The public/private roundaboutSome island students are going back and forth between schools.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:40 PM
"Editor's note: This the second of two parts examining private education on Bainbridge Island.While public and private education each have supporters and detractors, some island families find that a combination of the two works best. Families may cross over several times in the course of one child's education, or split siblings. So far this school year, directors of the island's private elementary and middle schools have seen four students leave for public schools, while 17 students have transferred from public schools to private, according to the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Brent Petersen.There's a whole variety of reasons why one system or the other will work - personality, gender, scholastic ability, self-motivation, said Mary (not her real name), who has her five children enrolled in both public and private schools.The family found that while some of their children thrived in the public setting other needed the private. Logistics also influenced choice. Mary's two girls have been enrolled predominantly in public schools. The boys - who she notes have a harder time academically - in private institutions. When her second son, Mike, fell behind his Blakely classmates in reading, Mary promptly removed him to private school. The boy benefitted from moving freely, she said, rather than sitting at a desk. He also designed his work through a weekly contract. The Blakely teachers helped as best they could, Mary said. I want to give them credit. The public schools do the best they can, given big classes and cutbacks.With both boys enrolled in private school, the family consolidated, moving the girls as well.Otherwise, I would have been dealing with five schools, five carpools, the parent said. It was a logistical decision. In two decades of parenting five children, Mary has arrived at some conclusions about the relative merits of public and private schools. She has seen public school work well for the two of her children who are particularly gregarious - and capable of self-managing their own academic and social life.If you always have 25 or 30 kids in your class, you learn to self-manage. You have to be responsible; if you get a zero on a test, they're not going to track you down. However, kids with difficulties of one kind or another often do better in a private setting, Mary believes. Different kids, different fitsParents acknowledge that their belief structure and their perception of a student's social adjustment and learning style all play a part in choosing a private or a public school. The boundaries of the two institutions are permeable; for some, the choice changes as the children do.Nancy and Robert (island parents who also asked not to be identified) also split siblings between public and private. They have a daughter who is happy at BHS, but moved their son to Christ the King Academy in Poulsbo from Wilkes. He had a nice teacher at Wilkes in fourth grade, but he was just not engaged with the school, Nancy said. Sam wore glasses, he got teased. He's sensitive and he tends to internalize. If you look at each child, they experience things differently. It's personality - it's learning style.A family's personal style may play a part in the decision to move from system to system - as well as a child's social needs. Morgan Oakland attended Blakely for 3rd and 4th grade. Her mother, Cathryn Oakland enrolled Morgan at Christ the King Academy for 6th grade, however.I was perfectly satisfied with Blakely and I have the highest opinion of the principal, Ric Jones, Oakland said. They were my issues, not Morgan's. I feared the social issues that come up in middle school. I regret that they can't seem to control the students' behavior - although I know they try. I wanted a conservative social environment. But Morgan found it socially alienating to attend a school so far away. By seventh grade, Morgan was back in public school on the island. But she had a good experience at Christ the King, and speaks wistfully of some of the educational features.They were a lot stricter with rules and the classes were small. I liked it, Morgan said.For some families, the choice to go public or private seems less subject to revision. The de Normandie family tried private school, but are, they believe, irrevocably committed to public. We did a family re-evaluation of why we selected this place to live, Barbara de Normandie said, and partly it was the academic success of Bainbridge Island (high school) graduates. We want our children to have the qualifications to go on to prestigious universities.The de Normandies want their children to function in diverse social settings, to study abroad, to play sports.Because the public sector is so much bigger than the private school sector, they can promote opportunities and unity in a way that can't be replicated, de Normandie said.The Costas have tried both ways, but have come to strongly support private education. Both have careers that dovetail educational concerns; Michelle Costa has worked in public television for many years, while her husband is a multi-media instructional designer for the George Lucas Educational Foundation. Our son started at Ordway but we switched to Voyager, Costa said. We're passionate about education reform. The traditional delivery system, the 'top down,' teacher-directed environment does 'one size fits all.'Children will adapt, but they will not do optimally well. "