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About Independent Schools
At independent schools, you’ll find extraordinary teachers, small class sizes, and an environment where teachers nurture and stimulate students’ intellectual curiosity, personal growth, and critical thinking skills. Even though different independent schools have their own unique educational mission, all independent school share common values put forth by the Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS). All members of Puget Sound Independent Schools are either accredited members or candidate members of NWAIS.
NWAIS Core Values (taken from www.nwais.org)
In living the mission of NWAIS, the following core values guide the Association’s interactions, services, and accreditation standards. These core values are essential to assisting schools in providing high quality education for children.
NWAIS schools believe that the latitude to determine their own missions and philosophies, to select their faculty and students, and to develop their curricula is an essential prerequisite for their success. Accordingly, NWAIS schools are self-governing and self-supporting without substantial dependence upon government, other entities, or individuals. Maintaining this independence requires an outreach to and appreciation by a variety of audiences, including policy makers, the media, prospective parents and students, and prospective teachers.
Free and Open Inquiry
NWAIS schools actively encourage students to explore diverse points of view and to engage in lively and respectful discourse with their teachers and peers about any ideas, cultures, and values different from their own. NWAIS schools teach students to think critically and to challenge their own perspectives as they grow in their knowledge of the broader world. NWAIS schools create and sustain a culture in which students are free to express their own ideas and to hear and seek to understand the ideas of others.
Commitment to Diversity
The inclusion of diverse perspectives and backgrounds strengthens the quality of a school’s culture and educational program. A commitment to diversity acknowledges and honors the diverse perspectives and backgrounds within the school community and makes every member feel that he or she belongs and is equally valued. NWAIS believes that this commitment to diversity is essential for free and open inquiry to flourish. NWAIS believes that schools whose geography or mission limits the diversity of the school community must still provide their students with access to, knowledge of, and opportunity for open discourse about different perspectives and backgrounds in ways that are meaningful and that clearly demonstrate commitment to the NWAIS core values of commitment to diversity and free and open inquiry.
Ongoing School Improvement
NWAIS schools are expected to engage in a continuous process of research, reflection and on-going improvement that enables them to stay relevant to their missions and to the students and families they serve. Schools demonstrate this commitment by working continuously to improve their educational programs, actively participating in professional development opportunities and pursuing and maintaining accreditation by NWAIS.
Collegial Relationships and Ethical Leadership
NWAIS has benefitted from a long tradition of collegial relationships and ethical leadership manifested by our schools. To sustain this tradition, schools voluntarily operate in accordance with good independent school practices and NWAIS accreditation standards. Schools support their employees in serving on accreditation visiting teams, in attending professional development conferences, in serving as NWAIS volunteers on committees that help guide the development and delivery of association services, and in assisting other schools with building and strengthening their programs. This active participation and willingness to serve the greater good contributes to the overall success of the Association and benefits our schools and the individuals within them as they appreciate and learn from the diversity of experience that each school brings to the Association.
Many parents don’t know much about independent schools, and even if they’ve heard the term before, they might not know how to begin to check them out. Are independent schools the same as private schools? Do you have to be religious to go there?
The fact is that independent schools are just what the name implies: they are schools without a district to oversee their budget and operations. They are non-profit entities, governed by a Board of Trustees, and accredited through a rigorous process through the Northwest Association of Independent School (NWAIS) to ensure that the meet a set of high standards for the curriculum, program, and operations.
Independent schools are more than happy to give you a tour, invite you to an open house to meet their teachers and students, and share with you the things they do very well. In addition, PSIS hosts school fairs throughout the region so you can see a lot of the schools under one roof in one evening.
So how do you know if a school is a good school? Each school will work with your family to get to know you and your child well during the application process. You’ll answer questions, you’ll ask questions, the schools will engage with your kid in a way that helps him or her feel comfortable so that everyone can get to know each other. And you’ll feel it – the sense of what each of the schools are about. Even though they’re all independent, they’re all different as well.
“Can you see your child being successful at this school?” That’s the number one piece of advice experts have for families looking at schools. After all, most parents’ main goal in choosing a new school for their child is to ensure a well-rounded education and a creative, nurturing environment for learning and growth.
School life becomes a huge part of your family’s life, one that extends beyond classroom hours. It’s important to consider all the factors that come with a new school environment: commute, volunteer hours, parent requirements, the school’s culture of philanthropy, etc. Does this school fit with your family’s lifestyle?
In the end, most parents recommend choosing a well-rounded school that meets a child’s learning patterns and behaviors. You have to be on board with the school mission, but in the end the school has to mesh with your child.
Finding the Place Where You as a Family Love Learning
Teachers know better than anyone some of the anxieties families feel during the school year, particularly during the selection process. Emotions and anxieties can run high during the admissions process and it may seem like information overload. One teacher supplied a few questions you can ask yourself as you go through the process of selecting the right fit for your child and your family:
- How does a school build a partnership with parents?
- What is the student to teacher ratio?
- What is their teaching philosophy?
- Do teachers collaborate to design curriculum?
- Do students collaborate? What does that process look like?
- How does the school feel, is it engaging? Do students seem to enjoy learning, and school life?
- Do they have access to a diverse range of resources (contemporary book titles, technology, field trips, math manipulatives, etc…) to support learning?
Many admissions directors agree that when choosing a school parents should be open about their child’s challenges while also celebrating their child’s strengths. To do so will ensure a thriving educational environment for your entire family.
Schools that are members of NWAIS are eligible to be a member of Puget Sound Independent Schools (PSIS) which is an admissions consortium of over 40 member schools in Puget Sound that promotes the value of local independent school education, and works collaboratively to make the admission process more accessible for prospective families. Our shared work includes organizing schools fairs, shared marketing, mentoring program for new admissions directors, creating optional shared application forms, and various task forces on areas of interest like admissions testing, demographics, and more.