Laguna Blanca School
Laguna Blanca School’s Upper and Middle schools are located at 4125 Paloma Drive in Hope Ranch. Its Lower School is at 260 San Ysidro Road in Montecito. (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo)

Before parents select a private or independent school, what questions do private school administrators wish they would ask?

For the 2020 school year, more than three dozen private schools will be operating in Santa Barbara County, in an in-person or virtual format, serving more than 6,000 K-12 students.

In order for parents or would-be parents to prepare, Noozhawk sought the advice and opinions from several local private school administrators and admissions directors.

Laguna Blanca School, with campuses in Montecito and Hope Ranch, is a top-rated private school with 365 students in grades EK-12 and a student-teacher ratio of 7-to-1. Tuition is $34,250 annually for grades seven through 12; grades early kindergarten to sixth grade are $28,560. After graduation, it is reported that 100 percent of Laguna Blanca students go on to attend a four-year college.

Grades EK through sixth are back on campus for in-person learning.

Laguna Blanca admissions director Joyce Balak gave Noozhawk a dozen questions.

“The two questions usually asked by dads are: what is the governance structure of the school and how stable is the fiscal strength of the school?” she shared.

The other important questions to ask when considering a private school, Balak said, were:

» What is the school’s mission and how does the school implement that mission in the education of its students? How does the school’s mission influence the culture of the school community?

» How do you assure faculty excellence?

» What measures does the school take to assure continued excellence and continuity?

» What is the school’s curricular philosophy around traditional or project-based learning, homework and comprehensive exams?

» Identify the three most important things that distinguish this school from other schools.

» Are students able to progress beyond grade level if qualified?

» How extensive are the art/theater/athletic programs?

» What type of enrichment/club activities are available for students?

» What type of student support is available?

» How does the school include parents in the education of their children?

The Knox School of Santa Barbara

The Knox School of Santa Barbara is located at 1525 Santa Barbara St. near downtown Santa Barbara. (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo)

The Knox School of Santa Barbara is a smaller private school located at 1525 Santa Barbara St. near downtown that serves 35-40 students in junior kindergarten/kindergarten, elementary and middle-school age group. Its mission is to provide a stimulating and nurturing environment where the social and emotional needs of gifted and talented students are respected and supported.

Fulfilling numerous California Department of Public Health guidelines, the school was granted a waiver to resume in-class instruction for junior kindergarten through sixth grade. To safely reopen, The Knox School classes began under canopies to safely distance students and staff.

Tuition at The Knox School is $18,750 for junior kindergarten/kindergarten, $26,700 for grades one through four, and $27,450 for grades five through eight. The student/teacher ratio is 8-to-1.

Executive director Angela Tanner was driven to open The Knox School out of frustration and the heartbreak of advocating for her own children.

“Being aligned with the approach of a school is paramount to successfully navigating the school experience with your child, whether during a pandemic or not,” she said. “That alignment comes down to the mission of the school and how the mission is manifested across all dimensions (curricular, programmatic, social/emotional, etc.).

“Each child is unique and has specific areas that need support in order for them to develop optimally; being aware and honest about those needs as well as the parents’ hopes and goals should be the basis of any conversation with a school. The question ‘How does your program support my child’ is a great place to start.’”

Santa Barbara Middle School

The Santa Barbara Middle School is perched high atop the Riviera at 1321 Alameda Padre Serra. (Rochelle Rose / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara Middle School, at 1321 Alameda Padre Serra on the Riviera, is an independent day school for grades six to nine, serving about 170 students. It was founded in 1976 and maintains a 16-to-1 student-teacher ratio. According to Private School Review, tuition is $32,625 with a 60 percent acceptance rate.

Admissions director Mandy Westerman had these suggested questions for parents:

» How are your students challenged and supported socially and emotionally?

» In what ways do you teach grit and perseverance?

» What programs make you unique? How is the school different from other middle schools? What sets it apart from others?

» What does a typical school day look like? (This really gets at the root of the philosophy of a school: from start time to electives.)

» What type of student do you look for? (This will tell you a lot about philosophy as well and as what the school deems important.)

» How does the school build community? (between students, teachers and outside community)?

» What do graduates/alums of the school say about it once they move on? What lessons do they say they learned? Do they stay in touch?

Noozhawk contributing writer Rochelle Rose can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.