We looked at three schools - two private and one public. Carlow Campus School was recommended by two coworkers whose children went through K-8. My son is now enrolled. It's a great school and I'm glad we did it. It's a nurturing environment where you can tell they truly care about the students. He's learning a lot and loves to go to school - and that's very reassuring to me.
This is an excellent school that really values and appreciates individuals. They do a wonderful job of challenging students upwards. The 6th, 7th, and 8th grade 'upper school' is especially successful at nurturing talents in students. The academic curriculum is supportive but also academically driven, and does a great job preparing students for some of the best independent high schools in the Pittsburgh area. Carlow students excel at the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Sciences competitions, including at the state levels; at the the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair; at the PA level National Geographic Bee competition; at the Southwestern PA Forensics League, and in many other endeavors such as Robotics, MathCounts, Spelling Bee, and more. The Spring Musical is outstanding, and better than many high school productions. I recommend this school highly.
An extraordinarily bad experience-think Lord of the Flies-but I caution anyone against enrolling in Montessori 3-5 here. Like any curriculum, Montessori s execution depends on the quality of classroom teaching. It does not work when the teacher plays favorites, avoids responsibility for student learning outcomes, and has poor classroom management skills. My experience was that kids were pretty much left to their own devices for the first three semesters. If your three- or four-year-old is more likely to "choose" art, yoga, or snack than reading or math, you risk her going to first grade unprepared. My guess is that 50% of the families leave unhappy. And it gets worse: Would you be comfortable with a teacher who says "what's the matter with you" to your four-year-old when she answers a question incorrectly? Same for bullying: good teachers address it, bad teachers deny a problem exists. That's a bitter pill to swallow at $10K/year. If you consider Montessori here, choose carefully between classrooms and keep a close eye on preparedness for first grade. With current expectations for incoming first graders, an unstructured Montessori is more of a gamble than traditional preschool.
In some ways, it may be more appropriate to compare the Campus School (est. $10K annual tuition) to diocesan schools with larger class sizes but approximately one-half tuition costs rather than to other independents/privates at this point. There's been significant turnover in executive directors since 2006. Approximately 20 percent of 2010-2011 first graders did not re-enroll for the 2011-2012 year. There is parent concern about curriculum in the primary grades, and about math and languages in grades 6-8. A recent parent survey revealed concern with teacher quality. Class size is increasing, possibly due in part to declining enrollment. The school lacks a detailed policy on bullying. In practice: "Deny anything is happening, then blame the victim and refer the kid to behavioral therapy." Rumor has it that one teacher referred one-third of her class to behavioral therapy. Parents are friendly and involved but school leadership seems to lack sense of urgency about change. Lots of missed deadlines, lots of excuses, lots of glittering generalities. What can you overhear parents complaining about? Teachers playing favorites in a way that's obvious to the kids.