Thinking about private schools, but not sure where to start? Here are some key differences

A student at Roanoke Catholic School. (Photo provided by Roanoke Catholic School)

Have you ever wondered about what life or education is like at a private school?

If you’ve never enrolled or had family or friends who attended, it’s probably a normal thing to be curious about: What are classes like? How does the experience differ from a public or independent school?

Roanoke Catholic School Principal and Head of School Patrick Patterson shared the following details about what makes his school stand out.

1. Their philosophy on teachers

Patterson is passionate about the idea of letting his teachers serve as the experts they truly are.

“We give our pastors the ability to lead their own sermons and homilies,” Patterson said. “We give our teachers those same rights.”

A teacher and a student in action at Roanoke Catholic School. (Photo provided by Roanoke Catholic School)

At Roanoke Catholic, administrators aim to find qualified teachers looking to stay in the profession for a long time -- and they want to foster that love for teaching, and keep the spark alive.

“What sometimes happens is, these teachers will get into the profession because they have an incredible zeal for teaching and for the subject matter,” Patterson said. “But because of demands beyond their scope, they lose that energy and zeal.”

Patterson said at Roanoke Catholic, they hire the best teachers in the field -- and then give them the technology and the tools they need to be successful.

“We celebrate them,” Patterson said. “After all, they’re the masters of their craft.”

A peek inside the classroom. (Photo provided by Roanoke Catholic School)

2. Their mentality on state standards and testing

Tests shouldn’t make or break you -- and that goes for students and teachers, Patterson said.

Roanoke Catholic aims to “invest vs. test.”

When it comes to Standards of Learning, or SOLs, those are what make up the commonwealth’s expectations for student learning and achievement in grades K-12 in English, mathematics, science, history/social science, technology, the fine arts, foreign language and health, and physical education.

But SOLs don’t apply to private schools.

“We don’t have to adhere to that standard,” Patterson said.

And it’s not just Virginia SOL parameters. The Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative is a proposal to modernize and update Virginia’s mathematics curriculum in grades K-12. Federal and state-directed curriculum in other subject matters is often tied to funding -- but not at Roanoke Catholic. The school has independence when it comes to curriculum design and implementation.

This foundation is what allows for the freedom to invest in the students, rather than just testing them, Patterson said.

Those standards are often not in the children’s best interests, he added -- it’s like an arbitrary report card, and it’s stressful on the students and the teachers.

Patterson would know. He’s had experience in all sorts of educational roles. He is currently finishing his 11th year at Roanoke Catholic as Principal and Head of School. He and his wife Annette have been parents at the school since 2004. Prior to that, Patterson served as the Director of Guidance and Student Services at William Byrd High School from 2007 through 2010. From 2004 to 2007 he was a guidance counselor at the same school. Prior to that, he worked in public schools in North Carolina and Florida. Patterson also served as the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Admissions for Stetson University, his alma mater, in the 1990s.

But at Roanoke Catholic, educators create the curriculum based on what they think will work best, not to appease anyone else or “check a box.”

3. The importance of delivering education, their way -- and instilling a love of learning

All of the above -- Roanoke Catholic’s intention to invest in teachers, their mentality on testing -- lets the school deliver education as they best see fit. It all comes down to avoiding teacher burnout and keeping these quality educators in the field, because that’s a trend we’re seeing, especially coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The medical field is seeing the same thing: Doctors who are washing out, Patterson said.

“And this could be a concern in the next 15 or so years,” he added. “It won’t be a pretty picture for instruction in the next two decades.”

Teachers are incredibly valuable.

“These are the people who are helping to grow the minds, bodies and souls of our kids,” Patterson said.

A faculty member helps a student. (Photo provided by Roanoke Catholic School)

Surviving this past year, all teachers deserve a giant “thank you.” Whether they taught in person the whole time, virtually throughout the last school year or juggled some hybrid combination of both, it was a huge job.

“We need to thank our teachers, and thank parents for putting their trust in us,” Patterson said.

The relationship between students and faculty members is key at a place like Roanoke Catholic.

“Kids are able to get that deeper level of learning and connection, which leads to a love of learning, so when they get older and go off to college, the military, work, or wherever it may be, we’ve created (that) for our children,” Patterson said. “We want to provide a place where they can come and be children, with a proven, solid foundation for success.”

The school (Photo provided by Roanoke Catholic School)

Click or tap here to learn more about Roanoke Catholic.