you think you found them so valuable?
A: All of the websites were good, you could get a good sense of what they were offering and whether the schools fit in well with what you were looking for. I kept calling people, mostly friends, who had their kids at these schools. 

Q: How did you prepare for the school visit?
A: I had a decision tree: what kind of programming was offered, what was their teaching philosophy, what was the daily routine. 

Q: What was your experience like on the school visits? What impressed or surprised you the most on your school visits?
A: From a campus standpoint, one school was by far the most impressive, they have a huge playing field, great classroom space, and even a good drop off and pick up area. However, they didn’t have an academic focus. Our school was almost the opposite: it had no playing field, was located in an office complex, but the staff and school philosophy were very much in line with what we were looking for. There were some intangible things about it as well, like the way the older students played with the younger students. 

Q: Do you have any advice for other parents about to visit schools?
A: Figure out what you want for your child, first. Plan ahead, there are a lot of options out there, but you have to research them extensively. Be persistent about getting answers to your questions.  

Q: Describe how you visited school: time of day, taking time off work, etc.
A: I had flexibility and was able to take time off work since I’m employed in a family business. My husband would leave early from work to visit the schools as well.

Q: Have you made other decisions in your life that you would compare to the choice of school or would you say this experience was unique?
A: This was a big choice; it really weighed on me. I felt a lot of internal pressure. Hard to internalize; I cried after a misunderstanding with one school because I was so upset. It was a big decision, like going to university, for instance. 

Q: Would you say this was an easy and seamless process, or was it a struggle?
A: It was a struggle, going back and forth to different schools and not quite finding what you want. There were a lot of options. We settled upon four schools to visit, but other options existed as well.

Q: Did you use any analytical techniques to weigh your options? Did you list pros and cons, etc? Did you write down your reflections?
A: We had a decision tree in terms of what we were looking for; we didn’t write down anything formal.

Q: To what extent were you trying to find the best school vs. the best fit for your child? 
A: Our son is quite young so we really were looking for the best fit for how he would develop in the future. We wanted him to be challenged and introduced to an academic environment.

Q: What, in your mind, are the keys to a good school?
A: Be clear on what you want. Some parents want a “big school” feel, others are longing for something that’s academic-based.  

Q: What did you learn about schools and choosing schools from the start to the end of your search process?
A: Understand the application process and if you really like something, you have to really lock it down as soon as you can.

Q: Has the school you chose met your expectations?
A: Absolutely; he seems quite far ahead of where kids his age are. He’s learning printing, writing. Every day there are progress reports.

Q: How many combined hours did you work on this (estimate)? 
A: Between talking with friends, planning with my husband, making school visits and research on the internet, I’d estimate between 60 and 80 hours.

Q: Did you try to find a school that would play to your child’s strengths or correct your child’s weaknesses? We were going on the advice of our friends to look early at various options. 
Nikhal is very young and so strengths and weaknesses are not that apparent, yet.

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 focussocial tendenciesactivity level, academic interests (such as art and STEM), and other attributes (such as giftednessspecial needslearning disabilities, and social issues).

To get school-choice advice customized to your child's unique traits, create a child profile through your user account and read our seven ways to choose a school based on your child's needs (i.e., overall fitmore academic challengesocial strugglesacademic strugglesintensive learning interestsuniversity preparation, and special needs.).

Read the rest of our parent interviews on choosing a school: Catherine MauleJennifer ReynoldsLisa McCabeCaitlin O’LearyCatherine WangHolly WykesShantiKim BridgemanFelix WongNicole MorellSabine KussmanZoe MitchellShemin Jaffer

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