Choosing an Independent School

by Molly Dorais

Choosing a school for your child is a big decision.

It’s where they will spend the majority of their waking day, where they will make their friends, and where they will develop the foundations for life long learning. Ask anyone about how to approach this decision and they will tell you to “do what is best for your child.” That too can be a difficult question to answer.

As the mom of three young children myself, I recently found myself all wound up by the choices available for my kids entering elementary school. Kindergarten is a big decision, right? Elementary school is where they will build the foundations for their education. It’s where they will learn to either love school and learning, or not. How will I know if it’s the right size, peer group, academic challenge, etc.? I believe “small” is good (small school, small classes, etc.), but how small is too small? Will our kids learn the social skills we want them to develop in a class of the same 12-18 kids for nine years? Should we be investing at this stage, and consider spending almost $20,000 on kindergarten, and put off saving for college? Are we overthinking all of this? Maybe. But, not all kids learn the same way or thrive in the same learning environment. Don’t we owe it to them to at least explore the choices? The best advice I can offer any parent considering educational options for their child, be it elementary school, middle school or high school, is to do your research.

Exploring an independent school for your child should be a consideration because of the wide variety of options and personalized learning these schools offer. These schools are a financial investment, but they also have resources available – built into their budgets every year – to help support families with tuition.

Independent schools are just that: independent. A Board of Trustees, not a public school board, governs them and they are primarily supported by tuition payments, charitable contributions, and endowment revenue. Independent schools have the freedom to design and deliver curriculum that meet the child’s needs without state mandates on curriculum, testing, etc.

While almost all independent schools are unique and different, there is much they share in common.

So, what is it that makes independent schools special?*

Mission driven education – whether it’s single-sex or co-ed, boarding or day, traditional or progressive, each school is driven by it’s own philosophy, values and approach to teaching.
High academic standards – independent schools nurture academic curiosity, personal growth, critical thinking, and a love of learning.
Small classes – independent schools offer smaller class sizes than public schools, which allows for more personalized attention for students. Developing a relationship with a teacher can be the one thing that engages a child in their learning.
Excellent teaching – instructors typically teach in their area of expertise and strive to develop an understanding of each students learning style, interests, and motivation.
Community – because families drawn to a specific independent school tend to have shared values, the sense of community is strong and is something all independent schools promote strongly.
Extracurricular programming – because independent schools are not subject to state tax cuts, extracurricular programs are robust. Independent schools value the education of the whole child – and that includes arts, athletics, service to others, leadership opportunities, etc.

According to research by an independent firm**, the most important school attribute indicated by a survey of over 6000 families for choosing an independent school was “personal attention given to students. “(“Access to faculty” and “small class size” where deemed very important.) Parents highly value that their child will be attended to and cared for in ways that are basically an extension of the family unit.

As the admission director at Colorado Rocky Mountain School for the last 10 years, I am so proud of how we take care of our students. We have an internal mission to take better care of our students than any other school and it drives all of the decisions we make. I hear often that families feel this when they tour our campus. The kids are happy and engaged and the teachers are genuinely enthused to share their craft. It’s infectious. It’s a feeling. And, after all of the research that you do, you are likely to make a decision based on gut feeling. And, while all of this choice can make the decision seem overwhelming at times, I, for one, am grateful that we have choice for our kids.

*National Association of Independent Schools, “The Independent School Advantage”
** Ian Symmonds & Associates, who conducted a survey of over 6000 independent school parents

To see if CRMS is the right choice for your family, we invite you to our Open House on November 8, 2016 at 9 am.

For more information and to RSVP email

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