Independent schools follow a distinct and unique tradition in American education. Unlike public schools, independent schools do not attempt to serve all students or all families. Unlike purely parochial schools, independent schools are not governed by the sponsoring church, nor are they dependent on church funds to exist. Unlike private corporation schools, there is no stockholder ownership of an independent school, and the governing board is not elected by or appointed to serve a constituency of owners.
Independent schools are established to further the founding vision, typically embodied in the school's mission statement, philosophy and goals. They are governed by an independent Board of Trustees whose primary responsibility is to perpetuate and preserve the founding vision of the school in today's world, but which delegates the day-to-day management of the school to a Headmaster appointed by the Board of Trustees.