Picking a private school

By: Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D.
Comparing private schools is challenging because each institution offers unique programs in a unique environment. One may present a specialized science curriculum geared toward a future in engineering, while another focuses on developing cooperation and compassion through active community service. The comparisons parents must make are apples-to-oranges at best.

Faced with so much detailed information about so many exciting opportunities, it’s hard to stay focused on the end goal: finding the best educational option for your student. Approach the school-selection process with this three-step strategy to make sure your kids’ needs come first.
Step 1: Assess your Values
Start your school-selection process at home. “Ask yourself what you expect of a school and what you expect of your child, in terms of attitude, behavior, motivation and achievement,” says educational psychologist Jennifer Little, Ph.D., founder of Parents Teach Kids. You may want a school that has high cultural or ethnic diversity, or whose students and staff have religious values similar to those of your family. Clarifying your values will help you put schools’ marketing materials in context.

Acknowledge practical matters as well. Determine how far you’re willing to drive and how much tuition you can afford. Be honest with yourself about the level of involvement you will have in your child’s school. Many private schools require parents to volunteer a specified number of hours. Create a personal checklist of your requirements and limitations so you don’t overlook important factors.
Step 2: Seek Info
For each potential school, collect information on curriculum, student-teacher ratio and academic outcomes. Study data that show how students scored on placement tests for math, English and foreign languages, and pay particular attention to how many students graduate and what schools they attend next. Also, pay attention to accreditation. The National Association of Independent Schools and similar state associations require member schools to uphold rigorous standards and to undergo periodic review. This makes school officials accountable to other educators who are in touch with national standards and teaching trends.
Examine course descriptions, materials and teacher preparation to evaluate the quality of a school’s curriculum. Also, ask about choice. You want your child to have a firm foundation in primary subjects and a choice among interesting electives. Kids are motivated to learn when they can pursue subjects they select. Learn about the availability of special programs that interest your child, such as language immersion or music instruction.
Visit schools on your short list to evaluate the academic workload and environment. Ask students how much homework they do each night and attend classes to see how teachers affect learning. Do they use readings, lectures or group discussion? Do students do projects, community service or internships at local businesses or universities? A school’s instructional strategy should match up with its educational objectives and your child’s learning style, Little says. Highly competitive classes can undermine learning for some students. Others might be frustrated by a collaborative approach.           
Keep in mind a school is more than its academic programs. It is a community of learners. Observe social dynamics among students and ask how teachers encourage cooperation and manage behavior problems. Kids can’t learn when they’re struggling with classroom chaos or feel left out of exclusive cliques.
Look at how adults are involved in the school. A strong parent-teacher association ensures that ideas and information flow both ways. Involvement from alumni suggests a strong sense of pride in the institution. Find out how long teachers have been at the school and whether they receive regular professional development. High turnover may reflect bad management. It can also create a poor climate for learning.
Step 3: Focus on Fit
“Ideally, you want to match the school to the learner,” says Faya Hoffman, founder of the Washington, DC, learning concierge service, My Learning Springboard. “A school with a phenomenal reputation may not be the right fit for your child.” Be honest about whether an institution’s approach fits with your student’s interests and temperament.
If your child has an Individualized Educational Plan due to learning (or other) disabilities, find out what services are available to meet his needs. Smaller schools may not have fulltime staff to provide speech or occupational therapy or counseling services. Speak directly with staff members who provide services your child needs, so you understand how your child will get help. Knowing what to expect sets everyone up for success.
Although it may be inconvenient, Hoffman says siblings may need different educational approaches – and different schools – to learn and thrive. Focus on each student as an individual to make the best educational decisions for your family.    


Mercy High School
Mercy High School empowers young women to achieve their full potential in a diverse, supportive and academic-centered community. A Mercy girl is smart, compassionate, confident and gets things done.

Mercy is a school where everyone is welcome regardless of what neighborhood is called home. Students come from every Omaha zip code, an array of financial backgrounds, reflect the city’s ethnicity. They are accepted here and find a place to belong.

With a faculty to student ratio of 13 to 1, our college-prep curriculum and educational plans are differentiated to ensure each student’s success. This rigorous curriculum has ensured that our graduates succeed in college and receive millions in scholarship support. Simultaneously, our innovative course work integrates knowledge with critical thinking and practical skill development.

Mercy also teaches so much more than academics. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, the school’s faith-centered educational approach means that students understand their responsibility to give back—that regardless of their chosen profession, they can and will make a difference in the world.

The school is also the optimum size, giving our young women opportunities to express themselves in a variety of leadership, academic, artistic, athletic and spiritual experiences not found in large schools. We also believe that a quality education should be available to any girl who desires it—so we provide tuition assistance based on each family’s unique needs and income. In fact, we provide more assistance per student than any other high school in Omaha.

Find out more at Mercyhigh.org.

Phoenix Academy

Our Mission.
The Phoenix Academy educates and inspires students with learning differences to realize their full academic potential and become successful in school and in life.  Since 1991 we have offered a different approach for children who struggle to read.  By using a phonics-based method, we have found that even students with significant challenges can become confident readers.   This program has impacted students and families who have often exhausted every educational option.

A Unique K-8 School
The Phoenix Academy is a unique private K-8 school that serves students from all over the metro area and bordering small towns in Nebraska and Iowa.  Our curriculum focuses on Language Arts and Math, and builds a strong foundation for academic success. Phoenix Academy’s small student to teacher ratio allows for the individual attention and progress tracking that our students need and deserve.  Each year, families see their children transform as feelings of self-defeat blossom into confidence and enthusiasm for learning.   Most students spend two years on average at Phoenix Academy.

Admissions at Phoenix Academy
The best time to address a learning challenge is now. If you’re concerned about your child’s progress in reading or math, please don’t delay in getting them the help they need. Phoenix Academy has limited openings for the 2017–2018 school year.  To schedule a tour or to see if our program is right for your child, please call our Director, Nancy Liebermann at 402-390-0556

For more about our curriculum, and what parents have to say, visit us at phoenixacademyomaha.org