Private vs. Public Schools: A Difficult Decision for Main Line Area Families

Matching your child to the right school.

Downingtown STEM Academy. Courtesy of Downingtown STEM Academy

A slew of excellent public and private schools call the Main Line region home. Which one is best for your child?

The decision between public and private school can be a challenging one. As parents, we want to do right by our children, giving them the opportunities and the experiences that will lead them to become well-rounded adults. We can’t know what the future will hold for them, but we can do our best to set them up to thrive.

In that respect, we’re doubly blessed. Woven throughout Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties are some of the best public schools in the state. Our region boasts 10 of the top 25 public high schools in Pennsylvania, and 24 of the top 100. Bolstered by a healthy tax base, union-negotiated teacher salaries and proactive parents, the programs, college admission results and graduation rates at public schools here often meet or exceed those of private schools in other parts of the country.

Students at the Agnes Irwin School.
Students at the Agnes Irwin School. Courtesy of the Agnes Irwin School.

Like plenty of parents in our region, Lisa and Scott Hughes made the decision to go private in preschool, enrolling their oldest son, Ryan, in kindergarten at Saints Peter and Paul School in West Chester. “He was my first kid, and he was more anxious,” Lisa says. “I just thought he needed a little bit smaller class size. I felt like he would get more individualized attention.”

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There were other factors that made the choice attractive for the couple—particularly the full-day kindergarten, which the West Chester Area School District had yet to implement. But when their son hit fifth grade, his feelings changed. “Ryan said, ‘I just need bigger; I need different; I need diverse,’” Lisa says. “It was trying to fit him in a box that he didn’t really want to fit in. He wanted to go to public school.”

Downingtown STEM Academy
Downingtown STEM Academy. Courtesy of Downingtown STEM Academy.

At West Chester’s Peirce Middle School, Ryan became heavily involved in the performing arts, continuing along that path to Henderson High School. He’ll be a vocal performance major at the University of Michigan this fall.

Ryan’s brother Shane had the opposite experience. In his brief flirtation with public school after five years of elementary at Saints Peter and Paul, he found himself cut off from his friends and ready to return to his “posse,” as Lisa put it. He finished out middle school at Saints Peter and Paul. This year, he’s a senior at Bishop Shanahan High School.

Casey, the Hughes’ youngest son, was looking for a more challenging environment as he wrapped up his fifth-grade year at Saints Peter and Paul. He moved to Peirce and is now a 10th-grader at Henderson. “Just parent the kids you have—it’s not a one size fits all,” says Lisa. “It might be that you have two kids thriving in private and one that’s not. Maybe it’s time to look at a different angle. I definitely consider public schools strong if you have a kid who’s on the top or bottom of the scale—the high end or the low end, needing resources.”

Episcopal Academy
Episcopal Academy. Courtesy of Mark Tassoni.

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!