The Advantages of Private School Education

How Independent Schools Stack Up Against Their Public Counterparts

by | Sep 21, 2018

Public school or private school? It’s a question that many parents have pondered, weighing the benefits of each to provide the best possible education for their children. If you’re on the fence about which way to go, here are some thoughts from area private schools on how their curriculums differ from those of public schools and why these differences may be beneficial.

Gloria Dei Lutheran School in Hampton provides a quality educational curriculum for children of all ages. They offer childcare before and after school, and they have programs for 2 year olds, preschool, prekindergarten, kindergarten, elementary grades (1st through 5th) and middle school grades (6th through 8th). They have been awarded a Gold Medal for “Best of 757” in the categories of Child Development Center and Private School four years in a row (2014–2017). In 2018, they were awarded Overall Gold for Child Development Center, Summer Camp and Private School.

Ocean View Christian Academy in Norfolk has a mission to equip students spiritually, intellectually and physically to love God, love people and make disciples. They are a private, faith-based school that is part of the ministry of Ocean View Church.

“One of the things I’ve noticed with a private school education is that we can offer our students a more creative education,” says Lauren Slenker, head of school. “We don’t have to abide by the strict guidelines set by the state, which can be really limiting to some students. We can offer more extensive and creative elective classes based on the students’ interests versus ‘Here’s what we have. Pick one.’ I think we also have a lot more flexibility in the techniques we use in the classroom. I feel like public education revolves around lectures and teaching to the test. We don’t have that. We aren’t required to do the end-of-grade testing here, so our lessons can be super creative, they can be hands-on and more focused on conversational teaching and whole brain learning as opposed to the ‘sit and get’ you might find in a public school setting.”

Ocean View Christian Academy’s class sizes are also much smaller, so they can give students more one-on-one learning, which helps keep students engaged. “I think the smaller classroom size, in conjunction with the curriculum we use, offers the teachers the ability to challenge students and push them more out of their comfort zones,” says Slenker. “Since the curriculum is a little more advanced than that of public schools, our students are challenged on a deeper level than they would be in a regular classroom.”

Norfolk Academy is an independent, co-educational day school in Norfolk. Chartered in 1728, it is the oldest private school in Virginia and the eighth oldest school in the United States.

“One of the differences between public and private school curriculums is certainly class size,” says Esther Diskin, director of communications. “As a result, the teachers know the students better and can really focus on teacher/student relationships. We talk a lot about the teacher/coach model here because most of our teachers, when the school day comes to a close, are out on the field coaching athletic teams or leading other extracurricular activities such as public speaking, drama, dance teams and more. Our teachers are working beyond the classroom to develop students and whole people. One of the things that we’ve found is that our teachers know students thoroughly, and they know their talents, attributes and the things they are passionate about. That creates a more enthusiastic, energetic student in the classroom.”

Another significant difference students will find at Norfolk Academy is their Honor System. “The Honor System is something we’ve had at Norfolk Academy since the 1950s,” says Diskin. “It creates a community of trust, which is where education unfolds. We don’t have locks on the student lockers, so the students have to trust each other not to meddle with their belongings. Students must also sign an Honor Pledge when they do assignments, stating that they have acted honorably in the completion of that assignment. So if it’s a collaborative project, that means they did their fair share of the work and that they did not plagiarize anything from their research, and it’s something that the students take very seriously. It’s pretty extraordinary.”

Norfolk Collegiate School received a Coastal Virginia Magazine “Best Of 2018” Gold Medal in the Best Private Schools on the Southside category. Their mission is to develop critical thinkers, doers and explorers through innovative and engaging instruction in an inclusive and supportive learning community.

“I think one of the biggest differences between public and private school systems is that independent schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia certainly have to maintain curriculum and have standards that the curriculum is meeting, but they are not necessarily geared to the SOLs and end-of-year SOL testing,” says Judy Davis, director of curriculum and instruction. “What that means for us is that we are keenly aware of the SOLs and what our student counterparts in the public school system are learning and at what level, but we also try to be plugged in to the best practices in each individual discipline. We stay in tune with the standards that are set by groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the groups for social studies, math and science. In setting our curricula and deciding how they will sequence vertically, we’re trying to craft something that makes sense for our students and our school’s mission.”

Smaller class sizes also provide students with more flexibility and a lot more voice from the teachers in shaping curriculum. “We have fewer layers of bureaucracy, which allows us be more nimble when we are responding to things as they are emerging on the educational landscape,” says Davis. “Some of the things that are happening today—like inquiry-based learning, project-based learning and technology integration—as a smaller school and smaller system, we can more easily train up faculty to integrate those more quickly in ways that make good sense and are keeping with our practices.”

Summit Christian Academy in Yorktown also received Coastal Virginia Magazine’s “Best Of 2018” Gold Medal but in the Best Private Schools on the Peninsula category. Their mission is to prepare students academically, socially and spiritually. They equip students to discern truth, articulate their faith and to serve others for the glory of Jesus Christ.

“Public schools are tied to the SOLs, so they are going to pretty much have to teach to the test and stick to that. There’s not much room for creativity or flexibility,” says Dana Tumminello, director of admissions and marketing. “For example, if a class is really excited about a certain part of a subject, in a private school you can go a little bit deeper into that subject. Public schools can’t. We’re not concerned with breadth as much as we are with depth. We feel it’s more important to know a fewer amount of subject well rather than a smattering of everything and just a tiny bit about it. When we show our students how to go deeper into some of these subjects, their curiosity is sparked to the point where they will start doing research on their own. It doesn’t mean they are one-dimensional in their thinking and knowledge. It means we’re building more critical thinking skills.”

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