Bay Area Private School Guide: The Decision

Private School Girl

When you’re thinking about your child’s education, its important to consider if a private school is the right fit. The below guide will help you come to understand what types of private schools are available, translate what different accreditations mean, and help you to acquainted with new innovations. In addition, our Bay Area Private School Guide Directory offers comprehensive listings with particulars on more than 160 private schools in San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties and the East Bay.

A Big Decision

When you’re selecting a private school, it helps to narrow the field by deciding what kind of school you want your child to attend. The following categories are not mutually exclusive; some schools may fit into two or more, such as St. Helena Montessori, a Montessori school that includes Catholic teachings. Even so, knowing how the main types of schools are defined will help you advance your search.

Independent Schools

These schools are governed by their own board. Some are secular, while others have a religious mis- sion but are not part of or dependent on a specific church or temple. Independent schools in Marin County include Corte Madera’s Marin Country Day School, Mill Valley’s Marin Horizon School, San Rafael’s Marin Academy and San Domenico School.

Catholic Schools

Although there are schools affiliated with most every religion, the Catholic school system is such a major institution — enrolling 38 percent of all private school students nationwide, according to the National Center for Education Statistics — that it deserves its own category. A Catholic school may be established and supported by a parish, a diocese or a private order such as the Jesuits or Franciscans.

Not all families who choose Catholic schools subscribe to the faith; nationwide, 17 per- cent of their students are non-Catholic, according to the National Catholic Education Association. Catholic schools in Marin include Kentfield’s Marin Catholic High School, Novato’s Our Lady of Loretto School and Tiburon’s Saint Hilary School.

Non-Catholic Religious Schools

If you add up all the other types of religious schools — conservative Christian, Jewish, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventists, Quaker and others — they enroll about as many students as Catholic schools do, nationwide. Non-Catholic religious schools in Marin include San Rafael’s Brandeis Marin (Jewish) and Good Shepherd Lutheran School and Marin Christian Academy, both in Novato.

Montessori Schools

This approach to education has been around for more than a century, but it’s enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent decades as parents increasingly embrace Montessori’s focus on the whole child, with independent activities and materials that appeal to kids’ senses. The North American Montessori Teachers Association estimates there are about 4,500 Montessori schools in the United States, most of them private. Maria Montessori originally developed her teaching philosophy for preschoolers, and the majority of Montessori schools still focus on early childhood education. But some include elementary and even secondary grade levels. Montessori schools in Marin include Corte Madera’s Marin Montessori School and San Rafael’s Montessori de Terra Linda School.

Waldorf Schools

Less common than other private school models, with only about 150 schools in North America according to Waldorf Answers, this is nonetheless an attractive educational philosophy to many progressive parents. Waldorf is sometimes categorized alongside Montessori since both allow students to move beyond the desks and worksheets of today’s mainstream class- room. However, Waldorf schools in practice are fairly distinct from Montessori. Students in a Waldorf school may spend more time creating things, whether it’s artwork or knitting with wool. Another distinguishing factor: Waldorf schools don’t teach academics until first grade. For more on what defines Waldorf, see this article on Waldorf versus Montessori.

This article originally appeared on Marin Magazine’s website under the headline: “The Bay Area Private School Guide.”

CarrieKirbyCarrie Kirby spends a lot of time asking people about something they think about but rarely talk about: money. Her work on personal finance, business and technology has appeared in San Francisco Magazine, Consumers Digest, Wise Bread and more publications. Carrie’s most recent work about her other love, travel, appears in The Best Women’s Travel Writing: Volume 10. She lives on an island (Alameda) with her husband and three kids, and blogs about getting them all where they need to go without owning a car at


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