A family’s choice to consider independent school for their children often hinges on two questions for which the answers often seem mutually exclusive:
- In what educational environment will my child best thrive?
- Can our family afford the cost?
Embedded within these two questions is another, more nuanced question: If our family can’t afford all that tuition and the school is able to help us with the costs, will we feel like full, participating members of the community? Will we feel like we belong? Will we be supported, seen, and heard in the same way as other families?
Creating and sustaining a community that responds to those questions with a resounding “Yes” is fundamental to Park’s mission. In her role as Assistant Head of School for Finance & Operations, Kimberly Boyd oversees every area of the School’s financial management, including tuition and billing, and she is deeply committed to making Park’s policies as transparent and smooth as possible. She notes, “Park strives to be a community that reflects the diverse backgrounds and perspectives of the world we live in, and because differences in socioeconomic status are part of the diversity we value, we need to do our part to meet the demonstrated need of families we hope to enroll.” Yet because the systems and expectations surrounding what is typically called “financial aid” can be very complicated, uncomfortable, and confusing, Kim hopes that Park can make the process as smooth as possible. This year, she was thrilled to hire Lachelle McKinley-Connor as Controller and as a partner in managing financial aid for the School. In her new role, Lachelle looks forward to helping families get to that “Yes” as smoothly and comfortably as possible.
The work begins with Park’s mission statement, which underscores the central commitment to academic excellence and “to fostering a nurturing environment in which children develop curiosity, express creativity, appreciate the value of hard work and discipline, and experience the joy of learning.” It also affirms the commitment to “being a metropolitan, coeducational day school of diverse races, religions, cultures, and backgrounds. Central to its mission is an appreciation of similarities and differences of perspectives and the interdependence of all people.” To live its mission, therefore, the entire Park community must prioritize equity and inclusion. That aspiration is the expectation to which we strive in everything we do, and it’s why we believe that inability to pay full tuition must never be an obstacle to a family’s full and deep sense of belonging.
Still, Lachelle knows the process can be daunting, and she is working hard with the other members of the Financial Aid Committee to make the ways the School supports families easier to access and more transparent. For starters, this year, in the process of looking closely at our tuition program, Park recognized that the minimum expected contribution required of families qualifying for need-based adjusted tuition still put too high a financial burden on some families. This year, the minimum contribution has been reduced to $300, a number that may still require a stretch from some families, but effort that we hope will be within reach.
Further, Park’s need-based adjusted tuition considers the full cost of the Park experience. Financial aid is also available to help support the “extras” — from books to transportation to after school activities, enrichment classes, PA events, and more. Lachelle says, “Families will know up front what percentage will be applied, and it applies to everything. “ Once Park accepts a family through the admission process, the School’s commitment to the family is ongoing. While families need to submit financial documents each year, Park’s expectation is that need-based tuition adjustments will apply for as long as the family needs the support. It’s not unusual for families to find their need changing — particularly in uncertain times like we’ve seen recently — and Park does its best to be as collaborative as possible to work with unexpected changes that leave a family feeling stretched.
Park’s process of evaluating need and adjusting tuition begins with a family’s application through School and Student Services (SSS). Financial information submitted through SSS is verified, analyzed, and provided to all the schools to which a family has applied. Kimberly Boyd notes, “The SSS process helps ensure that everyone is treated equitably. The quantitative data families provide give a baseline for what a family can afford, and our conversations with families help fill in what doesn’t come through in the numbers.”
Need-based support is, notably, different from “scholarship” or “merit” funding, categories of funding that some schools (typically at the collegiate level but sometimes secondary schools) offer to attract highly ranked athletes or top students who might otherwise choose to attend more competitive schools. The most competitive colleges and universities typically do not offer scholarships or merit funding, and follow practices similar to Park’s that base all tuition adjustments on verified financial need.
“Our ability to support need-based adjusted tuition allows us to create the kind of community we believe in, where students can learn from and with peers who broaden their perspectives on the world,” Lachelle observes. Lachelle’s years of experience working in the nonprofit sector makes her well suited to this work of community. She notes, “In nonprofit work, it’s not just about the bottom line. It’s about the service you provide, and about meeting the needs of your community in the most effective way. Lachelle came to Park this winter from Beth Israel Needham Hospital and, coming from such a care-oriented institution, is naturally wired to take care of people.
Among her first projects at Park has been outreach to the Parents’ Association to help coordinate equitable access to Park events in ways that support full participation in the community experience while maintaining privacy.
In addition to continuing to increase the transparency of the tuition adjustment process, Lachelle, Kim, and the entire Financial Aid Committee look forward to supporting Park’s outreach to communities we don’t currently reach, and to families who may not understand the ways in which affording Park may be possible. This increased transparency and support also coincides with the Parent Association’s creation of an affinity group for families who receive financial aid, which further helps support and increase the sense of belonging among these families.
Lachelle observes, “We want to make things work with our families. I want to know each of our families who qualify for adjusted tuition personally, to be accessible and open to questions large and small. Our partnership with Park families…it’s a relationship, not a transaction.” She hopes that she and the Business Office team will be “people that the community feels connected to, who help them feel more included,” and, she notes, this will help her team also feel more included, connecting them more deeply to their work for the community.
Stay in touch!
Lachelle McKinley-Connor: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Kimberly Boyd: email@example.com