Parent Resource

Get Your Pennies In Order

by “Hannah Donovan,” Prospective Independent School Parent

Hannah Donovan is not my real name. I am a mom, but want to insure my child is fairly evaluated by the schools we are looking to join in the fall of 2018. As we are searching for a private school, I’ve spoken to neighbors, workmates, and my sister-in-law who sends her two kids to a private school.

One of the people I spoke with provided me a little trick she used to narrow down the pool of worthy choices in the DC metro area. Here is what she said:

If you have 100 pennies, how would you allocate those pennies as value markers? Some of it may be aesthetics and some of it may be mission and philosophy. It all matters. Don’t be self-righteous and try to tell yourself the beauty of the sign at the bottom of the long driveway up to your child’s building on campus doesn’t matter. You’ll thank me, since you will be driving by it every day, she said.

Here’s what it might look like for us, but we are still tinkering:

  • Robust and tightknit family culture – 15 pennies
  • Expansive athletic program – 10 pennies
  • College placement success rate – 40 pennies
  • Longevity of the teachers – 10 pennies
  • Teacher expertise (are they teaching what they know or were they moved to another subject just to keep them on staff) – 10 pennies
  • Meaningful communication from the school and people who will be charged with educating my son – 15 pennies

So at this point we are evaluating each school as we tour, learn, and talk to current constituents about the schools.

As a family, we went back and forth and all agreed on this formula. You might think we are putting too much weight behind college placement success rates, but we feel that it’s a good long-term barometer. College’s seem to be ahead of the curve at identifying which students will be most successful. So if top colleges consistently accept students from one school over another, we cannot ignore that fact.

For each school we then divvy up, for example, the 10 pennies in “teacher expertise” and put in the bucket in an amount with which we all agree.

  • Main Street School – 5/10 pennies
  • First Street Academy – 3/10 pennies
  • Maple Drive School – 1/10 pennies
  • Second Street Academy – 1/10 pennies

Then we do it for each category.

At the end of the exercise, there will be a front-runner, a secondary choice, and two safety schools. However, as we continue through the process, pennies may change hands. However, it is important to never go beyond 100 pennies.