Two Abandoned “A-List” Private School Tours (re-post)

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Originally published August 8, 2010. 

When we were looking at kindergarten for my daughter, I think we toured about 10 schools.

There were two school tours that I’ll mention in this post because (1) they are extremely coveted schools with big reputations (and, we found, egos to match) and (2) my husband and I abandoned both tours mid-stream in order to maintain our sanity.

School #1

The first school is a near-impossible-to-get-into K-12 school, not exactly close to our house. With traffic, it’s about an hour drive. Our tour was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. I scheduled my nanny to come at 6 a.m. to make sure we could leave the house on time.

On the way to the tour, my husband and I had an argument. Traffic was horrible, there was road construction and a detour. My husband had already decided this wasn’t going to be a drive we could do. I wanted to continue on to the school and complete the tour. We were totally stressed and snapping at each other. He was driving, tailgating the car ahead. He knows this makes me carsick.

We arrived at the school and were greeted by the admissions director, an ice queen. She had us and the other group of parents stand outside the admissions office while she told us about the school. It went on for an eternity. The ice queen droned on. Bored out of my mind, my eyes wandered. Parents were dropping off their kids for school. A very showy drop-off scene. We waited for a few late arrivals than preceded to start the tour. The actress Maria Bello, wearing Hudson Jeans, was on the tour, along with her ex-husband. My husband was on the verge of being an “ex” as well, as he made small talk with Ms. Bello, striving to find some commonality in their Philadelphia roots. When he made reference to her cheerleader scene in “A History of Violence,” I ushered him away for a sharp elbowed reminder of why we were there.

The building of this school is quite nice. It’s big and relatively new. The walls are adorned with the art of famous LA artists. Although this art was probably donated, the artists on display sell their work for hundreds of thousands of dollars per painting.

We went into the kindergarten classroom, where they were doing show and tell. Show and tell? In my mind, that’s an old-fashioned, dated waste of time. This was a hip, modern school. The teacher had a kid up at the front of the class with his item to show. It was some sort of small animal, as I remember. Another little girl was sobbing hysterically, since school had just stared a few weeks earlier. It was hard to focus with her crying and they finally had her leave the room with a teacher. Not impressive. It definitely didn’t live up to the hype.

Then, it was time to go to the math class. The teachers talked about the math program, which seemed fine, if not a bit fuzzy. They also seemed quite proud of the fact that a girl in the class had broken her arm on a recent overnight field trip. I’d pay more than $20,000 to have my kid break an arm on a field trip?

This school is big on community service and really touted its various programs to help the community. Parents on the tour seemed very impressed by this. To me the programs seemed outdated and stale. There’s a lot more innovative stuff happening in LA schools, but it wasn’t there. The programs appeared to be at least a decade old. Parents were complimenting the admissions director at every opportunity. I was sure Maria Bello liked the school the most of everyone. She keep oohing and nodding with approval at everything.

To me, the school seemed chilly, it lacked warmth. Perfect buildings, gorgeous artwork, no energy, way too quiet for a lower school.

After the community service portion of the tour, my husband and I gave each other “the look” which means “let’s go”. The tour wasn’t finished, but we knew this wasn’t the school for us. We left. In some ways, it feels good to cross a school off your list. On the other hand, that leaves one less option.

School #2

Plastic surgery. Designer logos. Super-high heels. Haughty attitudes. The Real Housewives of New York? Nope. A private elementary school tour in Los Angeles.

The second tour we abandoned is yet another super-difficult school to get into. I was curious to see this school since it is one of the most sought after private elementary schools in LA. This is partly because of the celebrities who have kids at the school and partly because of the parents at the school, many of whose heads are swelled to the point of bursting with self-importance. Of all the schools, this school suffers (or benefits) from the most rumors about how many kids will be accepted, how many siblings, etc. Parents can spend hours talking about whether this school will admit one or two new kids in a given admissions cycle. We toured it at the suggestion of our preschool director.

We arrived and were told we’d be on a tour with two other families. There were lots of other tours taking place at the same time. This school has a low-key exterior and location that belies its interior pretentiousness.

The mom who was our tour guide was very unfriendly, had a plastic surgeon husband (who had clearly worked on her face, and my husband speculated a little too loudly, her rejuvenation) and knew very little about what was actually happening in the classrooms. She was jittery and unfocused. I wanted to switch tour guides. Her focus was to look around to see who else was on the other tours. Head to toe in designer clothes, she had zero interest in my family. None. She never made eye contact. Nor did she have any interest in our companion family on the tour. They were not wealthy enough, it was obvious, even though the husband mentioned he was a lawyer.

After the tour, the head of school welcomed parents in the auditorium. This head of school is very impressive. Or so the head of school told everyone in the ten minutes that were allocated to us. However, we knew that wouldn’t be enough to make this school work for us. My husband and I saw a door marked “Emergency Exit”. Too bad, or we could have made our escape. Again, we gave each other “the look” We made a quick exit out the front and were gone.

I write about these two abandoned tours to say that even if everyone else likes a school, you may not. It’s better to bow out early than waste everyone’s time. I couldn’t get excited about either school. Parents all around me were practically hyper-ventilating they wanted a spot at both these schools so badly. These two schools were all theirs.

Our preschool director tried to get us to re-think this school. Tour it again. We have friends there and they love it. It simply wasn’t right for our family.

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In the LA Times: “To Donald Trump, from the undocumented immigrant who graduated alongside your daughter” (at Viewpoint School)

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My kids attend Viewpoint School, as I’ve mentioned previously. They co-exist among students who are Democrats and Republicans, Independents and Libertarians. They discuss politics, sometimes. A few weeks ago, the Upper School held an assembly to help students understand how to talk about politics with respect toward each other. Barry and I are lifelong Democrats. He might be slightly more liberal than I am, although I’m not even sure why he even thinks that. My kids are also Democrats, in 7th and 10th grade.

 

the-patriot

 

The Patriot, Viewpoint’s school newspaper, came out with an edition on election day. In it, my daughter interviewed Scott Baio, one of President-elect Trump’s celebrity convention speakers. Many of us will remember Scott Baio as “Chachi” on the hit show Happy Days. My daughter’s politics are different than Baio’s. That doesn’t matter. She had a chance to interview a dad at her school who’d spoken at the Republican National Convention. She said he was accessible, funny and of course, serious.

Diana Delgado Cornejo’s opinion piece in the LA Times will stay with me for a long time. The writer’s brutal, unflinching honesty–and hope–stunned me. It is one of the reasons Viewpoint is the kind of school I want my kids to attend. They are fortunate to be there, to be around people who don’t share their beliefs and those who are like-minded. I know that. I hope they do too.

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    Originally published August 8, 2010.  When we were looking at kindergarten for my daughter, I think we toured about 10 schools. There were two school tours that I’ll mention in this post because (1) they are extremely coveted schools with big reputations (and, we found, egos to match) and (2) my husband and I abandoned…
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Lisa Marfisi: From L.A. Admissions Director To Educational Consultant

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lisa-m3

 

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Secondary School Admissions: Q&A with Admissions Director (re-post)

Hugh Gallagher Essay

 

This post was originally published on June 9, 2015. It was written by Beyond The Brochure’s guest contributor, Alice. We are sharing it again because extracurricular activities for the secondary school admissions process are a BIG DEAL! 

I consider myself occasionally sane when it comes to parenting. I don’t wildly over book my kids, or expect them to be proficient in coding by third grade, nor do I ask them to study Chinese on the weekends, so I don’t think of myself as someone prone to resume padding, but I’ve done it. The reality is that middle and high school applications give you large spaces in which they expect you to write down your child’s extracurricular activities and awards. It’s a painful process if you’ve got nothing, so even the best of us have turned walking the dog into “community service.”

There are a lot of blank spaces on those applications to fill in and if your child doesn’t play an instrument, hates sports and hasn’t saved the needy lately, you may have a problem that a last minute visit to a homeless shelter and a day in computer camp won’t fix it. My older children had enough real things to muddle through. So far my son has baseball. If you know you plan to send your kid to private school, then you need to think about this earlier than you might like to, not in order to do resume building, but to genuinely help your child start to identify his or her interests.

I sat down with an admissions veteran who has 25 years of experience at at prestigious private schools (in L.A. and other cities) to ask about the importance of extracurriculars.–Alice

Alice: Thank you for taking the time to educate us on what admissions directors like yourself think about the importance of an applicant’s extracurricular activities.

Admissions Director: If the child is an academic match for the school but you have five spaces and fifty students who would be academically great… That’s when you start looking at the extracurriculars… at who is the violinist and whose the swimmer.

Alice: How much detail are you looking for?

Admissions Director: I would not go into great detail on an application about each specific kind of activity. Use bullet points and be brief. The thicker the file, the more questions I will ask. Why do you need this resume and two DVDs that show a choir performance? When you supplement, make it really relevant. Frankly I don’t have time to watch the whole thing (choir performance) anyway.

Alice: What do you think when you see few or no outside interests?

Admissions Director: That depends on the child’s age. A student who is younger might not really know what their passions or interests are yet and that’s okay. You wouldn’t expect a middle school child to have already identified all their interests.

Alice: Is there a good number?

Admissions Director: There or four… That might show they have already developed a few interests, things that speak to them already.

Alice: How do you separate a kid’s real interests from the parent’s resume padding?

Admissions Director: In an interview you can tell what a child is truly passionate about or truly loves. If you ask about Chinese and their eyes glaze over, that might not be their true interest. Then you talk soccer, and they get excited, our team did this and that. When they have details and are excited to talk about it, you know it’s real. Especially as you’re going into seventh or ninth grade… they are much more communicative than third graders are.

Alice: Is all lost for the kid with nothing on the resume?

Admissions Director: Not necessarily. Sometimes you meet a kid with no big identifiable interests and think that maybe the school can be the spark that ignites that kid who hasn’t found him/herself yet. But that depends on everything else in the file. If every teacher says great student. and a pleasure to teach, then that’s still interesting. Resumes are tie- breakers in a way. First you look at the student academically and whether he/she will be a good fit for the school, then the resume is the gravy.

Alice: Are you focused on class building?

Admissions Director: When I put classes together, I read all the folders first and focus on getting to know the individual child and family. But, there is a time after you’ve somewhat put the class together, that you think, “What am I covering here?” Do we have diversity, the artists, the sports kids? You want to make sure you have a mixture and a rich environment for other students.

Alice: Thank you for your time!

This is just what I suspected. The reality is that schools like Harvard-Westlake, Viewpoint, Brentwood, etc. are all trying to build classes. For them that means they need a wide variety of kids with different interests. They’ve hired a drama teacher and someone to teach Chinese so they need to look for kids who will audition for plays and study language. And they need to field their teams. The admission director can no more accept a hundred kids who want to play football than they can take thirty kids who play the piano. They have to have tennis players, soccer and field hockey players and the whole rest of the orchestra.

It’s like the old Kennedy quote… ask not… what the school can do for your kid, but what your kid will do for the school.–Alice

Mother of three, Alice attended east coast private schools as a child and has been in the private school world as a parent for nearly twenty years. Her kids attended Mirman for elementary, then Harvard-Westlake and Brentwood for high school, with one still to go. She is a writer working in film, TV and for various magazines such as Family Fun, Wondertime, Glamour and Brides.

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These Preschools Are The Ivy League of Early Education in “Town and Country”

 

Montessori Shir-Hashirim, Hollywood
Montessori Shir-Hashirim, Hollywood

Here’s a piece about the best preschools in L.A., and other cities. I’m quoted in the article, talking about feeder preschools. My daughter’s preschool, Montessori Shri-Hashirim in on the list! –Christina

Take a look:

Forget university; the most frenzied applications are being filled out right now in open-concept kitchens and wood-paneled dining rooms from Nob Hill to the Upper East Side. It’s fall, which means one thing: preschool application time.” To read the rest of the article, click on Town and Country Magazine.

 

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