Keeping It Private

Is Private School Right For Your Child? Here Are Some Keys To Success

If you’re considering a private school for your child, you want to make sure he or she can succeed. Read on for advice from administrators about helping your child reach his or her potential. Hint: your involvement is not limited to paying the tuition bill.

Parental Involvement 

Parents are usually expected to be involved beyond, “What homework do you have tonight?” At the StoneBridge School in Chesapeake for example, parents need to sign on to the school’s mission and commit to being active participants in their children’s education, says Kristen Cooper, director of advancement.

“The most important thing is it will take 100 percent of parents’ involvement in students’ education at Stonebridge,” Cooper says, emphasizing she was speaking specifically for StoneBridge and not for all private schools. “We do not offer babysitting. We believe parents are the first educators, and we consider it a privilege to partner with parents in the education of their precious child.”

Engaged Students

Yes, parents should be involved, but students also must be engaged and committed, headmasters say. (So back away from the helicopter.)

A student should be able to advocate for himself, interact well with adults who aren’t his parents and manage his or her time, says Peter Mertz, headmaster at Hampton Roads Academy in Newport News.

“The child has to come to the table to work,” says Susan Oweis, head of school at Providence Classical School in Williamsburg. Teachers at Providence bend over backwards to help students, especially those transferring in at higher grades, Oweis says. But, the burden is on students to learn. “We believe the teacher should not do for the child what the child could do for himself or herself.”

Teachers work hard to help build a love of learning. “We want children to love learning,” Oweis says. “Once children start learning, they love it.” The same is true at StoneBridge. “Our goal is that children will desire to learn on their own,” Cooper says.

Good Grades 

At many private schools, the academic bar is high. Likely, your child will have to pass an entrance exam to get in. If a child doesn’t get in, it’s probably because school leaders don’t want the student to fail. “This summer, I had to turn down eight students, because academically it would have been a real struggle for them,” Oweis says. “We don’t want a child struggling like that.”

Once accepted, the school will expect good grades and a strong work ethic. For example, at Providence Classical, a student who was failing two classes and not doing homework would lead to cause for concern and perhaps being asked to leave, Oweis says. “We do consider there’s more to the story,” she notes. “If he’s failing a class because he’s struggling with test taking, but has done all his homework,” teachers and administrators take that into account.

Not Just Good Grades—

Learning to Think

Private school administrators take pride in the fact that they aren’t driven by standardized test scores. “We want children to think things through and make wise decisions,” Oweis says.

“We are about teaching children to think—not just about taking a test and coming up with an answer. This is the result of not teaching to a test.”


With smaller class sizes, private schools are better able to foster relationships among teachers and students. “These teachers are so invested in the child and the parent,” Oweis says. (Oweis taught public school in Williamsburg-James City County for 17 years, served as an administrator in York County for 4 ½ years and served on the board of Williamsburg Christian Academy for nine years.)

“I was with some great teachers in public schools. But because of class sizes, the opportunity for relationships with students wasn’t what I see in private school. You don’t make relationships when you have 42 students in a class. Because private schools are smaller, the relationships are deeper. In children, the depth of learning once the relationship is built is phenomenal.”