I appreciate the Get Schooled readers who helped AJC reporter Gracie Bonds Staples with her story on families who pull their children from public schools to enroll them in private middle school. Several of you called to say that you never saw the story so I am running it here.
Again, I appreciate the assistance on this and other stories as reporters on deadline often need to find “real” people fast. Increasingly, education writers are asking me to help find people off the blog, and I thank all those who come forward and respond to these requests.
Here is the story:
It used to be kids matriculated from one neighborhood public school to the next, until years later, they graduated and headed off to college.
Nowadays, in an effort to find the right learning environment to suit their children’s individual learning styles or ensure they reach their highest potential, parents are increasingly choosing a mix of public and private school.
That’s what Jim and Jill Burns decided to do when their daughter Samantha entered middle school and her grades started to plummet. So, too, did Mari Stilson of Atlanta, Bill and Nancy Boyk of Alpharetta, Dick and Linda Eydt of Buckhead and what seems to be a growing number of other metro Atlanta parents.
The trend in a lot of ways mirrors a changing educational landscape that gives families the power to choose the right learning environment for their children.
And while no one keeps numbers on how often this mix occurs, educators and parents agree it happens a lot, particularly in the middle school years when parents typically move from public elementary schools to private middle schools and sometimes back again.
Still, officials say, the vast majority of the 73,000 students enrolled in Georgia private schools come in the early years and remain there until they graduate. Only about 35 percent migrate in and out, some because of job transfers and family change and some because their public school didn’t meet parents’ expectations, said Jeff Jackson, executive director of the Georgia Independent School Association.
A handful of metro Atlanta private schools are reporting an increase in interest at the same time public school systems in Atlanta and DeKalb are facing accreditation issues and school systems in Cobb and Fulton are looking for new superintendents. February is when parents seeking to send a child to private school apply.
“It’s a different world than when our kids were in school, ” said Diane Starkovich, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “Today, parents do their homework. They check websites. They take time and are reflective about the school that will best meet their child’s needs.”
For increasing numbers of public school students, however, the reverse seems to be true.
Burns said that he and his wife, Jill, a former public school teacher, never thought they’d be sending their kids to private school.
“We’re big supporters of public education but thought private school would be the best option for our children, ” he said.
Like most parents, the couple made their decision based on the perceived needs of each of their two children.
Their son, Jake, has attended Pace Academy since starting middle school , while daughter Samantha attended Fulton County public schools until the middle of seventh grade, when they moved her from the neighborhood school in Alpharetta to the Atlanta Girls’ School.
The move was so important to the Burnses they sold their home and moved into a Buckhead apartment to be able to afford the combined $45,000 cost of tuition and expenses.
“Our kids are average to above average, ” Jim Burns, 43, said. “They always had all A’s in public school but we felt they would blend in going into middle school, drift and fall off the radar screen because the classes would be larger.”
He said that they also noticed Samantha’s grades dropping and she had become more interested in socializing, “impressing boys and being popular” than studying and applying herself.
“The same things still go on [in private school], he said. “The difference is because of the smaller number of students, teachers and administrators are able to see it and address it in a timely fashion.”
Instead of enrolling her daughter in a public middle school, Helen Ensign of Atlanta also opted for private school but made the switch back to the Atlanta Public Schools for high school.
“She was really frightened of middle school, ” Ensign said of her daughter, Willamae, who was recently accepted at Reed College. “It was so much larger than her elementary school and the two school visits her fifth grade made were both bad experiences for her.”
Ensign said the public school students booed Willamae and other visitors, but during her visit to the Friends School of Atlanta, students told her things they loved about their school and took her on a scavenger hunt.
“Our goal as parents in making this choice was to make sure our child got out of middle school with a secure sense of who she was, so that she could do well in high school and beyond, ” Ensign said.
Anastasia Gavalas, a mother of five and parenting educational consultant, said she gets asked often about whether mixing public and private schools is a good thing.
The short answer is, “It is a very individualized decision and one that needs to be made together with your child.”
If a child is in a place where teaching is not child-centered or meaningful to them, she said parents have options and should make changes.
Gavalas said, however, parents should also be aware of the pros and cons to combining private and public school education.
“The pros are that parents can custom-create an educational experience for their child … that supports their individual learning styles and philosophies, ” she said. “The cons are that this may cause anxiety, academic and social-emotional delays from the inconsistency.”
Despite the inconsistency, many parents argue these are reason enough to make the switch.
Although two of his children attended Fayette County schools, including one who recently graduated, Scott Bodkin of Tyrone said his daughter, Ashlyn, opted to attend Our Lady of Mercy in Fairburn after middle school.
“It was her choice, ” Bodkin said. “As kids get older, they tend to deviate from their innocent nature. I think that bothered her to the extent she was ready to make a change.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog