BACK-to-SCHOOL SPECIAL REPORT
With all the choices out there, picking the right school can be tough for parents.
The San Antonio area contains more than 1,000 public, private and charter facilities – 493 private and 598 public and charter sites, according to www.sachartermoms.com.
Not too long ago, the decision about where to send your student remained relatively easy. With no charter academies and very few magnet schools available, parents picked from neighborhood public schools, private/independent campuses or parochial institutions.
However, today the process can be confusing and difficult.
The Rev. Scott Brown, headmaster at TMI – The Episcopal School of Texas, agrees.
“Parents have so many options these days it can complicate the decision-making,” Brown said.
“Look for a school that cherishes and challenges your child,” Brown said.
He added, “It is so important to tour the schools parents are considering. Educate yourself on what’s out there. It is a very hard decision. So, parents and their youngsters must do more than read fact sheets and visit websites. You and your kids need hands-on (experience).”
Lisa Harthan’s son graduated from TMI in 2017. Her two other children now attend the far North Side private institution.
“For us, things that we considered before choosing a school were location, class size and curriculum,” Harthan said. “Plus, the feel on campus was important to us.”
Education experts say San Antonians’ options are as unique and different as the students who enroll. While searching may be time-consuming, parents have to select the one best tailored for their families including location, cost, level of involvement, curriculum, teacher expertise, classroom size and the intangibles — will it be a good match for all concerned?
KNOW YOUR SCHOOLS
- Charter: Public institutions of choice with open enrollment, operating with some freedoms from regulations imposed on conventional municipal campuses, but still accountable for academic standards and honoring promises made in charters. Usually started by parents, educators, community groups and for-profit companies, they get tax dollars, can accept private funding, and don’t charge tuition. They don’t receive school-board scrutiny and often have specialized programs. Some public school systems have in-district charter schools.
- Independent: Academies usually not reliant on the government nor taxpayers for financial support; more often funded by tuition, donations and the investment yield of an endowment. Overseen by an elected board of governors, not part of any outside authority; self-sufficiency is the objective.
- Magnet: Campuses within a public school district offering specialized or tailored instruction not found elsewhere — medical, technical, theater and the arts — and open to students systemwide.
- Parochial: Academies sponsored or related to the church, often owned and operated by Catholic parishes and Protestant denominations; Hebrew schools also fall under this heading. The curriculum includes daily religious instruction and prayer. Teachers can be clergy or laypersons not trained as educators.
- Private: Institutions run on tuition payments and funds from nonpublic sources including religious organizations, endowments, grants and donations. Students usually apply for admission; campuses can be single-sex or coed.
- Public: Tax-supported facilities organized into a school district and overseen by an elected board. Enrollment is open to all, usually within established attendance zones. The majority of students in the U.S. attend these places of learning.
Three children of Bexar County Court 10 Judge Karen Crouch and her husband, Gerald Flores, attended St. George Episcopal School through eighth grade. Then, a decision for high school loomed.
“We ended up at Antonian College Preparatory High School as a result of our oldest son, Gerald, looking for a school with a superior running program,” Crouch said.
She added, “We felt Antonian fit our needs. If the school does not fit the child, the child will not thrive.”
Dana Bashara, the new superintendent at Alamo Heights Independent School District, echoed her comments.
“It is critical that the school you choose for your children is a good fit for them. Not every school – public or private – will be the best fit,” Bashara said.
As leader of a district receiving high marks from Niche.com and U.S. News & World Report, Bashara said public institutions offer great opportunities for pupils to excel.
“Our students reflect the makeup of the public at large, which is so important for students to experience,” she said.
Dr. Michael Ozer and his wife, Pat Kalmans, chose Keystone School, an independent academy with kindergarten through 12th grade, for their two sons because of its college-preparatory program. At the time, charter and magnet schools practically didn’t exist.
Kalmans, who serves on Keystone’s board, offered some advice for those wrestling with making a decision.
“People think there is only one choice and they think if they don’t make the perfect choice, the kids will be scarred for life,” she said. “The reality is, parents often are choosing between three or four choices, and their children will probably do well anyplace they go. Some parents spend way too much time worrying.”
A major factor toward reaching an answer about school choice is cost.
Tuition at parochial schools is often much less than at other private ones, averaging less than $10,400 annually, according to national online figures. Meantime, tax-supported public facilities charge no tuition; the same is generally true for charter schools with an admission process.
Some internet links to help parents make the school-choice decision for their families.