Families in the Bay Area have a lot of choices when it comes to picking the right school for their children. With an abundance of high-quality public and independent schools, it can be difficult to immediately know the right fit for their needs, especially when children are very young. In the Admissions office, we get lots of questions about what makes independent schools special and how a family can decide if PBS is the right fit for them. So where to start? Let’s begin with the basics…
WHAT IS AN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL?
An independent school is a type of private school – any school that is not run or funded by the government. Private schools fall under a big umbrella that also includes for-profit schools and those operated by a parent organization like a church. What sets an independent school apart is that it is run by a board of trustees or governors that operate separately from any other entity. The vast majority are run as 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations. PBS is an independent school, governed by between 12 and 20 trustees that form the board and reflect diversity consistent with the mission of our school. You can get to know them here!
WHAT ARE THE KEY CHARACTERISTICS OF AN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL?
Independent schools have the freedom and flexibility to build their curriculum and program and to experiment with educational approaches without a ton of bureaucratic intervention. During my previous time as a teacher at PBS, What I loved most was the ability to draw from multiple curricula and to use my own experience along with the PBS teaching philosophy to make educational programs distinctively our own. My colleagues and I know that this approach best serves the students right in front of us. This flexibility – combined with high academic standards – allows independent schools to develop students’ critical thinking skills through project- and inquiry-based learning. In elementary education in particular, independent schools are able to make child-centered decisions on the overall design of the learning experience.
Independent schools tend to be smaller which creates an environment for students, parents, and faculty to build strong, nurturing relationships. There is more opportunity for teachers to get to know students on an individual level, and help develop personalized goals alongside them. Independent schools allow parents to have a voice in the school and promote active engagement. The partnership and sharing of knowledge between home and school creates space for students to be known and to thrive.
TEACHER SUPPORT AND EMPOWERMENT
Because independent schools allow for more autonomy and flexibility in the classroom, they give teachers ownership of their spaces and provide leadership opportunities and avenues to share their expertise.
When asked why they chose to work in an independent school, one teacher responded, “I love the freedom and empowerment. I have worked in a variety of schools and find that independent schools tend to have a philosophy of teacher choice and curricular freedom to explore new directions.” Another responded, “I like to have influence and impact on curriculum, and I have confidence that my teaching strategies are aligned with best practices”. PBS offers its faculty summer curriculum “deep dive” seminars, along with year-round opportunities for professional development, to ensure teaching methods are based in current best-practice, and that faculty members’ own ambitions within the teaching space can thrive.
Independent schools draw parents who are committed to a particular school’s values and mission. When teachers, administrators, and parents are aligned in this way, there is a strong foundation for partnership and community. This – combined with the smaller class sizes – means people get to know each other well and build deep, lasting friendships. One of the things I have valued most in my time at PBS is the lifelong friendships my family has built with other families and the number of adults who know my children well – from the faculty and staff to the other parents. PBS has a strong ethos of community fun and connections outside the classroom- and when health and safety allows, families can participate in everything from volunteer chaperone opportunities to fall family carnivals to parent- and child-centered parties.
MISSION AND CORE VALUES
Most independent schools have a defined philosophy, mission and core values, and they tailor their curriculum and delivery to align. Independent schools are therefore able to make decisions grounded in their mission. The PBS core values are: Kindness, Community, Courage, and Love of Learning. PBS faculty and staff live by these values in all aspects of their teaching life, and are committed to instilling them in their young students, forming the basis of life’s interactions and decisions in years to come. At PBS, we keep these core pieces of identity close to us at all times, and we remind each other of these promises often.
WHICH SCHOOL IS RIGHT FOR ME?
We’ve just taken a look at the general characteristics of independent schools. How well a school follows through and how committed they are to these may vary, and a big part of finding the right school is finding one where the mission, values, community, and academic approach align with what is important for your family. As I shared in an earlier blog post – Finding the right school for your child – families that research schools and use the process to discover what their family values and desires for their child’s educational journey tend to have the best outcomes. At the end of the day, the partnership between you and your school will determine how the journey goes, so take some time to learn about your options to find one that supports and complements your family’s values.