Should you go independent?

Ottawa has many choices when it comes to independent schools – here’s how to find one that suits your child’s needs


            As a parent, you’re looking out for the best interest of your child. And sometimes that means making a choice between a public school or an independent school. If the choice is to go the independent route, then you must decide what kind of independent school to choose from. There are many in the Ottawa area, each with unique considerations. “There are over 100 schools to choose from in your city,” says Amanda Dervaitis, executive director of the Ontario Federation of Independent Schools, “and all very diverse, so it really comes down to understanding the goals and philosophy that fit with what you want for your child.” Dervaitis says meeting with the school’s leaders is helpful. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to look for that fit for your child with what the school is offering,” says Dervaitis. “Does your child benefit from a particular teaching method? Does the school offer specific programs or resources that will support your child’s learning? As a parent, it’s your responsibility to do your homework on the school and ask the right questions.” She also recommends paying a visit to the school during class-time hours to get a better sense of the culture and community. “Look for that fit,” says Dervaitis, “your child will be happier and so will you.”

            Sarah Craig is the executive director of CIS Ontario (Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario). Ashbury College and Elmwood School are member schools located in Ottawa. “There are so many aspects to consider when choosing the right school,” says Craig. “From location, to size of classes, to the academic approach, to extracurricular activities, to co-ed and even legacy connections – whether a family member attended the school in the past – these all need to be considered.” Craig suggests that once you’ve decided on a few schools to visit their websites for more information. “We have a school search tool on our website that can help you,” says Craig. “We know this is an important decision.” She also suggests that you start the process before your child is even of school age. “By starting early, as a parent, you’ll have a really good sense of which school is going to be the best fit for your child,” says Craig. “The whole idea is to make an informed decision so your child will be successful throughout their school years.”

            There are several independent schools in the Ottawa area. Joan of Arc Academy is an all-girls school and has existed in the community for over 60 years. “Ours is an affordable, fully bilingual school with students from junior kindergarten to Grade 8,” says Brian Lamb, head of school for Joan of Arc Academy. “We’re proud to offer a supportive environment where teachers have the time and space to work with students on developing a range of skills: academic, musical, artistic and sporting.” Being a former mathematics and science teacher, he strongly believes that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is important. “We encourage leadership experience to help ensure our girls have unlimited expectations of their future,” says Lamb, “and we provide an environment for girls to build confidence, feel empowered and thrive.”

Bishop Hamilton Montessori blends high academic expectations with the Montessori method and is a Christian school. “We’re a small school of like-minded families and we really do get to know each other,” says Renette Sasouni, the director of the school. “We’re philosophically aligned while meeting the needs of both the parents and the child.” Sasouni also says that parents expect a stress on academics, but that emotional intelligence, character building and critical thinking are important – especially in today’s world.

If your child would benefit from a consistent learning environment, St-Laurent Academy offers daycare, elementary school and high school programs. “We offer a personalized teaching approach to our students,” says Andrea Crupi, assistant school director and admissions at St-Laurent Academy. “We create individualized academic pathways in order to support each student’s learning profile.” Crupi says that St-Laurent Academy, because of their one-on-one capabilities and smaller classroom ratios, can offer differentiated programs to a variety of learners. “We believe that learning through experience is important.” 

            Considering an independent school for your child?  As Dervaitis and Craig both emphasize – do your homework. Attend the open houses that most schools offer. And if you find a school that might fit your child’s needs and your expectations, ask that your child visit for a day – in many cases mandatory for admission. Then listen to your child.



Useful websites

Conference of Independent Schools of Ontario   

Ontario Federation of Independent Schools 

All independent schools

Local independent schools