Defining Our Schools

When Sean and Krista Purcell moved their family from Canada to Pittsburgh, PA, one of the first decisions they faced was where to send their eight year old daughter Ella to school.

Ella attended an independent Christian school in Canada, but when they arrived in Pittsburgh the Purcells were unaware of the complexities that would go into choosing a school.

“We didn’t understand the whole local school versus magnet school dynamic,” Krista said. “It made me feel frustrated with an education system where it felt like there’s your local school that you can go to or you can go to a better one if you applied and made the lottery.”

It’s partly this lack of clarity around school options that the Christians Investing in Education initiative (CIE) is working to solve.

“As we have talked with people about education, we’ve found that words can often cause confusion and obscure agreement” Charity Haubrich, director of CIE, said. “We think it is most helpful to make a clear distinction between types of schools based on responsibility and accountability. That is, who is directly responsible and who is directly accountable.”

To help with these distinctions, Christians Investing in Education uses the terms government schools and independent schools. Government schools are operated by and accountable to the local and/or state government, while independent schools are operated by non-profits or religious organizations and are accountable to parents, teachers and the founding organization. [For more on this distinction see a previous FAQ, "Talking About Schools"]

Like many parents, the Purcells were first faced with choosing between a government (including local and magnet) school and an independent (including religious) school.

Ella had a positive experience at her Christian school in Canada, and so the Purcells decided to pursue a similar education for her in Pittsburgh.  Because they already had several friends with children at a local independent Christian school, they decided that would be the best option and easiest way for Ella to transition to a new school.

“When it came to Ella’s school, even though money was a huge stressor and we didn’t know if we’d be able to afford it, it felt like home,” Krista said.

Though they chose an independent school for their daughter, the Purcells recognize the need for diverse school options and that it is just as important to have conversations about improving government schools as it is for independent schools.

“We need education—differing streams of education- that allow for differing views of human life to exist,” Sean said. “It shouldn’t surprise us that for education to flourish we need a diversity of institutions contributing.”

According to Haubrich, government’s calling to pursue educational diversity is “far more achievable when it actively supports a diversity of education provision, including both government schools and independent schools, to meet the diverse needs of students.”

In addition, the Purcells came to realize that this concern for all children and all types of schools was part of their responsibilities as citizens.

 “It [CIE] has reminded me of my calling as a citizen not just as a parent with respect to education,” Sean said. “It’s easy to have tunnel vision and just think of it as a parent or not think about it as a citizen.”

Ella is finishing second grade this June, and recently participated in the school’s spring production. After over two years at the school, the Purcells said that Ella loves her teachers and the friends she has made. Thankful for the diversity of options that they had when they arrived in Pittsburgh, the Purcells are very happy with the decision they made for their family, and hope to illuminate the vital need for educational diversity, so that all families can access an education that suits the unique needs of their child. 

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