Small classes are at the top of the list. If the private high school you are looking at doesn't have small classes, what's the point? Now, small can be interpreted in different ways. But typically a class size of 12-15 students will allow students plenty of interaction with their teacher. That's really what you are looking for anyway when you consider sending your child to a private high school.
Small classes mean that your child won't just be a number. It's very difficult to hide in a small class. Some teens prefer to sit on the edges and observe. A small class draws students into the discussions and activities. From a teaching point of view small classes are beneficial because the teacher can see how each student is doing. Discipline is not an issue in a private high school as a rule, so small class sizes have little impact on that aspect of classroom management. The real
bottomline benefit is that true teaching and learning can occur. That's, after all, what you want anyway.
Highly Qualified Teachers
By highly qualified we mean a first degree in the subject being taught complemented by an advanced degree. The intrinsic passion a teacher has for his subject should be fortified by the requisite coursework in that subject specialty. In other words, if a teacher is teaching physics or calculus, he should have a respectable first degree in those subjects. Preferably honors degrees. Adding a masters degree in those disciplines completes the package. A terminal degree is nice but not required.
In addition to the degree qualifications, look for experience teaching the subjects. Teaching is all about inspiring young people. If a teacher is not only passionate about her subject by can teach it enthusiastically and effectively, then that's what you are looking for.
Unlike public school teachers, private school teachers are not unionized. As a result if a teacher is ineffective or, worse, incompetent, dismissal is immediate and summary. There's no waiting for endless hearings and long drawn out appeals processes.
A Sense of Community
A sense of community in a private high school is something you feel and experience. It's either there or it's not. Administrators and faculty usually make community a top priority. Why? Because it is a life lesson which they want to teach. Most private schools try to turn out students who have a sense of awareness of the world around them. Even more importantly they are taught to respect the rights and opinions of others.
Community doesn't mean that its members become faceless, characterless robots who act and think the same. Quite the opposite. Community encourages individuality and uniqueness. But it also respects those same attributes and qualities in its various members.
Community is particularly important in a boarding school. When you are at school 24/7 for weeks on end, community is extremely important.
Extensive Sports Programs
Sports programs, and arts programs for that matter, are frequently considered extras in public schools. The minute a district has budgetary problems the extras get cut. Private schools, on the other hand, take the view that sports and arts programs provide balance to the learning and maturation processes taking place during high school.
That's why you will notice that most high schools set aside large chunks of time - usually an afternoon - when the whole school is required to suit up and get out on the field for some serious exercise. Yes, you can play varsity sports if that is your inclination. As you will quickly discover when you visit schools on your short list, the sports programs are an integral part of the school's life and purpose.
Teachers are involved in the sports program too. They won't be seen ducking out while the students head out off the field house. This allows your child to see his teachers in a quite different situation from the usual class room setting.
Lots of Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular activities in public schools srvive at the whim of budgets and teachers. Not so in private schools. Extracurriculars, as they are often called, are part of the balanced approach to learning and maturation which most private schools feel is a critical part of the mission.
The other thing which is different from public schools is that teachers are required to advise or direct an extracurricular activity as part of their duties. That allows your child to see her teacher in a quite different light than simply just as her math teacher, for example. Suddenly the math teacher is really cool person who loves hiking just as much as she does.
As you visit schools, look for these features of the school's program. These are attributes which most private high schools will offer. They are the main reason why you send your child to private school.