The Blacktop Blog Posts

Why Go Private? The Benefits of an Independent School Education
Dr. Olaf Jorgenson
Parents have abundant educational choices in Silicon Valley, including private schools featuring different instructional philosophies, community cultures, and goals. They are also called “independent schools” because they don’t accept federal or state funding, and are mostly exempt from regulation that governs public schools. They are free to design their own missions, financial models, programs, and character.

Choosing an independent school depends on making sure the school’s mission, culture, and educational philosophy align with your own values as a parent. The mission is especially important; if the school’s mission resonates for you, the school may be a good fit, and if the mission doesn’t speak to your belief system, it’s likely not. Pay attention to the mission.
 
At Almaden Country Day School (ACDS), our mission is “to discover the gifts in every child,” and this commitment directs everything we do for our students. It is our promise to our families.
 
Independent schools are safe places, which is the top priority for parents and educators alike. Independent schools prioritize and invest in the physical and emotional safety of children; they hold high expectations for student conduct, focus on relationship building to minimize behavioral issues, and establish community norms that support safety, respect, and responsibility.
 
School size is a key variable in maintaining a safe learning environment. Because private schools tend to be small and intimate, teachers know their students very well and implement academic and behavioral interventions before problems grow unmanageable. Teachers involve parents early in the process to support children who struggle. The close relationships in private schools also help discourage the types of serious infractions that are more prevalent elsewhere. 
 
Campus security is a top priority for independent schools. At ACDS, we periodically enlist an external audit conducted by a professional school safety consultant to evaluate every aspect of campus safety and security to ensure we’re providing best-in-class practices and procedures. 
 
Closely following safety, parents are attracted to the small class sizes in most independent schools. Research supports the academic advantages of low student-to-teacher ratios, particularly for younger students. Independent school teachers enjoy building relationships with their students, and can optimize student time on task: in short, with fewer students, they spend less time dealing with problems and devote that time to teaching and learning. As a result, students in private schools have academic advantages and are much less likely to fall between the cracks should they struggle. This is the case at ACDS, where class sizes range from three to 25 students with a school-wide average of fewer than 10 students per teacher.
 
Independent schools also offer a wide selection of learning opportunities that balance and complement the academic subjects or “basics.” At ACDS, parents and children alike are drawn to enrichment courses ranging from art, music, and theater to our maker space, hands-on science and robotics, P.E., and foreign languages. Additionally, our middle school students choose from nearly 50 elective course options. Enriched academic experiences are a huge draw for private schools like ACDS and a big part of our value-added for parents.
 
Beyond the program, a school’s quality is defined by its faculty; master teachers flock to independent schools for their small class sizes, the ability to teach with few behavioral distractions, the close relationships teachers build with students, and the increased freedom they have to teach to their passions. At ACDS, 70% of our staff have advanced degrees; average teaching experience is nearly 15 years; average faculty tenure is over ten years; and our ten-year rolling teacher attrition averages less than 10%. Our faculty consists of loyal, creative, committed master teachers who find purpose and fulfillment in the motivated students, academic freedom, and the caring, joyful relationships that characterize the ACDS school community.
 
To this latter point, in addition to their missions, independent schools are largely defined by community identities that vary markedly from school to school. Parents at ACDS want to feel welcomed, engaged, and valued, and they seek a school where childhood is revered rather than accelerated. In turn, our community provides a caring, joyful, supportive environment for children. What’s more, parent involvement – from conferences to volunteering to social events and fundraising – is essential to a healthy private school community like ours.
 
Another important consideration for parents is the resources independent schools provide students and families – from technology, to extra help from teachers outside of class time, to learning support programs, to amenities for parents. For example, at ACDS: 
  • The Learning Support Coordinator assists teachers to meet the needs of students requiring more help or additional challenge

  • Our lunchtime Math Lab is staffed by teachers to provide coaching and tutorials

  • For parents with an early morning commute, we offer complimentary supervised morning care so they can drop their children and head to work

  • Every child in our elementary program participates every year in a full-length musical theater production

  • More than 70% of our 360 students participate in ACDS athletics

  • Our middle school Competitive Speech and Debate Team competes at high school tournaments

  • ACDS families gather on campus as a whole-school community several times each year to spend social time together in school-sponsored activities

  • Our program for children with language-based learning differences such as dyslexia, which we call “TLC,” is the only one of its kind in Northern California. 

Independent schools like ACDS provide children an array of after-school activities, sports, and clubs from which to choose as they explore their interests and aptitudes. 
 
Private schools deliver high school and college preparation as a part of their institutional purpose. While families at private schools represent diverse backgrounds and beliefs, they share the expectation that teachers prepare their children to thrive at the next level. While at ACDS we are committed to focusing on the journey, rather than outcomes, we’re proud that across the past decade more than 98% of our eighth graders who applied to private high schools were admitted, with 100% earning acceptances in each of the past two years. We see this as a byproduct of our goal of challenging, stimulating, and caring for every child, every day.
 
Finally, a mention about tuition. Independent school tuition represents a substantial investment and for many families, requires a considerable sacrifice. Most nonprofit private schools in Silicon Valley offer tuition assistance, granting awards based on a family’s demonstrated need with the aim of making a private school education attainable for as many children as possible. At ACDS, we devote more than $1M each year to help approximately 30% of our students attend.
 
Families living in Silicon Valley are fortunate to be able to select from strong public and charter schools, parochial and religious-based schools, and dozens of independent schools featuring an assortment of educational approaches. The collective advantages of a private school education – safety, small class size, enriched academics, talented teachers, abundant resources, community, extracurricular options and high academic expectations – are what compel some Silicon Valley parents to “go private.”  
 
 
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