Independent Schools Are Different From Other Private Schools
"Private school" is a catch-all term to describe any school not part of a public school system. The term includes church-affiliated schools, where some of the funding comes from the church and the school's philosophy is deeply informed by that of the church. It also includes schools that are run for profit, and that are often owned by the school's director.
Independent schools, on the other hand, are neither part of a church nor owned in any sense. They are free-standing and governed by a self-perpetuating boards of trustees. They are philanthropic enterprises, often funded by gifts from generous individuals, and established explicitly to provide an education guided by a clearly stated educational mission.
Free from the bureaucracy of local and state school requirements, independent schools develop their own curricula and benchmarks for student achievement. Generally, these curricula surpass the requirements of the state. Independent schools are free to hire the teachers they wish and they are free to evaluate teaching performance, rewarding those who exceed expectations and removing those who come up short.
Why Choose an Independent School?
Why should a family choose to send their child to Harbor Country Day School rather than the local public school or a nearby for-profit school? The answers given by families vary, but often include our small class sizes, the nurturing environment, the talented and dedicated faculty and the comprehensive curriculum.
NAIS and the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) have identified five questions that parents should ask to assess the quality of their child's current and prospective educational milieu. Here are the questions, and Harbor's answers.
1. Are there high-quality and committed teachers?
Next to our students, Harbor's faculty is our most precious asset, and there is a strong commitment to continue hiring the most capable teachers and mentors. At every level, PreK 3 through eighth grade, teachers are committed to the school and their roles. Many of our full-time teaching faculty members, either have master's degrees in their field or are currently working toward earning their master's. While state certification is not required to teach in an independent school, nearly all of Harbor's teachers are certified in their fields. One hundred percent of our faculty is involved in our comprehensive professional development program, which means they are constantly striving towards improving their knowledge, adding to their skills, or enhancing their pedagogy. Most importantly, our faculty is especially strong in understanding children and knowing how our students learn best.
Teachers at Harbor Country Day School all receive one-year employment contracts, rather than earning tenure in a public school system. Each teacher is evaluated on a regular basis and must show concrete signs of consistency and improvement annually. This ensures that our teachers never rest on their fine reputation, but rather are constantly working to develop themselves professionally.
2. Are classroom lessons innovative and engaging?
The finest schools strive to provide a learning environment that fosters innovative opportunities for all learning styles. Harbor’s mission clearly states that the focus is on the whole child. Through small class sizes and a time-tested approach, Harbor is able to draw the best efforts from every student. New ways to integrate technology are constantly employed into the already strong program, including the use of SMART boards, laptops, and iPads.
An integrated approach to teaching allows students to make connections among disciplines. It provides opportunities to learn content material and hone skills in one class and employ them in others. This is especially true for English and social studies; it is a natural connection that makes sense for children. We integrate art and music into most classes, giving an opportunity for the students to learn in a different way.
Field trips such as our annual journeys to Frost Valley and either Gettysburg or Williamsburg not only foster independence in our students, they encourage team building and leadership skills. They provide opportunities for students to challenge themselves and take responsible risks in a safe environment. History field trips offer a chance to witness history and learn firsthand how cold it was on a March day in Williamsburg or how close George Pickett was to the Union lines during his infamous Pickett's Charge. Co-curricular opportunities such as these help motivate and interest students at each level.
3. Do students get clear value from their education?
Throughout America, parents are thinking about college while their children are barely in nursery school. This is perhaps inevitable, given the eventual cost of higher education. Thus the question inevitably comes up: will this school provide a competitive advantage for my child as she or he enters secondary school?
Our answer is yes. And for many, that is the clearest "value" to be gained from the investment. But the value proposition of an independent school, and of Harbor, is about more than that. It is about the educational mission that drives the school.
Great schools provide avenues for children to learn the benefits of charity and a commitment to community. Philanthropy should start at an early age, more often than not involving a gift of time or talent instead of money. Harbor is well known in our community for our dedication to service. Each year many events are held for the benefits of others. The Head of School often likes to point out to students that the scallop shell, the school's symbol, is traditionally associated with charity. This message resonates with Harbor’s student body.
4. Does the school hold itself accountable for its students' academic performance?
Harbor Country Day School is an academic institution first and foremost. High academic performance is expected by the school's capable educational leaders, by its committed Board of Trustees, and by the rigorous accreditation process of the New York State Association of Independent Schools.
Faculty and staff are held to high expectations. This is evidenced in faculty evaluations, annual employment contracts, the school’s professional development program, and commitment to continuous curriculum enhancement.
5. Are parents an active part of a student's educational experience?
The most successful schools communicate to parents on a regular basis, ensuring that they understand the mission of the school. A true school-parent partnership is essential to the successful education of each child. Through agreed-upon student goals, parents and school can offer a complete education that does not stop once the bus leaves Harbor’s campus. Parents are involved at many levels. Parents run the Parents Association (PA), which is of never-ending assistance to the school both in organizing events that build community and in providing support for classrooms. Parents occasionally volunteer in classes, and lend their expertise in group settings such as All-School Meeting.