Public School Woes Impacting Private Elementary Schools?

Over the past school year, we’ve talked with several private elementary school insiders about the impact of public school budget woes on private elementary schools. Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2010 is completed, some private school insiders believe that public school budget cuts, negative press and other challenges have caused some parents to apply to private elementary schools at the kindergarten and other grade levels at a higher rate than usual. This trend, they believe, will continue next year. Next year may also find families from Beverly Hills Unified, who were on out-of-district permits that are no longer allowed, applying to private elementary schools.


And, this perceived trend away from public schools may be responsible for less movement on wait-lists at top schools this year than in previous years. Apparently, there has been very little movement on wait-lists so far this admissions cycle at the top private elementary schools. In other words, very few families are being accepted from wait-lists, according to one of our well-connected sources. This is in contrast to last year where there was quite a bit of wait-list movement. However, that’s not to say there is no wait-list movement, just not a lot. We do know several families this year who have been accepted from wait-lists already.


One school official told us that the single most important factor this year driving admissions to private elementary schools has been the exit of public school families to private schools. Obviously, this information is anecdotal. We have friends at LAUSD and Santa Monica Unified who are very happy with their public elementary schools and are busy fundraising like crazy to fill the budget gaps. Nonetheless, we are always curious about private elementary school trends and like to share this information on the blog.


We know at least a few of you are as interested in this stuff as we are!

Private Elementary School Buzz…

Overheard at a private jewelry trunk show Porcha and I attended to benefit Project Knapsack, Porcha’s nonprofit which provides school supplies to African children…LA socialites raving about Wildwood School and Windward School.

 The Pilgrim School is creating a buzz within private school circles.  It hired an impressive new head of school within the past few years. Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth is also attracting positive attention from private school insiders and entertainment industry parents for its all academic and all-around excellence.

Curtis School accepted only two non-sibling families for DK for fall 2010.

The Willows Community School recently invited all parents to a meeting with architects to learn more about the school’s master planning process for long-term campus enhancements.

The Very Private Side Of Private Elementary Schools

During our April 19 panel discussion at the Beverly Hills Country Club, panelist and private school expert, Kim Hamer* told the audience she lost her husband a year ago to cancer. Parents who heard her speak were moved by her composure in the face of such a staggering loss. Several of them were in tears. Kim went on to say that her children’s schools (PS#1 and Windward) have been incredibly supportive and continue to provide support to her and her three children. She mentioned that a mom who she doesn’t know called her recently to ask if Kim needed something from Target. When Kim hesitated, the mom pressed her saying, “Kim I know there’s something you must need.”


I realized that Kim’s willingness to share her story illustrated a side of private schools many people don’t really know about. The supportive community found at many private schools (and probably public schools too) was new to me when my kids began school at The Willows. When my daughter was in kindergarten, a Willows mom who had breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy was offered help to deal with the crisis facing her family. Willows families drove her kids to school and back. Many of us dropped off healthy meals for her family. We grocery shopped for her, using a list she provided. When she felt well enough for us to stop, we did. Then, when she needed more help, we picked up where we left off. I’m sure the school did much more than I even know. I’m thrilled to say that she is now healthy and gorgeous, taking care of her two kids.


The school also rallied around an amazing Willows mom who cared for her husband during his long battle with non-smokers lung cancer. The school helped take care of her family’s needs both during his illness and after his death. Recently, she entered a Facebook contest on Ciao Bambino to win a free trip to Italy to honor her late husband’s work there. Willows families used Facebook to help her win the trip. She’s so excited that together with her two children, she’ll get the chance to visit the places in Italy she and her late husband shared together.


I can honestly say that this is a side of private schools I didn’t know existed. I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was 19 so I think I’m especially sensitive to the needs of families who are facing illness and death. I’ve been so amazed at the outpouring of support for families who are dealing with tragedy at our school. There may be many things that come to mind when you think of private schools in LA. But, taking care of their own during difficult times probably isn’t something most people think much about. The schools don’t talk about it. They just help to take care of the family in need. That’s the way it should be.

Kim Hamer is a mom at Windward and PS#1 and a former educational consultant. 

Private Elementary School Homework: What’s it really like?

When I was applying to schools, and once my daughter was accepted to The Willows School, I wondered about the homework. What would the homework be like? Would my daughter be able to complete it on her own or would she need help? Would she resist doing homework or welcome the challenge? Obviously, each private elementary school is different, but here are some examples of my kids’ homework from first and third grades for you to see. At The Willows School, homework in kindergarten is infrequent so first grade is when homework really begins.

When you tour schools, pay attention to the issue of homework. Parents sometimes have misconceptions about the type or amount of homework a school should be giving their child. They want MORE homework or LESS homework. Whatever the problem, if they are out of sync with the school’s educational philosophy, it can be a frustrating situation. And, the problem can probably be avoided if you ask questions early and look carefully at the school’s academic program. Still, at every school you’ll find parents who think the school is “too academic” or “not academic enough” and they tend to focus on homework as the most visible example of their dissatisfaction. Try not to get pulled into the frenzy. You can trust that most private elementary schools balance homework with the entire academic program as well as extra-curricular activities.

First Grade Homework Example:

Language Arts Homework Example:

Read 15 minutes per night, kids choose the book (my son is reading “Diary of A Wimpy Kid”)

Write a sentence for each of these 5 spelling words:

1. Food, 2. True, Spoon, Clue, Glue

2. List the words you know how to spell with the /ae/ sound. (a, ai, a-e, ay ) and /ie (ie i-e, y, igh. Write a descriptive sentence for each word.

3. Trace over each word below and write the word 2 more times.

Wet, Yes, Set, Gas, Hot, Red, Hen,

4. Look at a picture. Use an adjective to describe the picture.

First Grade Math:

1. Make these true: 30>?, 18>? 103>?
2. Count by 2s, starting at 20, ending at 36
3. Count by 2s, starting at 50, ending at 66

Third Grade Homework:

Language Arts:

“Her skill at constructing webs landed her a job as the first spider to go up in space”
The word “constructing” in paragraph 1 above means
a. finding
b. fixing
c. making
d. moving

In Class Math Test:
1, 2 x 322=
a. 644
b. 744
c. 544
d. not given

2. 572 x 468 =
a. 267,686
b. 67, 696
c. 167, 696
d. none of these

Math Homework:
1. 4/5<> 8/11

2. 1/8 <> 1/2

3. What does the 4 in 9,742 mean?
a. four hundred
b. four
c. forty
d. four thousand

At home reading, several books per week (my daughter is reading “Anastasia” by Lois Lowry)

"Race To Nowhere" Pre-Screening, Q&A With Director

* Update: I saw this film yesterday. It was totally eye-opening, and thought-provoking…extremely powerful stories and messages from students, parents and educators. I highly recommend seeing it if you get the opportunity!

The Race To Nowhere: The Dark Side Of America’s Achievement Culture is a documentary film examining the pressures faced by youth, teachers and parents in our achievement obsessed education system and culture. Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills needed, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic running rampant in our schools.

Vicki Abeles directed The Race To Nowhere and she was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about the film (see below). I plan to attend the film’s pre-release screening on May 24th at 3:30 p.m. and I hope you’ll join me! Vicki will be there to host a lively and thought-provoking discussion following the film. Details below.

Q. I watched the four-minute trailer of The Race To Nowhere and it’s absolutely fascinating. As the director, what is the main message of the film you’d like viewers to take away from the movie?

A. My main message is that we have an epidemic of unprepared, disengaged, unhealthy kids trying to manage an extreme. We cannot wait for policies to change or for large institutions to make the changes our kids need today. My hope is that everyone leaves the film inspired and empowered to form alliances and become advocates for change. The film is a vehicle for bringing communities together to break the silence and to move forward, together in a way that better serves all children. We need to transform education, redefine success and safeguard the health and well being of our children.

Q. You write that The Race To Nowhere came about because your daughter became physically ill from the stress she was under. How do you think the film will help other parents learn from your family’s experience as well as the intense challenges the kids in the film discuss?

A. The film is an eye opener for many, and at the most basic level reminds all of us to listen to our kids. As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the fear and competition driving today’s education system and culture, and the film is a reminder that we need to see our kids as so much more than their last grade or homework assignment. Seeing the long-term toll on the adolescents in the film and the educational outcomes (kids arriving in college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired), parents are reminded to start trusting their instincts and becoming advocates in their schools and communities for real change.

Q. I’m the mom of two kids, ages 6 and 9. The film focuses on the pressures and stresses faced primarily by teenagers, but I already see pressure on elementary school kids to overachieve in every area of their lives. Should parents with younger kids see the film?

A. Absolutely. My 3rd grade son is featured in the film and the issues impacting young children are addressed. I often hear from parents they would have done things differently had they seen the film when their children were younger. It’s never too late to start the dialogue and to become advocates for change. And everyone can make the simple changes in their homes by valuing sleep and health over test grades and homework, making time for family dinners, and by listening to our kids.

Q. As the director, how did you find kids who are so willing to be brutally honest about their feelings and the intense pressures they face with school, sports, homework, extracurricular activities, physical appearance, and more?

A. At the time, I was surprised about how easy it was to find young people and families willing to be so courageous and trusting with their stories. Young people want to be seen and heard by the adults in their lives, and I believe in every case the young people who participated felt it was important to contribute to the film and be part of the solution. For several of the young people, they have younger siblings and they didn’t want to see them have the same experience.

Q. The film’s title The Race To Nowhere is fascinating. Do you think kids are truly unable to envision a life beyond the enormous pressure they face during the middle and high school years?

A. The title actually came from something one of the students said. Young people are usually focused on the present, and it’s difficult to get them to see beyond that. Besides, when they look at the adults in their lives who often lead unbalanced, stressful lives, they may not see an end in sight to the pressures they feel. I hope everyone steps back and thinks about the fact that as adults we have a choice about whether to lead 24/7 lives, but we aren’t giving our children a choice. And, we need to consider the impact of this kind of pressure on bodies and minds that are still growing and developing.

Thank you, Vicki, for taking the time to answer my questions and for making such a thought-provoking film. I can’t wait to see it!

What: Screening of The Race To Nowhere

When: Monday, May 24th, 2010 at 3:30 p.m. includes Q&A with director Vicki Abeles. Please note: the 7 p.m. show is SOLD OUT

Where: St. James Parish Church and Preschool in South Pasadena, 1325 Monterey Rd. S. Pasadena, 91030. Tickets are $15 in advance (order on website under “screenings”) or $20 at the door.

You can also see the film’s four-minute trailer on the website.

A special thank you to Lauren Albrecht, Publisher Mom of Pasadena Macaroni Kids, for facilitating my interview with

Smile: You’re Being Watched Every Step Of Admissions Process

Today, Porcha and I had lunch at with a mom who has read Beyond The Brochure and who went through the private elementary school process this year. Her child will attend Curtis School this fall. Our friend brought up a really good point: She felt that as she toured schools, participated in the parent interviews, accompanied her child to visiting/testing days and even at visited open houses, that she was “on stage” at every moment. She told us she knew that everything from the way she dressed, to the questions she asked and they way she and her husband acted were being noted.


She makes a really important point. Schools are looking for ways to weed out applications. There are too many kids applying for too few spots. Anything that a school sees you do or say that stands out in a negative way can be a red flag or even worse, a deal breaker.


For example, our friend mentioned a few things she observed during the process:


  • A family who sent their nanny with their child to visiting day. A red flag, if not a deal- breaker. The school will assume the parents are not involved and if accepted won’t attend school events or participate in the child’s education.
  • A mom who stated in front of the tour group that she’d heard “bad things” about the school.
  • Inappropriate/unprofessional outfits worn by parents
  • Parents who are rude to security guards, front desk personnel, teachers, tour guides and school administrators. This gets back quickly to admissions directors and can ruin a family’s chances of acceptance. Be kind to everyone at each school.
  • Repeatedly canceling appointments without an apology or a good reason.


These are all great observations and a reminder that whenever you’re dealing with schools during the application process, you should keep in mind that you’re being watched closely. This is really good advice from a mom who just went through the process! It’s easy to forget the basics during the stressful, rushed and sometimes overwhelming process. Be yourself! But don’t forget you’re not invisible (even if it feels like you are).


More Private Elementary School Admissions Humor…If You Don’t Laugh During The Process, You’ll Cry

Here are my favorite pretend “parents”, “Catherine and Kent” from in San Francisco on various private school topics.

Whoever writes these blog posts is hilarious, offensive and best of all, makes fun of the private elementary school admissions process by creating characters who are the quintessential sterotypes of private school families.

On Educational Consultants…

We used J.D. Worthington III. He is extremely well connected in the city and he golfs regularly with two of the headmasters at the “elites.” He is not listed anywhere. If you don’t know how to reach him, you have no business using him. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but that’s reality. Hope this helps.

Catherine and Kent

April 9, 2010 5:53 PM

On Getting Accepted To Private Elementary School...

We are so ecstatic that our Jeffrey went 4/6 in the privates. We can say we coached him well, but I suppose in the end good breeding helps. Mummy and poppy are so proud of Jeffrey!

We will choose one of the “elite 3″ that admitted Jeffrey. We know some schools are fond of touting “diversity”, but this is often a code word for admitting less qualified students who lack the means to sustain their commitment to the school. We think Jeffrey’s elite choice has properly avoided making that claim.

Tonight we will fly to Apsen for a week to celebrate Jeffrey’s good fortune. We wish all the parents who belong in this harried process our best wishes for a suitable outcome. Being chosen for one of these elite schools is not easy and for some the realization that they do not make the cut will be difficult. We support many charities and feel good about what we do for the less fortunate.

Catherine and Kent

About how to afford private schools…

If you have to ask the question of how you should pay, you shouldn’t be going to private school. Two words: dividends and interest.

Catherine – Jeffrey’s mummy (Kent’s working late tonight)

On choosing a school…

People who need financial aid truly don’t belong at these schools. They tend to inculcate a lazy sensibility that seeps into the school culture. We received 4 spots and intend to clutch tightly onto each one until Thursday morning at which time we will inform the chosen AD that our Jeffrey will be joining their class. We hope that sensible people of means will fill the three slots that we relinquish. In the meantime we celebrate with gusto here in Aspen. We will drink Ricard (over ice) and gin martinis and enjoy duck liver pate. We will sooth our muscles in a sauna. See you in the fall.

Catherine and Kent

More about selecting a school…

Today we visited the Chesterfields, Kent’s dear friend from Phillips Exeter Academy. The Chesterfields have a vacation house down the road from ours in Aspen. Back home they live in an extremely large and gorgeous home in Sea Cliff with all of the loveliest amenities and a priceless view of the Pacific Ocean.

Well, the reason I mention them is that the Chesterfields face a delightful little predicament. Their daughter Claire Lilly went 2/2 in the privates, and I think you know which two I’m talking about. They are having an extraordinary time figuring out which one to choose. Today over many Ricards (with ice) and a gorgeous platter of shellfish we discussed this important decision with them. They know they they must decide and release at about 9:30am tomorrow. We hope that the sophisticated here who have partaken in the education at one or the other of these very prestigious academies can offer any insight they have that may aid the Chesterfields in deciding. Do understand that they value exclusivity, patrician values such as noblesse oblige and clean and well-maintained facilities as well as cultural similarities with faculties and fellow students, if you get my drift. Thanks on behalf of the Chesterfields for any help you may offer.

Catherine and Kent

Betsy Brown Braun, Educational Consultant and Parent Educator, Has A Must-Read New Book!






On Saturday afternoon, I attended a book signing for Betsy Brown Braun’s new book, You’re Not The Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4-12 Year Old Child, at my friend (and Willows School mom) Eve Newhart’s beautiful home. After signing books, Betsy was gracious enough to spend more than an hour answering our parenting questions.


I just finished reading Betsy’s new book. What a resource! The book offers parents practical advice and techniques to raise happy, confident, respectful and non-bratty children every step of the way. My kids are 6 and 9, so this book comes at exactly the right time for me. At the moment, I’m dealing with “mean girl” issues with my daughter and the constant changing of her friends.


I absolutely love Betsy’s practical, you-can-do-it approach. You will be able to read a section of the book, put it down and go apply her advice to whatever parenting challenging you’re having that day.


You’re Not The Boss Of Me includes chapters such as “I’m Bored” and “Is This The Only Present I Get? I especially love the list of 100 things you can say instead of the over-used phrase, “good job”.


Betsy writes with a magical blend of humor and authority. Reading the book, I felt as if I was getting parenting advice from a trusted friend who wasn’t afraid to be honest. This book will help guide me through the next few years and perhaps beyond. Both my kids have a strong perfectionist streak and the chapter, “Perfectionism” gives me insight into why they are like this (genes…my husband get the “credit” here) and “tips and scripts” to handle this characteristic.


In addition to being the mom of triplets (yes, that correct!), Betsy is also a renowned child development and behavior specialist, parent educator and preschool and elementary school educational consultant. She is the founder of Parenting Pathways, Inc.


To purchase a copy of You’re Not The Boss Of Me and to learn more about Betsy’s private consulting, parent seminars, blog and events, visit,


Ideas For Getting Acquainted With Your New School Over Summer

Now that you’ve selected the private elementary school for your child (or they selected you), you’re probably shifting into the “what’s next” mode. Summer is a great time to meet new families before school begins. Most private schools some offer some or all of the following events to help families get acquainted before school starts:


Host Family “meet and greet”. Many schools ask a current family to host a new family for a lunch or other get together. You may be invited to join your “host family” for an event. This family has been asked by the school to host several new families who have kids who will be in the same class and are most likely the same gender. Note: we’ve heard all kinds of “host family” stories. Most of the families are really nice and welcoming. Our host family at The Willows organized a brunch at her house with homemade cinnamon rolls. A few host families never even bother to call the new family. Sometimes, they will call, but are “too busy” to get together. Others can be arrogant and aloof and unwelcoming. If anything like this happens to you, let the school know. The reason this happens is because new parents are too intimidated to tell the school so it continues year after year.


Picnics. Many schools have summer picnics for the entire school, including new families.


Social events. You may be invited to a variety of social events to welcome you to the school. Parties and other events are the school’s way of welcoming it’s new families.


Visit the classroom. Your new school may invite you and your child to visit the classroom and meet the teachers before school starts.


Playdates. Schools will send out a roster before the start of school. It’s a great idea to have a few playdates with other families before school starts. It will help your child recognize a friendly face the first day of school and it’s nice for you to meet other parents, especially if you don’t already know any incoming families. However, don’t feel insulted if some parents don’t respond. They may be out of town or have older siblings already at the school so they may not feel like a playdate is needed for their child.


Host your own event. Sometimes new families will host a pool party or other event for incoming families. If you do this, just make sure to invite everyone in your child’s class!


Plan your own event. Schedule a moms only get together like a hike or a lunch date. Dads can do the same thing. Again, just remember to invite all the moms or dads in your child’s class! And don’t be upset if some of the parents don’t respond.


We discuss what to expect your during your child’s first year at private elementary school in Beyond The Brochure if you want to know more about this topic.