Private Schools in Tacoma with Cheryl Schenk

hosted by
marguerite martin


About This Episode

When it comes to private schools in Tacoma, what are the options? On the Move to Tacoma podcast Marguerite Martin interviewed Cheryl Schenk, an expert on Tacoma's private schools. This interview digs into what makes these the different private schools in Tacoma unique and how parents can find the best fit for their children.

Get Personal Guidance founder Marguerite has been a real estate agent in Tacoma since 2005. She knows Tacoma neighborhoods and she knows local real estate agents. She can connect you to agents who are experts in the neighborhood you're looking in, at no cost to you!

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Episode Transcript

This is Channel 253. Move to Tacoma! On this episode of Move to Tacoma. First of all, trust your gut. When you walk into that school, when you first interact with, from the parking lot to the entryway to the first person that you meet in some sort of a front office or a reception area, All the way to the affect that students have as you are maybe touring around and seeing students in classrooms, you know, how are you greeted in the hallways, all of that will intuitively tell you a lot about a community, a school community.

How warm and welcoming are they? How friendly are they? Channel 253 is member supported. I’m producer Doug Mackey, and I hope you will show your support by going to channel253. com slash membership and join. Thank you. We’re back. I’m Marguerite, and I want you to join. To move to Tacoma. Move to Tacoma. Move to Tacoma.

Move to Tacoma. You’ll like it. Move to Tacoma. Move to Tacoma. Move to I’m Marguerite. This is Move to Tacoma, and I’m here today with Cheryl Shank. Hello, Marguerite. I’m so glad you’re here. It’s so great to be here with you. All right. Well, so I mean, Cheryl and I are friends. We are, but we’re friends because you moved to Tacoma.

Like you moved to Tacoma and you use the website and then we met and you bought a house. You, you made this happen from an algorithmic perspective. You ensured that When I was like, well, it’s time to buy a house, who are we going to work with? What are we going to do? How do we get the infos? You made it happen Marguerite, so Thank you and you are just one of the good ones.

Well, you’re somebody who’s connected me to a lot of people and opportunities in Tacoma. So in all seriousness, that, that has been a big part of my experience here. So thank you. Thank you. And it’s an honor to be here talking about my professional life. Yes. We’re going to talk about private schools, but first I would like to know when you moved to Tacoma and why for the people.

The first time I moved to Tacoma was in 2001, August, 2001 to become a logger. At the University of Puget Sound and so my first journey was 2001 to 2005 and as I was Driving out of Tacoma in my 1992 Ford Explorer in the year 2005 I thought to myself I am going to live here again someday. I really intrinsically knew this is going to happen.

I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I really always felt at home here. And so then in 2014 had the opportunity to move back to Tacoma and that just felt like a dream come true. Oh, that’s awesome. And where do you live in Tacoma? What’s your neighborhood and what do you like about it? So I now reside in the South J Street Corridor, the, the area between Tacoma General and St.

Joe’s, it’s, they’re connected by South J, and there is a tiny little historic district of eight homes called the South J Historic District. It’s at the very edge of the Hilltop neighborhood, and I have been there since purchasing my home in 2022. So it’s very exciting. I initially, I can tell you everywhere I’ve lived in Tacoma.

Yeah, let’s hear it. I mean, after living in Todd Phibbs Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus, they were constructing another residence hall right behind mine as I was experiencing a Pacific Northwest winter for the first time in my life. And having a construction trailer parked in front of your garden level.

Yes, that’s beautiful. code for basement room window, not a reason to stay on campus. I was not ingratiated to the campus living environment. So I first lived, uh, on North Washington, close to Bartell drugs, then over on Cedar street between 13th and 14th on the other side of campus. And then on 12th, um, just right off of Cedar and between Cedar and Alder.

So those were my campus haunts. And then Moving back, I lived also on that side of campus on Anderson Street, and then when I first worked with you as a buyer’s agent, that was in 2015, when I moved to the neighborhood that I would refer to as commencement bluffs, nobody actually heard anyone else. I’ve always laughed at you.

Nobody thinks that’s a neighborhood. I tried it. To see if it would catch on. It hasn’t caught on, but what she means what I mean is the hill when you’re going up north 30th out of old town and going towards Proctor, all those houses on the right. Cheryl cause it commencement bluffs, which is hilarious because you’re overlooking commencement Bay.

It makes sense. It does make sense. You’re up on a bluff. But you know what hasn’t caught on. It’s fine. It kind of sounds like a nineties housing development. I know I did it and it is not that it is a really eclectic mix of mostly historic homes and the folks who bought that house are just fantastic and have really honored the space.

It backs backs up to Puget Park. Um, and so the gulch there is just really gorgeous. And then I spent a little bit of time as a renter in the stadium district and being right on the edge of Wright Park. Made me fall in love with having Wright Park as my yard and not actually really having a yard of my own As my preference and my priority.

So when my house came up for sale, I realized I would be a house twin To our mutual friend, uh, who lives in the identical house just over on high street. And it was about a mile away. Yeah. It was too good to be true. So, so that’s where I’ve been. And now I’m just the new steward along with my fiance of this amazing home that is built in 1889.

And we’re just trying to give it lots of love one step at a time. That’s wonderful. I might ask you a little bit more about that towards the end. Okay. Yeah. But let’s get, let’s get down to business, shall we? Cheryl, I would like to talk with you about something that I know almost nothing about. And the only reason I know anything about it at all is really because of like being, being your friend, like being on the periphery of some of the, some of the things that you’ve talked about.

Um, although actually now that I say that I did attend, you did go to a private school in Tacoma at one point, Marguerite. So I don’t really claim this very often, but I did spend my junior and senior years at Bellarmine Preparatory High School in Tacoma. Let’s unpack that. Why do you not claim that very often?

I’m curious. I started off at Bethel High School as a freshman and then I was an exchange student and I was growing up too fast. And so I was sent to Bellarmine and I did try to get kicked out and they, you know, that was not their first rodeo with a girl from Spanaway. Like they, they weren’t falling for any of it.

So I did graduate from there, but I never felt like a true, like people fight to get into Bellarmine. People try so hard and I transferred, by the way, pro tip, transfer in a junior year and they don’t care if you have a 2. 7 GPA. At least they didn’t in 1990. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. I was like, on behalf of their current enrollment management, I would like to suggest results may vary.

Results may vary. Yeah. But I’m glad that was your journey. Right. And I mean, also Bellarmine’s a Catholic school and I was Roman Catholic. So there’s special scholarships for Catholic kids. And you know, I had a sibling there and cousins there. So like going there was not, you know, it was actually, Post graduation that I found out that that is like an institution that is like people fight to get in there and like people spend a lot of money and like rich kids.

I mean, I knew rich kids went there, but like, you know, like I didn’t really understand like what it was when I was there. And so when I say I went to Bellarmine, you know, I feel like people are going to think they’re not going to know that I’m from Spanaway. I don’t know. It’s identity. And I guess that’s part of private school.

It’s part of why people send their kids to private schools, I guess. I think it is a great way to start the conversation because. I, I really do think that so many folks have varied experiences when it comes to, are we a private school family or are we not, um, you use the term rich kids, the idea of rich kids, where do rich kids go to school?

Do they go to private school? Do they go to public school? What, what Is happening from the socioeconomic diversity perspective in terms of who attends which schools. And I think that that is an important piece to enter the conversation with because in my own school experience, the first time I attended a private school was the University of Puget Sound.

I was at public schools all the way through my upbringing, which was in New Jersey and then Colorado as I was moving Um, as I was going into eighth grade, my family moved to Colorado, so I had different experiences in different school districts, but there was never a sense in my family that we would pursue private school at some friends that went to private schools, but we had the benefit of some really excellent public schools that were part of the communities in which we resided.

And so I think that a lot of times people will have a notion in their minds from the beginning of we were. For the public schools, or we are really excited about private schools because we’ve already been attending private schools as a family for perhaps multiple generations. And so I think that, um, when we look at mindsets about education and choices about education, a lot of it comes down to what have people experienced themselves and what predisposed notions do they have about who belongs in what environments.

And that definitely has, uh, Some socioeconomic links, I guess I should say for the people listening, the reason that I’ve asked you to talk about this is you work in private schools. Yeah. And you have worked in a private school in the Tacoma area. Can we say where are we saying? Oh, of course. I’m happy to say that.

So, um, so currently I serve as the director of enrollment management at Eastside prep, which is located in Kirkland. As a Tacoma resident, when I, when I first moved back here in 2014, I reached out to a good friend of mine who I had known from the University of Puget Sound, um, and said, Hey, you know, do you know of any admissions type opportunities in the area?

Because at that time I had been working in college and university admissions. That’s. What I started doing right out of college myself. I worked at three different liberal arts colleges in three different locations and my friend said, you know, I don’t know about any university admissions opportunities, but you should reach out to our mutual friend who’s at Charles Wright Academy and the opportunity opened up there.

It was a great experience. piece where, um, somebody was ready to leave that role and head into their own graduate education. I was like, perfect. I’m, I’m here. I’m home. And so Charles Wright, I was there from 2014 to 2018 and then moved up to EPS in 2018. And so I do a long commute up and down 405 and I 5.

But I love that because it allows me to be really at home in Tacoma and then have my professional life up on the east side. So, well, and what I love about it is now you’re, it’s like you are an expert, but you’re also slightly removed. We can, we can be at 30, 000 feet and talk about it. So what is the, do we, okay, first of all, I feel like I’ve heard you call it something else.

You don’t call it private schools. You say independent schools. I say independent schools. So am I supposed to say independent schools? Think about it as there are, these are all. private schools, and some of them are independent schools. Some of them are religiously affiliated. Um, some of them are not going to be maybe using the moniker of independent school, but they’re not a public school.

There are also charter schools, which is an interesting part of the dynamic. So yeah, so there are different types of schools. The thing to know about independent schools is that these are schools that independently manage themselves. They have a board of trustees, typically that is ensuring the financial health and the longevity of the school who make a determination about who they are going to hire on their behalf to manage the school.

That’s typically known as a head of school. Um, and so that person is going to then hire all the other people from teachers to facility staff to, um, administrative staff and admission staff like me, who are going to help around the school. So, um, independent schools are one type of private school, but a lot of times people are most familiar with private religiously affiliated schools.

Like you mentioned, Bellarmine as a Catholic identifying school that has ties to the Catholic Church and is going to have In particular, some different funding and governance pieces that are connected to the church. Um, that’s an important thing for folks to know, whatever schools they’re considering, it’s kind of like who’s, who’s running this and how is it funded?

Um, is it funded through tuition dollars? Is there a, an earmarked amount that comes from, let’s say, a diocese in the case of a lot of Catholic schools? If it’s a Christian school, is it part of the ministry of a church? A church might say, you know, part of our gifts and tithes and gifts and tithes.

offerings goes to this educational outreach that we have, whether that’s a preschool or a school for, you know, K through 12 age kids, or is it a revenue source for the church for other endeavors? Yeah. I mean, there’s lots of, there’s lots of different financial models. And I think an important thing when considering schools in general is that you can think about this like a lot of other, you know, industries or things that you are a consumer of as a person, you want to be a good consumer of your own education and of your kids education of your children’s education.

And so thinking about school choice, a lot of times folks are defaulting to okay, well, here’s the public school that for which we’re districted based on where we live. And that’s great. And that’s usually the amount of inquiry that people will put into that. But I do think that there are usually a handful of circumstances that will lead families to say, we want to pursue something beyond, or we want to at least consider options beyond the public school that we’re in district for.

And so that’s why a lot of times private schools are getting on a family’s radar for the first time, if they haven’t had that as part of their own family background in history. So who are like the big boys in private schools in Pierce County, Tacoma, Pierce County, like who are, who are the ones, I mean, I can start to tick off who I think of, but who do you think of as like, we’re like the top five or 10 private schools that most people think of when they think of Tacoma County.

I mean, from an enrollment perspective, our largest school is going to be Bellarmine Preparatory. Oh, um, because they coming from Bethel high school. That school is tiny. I know when you’re coming from a large public high school, my large public high school in Castle Rock, Colorado was about 2100 students.

Yeah. So the idea of that, you know, Bellarmine pretty close to about 900 students that is going to certainly feel smaller than that type of school. large public environment, but also feel quite a bit larger than most private schools, private schools. Yeah. Um, when you’re looking at other schools from there, I think you’re getting into a combination of other Catholic or Christian schools, and then independent schools that are either non denominational or Non sectarian.

So a lot of times schools have very often schools will have a religious legacy, maybe in terms of how they were founded, that they might be stepping away from or might have, you know, no longer have those formal ties. Sometimes schools are started By a group of parents who over time say, Hey, we really are looking for this type of education for our kids and then it becomes something much larger than just educating their own Children.

They start enrolling other families who aren’t connected to the initial founding group. Um, so that might be another way that the schools come about. But in terms of the big schools in this area, in terms of folks who are So we’re going to be looking at private school options. Bellarmine is going to be your largest high school option.

Um, there are certainly a number of middle school programs that will, will feed into that, um, St. Charles, St. Charles, St. Patrick. And then, uh, for the, K or pre K through 12 independent schools, the two that folks most often hear about are Charles Wright and Annie Wright. No relation, which I have explained many times.

Um, Annie Wright was, uh, the first school on the map. Quite literally, they were founded in part with a financial gift given by George Charles Wright. He was a railroad baron. He was part of why the Northern Pacific Railway terminated in Tacoma, part of the initial economic genesis of Tacoma. Never actually lived here, but gave this gift of money.

I think he was in Philadelphia. Oh yeah. Um, and so gave this gift of money, started the school. Annie Wright, from my understanding, was named in honor of one of his daughters or his daughter. Got it. And then, um, It was later on, there was an appetite from a number of parents to start an independent boys school.

And so Charles Wright, through a number of historical circumstances, including the earthquake that shook Lowell Elementary. And if you’ve ever seen the sculpture out on I Street in front of Lowell Elementary, some people have seen like bricks and children in a sculpture and thought, what is this all about?

And actually, it was because there was a group of parents who said, you know, we would really love for our boys to be able to attend any right while Lowell is not in existence because of this earthquake damage and the headmistress at the time said, No, no, no, we will not allow your boys to go to school here, but you can use this basically like garden shed out back as a schoolhouse and that kind of thing.

So, yeah. this sense for the parents of, you know, we should have a private school for boys in Tacoma. And so that started Charles Wright in the late fifties. Okay, wait, wait. So there is a relation. I’ve always said like, oh, no relation, but like Charles Wright is the donor and Annie Wright is his daughter.

Like they are. I always thought they were two schools that were started with like different. That’s so funny. Yeah, it’s because Charles Wright gave this initial gift of money to start Annie Wright. I believe it was called Annie Wright Seminary at the time, um, and then the, the circumstance of boys attending the school there, but not being part of the school, um, and then these parents started, uh, and the campus is quite far away.

They’re, the schools are quite disparate from one another geographically here within Tacoma. It’s really within what most people would consider to be university. place. It is a Tacoma address. Um, but Peach Acres neighborhood over there, uh, just off of Chambers Creek Road. And Charles Wright is in basically U.

P. Exactly. Exactly. And Annie Wright is in Old Town. Yeah. So it was initially a boy school, but very quickly became coed and has been fully coeducational for several, a few decades now. Um, and so Annie Wright is co ed through the eighth grade, and then there is a coordinate set of programs, so a boys program and a girls program, and those two programs have some overlap in terms of different experiences, but, um, by and large, they are separate entities in terms of The majority of the classroom experiences, there’s boarding that’s part of Annie Wright, there’s not boarding that’s part of Charles Wright.

Is Annie Wright the only boarding school in Tacoma? So, there are some, schools that facilitate homestays for students. That’s by and large for the international student population, but they won’t have boarding on the campus. Got it. Annie Wright is unique in that respect that they have this either five day or full time.

boarding program. And that does attract largely an international student population from what I understand. But there are also some students from other parts of the US that attend the program. And then there are families for whom the commute might be just Not really feasible in terms of if their child’s enrolled at any rate But that they want them to be able to board during the week and then come home on the weekends That’s an option for families as well So lots of different options within those two schools in terms of what the experiences can be day in boarding But those are typically the ones that folks are thinking about and when I was at Charles Wright I would say that they were the schools to which many families were cross applying.

And then also families were considering, right, what are some of these different choice school options that we have within the Tacoma public schools. So they might be looking at Sammy or soda or idea, um, depending upon their child’s academic and personal interests. And so there’s an interesting phenomenon in Tacoma where There are families that might be considering both public and private options concurrently in terms of high school in particular.

In terms of high school or middle school, um, for some grades, they might be looking at, okay, well, maybe I’m looking at Charles or any right. Maybe I’m looking at some of the Christian schools. A lot of times families, if they’re looking for a religious school, that’s a really values based choice for them.

And so they might be just looking at religious school options. Um, but some families are just saying, I think I want to pursue non public options. And so that might be So, I mean, I think it’s, it’s such an opportunity to have an admissions person right in the room. So, could we talk about like, all right, let’s say I have a kid that is about to, uh, go to school for the first time.

Mm hmm. Um, and I’m thinking maybe private that process is going to be different than if I’m moving to Tacoma, you know, for my job, and I’m like, Oh, I want to do, you know, I’ve been doing private education somewhere else. I want to do it here, so I need to figure out what the lay of the land is and then figure out how to get my kid in halfway through middle school or halfway through high school.

So what is the difference in those admissions processes? Is it super competitive to get into these schools or is it like if you can pay or it’s competitive if you need financial aid, like how does it all work? It’s a, it’s a great set of questions and I’ll start with motivations for families pursuing private school options because they will vary as much as families vary in terms of their composition and personalities and motivation.

I think that a lot of families have recently come. into a space of looking at private schools because of the pandemic and the sense of what happened to their student in terms of remote school during the pandemic. For some families, there was a lot of disappointment about what occurred during those maybe initial months or first year of the pandemic and what their student experienced.

And that really created an enormous increase, um, over 20 percent increase in, uh, that demand on the private schools since 2019. So we look at that as a real pandemic, sort of pandemic spurred interest in the private schools. And that could be because their student didn’t have a great remote school experience.

There might be learning loss that occurred during that time. I think we can say for all students that there’s some combination of Academic and social learning loss that occurred as a result of disruptions during the COVID 19 pandemic. But I think that that’s been one thing that has been a new factor for families in terms of pursuing private schools.

I think reasons that have existed for a long time might be that their student is looking for more academic challenge. They want their child to experience more academic challenge, and they might be in their current environment or in a public school environment. So they might say, they might say, you know, the pace of instructions just not fast enough for them or they want more enrichment.

Maybe they’re looking for enrichment of particular kinds. They might be looking for more arts education or language instruction outside of English. Um, like they want them to be learning a world language such as Spanish. They might have a particular interest in their student being in a different social milieu.

So that could mean, you know, my kid’s getting bullied and I really can’t. Abide sending them to a school where I know that they’re not having positive supportive peer interactions It could be that they are sensing that there’s some sort of social strife for their kid Of a particular kind and it’s like let’s get him out of this environment for any number of reasons So there could be a social piece there And so I think, you know, between the academic, the social, those might be some motivators for families in terms of pursuing private schools.

I think that, uh, you know, families who have a sense of wanting to have a curated social group for their kids, usually they’re not going to be using that language themselves. They’re, they’re not going to be thinking, wow, I really want my kids to only be interacting with certain other kids. But it could be the case that they say, you know, I really want my student to be.

interacting with students from families that have a similar faith background as us, it’s really important that those students are going to be hearing similar things to what they’d be hearing in our home from their, their friends and their friends family, if they go over and play at their house or socialize with them.

So there could be some social motivators. That are more values based as well. Well, and I think about my, my own family, like that was standard a couple of generations ago. Like you were a bad parent, you were a terrible Catholic. If you didn’t send your kid to Catholic school, no matter how poor you were, like my dad was one of seven kids and he was in Catholic school, like no choice.

Like you wouldn’t go to even, you know, another Christian school. Right. So there, maybe there are vestiges of that as well. I don’t know. Just, it becomes cultural, right? Like, Oh, well, we’ve just always, Done it this way. Yeah. Yeah. You know, and then I think, um, along the lines of that academic challenge piece, there are in, in various districts, there are different monikers in terms of like a highly capable program.

We call it gifted and talented GNT or spark in my district growing up. Um, But it could be that they’re looking for a highly capable or a quest program or something like that and, and Seabury School has a unique mission in terms of identifying, uh, giftedness as part of the student profile that they’re seeking and that they can nurture in that school environment.

So, um, through the middle school years, that’s an option for families in the South Sound. Do they test you into that? So. Many of the, I don’t know specifically about Seabury’s admissions process and what it entails. I know that for a couple of the schools up in the Seattle, um, area, Seattle on the east side, that students will go through cognitive testing that’s administered by an educational psychologist.

So looking at things like working memory and processing speed and all these different cognitive functions that we have as people. Um, And we’ll be able to give a sort of battery of understanding around how is a student doing in all of these factors and what does that indicate in terms of their readiness for an educational environment where the pace of instruction is going to be faster, the methods of instruction in terms of how students are acquiring and applying concepts might be different.

So, um, so that’s my understanding of a couple of different schools admissions processes up north. I believe that that’s the case for Seabury School in terms of that needing that kind of Ed Psych eval. And Seabury is located in downtown Tacoma? Is that right? They have, my understanding is they have two campuses.

So one that is downtown and one that’s in northeast. Browns Point. Yeah. Okay. Perfect. Oh, uh, maybe we should take a quick break. You know what? We’ve, we’ve already hit a lot of different points here. We’re gonna take. Take a beat. Be right back. Recess time. Hi, I’m Marguerite from the Move to Tacoma podcast on Channel 2 5 3.

Move to is a neighborhood guide, blog and podcast to help people in Tacoma Pierce County and beyond find their place in the city of destiny. For more information, visit movetotacoma. com. Move to Tacoma! All right, so, okay, so you’re, so if we get back to like, all right, my kid is old enough to go to school.

How do I apply? Do I apply to multiple places? And then, okay, I’m moving in halfway through. How do I figure out who might be able to let me in? Is that, is that kind of, I’ll come in with that. Okay. Yep. All right. Because I think that’s the kind of second part of your very long set of questions. I do that all the time.

I’m so bad at asking questions. I ask like 12 questions at once. You just read for it. It was great. And then I want to talk about financial stuff for sure. Okay. All right, we’re back. So I want to dig in a little more on Okay, so let’s say I’m my my child is old enough to go to school. And we’re thinking private.

How is that different than I’m moving to Tacoma and I need to find a private school for my child? I imagine the admissions process and the approach is completely different. Yeah. Well, I think that educational Okay. Transitions can happen at different times for different reasons. And so whether it’s a start of school year enrollment or a mid year enrollment at any point in the year, mid year could, could mean kind of a semester break or a trimester break, but it also might mean as soon as possible, uh, for a given family or a given school.

And so I think an important thing to know is that there are schools that will have admissions deadlines. There are also schools that will have rolling admission. And so That is going to vary based on the program structure and the demand on enrollment, um, whether a school is going to have the potential of mid year admission or not.

So, um, usually if the school is able to enroll fully, Based on the applications that occur at a certain point in the year, then they won’t offer a mid-year enrollment, or it might be an exceptional kind of circumstance. Mm-Hmm. , other schools are like, Hey, we’ve got seats in our classrooms. We’re ready to take you.

Yeah. We will accept your tuition dollars as soon as you want to pay them to us. And, and that can be, that can be part of the program model. A lot of times that’s. More so a function of lower enrollment demand. Um, one thing that we see that this is very much that the two worlds that I live in, there is a different in general level of enrollment demand in the south sound versus up in Seattle on the east side.

And part of that is just. The economic base, so, but you mean by that is it’s hard to get into the schools up north in Seattle, where everybody has a lot more money and in Tacoma, like maybe fewer people have the disposable income for private school. So it’s a little easier to get in. Like, are there any schools where it’s like it’s super competitive to get in?

Like, I’m trying to think, is that, is there anywhere where it’s like, Hey, heads up, you’re going to really need to have your act together to get your kid in there. I wouldn’t want to speak to, because I know how much enrollment can vary from year to year, so I wouldn’t want to speak to, okay, here’s the school that you can just apply anytime, or here’s a school that, you know, you’re going to have to really get your act together two years in a row, but I would say that every school is going to be really transparent on their website with respect to, yes.

It’s easy to find that out. You know, when our applications do, what are the application. Materials that are required. What does that process look like? And so I would say for a family that’s just in the area already wanting to explore thinking a little bit about, you know, maybe we do want something different educationally for a child.

Maybe we do want something that’s going to be different socially or academically or whatever it may be. I would encourage that family to just go to their local school. Any school that comes to mind at go to their website, if there’s a school that you have, you know, a friend or a coworker or a neighbor who attends and you’re just like, yeah, let me just check this out and you’re going to start there to get a bunch of information, um, that is going to help you to navigate, okay, what is the general timeline for this process?

Because for example, at my school, we open our. Application for the next school year, even before our own school year begins many years, September one. So I would have assumed, Oh, you should start looking like a year ahead, but really, like, so if you have a six year old that’s going to be starting school, you, you should be looking around at like four, you should be for parents that are pursuing kindergarten or pre kindergarten or junior kindergarten.

Um, that’s something that as soon as they’re a toddler, and especially if you’re already having them in daycare, that’s something that you That’s a point in time where you want to be thinking about, okay, can they stay in their current environment and continue doing a preschool type program here? Could they do a kindergarten type program here?

Or are we going to need to transition environments more likely than not, you’re going to need to transition environments. Um, preschools tend to be a lot more standalone. Um, but I think that the important thing for folks to know is that if you want to have the greatest number of options and the most education about those options as you’re pursuing them, you want to get started as early as you can.

That said, you might have folks who are listening who are like, we’re moving into the area. We are just getting started. Where should we begin? I would recommend contact an admissions officer at a school that is in the neighborhood where you’re going to be living or a neighborhood that you’re going to be considering, because they are going to be able to give you if somebody were to call me today, and I were to get a call, An inquiry from them about, Hey, you know, we just found out we’re making this move from across the country or overseas.

What should we do? What do we need to know? I would say, okay, so we’re not going to have a mid year enrollment opportunity for you. And our applications are already closed for the upcoming year. So you would want to pursue some school options where you are either. enrolling at the local public option and then looking for the year ahead to enroll at private school.

Or you are going to want to contact some schools that might have a little bit less enrollment demand and have some of those spaces available right now. Okay. Yeah. And then as far as like what happened with me in high school, where I came in not as a freshman, but as a junior, is that a thing that is more common?

Like, okay, it might be hard to get your kindergartner in, but your third grader might have a, an easier chance. I would say that. for families that are considering where, where can we enroll? There are going to be some typical enrollment points at each school where a lot of families are trying to get in.

And then there’s going to be those times and those grades where there’s less enrollment demand, and it might be easier to get in as a result of that. or it might be harder. For example, for my school, we enroll students at grades five, six, and nine, typically. So families are coming to us for grade seven, eight, 10, or 11.

It’s going to be only if there’s attrition from the grade, only if somebody leaves and opens up that spot, are we going to have a spot to offer? So when those grades were typically just inviting people to join a weight pool and saying, Hey, you know what? If we have a spot open up, Let us know if you’re going to be interested in it.

We will give you a call if something’s going to change and we’re going to have that spot open, but typically we won’t. So it’s going to vary from school to school in terms of what that looks like. But if you are a parent who’s pursuing, let’s say a pre K or a junior kindergarten, and then, um, thinking about kindergarten, that could, that could change a lot from one year to the next.

Um, so. Very often, if schools are enrolling multiple siblings from the same family, families want to get them in as early as possible into that school environment. So they might have a ton of demand on pre K, and then kindergarten might actually have less demand. Um, so maybe they’re really happy, your kid’s really happy in their current preschool environment, and it’s like, okay, well, cool, we’re planning on applying out for this kindergarten start at this other school.

So really, one of the best things that you can do is just talk with whoever the admissions officers are at the school. The schools that you’re interested because they’re going to be able to help you understand. Okay, you know, I’m really excited to be talking to you right now because you’re looking ahead at this grade that we have a ton of openings in, or we have some openings in versus, yeah, I really don’t have much to say to you because we don’t have spots in this grade and it’s not looking like we will.

So that can be a big part of the dynamic is what is that demand on those seats available? So I’m curious. Mm hmm. What are the green flags and the red flags? We’re not going to get specific to schools, but like, as a professional, as an expert, what, where’s the green flag and what is the red flag with a private school in particular?

Yeah, I would say green flags. First of all, trust your gut. When you walk into that school, when you first interact with the students, From the parking lot to the entryway to the first person that you meet in some sort of a front office or a reception area, all the way to the affect that students have as you are maybe touring around and seeing students in classrooms.

You know, how are you greeted in the hallways? All of that will intuitively tell you a lot about a community, a school community. How warm and welcoming are they? How friendly are they? Um, are you seeing students laughing? Does it look like the learning that’s happening there gives you an impression of, wow, my kid’s going to be really delighted to go to school every day.

Um, is there a tone of seriousness? Um, does that feel right for you? You know, I think that, um, A lot of what we can learn about schools, we just need to trust our intuition on, and I think a lot of that can be gained through doing a campus visit. Many folks will start with a campus tour, and I think that’s a pretty typical way to begin an investigation into a school, or an open house type of event.

A lot of schools, especially at the beginning of their enrollment cycle, will host an event where it’s like, come on down, see? Yes. in action. And so I think that a green flag is the impressions that you have when you just first Interact with a community, and I think it’s really important to pay attention to those because a lot of times it’s interacting with an administrative assistant or you know, somebody that you’re just passing in the hallway that’s gonna give you a, a really true impression of that school.

I mean, admissions professionals, a lot of us are professional extroverts. We Right love meeting and interacting with people. We are going to find the, the, you know, the really rosy aspects of our school communities, right. And. Um, what you want to do is be a good consumer of your own education or your child’s own education and think about, you know, what are some of the impressions that you get from a variety of people in the school community?

I would say another green flag would be overall the stability and health of that school community from any number of different perspectives. Financial, you can, especially for schools that are non profits, you’ve total, Ability to look into the financial health of those schools. If schools, if you ask for that information and schools don’t readily provide it, maybe see that as a red flag, um, you can look up any sort of public records that you want to there in terms of tax documentation.

But I think an important piece is really knowing that, um, fiscal health and seeing that that school will be existing into the future. When you look at the signs as they exist right now is an important piece because ultimately you want your kid to be able to. Hopefully return there someday as either a fond alum or, you know, maybe that’s something that that they want to be able to, if it’s a high school graduation in particular, that can create a lot of affinity in terms of this is my peer group and this is a place that I belong and I’m going to go back for a homecoming game or something like that.

So physical health is important. I think that faculty staff retention is a really important sign. We even know if that’s happening. You can ask some very basic questions. And even if schools can’t supply, because those are things that are sometimes hard to generate statistics on. But to be able to say, you know, do people, how much turnover is there in terms of the faculty and staff here?

Um, if you were to just approach somebody in a hallway at one of those schools, you know, ask them about, you know, how long have you been here at the school? How long, how long do you think most people here have been here? If they’re saying a year, two, three, for the majority of folks, that tells you there’s probably been a significant administrative change recently.

That could indicate that there’s more health of the school moving forward, or it could indicate that, um, the school is in a downward spiral. So I think getting a sense for, you know, what is, are people happy here? Do they have a great quality of work life? Is the work culture for the people who are going to be educating my children and interacting with them, whether it’s a school nurse or a cafeteria employer or whatever, you know, are they going to be part of a consistent group of caring adults in my child’s life?

So I think that faculty staff retention is another health indicator in addition to that fiscal health, that financial health of a school, um, and sometimes you can get a sense of that, um, set of indicators through the visuals of what you see, you know, are the buildings looking pretty tidy? Are they, are things in disrepair?

Has the school recently opened a new building? Did they do a capital campaign to fundraise for that? Or were they able to build that out of their resources? Reserves or right out of their budget. I mean, those are things that will indicate some of those different health indicators from a financial perspective and just an overall school culture and school pride school stewardship perspective.

So since we’re talking about money. How do, how do people pay for private school? Does everybody just like slap down the tuition? Is there like a, I imagine for the health of the organization, there has to be a certain percentage of students who are, you know, fully paying and then there’s a financial aid component.

I know when I went to Catholic school because my family was Catholic and like we were in the diocese. We had like three quarters paid for, but then there was like a work study component. I don’t know how common that is out of religious schools, or even if that’s still happening now. I don’t know if you’re mopping the floors of the richer kids after they all go home.

I don’t know if some people still do that. The way that that is structured is going to vary from school to school. Uh, the vast majority of independent schools will have need based grant support for families. Some might have merit scholarships, so some might have a program where they are, um, you know, really trying to, maybe they’re looking for certain types of learners or certain demographics that they can, Attract through doing some sort of a scholarship program, that type of thing that can be part of the mix, but a lot of it is going to be need based.

And so what we ask families for at my school is a financial snapshot of the family getting a sense for last year’s tax return. And some basic household expenses and sort of living expenses, rent or mortgage as being part of how we can make a determination about what amount of grant can we provide for that family.

So I’m curious, like, somebody listening might be like, I have no idea if I would qualify because I mean, like, technically, like, the median family income for the area is like 70, 000, but like, if you have kids and you’re trying to live off a household income of 70, 000, that to me seems high need. But of course, there’s probably tons of kids, probably very smart kids that are living in households that make half of that, right, or less.

So what is considered need? Where do you put the line for that? I know it varies school to school, but if someone’s listening, like, am I needy? So need is going to be assessed based on a variety of factors, um, number in the household, number of tuitions being paid in the household, and that could be other independent schools, that could be colleges or universities, if a parent or guardian is attending college or university, let’s say, maybe they’re doing part time school, that’s still a tuition that’s going out the door.

Yeah. So that’s all part of the consideration, um, the household living expenses, um, Those are all going to be considered along with things like any assets that a family has. So if they have retirement, if they have, uh, if they have a Washington state, um, 529 plan, that’s intended for college savings. That’s also money that a family could potentially pay into, uh, independent school tuition.

They can do, there’s a cap on that, but they could use that money for how do you verify this? Like, what if I just leave my second house off the application? Like, how would you ever know? You shouldn’t do that. Okay. And, uh, we ask families to share as much as they are able so that we can have the most full financial picture possible.

And that allows us to be really equitable with our distribution of aid at my school. I think that every school is going to look at those different factors of what goes into the aid process in different ways. Everyone has their own calculations. Um, some schools, if you were to contact, let’s say, A person in my position.

I’m the director of enrollment management. So I, as part of our team work with our head of school and our director of finance and operations to manage financial aid at the school. But Um, at other schools, there might be a dedicated financial aid officer that you can speak with or a dedicated tuition assistance person with whom you can speak.

Some schools have tiered tuition models where they might do rather than families needing to disclose a lot of this financial information, they might say, okay, it’s going to be a little bit more basic for us, but you are going to have kind of a sliding scale of tuition based on something like, let’s say, household income is probably going to be the most common factor that would be considered there.

So. Depending upon the school, there’s people that you can talk with to get a sense for, hey, you know, are really likely to qualify. One of the things that we do on our website is put a basically a calculator. It essentially is just querying a table that is going to say, okay, based on number in household and household income, just as two really crude, rough factors there.

Um, here’s the grants that have been received by families with your similar profile. So let’s say your, uh, uh, family of five, we, I. Really love that. We added that tool a couple years ago because that’s exactly what we wanted to be. We wanted to be helpful for families, you know, if you’re in the ballpark.

Yeah. Yeah. So family of five, we have a total household income of 200, 000. Are we going to qualify? That’s the type of thing where some families might be surprised. Like, wow, you know, I, I’m surprised. I didn’t realize that we would qualify for any kind of support. And I think that’s something that I would really want folks to take away from our conversation is if you’re not sure if you would qualify for aid, Some families just have this intrinsic sense of like, we were comfortable.

We, we don’t have to worry about making ends meet. We’re not paycheck to paycheck. We’re probably not going to qualify for things, but you might be surprised depending upon the school and the total cost of attendance. Their families are sometimes qualifying who might not think that they would. Um, I think it’s a lot of times schools are looking for in terms of financial and socioeconomic diversity.

They’re looking for families that have some ability to pay. Some tuition, but they can support through grant because a lot of times what you find is this barbell effects. So statistically, a lot of independent schools have many families that can pay the full tuition and additional educational expenses like transportation, books, lunch, whatever.

And then a lot of families for whom we’re meeting full 100% Um, you know, need is there for that family? And so there are, there are a lot of schools like ours who would say, wow, it’d be great to have more families that are going to be somewhere in the middle there and have some ability to pay. But we’re able to support that student and create access to the education through a need based grant.

So, the, the financial models are different at every school. The way that the school does the determination is going to vary, but I think just asking that question of, you know, do you think we’re going to qualify or what different tools do you have that we can make our own assessment? Um, ideally, we’re going to have those tools right out in front.

That’s a, that’s an important thing from an equity perspective and access perspective for us that we want, Our families to be able to access that information or things like an application fee waiver without having to ask for that, because you can create a sense for folks of not belonging in your environment right off the bat.

Yeah. If you don’t create access to the type of information that is going to be most relevant for families who are saying in their minds, do we belong here? Like, are we going to qualify for aid? So. Schools will take different approaches on that, and I think part of that will reflect the school’s mission and values, uh, in terms of how they make that information available to you.

Well, is there anything else you want to make sure that people understand? Like, they leave this conversation. What do you want to make sure people understand about the process of sending kids to private schools or particularly private schools in the Tacoma area? I do think that families that Might say at one juncture in their child’s educational path or their children’s educational path, like, okay, here’s the default option, or here’s what we should do, or we really want to do, you know, just take, take a minute to unpack that, um, take a minute to unpack that and say, is there something that we’re doing because it’s important?

The default option in our minds, whether that’s, you know, this is the school for which we’re districted or this is where our friends and family are going, or this is the school for which one of these parents is a legacy, you know, maybe just unpack that whatever it is, take some time to examine that and say, you know, Is this what’s best for our child?

Because every student has their own physical, emotional, social, and academic forms of development that are going to vary from, you know, can vary quite a bit from one child to another within the same family. They can be very different from a parent’s experiences of their own education. And so I think that just taking that time to be a little bit thoughtful and reflective will give you the ability to say, Is there a school environment right around the corner that we’re not even considering that could actually really unlock some potential for our kid?

That’s fair. I was just talking to a friend the other day and her, her family’s like an Annie Wright family. Like she went there and, you know, just several kids and two of them decided they wanted to do high school at Bellarmine and she was like shocked. You know, she was supportive, you know, they’re there, they went there, but like, just the idea of like, Oh, yeah, you’re going to default by assuming like, we’ve been doing it this way.

That’s a great piece of advice. Yeah, I mean, I think that a lot of us, I mean, are like, When we’re, when we’re thinking about children, people, people that have children that they’re raising, I mean, that’s like your most personal project that you will have probably throughout your entire life. So a lot of folks will just go with, well, here’s what I know to be best.

Yeah, this is familiar. This is what’s familiar or this is what I’ve been told is the right thing to do. And so it may be, and maybe there’s something else that is worth pursuing or worth pursuing. investigating. Yeah. Yeah. I think the other thing would be there are some different resources in the area. So the Northwest Association of Independent Schools and W.

A. I. S. That’s the accrediting group for all of our independent schools in this northwest region. And so in order to get accredited, schools have to really demonstrate Like we’re doing the thing where we have good educational outcomes. We have success for our students on a day to day basis in all the different ways in terms of mental health, academic experience, um, graduation outcomes like that.

Is all verified through an accreditation process. Maybe like yellow flag if you don’t see that. I would say there are great schools that are probably just starting up that aren’t accredited yet. And I think for a school that’s established, they should have some sort of accrediting body. So that’s the Northwest Association of Independent Schools, NWAS for schools like mine, that is going to be different for, let’s say, some religious schools.

Um, There it’s it’s worth considering who is keeping an eye on this school experience. That’s not part of the school Yeah, because that gives you that kind of third party verification that might give you a little more confidence in the experience There’s also admissions consortium. So in the Seattle area, we have the Puget Sound Independent Schools PSIS And if you go to our website Puget Sound Independent Schools org You’ll find events that we have.

You can find resources like if you want to apply for financial aid and you want to just listen to a webinar about how do I do this? What are the forms? How do I get started? Um, that’s a great way without ever having to disclose to a school or connect with a school about, you know, I’m going to be applying for financial aid because some families understandably are thinking, is this going to hurt our chances of admission?

Um, My school, Eastside Prep, we look at admissions separate from financial aid. Our admissions committee members do not have a sense of what a student’s and their family’s level of financial need is. I would have never thought that was true. That’s so interesting. Very understandably for a lot of families.

They’re like, if I’m going to give you a bunch of confidential financial information, like, what are you doing with that? So, um, so if you want to get, Educated about the financial aid process before, um, actually really embarking on that. PSIS, um, would be a great way to learn more about that piece. And so both of those websites are going to give you kind of an overview of schools in the area.

It’s a great way to navigate. between the different schools, you can also look and see what are the job openings. So that’s another health indicator from that. I mentioned faculty staff retention earlier, like is this school hiring out for 25 different positions next year? Or do they have maybe three or four things that are very understandably up there?

From year to year, uh, you know, on the hiring kind of menu, that’ll give you a sense of and sort of what’s what’s happening in the life of the faculty and staff at that school. So those are some things that you can learn from those different independent school organization websites that I would highlight for folks.

Um, there’s also going to be a lot of families will pursue looking at some ratings on things like niche dot com or great schools. Um, Um, even Google reviews they’ll look at for schools. I would say that just like any reviews that you are looking at, consider how many people, what’s the number in terms of who’s reviewed it, um, relative to how many people have probably taken advantage of that educational product, right?

Like when you look at a restaurant and they only have three reviews, that’s different than a restaurant that has 300 reviews, right? So you’re 10 you’re gonna tend to have the outliers You’re gonna have the people who are the most happy and the most dissatisfied So, you know the family that wants to rant about how their kid got kicked out and you don’t know the whole story They might have done something that was Totally against that school’s behavior contract or handbook or honor code.

And, uh, you know, but that parent just wants to vent some frustrations on a review, you know, that’s something to consider when looking at those reviews. I imagine you’re looking for trends, right? You’re looking for trends. Yeah, you’re exactly looking for trends. And so, um, so again, with that consumer kind of mindset, um, take that into account.

Yeah. I think that one of the pieces that I would really encourage any family to do is just fundamentally listen to your kid, really take that opportunity to, I hear they’re doing that with kids now. Oh, this generation is more listened to than I think any of our previous generations. But, um, I think taking that time to say, you know, Not just how was school today, but to really get into that qualitatively is you’re going to learn a lot more about their day to day experience and whether, wow, this is totally on point, let’s keep going, or something should probably change here.

And maybe we should start thinking about, all right, if it’s. Academic pacing or social relationships or bullying, whatever that that motivator might be for pursuing a new school environment, um, you can learn a lot right from your kid about what it is that they’re looking for, because one of the things that I love the most about being in admissions and enrollment is seeing those transformative formative experiences that students and families can have, where it went from I, I was, I loathed school.

Like I was never looking forward to going to school. I didn’t have any positive associations with it, too. I am running through the doors every day because I can’t wait to be in school. In I’ve seen those outcomes within each of the school environments that I’ve been a part of. And so, um, a lot of that just comes with parents listening and saying, well, maybe we’re gonna have to change course in order to meet the needs that our student has, um, or what they’re articulating to us.

But sometimes you have to listen really hard for that because they might not feel comfortable just saying, you know, Oh, you know, I’m. Going to the school that you went to, or you loved, and you know, so you have to be able to create space for those conversations. That’s such great advice, Cheryl. Well, I’m very glad that you were able to come and talk to us about this.

I think this is a topic that a lot of people are curious about, and it’s, it’s not an easy one to get candid information about. So thank you for being here. sharing all of this. I feel like I need to have you back just to talk about old houses. Yeah, we could do a whole other old house nerd podcast. Happy to riff on that.

But, um, but I really appreciate you tapping into this aspect of my professional experience. And I, I think that there are just so, there are so many great school experiences to be had here, public, private charter in the South Sound. And just taking that mindset of let’s figure out what’s best for our child or children at this juncture in time.

And really just like people in real estate, you know, they’re assessing, how many bedrooms do we need now? What are just like the right house for you will change over the course of your lifetime based on your activities and the amount of people in your household. Um, school options should probably be changing from time to time, um, based on what the, the different.

Dynamics are so I hope this helps people in that journey. I think it will. Yay. Thanks Marguerite. Thanks Cheryl

If you like this podcast check out move to tacoma. com Move to tacoma. com is a neighborhood guide blog and podcast to help people in tacoma pierce county and beyond Find their place in the city of destiny more information At movetotacoma. com.

Does any of my work community know I’m doing this? This could be bad. Those were the days. Yeah. Move to Tacoma is part of the Channel 253 podcast network. Check out our other shows. Grit and Grain. Nerd Farmer. Interchangeable White Ladies. Crossing Division. Citizen Tacoma. What Say You? We Are Tacoma.

Flounder’s Bee Team. And Taco Man. This is Channel 253.

Show Notes

When it comes to private schools in Tacoma, what are your options? On the Move to Tacoma podcast Marguerite Martin interviewed Cheryl Schenk, an expert on Tacoma's private schools. This interview digs into what makes these the different private schools in Tacoma unique and how parents can find the best fit for their children. Cheryl talks about the types of private schools available in Tacoma. They discuss why parents might choose private schools as an option for their Tacoma student and some history on the schools in the area. Marguerite annd Cheryl discuss practical steps parent should take as they select a school for their student, such as:

  • How to assess the quality of a school for your student
  • How to navigate the enrollment process and how that process will vary school to school
  • Guidance on reflecting on WHY you're choosing a particular school with a reminder to keep the student's needs front and center
The diverse array of private schools in Tacoma represents not just different educational philosophies but communities ready to embrace and nurture students in a variety of unique ways. As families moving to Tacoma navigate these choices, this episode with Cheryl offers a valuable roadmap for considering what each Tacoma school can offer beyond academics.