The push for college and career readiness tends to produce a hyper-focus on numbers that demonstrate staff competence and student achievement. Those numbers are certainly worth looking at, Hampel says, “but the top priority is still what it has been for a long time: Will my student be happy and safe in this environment? Most schools in Delaware are safe, but happiness is a little harder to put a number on.”
Suspension, expulsion and school crime rates can give a sense of how safe a school is, and it’s true, most of Delaware’s charter high schools are well below the state average of 15 percent. However, the DOE doesn’t keep records about private school discipline, and private school Web sites are largely devoid of such information. If you’re tenacious enough to ask administrators, remember that public and private schools may differ in how and what they report, Buttram says. Still as a general rule, low discipline numbers are obviously good, and not just because it means the kids are good, she says.
“Some schools have policies that direct teachers to send all student issues to the office. However, when teachers can handle them in the classroom, it shows that they are competent and socially adept,” Buttram says.
Donald Keister, principal of Caravel Academy in Bear, agrees, and says his school’s nearly non-existent discipline rate in the student body of 340 is about more than a strong discipline code that is reinforced at home. It’s about the culture the staff creates. “It’s belonging, being cared about, and being challenged,” he says.
Discipline numbers are also consistently good among DMA’s student body of nearly 490, so Wintermantel says he keeps a pulse on student well-being with a more subtle number: attendance. “High absenteeism means kids don’t want to be here. If they want to be here, they are going to learn and it’s a pleasure for our teachers to educate them.”
For longer-term measures of student well-being, look at year to year student retention, Vonhof says. Hampel and DiEmedio agree.
“When you are happy with what’s going on at a school, there’s no need to seek another source for education,” DiEmedio says. “When parents make a decision to switch a student, it’s most often because kids are going downhill, and that usually means hanging with the wrong peer group.”
Here’s Hampel’s take: “Many time parents seek private schools for the supportive peer culture. They want their student surrounded with peers that don’t make fun of them because they have to study on a weekend.”