Parents on Prowl for the Best High School
The Columbus Dispatch
December 10, 2007

By Charlie Boss

One school was too big. Another is an all-boys school and wouldn't admit his younger sister. But Columbus Academy seemed just right as John Bacon and his family weaved through the busy hallways of the Gahanna private school.

"It seems like such a great school," said Bacon, an eighth-grader at Gahanna Middle School East. "Everyone is nice here."

His parents, Brian and Pat, are also fans. They have been weighing their options of high schools outside of Gahanna Lincoln. While St. Francis DeSales and St. Charles are contenders, all three prefer the academy.

"It's good to have so many choices," said Pat Bacon, who is looking for a school she believes will challenge her son. "This is like a college search for me."

Just about four months into the school year, middle-school families throughout central Ohio already have started the high-school search.

They are visiting open houses, taking tours and talking to students. They are asking about school culture, campus safety and academic rigor.

School shopping used to be relegated to the college search, but now it has moved down to high school and earlier, said Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant in Washington, D.C.

"There's a fear on the part of families that the educational system is going to let their students down if they are not careful," Goodman said.

In Franklin County, parents can choose from 31 private, religious and charter high schools, not to mention traditional public schools.

More than 70 percent of the 71,571 Franklin County high-school students attended a traditional public high school last year, according to state enrollment figures.

Private schools, meanwhile, are becoming more competitive, Goodman said.

"There's a lot of information-seeking, and that's a good thing for families to do," said, Maryline Kulewicz, director of admissions at the Wellington School in Upper Arlington. "Ultimately, what we're looking for is the best match. There's a school out there for every student."

Demand for Wellington's upper school has been growing. This year's enrollment of 211 high-school students is the largest ever, Kulewicz said.

"We've had to turn away students," she said. "We've run out of space."

Columbus Academy generally has three applications for each of the 20 to 22 seats available for incoming ninth-graders.

So far, Columbus School for Girls has had 104 inquiries for about 18 freshman openings next fall, officials said.

Some of the higher-rated local charter schools -- which are tuition-free public schools -- such as the Graham School in Clintonville and Arts and College Preparatory Academy on the East Side are reporting high levels of interest, too.

"We get calls when kids are in the sixth grade" because parents want to make sure they have a spot, said Greg Brown, principal and dean of academics at the Graham School and the Charles School, a charter school developed by Graham and Ohio Dominican University.

Traditional public schools are responding to the trend by marketing their strengths and adding variety to their offerings.

"We've had increased competition," said Jeff Warner, spokesman for Columbus City Schools. "It's helped us to look at how we can best serve our students."

The expanded district options include a virtual high school; revamped career technical academies; specialized programs in math, technology and science; and DeVry Advantage Academy, where juniors and seniors can earn an associate degree while in high school.

Gahanna Lincoln Principal Mark White said he's aware that families are school shopping, so he has visited parent-teacher meetings at the district's three middle schools to answer questions and catalog the offerings at Lincoln. And starting next month, teams of freshmen will return to their middle schools and talk to eighth-graders about the high-school experience, he said.

"This is sort of a sign of our times," White said. "Society wants choices. I think that applies to our schooling."

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