When my family decided to move back to the New York area after almost ten years in San Francisco, one of the first decisions we made was to not live in the city itself. One of the many reasons was that the pre-school admissions scrum was not something in which we wanted to participate. So we set our sights on the suburbs, with the strength of the public school system as one of our top criteria (along with ease of commuting and affordability of housing). As my son began his final year of pre-school, I found myself facing a decision I hadn’t expected: public or private?
My son attended the same (private) pre-school from two-and-a-half years old until five years old. He loved the Montessori method and had flourished in that environment. We had every intention of sending him through the public school system but with budget cutbacks and growing enrollment, the shrinking kindergarten program was becoming less and less of a viable option. How did we decide what to do for our son? Here are the main questions that we considered:
How strong are the school’s teachers, administration and the parent community?
Are the teachers engaging, adaptive and supportive? Does the administration communicate freely, respond appropriately to voiced concerns and support the teachers? Are the parents involved in the school and positive/constructive about their experiences? What special needs, if any, does my child have and is the school prepared to support those?
How well will the school engage my child?
What kind of environment will best suit my child to keep him focused and interested? How long is the school day? How many transitions are made each day? Does the program diversify the day’s activities with special session such as music, Spanish and gym?
How easily does my child adapt to new people and environments? Will he be one of many new children to his class or the only one? How will being in the minority as a “new kid” affect my child? How might these social challenges affect my child’s progress in other areas of his education?
What are the logistics of the program and how well do they suit my child and my family?
If my child requires a full day of activity, can he get that in one place? Will he need to physically move to another program for the other half of the day? Can my child successfully make transitions or will they be disruptive for him? Will I be required to drive him from one program to another? How will this timing impact the rest of the family’s schedule (especially if there is a little one that still naps)?
How much is this going to cost me?
What is the annual tuition cost and can we afford it? What additional costs should we expect? How will this cost be compounded as younger children come of age for private school? (This not an issue when debating public vs. private for a single year of kindergarten but is very relevant when considering longer tenures such as high school.)In our situation, the public kindergarten program had been whittled down to less than two-and-a-half hours with no “specials” (music, tech, gym). With the public program, in order for my very energetic son to get the full-day experience that I knew he needed, he would need to enroll in a “wrap-around” program at another school. That meant getting to know another set of children, another group of teachers and another physical space, which seemed like a lot to ask of my very shy boy. In the end, we opted to continue to send my son to his current school for his kindergarten year and then into the public school starting with the first grade. It turns out that he will not be alone among the neighborhood children. So I took comfort knowing that he will not be the only new kid when he finally gets to the public school in first grade and that he will have friends from his pre-school and the neighborhood to help ease that transition.But that’s just our decision. I recognized that there is no right or wrong in the great public school vs private school debate, only what’s right for me and my family. And I also knew that this was a question we will continue to revisit as our children get older and are facing transitions into middle school and high school. But we’ll face those as we did this one, assessing our children’s (ever-changing) personalities and trying to find the best fit for their educational needs.