With introductions complete and atmosphere-setting chitchat having done its job, I lean in and ask the adults accompanying the applying student, “Here’s the million-dollar question, how did you get here today? How did Derryfield fall on your radar?”
About half the time, somewhere in the response, is a version of the following:
“This wasn’t on our radar!”
“We never expected to look at private school.”
“We’re public school people.”
When I hear this, I feel an obligation to reassure the parents:
Normalizing the moment seems important, as most families are surprised to find themselves in my office. The Derryfield School is nestled in southern New Hampshire, a state where the frugal Yankee mindset, the Live Free or Die ethos, and no income or sales tax attract those who spend their hard-earned dollars carefully. The desire to pay for school when a free opportunity exists in one’s hometown is not typical. This was never on the radar.
Additionally, most families here do not descend from families with a long-standing tradition of private school attendance, and the vast majority of our parents were educated in public schools. This was never on the radar.
When they arrive at the admission office, they’ve come to the conclusion that their child would benefit from more challenge and engagement, from more opportunity, from a smaller school that allows their child to feel known and anchored to a caring community. They meet our student ambassadors (“Our tour guide was knowledgeable, personable, and welcoming!”), their children spend a shadow day and discover that ‘regular’ kids go to private school (“My buddy was so helpful and everyone was nice!”), and suddenly this choice seems far less weird. We’re on the radar.
Private school enrollment also does not have to live at odds with the support of public schools. Many of our parents have sat on school boards, and work or volunteer in public schools. Derryfield has a long-standing tradition of connecting students to Manchester’s young refugee and ELL public school population. A number of Derryfield’s founders, alumni parents, and alumni have worked in state-wide education-related organizations and served in roles designed to strengthen public schools.
So the next time you find yourself wondering, “Are we a public or private school family?” remind yourself that you are neither and you are both—you are simply in support of the educational environment that best fits each individual child.