Education Cheat Sheet: Matching Family and School Values

Education is about more than academics. So how can you make sure a school matches your family values?
By Daniel White, retired founding head of school for Island Pacific Academy


Photo: Courtesy of Island Pacific Academy


When my wife, Judy, and I founded Island Pacific Academy, we were explicit to prospective families about our goal: to educate our children and ourselves about the power of human kindness while developing generosity of spirit.  If we felt a family did not share those values (and there were one or two), we did not admit them, perhaps saving them and us from an unpleasant relationship. Perhaps some families did not choose our school because they had decided our values did not match theirs.


Values steer lives.  Education provides the skills to navigate. Parents are the primary purveyor of values. That is why a good match between parental and school values is so important. One set of values at home and a conflicting set at school will do kids no favors. How might you, as parents considering various school options, determine whether or not there is a good fit between your values and those of the school?


Start by looking at the school’s history and mission. Several began as ministries of a particular religious group.  Though some of those schools no longer maintain formal connection with churches, the values of the faith are often ingrained in the school’s climate and culture. You do not need to be part of the religion to enroll your child, but you should be sure that your philosophies won’t conflict with the beliefs taught on campus. Others were not creations of churches but carry similar imprints of strong founding values and educational philosophies and are equally explicit for families to consider.


Next, schedule a visit and observe not only how the students and teachers communicate, but also the surroundings. Does it match the school’s mantra? For example, many schools in Hawaiʻi display posters around campus listing the values they espouse, often expressed in the Hawaiian language; mālamalama, ha’aheo, pono, aloha. Often, especially in elementary schools, one is chosen to be the emphasis for the week, and the adults in the community find ways to incorporate various activities.  Sometimes, students are recognized for exemplifying the value that week. Expressions such as these are indicators of a school’s climate.


There are other indicators that can help you recognize a shared set of values, so when visiting a campus be sure to take note of what you see and feel.  Whether or not a school lives its values matters. For example, what sense do you get about how teachers treat students? Or how students treat each other?  Do older students appear to look after younger ones? Are students mindful of ways that they can help others, including, perhaps you to find your way on campus? Do you get a clear sense that the teachers like their work and working with each other?  Do test scores seem to matter more than personal growth?


In a time when test scores and other measures of student outcomes have become prominent aspects in making decisions, it is worth remembering that factors, like kindness, compassion and aloha, have their place as well. Determining whether or not a school lives its values is more a matter of a feeling than something depicted by numbers. As a parent deciding about a school for your child, if the tangible or data-driven information you have complements the feeling you get from being on the campus–what you see, sense, and observe–then you can trust that the school is probably a good fit.

Parent Resources




  • The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child, by Andrew Campanella.


Daniel White, Ph.D., was the founding head of school, at Island Pacific Academy. He has served as the board president of the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools and is the co-author of a soon to be released book about the history of the Association.