Questions to Ask
Before Placing Your Child in a Private School ©

by Daniel Kravitz and Akiva G. Belk

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Any parent in the world could write an article like this one. A degree is not necessary. Rabbinical shmikhah isn't required. In fact the only prerequisite is a little time and effort. This article is drawn from the adventures of parents who chose a private school for their child along with the advice of former educators and administrators. In our explanation of "HOW TO" find the correct learning institution for your child we discuss twenty questions. Then we provide you with a questions only format so you can copy and download them. There is no charge for this service. We hope it helps you find the correct learning place for your child.

Most institutions publish catalogs with pictures of the facilities, staff (with degrees, experience and background), philosophy of the institution, admission requirements, student life and guidelines for student discipline . Sometimes institutions provide facts about their alumni like average earning, professional position, etc. Usually there are brief articles from the dean of the school, a board member and several other leaders. All this information is valuable. After reading the catalog from cover to cover, if the institution is still in the running, you may want to visit the local library to research archives of the newspaper from the city in which the instutition resides. Information will be clasified under the name of the institution and the rabbium. If all goes well, review our list of questions and modify them to fit your needs.

Ask the institution to give you a written disclosure of the following problems and how they were handled...

Questions & Explanations

1 - 6 ) Has anyone reported to you or to your staff any problem or concern regarding students or employees of your institution with regard to:

  • Alcohol or Drugs?
  • Sex? This includes any physical contact unwanted or wanted between students and students or students and staff, between members of the same sex or the opposite sex.
  • Weapons? This includes knives, guns, rifles and any other form of weapon.
  • Pornographic Literature or Movies? This includes possession of any form of adult material like magazines, books, pictures, movies rated R, X, XXX, etc.
  • Kashrus? This includes the purchase of nonkosher products, the purchase of products from a store which does not have a moshgiach on staff, the possession of nonkosher products or eating at nonkosher places.
  • Stealing?

7) How many children from the same family are enrolled in your school? Jewish families are generally very large. If parents have several children in attendance at the same institution it generally indicates confidence in that institution. If parents have problems with an institution , they will often remove their child and not enroll their other children. To determine the answer, ask the administration for a copy of last year's opening day enrollment list and the end of the year list. In large instutitions request several letters like the fgh's or the rst's..

Student Retention...How many of the orginal students completed the school year?
Keep in mind that every student should have been prescreened, and previously visited the institution with their parents, and attended orientation and participated in functions designed to greatly reduce student turnover. If student retention is low you may want to investigate this area.

Investigate Student Retention...Choose three students who withdrew during the school year. One from the first few weeks, one from the middle of the school year and one in the final quarter. Ask the administration for the phone numbers to these students. Call their parents. Ask questions....

Please keep in mind that the institution you applied to in behalf of your child will ask for plenty of very personal information about you. They will normally interview you the parents, the child, the child's previous teachers, friends and rabbium. Often letters of recommendation will be required from the congregation rabbi, previous teachers, et al.
So it is very fair to interview the institution with the same zeal!

8) What percentage of this institution's total enrollment comes from the local community? The local community is more familiar with the instutition than you are. If they choose not to enroll their children someone should be asking WHY NOT??? Why would parents be willing to pay expensive airfares many times during the school year to send their children somewhere else? Contact or visit the local area congregations.

9) Does your administration require background checks on all employees including rabbium? Who performs the background checks? Government agencies frequently require mental health facilities, public schools and other service oriented institutions to do background checks on their potential employees. You may do your own background check. Obtain employees' names and go to the local courthouse. Most courthouses have records on computer going back at least several years. It only takes a few minutes to determine if all parking fines are paid, etc.

10) How is the Board of Directors selected?
While you're requesting information from the institution, notice that on most stationary the members of the Board are listed. You can check on them too while you're at the courthouse. The Secretary of State's Office normally records businesses by the agent's name.Find out what types of businesses the Board members are involved with. They are definite reflections of the institution!

11) Does your school require background checks on its students? A very old and experienced leader of a large religious organization consisting of eight schools and thousands of students conveyed this message to me: "Parents think that because these are private schools our students are better here. That is not always the case. A number of our students attend here because they were expelled by other public and private schools."

12) Ask other parents: "Did you investigate the institution your child is attending?" Parents who presently have children in the institution are an excellent source of information. Parents who do little or no investigation of an institution their child attends are always a concern. Their child is a product of their laziness or overconfidence!

On the other hand, parents who intensely investigate an institution their child attends are usually a witness to the quality of the institution and the students attending there..

13) Ask the school first, "Are there any reported incidents or violations with the City, the County, the State or any government agencies like Social Services or with the BBB with regard to the institutition or the students attending the instutition?" If necessary you can always do a follow up.

14) Has the institution ever lost its accreditation? Are they presently in good standing? What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? Are the instructors state certified?
Speak with Accrediting Associations regarding the academic standards.

15) Ask former employees, "Do you have any areas of concern regarding your former employer?" Former employees are an excellent source of information. This includes employees who have retired, chosen to leave and employees who were terminated.

16) What are your institution's standards of kashrus? Whose supervision is your institution under? Who is the moshgiach? You know what levels of kashrus you observe. Talk with the kitchen personnel. Look to see if containers are properely marked for dairy, meat and pareve. Inspect dry storage and frozen storage. Ask questions. Simply put, some institutions are very careless with kashrus. This is an area every parent should be able to quickly assess. See our article: SHOWTIME LEADERSHIP

17) Is the dorm supervised by a mature adult resident? How long has the adult supervisor been with your institution? What is the supervisor's experience? Is the supervisor registered with the state? Institutions that require students to live on campus or in a dorm should have mature resident adult supervision. Any supervisor who is registered with the state usually is a social worker or counselor. We are not referring to recent graduates in their early twenties. Periodic checks by staff or floor counselors are good but they are not adequate. We all know the endless problems unsupervised students can get into, G-d forbid!

18) Where does your institution place academically? Most states and accrediting bodies rate institutions of higher learning. Ask for their position.

19) What defines an alumnus at your institution? I was asked to contact the alumni of an institution requesting their participation in an alumni function. To my amazement, several of them stated, " I AM NOT AN ALUMNUS OF YOUR INSTITUTION, I only studied there a few weeks." Institutions have been known to exaggerate the better paying professions among their alumni through a variety of methods. At JewishPath, we feel that an alumnus of an institution should have at least several years of on campus learning.

In most institution catalogs, information about the alumni is provided. It's worthwhile to inquire about that particular institution's definition of alumni. Institutions can be very generous with their definition of "alumni". For example, they may choose to have a Shabbaton or a short intensive learning experience of several days to several months specifically for doctors, physicists or some other well paying profession. After the manufactured learning experience, the institution adds all of these professionals to its alumni directory. One must be very careful about institutional claims surrounding the alumni.

20) Is your secular learning department pre-Noach? Institutions that place little or no emphasis on secular studies programs or that operate the secular programs a few years this side of the Dark Ages are easy to detect..Review the textbooks. If Teddy Roosevelt was a boy when they were printed it doesn't speak highly of their program. Do they have a modern video department, computer lab and English library? A visit to the institution will reveal all this.

21) Is tuition negotiable? How many students pay full tuition in your institution? Most institutions have scholarship programs that can pay part or all of your child's education when conditions warrant it. Generally speaking, in Yiddishkeit, it is possible to find a quality institution for your child within financial reach.

It is always nice when parents of alumni who have benefitted greatly from the institution remember it with a kind expression of their appreciation. Quality Jewish education is the pathway and the portal for future generations.

22) Is the food always that good? It is good to visit the school during prearranged school orientation days. But don't be fooled. Everything's polished, including the custodian's shoes. After all, that's not really so bad because you the parents and the student are also on your Shabbos best.
However, if you'd like a more accurate view of the institution, stop by unexpectedly, just like the unexpected visit from the rabbi who interviewed you and your child.

23) How does the staff behave? Staff members from various religious instutions report that they have heard/seen: racial bigotry, prejudice, sexual comments, perversion, abusive language, aggressive and abusive tones, stealing, lying... PARENTS BE VERY CAREFUL!

24) Does your instutition meet its finanical obligations on time? Instutitions that are constantly struggling to pay their bills, pay their staff, make necessary repairs are in themselves stressful. That type of stress can be felt throughout the entire instutition.

In the event you would like to copy these questions, we have developed a question only page for your convenience. Please feel free to copy and adjust them to meet your child's needs. Please let us know about your experiences.

If you ask these questions sincerely and with kindness most institutions will respond positively. If any institution refuses to cooperate with your sincere inquiry, please notify us.

Other Related Subjects:

Sins, Sexual Sins, Leadership and Rabbium

How Could You Do This?

The Crown of Righteous Justice, The Leadership of Moshe and Aharon

Copy of Above Quesions


Wishing you the best,

Dr. Akiva G. Belk



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