Readers' Pick

Catherine Ronan Karrels/Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart

What sets Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart apart from other private schools? A commitment to religious principles and social action, parents say, combined with challenging academics in a supportive community.

“In my experience, it is like no other,” says Melissa Lesmes, parent of a fifth-grader at the Catholic girls’ school in Bethesda. Stone Ridge is “really supportive of students intellectually and personally, applauding differences and focusing on great academics and faith.”

That supportive and faith-focused environment is due in no small part, parents say, to the leadership of Catherine Ronan Karrels, a Stone Ridge graduate now in her sixth year as head of the school, which serves preschoolers through 12th-graders. Among her initiatives: instituting fewer but longer classes per day for upper-school students to slow the pace but allow them to “go deeper” into lessons. Karrels, 45, always puts “the focus back on the girls,” says Mark Polla, parent of a 10th-grader and president of the Stone Ridge Parents Association.

That’s why Bethesda Magazine readers chose Karrels as “Best Private School Head” this year and Stone Ridge as the “Best Private School with a Religious Affiliation.”

“I’m blessed to be in a community with an amazing student body that is incredibly motivated and hardworking,” Karrels says. “Coming back to this place gives me the opportunity to move forward and give back to the educational family where I was fortunate to spend my childhood.”

Tuition ranges from $16,500 (preschool) to $27,900 (high school).

9101 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, 301-657-4322,

Other Top Vote Getters: (Private Religious School) Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, The Woods Academy, Georgetown Prep, St. Jane de Chantal, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, St. Elizabeth Catholic School, Academy of the Holy Cross, Connelly School of the Holy Child; (Private School Head) Gerald Boarman (Bullis), Neal Brown (Green Acres), Joe Powers (Woods), David Armstrong (Landon), Susan Gold (Feynman School), Michael Saxenian (McLean School of Maryland)