I’ve never tried to calculate an exact number but I know that, as an educator, I’ve been responsible for thousands of students during my career. And you know what’s most remarkable and wonderful to me about that? I still have memories of many of them, as well as of their parents. When the students come back to visit as adults—to check in and sometimes to ask advice—the intervening years never really seem that long.
I’d like to think that my experience overseeing several generations of students at a few noted city private schools helps me be a voice of experience and assurance to families whose children I’m responsible for now—in my position as the head of the Alexander Robertson School, an independent K-5 school with a small Pre-K, on the Upper West Side.
Though in a larger sense, it’s not only the families who are already in our school that I try to help. This fall and winter I’m likely to meet several hundred families looking for a school to send their child to next year. Naturally, I’m quite proud to tell prospective families about Alexander Robertson, but some of my most important advice is more general—more about identifying the kinds of qualities that parents should be thinking about in evaluating any school. I’m always happy to share because we all—parents and educators alike—want the same thing: To make a great match.
No city has anywhere near the number of good private schools that New York does, and there’s actually quite a bit of variety among them. So one of the first things I like to emphasize to parents entering the private school admissions
process is to give yourself some allowance to be excited about this opportunity. As I see it, in searching for a good school, you’re honoring a basic human urge to provide for your child as best you can.
Schools are looking for families who will be positive parts of the school communities for years to come. They want parents who have done their research and really know what they want. Therefore, use this process as an opportunity to explore your preferences: What kind of educational philosophy do you like? How do you feel about single-sex schools vs. coed? What about the social tone of the school? Do you like uniforms? How important is student diversity? Most private schools have relatively small class sizes, but not all have the kinds of enrichment or extra-curricular activities you may want. For each particular school you need to ask yourself, all in, would you be excited about having a child at the school and be equally excited yourself about being part of that school community? Trust your instincts: If the answer is not a solid “yes,” that does not bode well.
Also, when you’re looking for a school for a child who is going into Kindergarten, try not to give much weight to that school’s college admissions record. The prestige factor is enticing, but also misleading. For children who are 4 years old, there’s not enough evidence yet to reliably predict what their learning style, interests, and challenges will be in higher grades. It’s better to choose a school based on whether you think your child will thrive there right now. Get the fit right now; and chances are your child will grow up as a confident learner who likes school, whatever path ultimately emerges.
Look at the school leaders and think, do you like what you see? Likewise, ask about the faculty. Do they have a good number of revered and experienced teachers in addition to passionate newcomers? Additionally, I always recommend that parents reach out to families whose children attend the school presently. If they seem like good, smart, and reliable people, their testimony is invaluable.
One last word for parents of siblings. While it is convenient to have your children at the same school, what might have been a great fit for the first child might not be as good a fit for the other. So be open to looking around.
There’s a lot more to say, of course, and I hope to be continuing this important conversation with some of you in person—especially if you like the sound of a small nurturing school with strong academics (including a wonderful STEM curriculum), and a true commitment to community, diversity, and personal ethics.
Best wishes to you and your child,
Head of School at the Alexander Robertson School
Parents interested in learning more about ARS, including its new Pre-K and expanding Kindergarten, should visit alexanderrobertson.org, or contact the admissions office at 212-663-2844 or email@example.com.