Families in the Bay Area have a lot of choices when it comes to picking the right school for their children. Michelle and I get lots of questions about what makes independent schools special and how they can decide if PBS is the right fit for their family. Let’s begin with the basics…
What is an independent school?
For starters, an independent school is a type of private school – any school that is not run or funded by the government. Private schools are a big umbrella that also includes for-profit schools and schools operated by a parent organization like a church. What sets an independent school apart is that they are run by board of trustees or governors that operates separately from any other entity. The vast majority are run as 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations.
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. What I loved about being in the classroom at PBS was the ability to draw from multiple curricula and to use my own experience and the PBS teaching philosophy to make something distinctively our own, that best served the students right in front of me. 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, schools are able to make child-centered decisions on what to and how to deliver program and instruction.
Small Class Sizes
Independent schools tend to have lower student to teacher ratios. There is more of an opportunity for teachers to get to know students and help develop personalized goals with them. Children are able to develop stronger bonds with the adults in their learning environments.
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”
Independent schools draw parents who are committed to that 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.
Mission and Core Values
Most independent schools have a defined philosophy, mission and core values, and they tailor their curriculum and delivery to align with them. They are able to make decisions grounded in their mission. 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?
These are 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 own family. As I shared in an earlier blog post – Finding the right school for your child – families who research schools and use the process to discover what your family values and wants for your child’s educational journey tend to have the best outcomes. The partnership between you and the school at the end of the day will determine how the journey goes, so take some time to learn about the options out there and find one that supports and complements your family’s values.