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The evolution of education

Private schools changing with the times

by Diane Silcox-Jarrett


The Triangle is home to many a private school, each with its own curriculum and personality. But these schools also are experiencing some common trends, not the least of which is an ever-increasing interest in this form of education.


“The popularity of independent schools in the Triangle has increased dramatically in recent years,” says Dr. R. Mason Goss, head of school for Triangle Day School in Durham.


To accommodate growing demand, the independent school is expanding its capacity from 200 to 400 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.


But Goss is quick to note that small class size — a hallmark for private and independent schools — will remain the same, at around 16 students.


Kait Paden, director of admissions at Duke School for Children in Durham, says the school also keeps class sizes small.


“We are a progressive school, and we are staying true to our methodology,” she says.


“Our first concern is that each student is given the chance to learn and think on their own.”


But while classes might remain small, private schools are realigning aspects of their schools to match the times. Parents have become busier, as an increasing number of families have both spouses working. At Durham Academy, students are offered after-school activities such as dance, chess and musical instruments.


“Parents are so busy that this convenience saves them time driving from school to multiple practices or lessons,” says Victoria Muradi, director of admissions and financial aid.


A changing landscape

Many independent and private schools also are seeing a rise in diversity among students, as well as a rise in international students, illustrating the concept of how the world is shrinking. Future generations will have to live more globally, and private  schools in the Triangle increasingly reflect this in their curricula.


“A global focus has become an important part of private schools,” explains Myra McGovern, director of public information for the National Association of Independent Schools.


Fortunately, private schools have the ability to work closely with students to help them prepare for the world that faces them. According to McGovern, one of the main benefits of a private school is an ability to innovate quickly to keep the entire school attuned to a changing world.


But the potential for information overload means it is increasingly important to keep families involved in their schools.


“We build partnerships with families by holding workshops about issues important to them, such as Internet safety and developing positive body image,” Muradi explains.


Goss sees many independent schools seeking accreditation for college admission purposes. For example, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) accredits Triangle Day School, as well as Duke University in Durham, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. State University in Raleigh.


“High schools and universities know what caliber of student they are receiving from accredited independent schools such as Triangle Day School,” he says.


“Beyond mastering basic skills, students learn to think critically, reason logically and apply their knowledge in practical applications.” 


Diane Silcox-Jarrett is a freelance writer based in Raleigh.


What is a charter school?

Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate free from many of the regulations traditional public schools must follow. Essentially, the charter each school must have in order to be established is a performance contract detailing its mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure success.


According to U.S. Charter Schools, almost 3,000 have been launched since states began passing legislation allowing for their creation during the 1990s. Most charter schools are granted between three and five years of operation, with an opportunity for renewal once a specified timeframe is up. Charter schools are accountable to their sponsor — typically a state or local school board — to produce positive academic results and adhere to the charter contract, and are responsible for fiscal practices as well.


 “Charter schools provide the best of both worlds, public and private,” says Marcia Huth, director of The Hawbridge School in Saxapahaw outside Chapel Hill.


“Charter high schools such as The Hawbridge School typically are much smaller than large public high schools, and teachers are better able to design lessons around each student’s strengths,” she adds. “As a public school, however, it attracts students from families who not only are seeking excellence in education but also those possibly unable to afford the cost of a private school.”


To learn more about charter schools, visit To learn more about The Hawbridge School, visit