Class Acts

Top-notch academics? That’s pretty much a given at Philly’s private high schools. It’s special programs — inside and outside the classroom — that make a certain place stand out as the perfect choice for your child. From advanced science and technology offerings to international exchange and in-depth community service, here’s an honor roll of schools that excel in eight major areas

Visual Arts

The Shipley School

Co-ed day, preK-12; tuition $26,500. 14 Yarrow Street, Bryn Mawr, 10-525-4300,

At Shipley, art is more than just a class — it’s a life skill. The program emphasizes what department head Chris Wagner calls “creative problem-solving,” which can be applied both inside and outside the classroom. (And her students have done just that, in some unexpected ways: One alumna, for example, now works with the FBI as an art theft expert.) Unlike many other art programs, Shipley’s boasts measurable results: Its students have been responsible for 69 percent of all of the 5’s in AP Studio Art among Pennsylvania non-public-school students over the past 20 years. The secret? A quartet of gifted upper school instructors, says Wagner, who guide students as they create the 29 pieces required for the AP portfolio. — B.S.

Country Day School of the Sacred Heart.
Students learn from the masters here. Taught in conjunction with art history, the program trains students in the methods of such artists as Vincent van Gogh and Louise Nevelson, developing appreciation for past talent while forming a strong base for personal creativity. Girls-only day, preK-12; tuition $14,400. 480 Bryn Mawr Avenue, Bryn Mawr, 610-527-3915,

Friends Select School. As if studying the Renaissance in Milan during a two-week exchange isn’t enough, students also develop original theses at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and present them during a class-guided tour. Co-ed day, preK-12; tuition $23,925. 17th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway, 215-561-5900,

George School. At George, the arts receive the super-intensive International Baccalaureate treatment in every discipline, including two levels of video production and woodworking, and a course in alternative photographic processes ranging from antique methods to the most up-to-date digital technologies. Co-ed day and boarding, grades 9-12; day tuition $29,300, boarding tuition $39,600. 1690 Newtown-Langhorne Road, Newtown, 215-579-6500,

Westtown School. The Arts Center at Westtown stays open outside of class time so students can work not only on assignments, but also on independent projects, some of which end up next to professional work in the school’s exhibition gallery. Co-ed day and boarding, preK-12; day tuition $25,300, boarding tuition $40,250. 975 Westtown Road, Westtown, 610-399-0123,

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  • Debbie

    Mount St. Joseph Academy in Flourtown has been a top performing school for 150 years, how did you over look them on this list? They produce typically 9 National Merit finalist each year and have a tremendous community outreach program as well as athletic state champs in many sports programs. I feel that the intern who wrote this article perhaps didn't have quite enough education himself to report the facts correctly! Next time leave it to a seasoned professional to do the reporting of major articles that impact the community.

  • Jen

    The tuition at these schools, save Girard, is more than my college tuition was, and I finished my Bachelor's degree in 2007 (from a public college in NJ). My family could never have afforded to send me to these schools. The one school they could have afforded, Girard, would nat have accepted me because I have two parents, still married. Are kids from stable two parent families with modest incomes going to loose their edge in life because they don't have mountains of either cash or emotional hardship?

  • Michael

    I found the article "Class Acts" edited by Timothy Hass full of bias and elitism. As a former teacher in both public and private institutions, I would like to know why Mr. Haas advertised only the outstanding academic departments of private schools and ignored public schools. It is interesting to note that no mention was made of the relatively few elite students private school educate as opposed to the number of students in the fifty top public schools. Why was the measurement criteria "Bang for the Buck" only reserved for comparing public institutions? My guess is that after one pays private school tuitions of between $26.000.00 to $39,000.00 per year, you need to find a place to live that squeezes every cent out of the public school taxes so they remain low as possible. The follow up article by Tom McGrath makes some excellent points about how we need to prepare young people for the world of the 21st century. Mr. McGrath concludes his article stating that Bill Gates' "educational

  • Kathleen

    Philadelphia Magazine has consistently ignored Mount Saint Joseph Academy, despite the fact that it outperforms many of the other schools listed. The fact that Philadelphia Magazine bases it's private school ratings on "buzz" rather than objective criteria seriously decreases it's credibility in my eyes.

  • chris

    I love this school its a little pricey but its worth it