Evaluating Schools - Public and Independent

Families relocating to the Seattle area with school age children are very fortunate, as Seattle is home to a large number of highly regarded and nationally ranked public and private schools.   Many of my clients relocating from outside of the United States have asked me to explain the differences and similarities between the two models - Public and Private (Independent) Schools. 

PUBLIC SCHOOL- is State and Federally funded and follows all teaching and testing guidelines supervised by the School district and State Education Board. With funding dependent on the government, public school resources are always at risk of being cut and map to general state and federal budget cuts. Budget cuts may affect your child’s class size, the teacher/student ratio, as well as curricular or extra-curricular programs in the arts, music and sports. There is no cost to attend public schools from Grade 1 - 12.  There is a monthly cost for full-day Kindergarten and no cost for 1/2 day Kindergarten (3 hr program). 

Many schools with an active parent volunteer base (PTA) are able to fundraise and provide additional opportunities for students and teachers.  Fundraising may consist of holding an auction, cash based giving campaign, walk-a-thon and book sales to subsidize the school's budget. 

Public schools most frequently are neighborhood schools and I am able to work along side your real estate agent to make sure your desired school falls within your housing boundaries. Housing not employment boundaries will determine the public school your child attends. Due to the growth in the Seattle area, many public schools are overcrowded and class sizes range from 22-32 students. 

Most public schools will have a mix of academic ability. In the United States, schools are required to meet the needs of all students and make the proper accommodations, as needed. Assistance programs offered at no cost to families for qualified students may include speech, occupational and physical therapy and English as a second language training.   

Seattle area public schools also are required to offer gifted and talented programs.  Students must meet qualifying scores across a series of test for reading, math and cognitive skills. Public schools that serve gifted and talented students are limited to a few schools per district and all testing in managed by the school district. 

In the United States separation of church and state does not allow public schools to teach religion. As of now, public schools do not require a uniform, most districts provide bus transportation to/from school at no cost and serve a hot lunch daily at a minimal cost.   

PRIVATE/INDEPENDENT SCHOOL - Most private/independent schools are not-for-profit and receive no funding from the State. These schools rely on tuition and school specific fundraising efforts including an annual auction and giving campaign to cover the cost of education and facilities management. 

Most private schools will require entrance testing and an extensive application for admittance. The majority of private schools only allow admittance at the beginning of the school year (early September) with a very few exceptions for mid-year enrollment.  The application process begins with tours and admission testing in the Fall prior to the admittance year - i.e.:  Fall 2015 testing and application for Fall 2016 entrance. Acceptance announcement is communicated in the Spring with a nonrefundable deposit to hold your student's spot due within a few week timeframe.    

Private schools are located across the Puget Sound area and require families to provide their own transportation either by driving, carpool or paid bus service.  Uniforms are not common in the majority of private schools and tend to only be required in a few faith based schools. Private schools may teach religion and have discretion about how to celebrate religious traditions and culture awareness.   Private schools are not required to offer special education support and schools that offer support for learning differences increase the tuition by an average of 40% for that student.   

Many of your child's extracurricular activities will take place at the school and, unlike your neighborhood public school, friends will come from all over the Seattle area.  Many private schools offer a richer selection of "the extras" including sports, arts, theater, technology/maker spaces and music programs. 

Student to teacher ratios tend to be significantly smaller than public schools with size ranging from 12-18 students per subject period.  Not all private schools offer AP certified courses in high school, but even without official AP classes, the students have the ability to sit for the AP exams and obtain credit. 

Tuition will vary from $8000 to over $30,000 per year depending on the school and child's grade level.  Most independent high schools in Seattle area are $30,000 per year -  servinggrades 9-12. Financial aid is available from each school for a limited number of qualified families.  Faith based schools with parish sponsors (i.e. Catholic) tend to have tuition prices at approximately half of non-faith based schools. 

My services streamline the school search process and help you find the right fit for your family, housing area and budget. 

Public school overcrowding - Portable classroom debate

With the Seattle area continuing to grow and the economy strong, every school district within a commutable distance of the employment corridor is facing overcrowding.  While a strong economy is a positive, the increased population with school age children is putting a strain on existing facilities and the school property footprint.  School districts continue to look at ways to fund new school construction projects and accurately predict enrollment trends.

It is important when evaluating a school district and individual schools within the district to understand their growth plan, restraints and new construction plans. 

With overcrowding, the standard fix and the least expensive solution, is to add portable classrooms.  Portable classrooms are stand alone temporary units that add 1 usable classroom space to the school.  In most cases, a school needs to add several portables to accommodate student growth.  These portables sit on school property and in most cases occupy space that was used for a playground or sporting field.  Historically, they are inexpensive to construct,  unattractive, dark, poor air circulation and not well insulated. 

Just one of many schools in the Seattle area, Laurelhurst Elementary School has continued to see excessive growth for their K-5th grade school.  Many of the houses in this upscale neighborhood that borders Lake Washington and the University of Washington campus, have recently been purchased by young families. 

Laurelhurst Elementary School already has the smallest playground with the highest lot coverage percentage of any NE Seattle elementary school.  Over neighborhood and parent objections, The Seattle School District just added an additional portable for the 2015-16 school year, reducing the playground again.  The district has no plan in place to address the overcrowding and stated their is no money in the budget for construction or redesign of the school.  This is not unique to Laurelhurst and many public elementary schools in Seattle are operating classrooms in portables with parent groups lobbying for a long term solution to address the district's growth.

On the east side of Lake Washington, The Lake Washington School District, a high-performing public school district serving Kirkland, Redmond, and Sammamish, just opened 13 new green portable classrooms (SAGE) for the 2015-16 school year.  The rooms’ designs provide four times more natural light, fresh air and 150 percent more air circulation than traditional portable classrooms.  Even with parents and students preferring school building contained classrooms, the SAGE portables address many of the negatives associated with portable classrooms, but still reduce the school ground footprint.

The new SAGE classrooms will help accommodate the district’s growing student population, which increased by more than 10 percent in the past five years.  “We are bursting at the seams,” Lake Washington Director of Student Services Forrest Miller said. “The greatest need is a place for students to learn. And we want students to have spaces they can learn well in.”

The SAGE classrooms take a third less time to build than a standard portable classroom. The exact price of each room varies, but a SAGE classroom, on average, costs about twice as much as a standard portable.  The district invested in these newly designed greener portables, as they acknowledged these will be used longer term and offer a better classroom experience verses the standard portables. 

Overcrowding and the lack of school space is not unique to the Seattle area.  Many school districts in California are facing the same issues and continue to lobby for the school districts to address the growth with a long term plan verses spending money on a temporary fix. 


Back to school time advice

I just sent my children off to their first day of school, after the summer break, and I am now ready to tackle all those projects on my to-do list.  The relaxing summer season is over and it is time to get back to schedules, alarm clocks, homework, earlier bedtimes and packing lunches. The Washington Post article, linked below, is a great reminder of all the things we should and shouldn't do to help everyone in the family have a great school year - students and parents alike.  By helping less and helping smarter, I should be able to have time for all those "to-dos"!


The Importance of Non Academic Skills

An excellent read (or listen) from NPR (National Public Radio) on the importance of non-academic skills for students and the current "name game" debate.  I have heard many terms for these "skills" and one in recent favor seems to be referring to this key area as executive skills


Learning through Play

When we began looking for preschools for our two daughters twelve years ago, my husband and I didn't take our search too seriously.  And, to be honest, I was looking at preschool as a way for me to have a few hours of time away from our twin toddlers to recharge.

I wish the New York Times article linked to below had existed back then, as the author does an excellent job articulating the importance of early child education and play. 

I now tour preschools on a regular basis for and with my clients and continue to be impressed with the strength of these programs and the committed teachers and support staff.  I find that more and more schools are incorporating play-based learning into their curriculum, whether it is a small at-home program or in a larger school setting.


Outdoor Preschool Comes To Seattle

I have yet to assist a family with outdoor preschool, but find the concept very interesting and look forward to following this "new to Seattle" development.  Check out the link below for an NPR story on the concept. 

I have a good friend that was an American expat in Norway and one of the things that caught her off guard was the amount of time her preschool children spent outside - rain, shine, snow or wind. Being outside was a big part of their preschool day and they quickly adjusted to bundling up to eat their lunch in the wooded area on school grounds - snow or no snow. To say the least, she didn't join them for lunch too often!  Kids adjust quickly - parents, it seems, sometimes take a little longer. 


I also thought it worth sharing this recent article from "The Seattle Times" about an outdoor preschool program setting up at the Seattle Arboretum - June 15, 2015






A nine year olds' account as a reluctant expat in Hong Kong

The young author of a recent Wall Street Journal article (link below) shows us what an international move looks like through the eyes of an elementary school age child.  As parents, our plates are full with all the logistics of a move and it is easy to forget the little things that might seem like big things to your children - missing old friends, worrying about making new friends, limited knowledge of the new city or country, new food (I'd skip the durian, too) and saying goodbye to their bedroom and in many cases a lot more of their "stuff."   

I will always remember my daughter, Grace, making a poster-sized sign and taping it on her bedroom door the day our Seattle area house went on the market - "This house is not for sale - GO AWAY!"  I have come to understand that home is where we are as a family, and with five moves within the Seattle area and 2 in Asia under our belt in the past five years, I think my children now agree. 



Mon Petit Seattle - A Favorite Blog

I love the blog "Mon Petit Seattle" and follow it on Facebook and Instagram.  I have to admit that I am discovering so many new places in my hometown, Seattle, from the writer - a dual French-American citizen.  The author moved to the US as an expat from France 9 years ago and you can tell she loves living in Seattle.  She created her blog as a way to share her discoveries in the city and showcase it all through beautiful photography.

"Whenever I have spare time, I go out to discover the city, and there is always something to enjoy: a coffee shop in Capitol Hill, a luncheon in Pioneer Square, a museum exhibit, a bookstore in Ballard, or simply a beautiful viewpoint."