Choosing a school for your child can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders — and your wallet. But don't rule out a private school education straightaway: Leaders say they make a point to eye the economy when setting tuition, and always try to offer financial assistance to promising students.
Take Shorecrest Preparatory School. The St. Petersburg campus is the most expensive independent school in Pinellas, says headmaster Mike Murphy, but 14 percent of students receive some amount of financial aid.
"We look at the consumer price index and the inflation rate," Murphy said in a recent interview. "We are very concerned about being able to make tuition affordable for families."
Parents look to a private school like Shorecrest because they don't want to take chances on their child's education, Murphy said. "With parents, it's 'Tell me about your academic success.' . . . Here we are, in December, and 50 of the 76 seniors have already been accepted to a university," including Ivy League schools like Brown and Columbia.
More students have the opportunity to play sports, too. At Shorecrest, 82 percent of high school students play in interscholastic athletics. "You go to a much larger school, you may not be able to get that team experience," Murphy said.
John Venturella, president of Clearwater Central Catholic High School, said the smaller classes appeal to parents concerned about their children getting lost in the educational shuffle.
"The number one thing I hear is safety, the caring environment, and many of these (private) schools are the 'caring size,' " Venturella said. "Students are known. They can't get lost. And that's very important these days, with all that's going on with young people."
Getting into a private school can be tricky depending on your child's age. At Shorecrest, about half of the typical senior class will have been with the school since prekindergarten or kindergarten. "There's always a chance to get in, but after ninth grade it becomes very difficult," Murphy said.
At Clearwater Central Catholic, which starts with ninth grade, competition is stiffer than it has been in years. "We are experiencing a wait list right now," Venturella said. "In the past, because of the economic downturn it wasn't. But I have students trying to get in right now in January."
Still, both leaders encouraged students to apply, and parents not to rule them out. "Don't just write yourself off because you think you can't afford it," Venturella said. "Some schools don't have financial aid, but some schools do. You need to look very carefully, and ask that question."
Lisa Gartner can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @LisaGartner on Twitter.