"Is Your Daughter Smart?" the Principal Asked

My Sweet, Funny, Kind (and Smart) Daughter

This is a somewhat warped tale about class, geography, race, wealth and bureaucratic bungling. As a private elementary school mom, I’m often asked why the Los Angeles private elementary school admission process is so competitive? Why are schools that charge up to $30,000 per year, per kid for elementary school receiving hundreds of applications for every open spot? Is L.A really overflowing with parents who are carefully orchestrating plans to steer their kids to the “right” private schools and then on to the Ivy League? Why are parents doing everything in their power (some of which is substantial) to get their kid admitted to a good private elementary school in L.A?

Depending on when you live in L.A. the public school system isn’t up to many parents’ standards. There are definitely some excellent public schools, but they vary by geographic location. Recent, severe public school budget cuts and scandals of epic proportion have driven even more parents to look at private schools as they confront increased class size, teacher layoffs and cuts in essential school services. The public school crisis has been on of the biggest factors keeping private school admissions competitive, despite the recession. I could easily turn this into a discussion about why too many public schools are failing our kids, but much has been written on that topic and I certainly don’t have the answers. 

As a product of L.A. public schools, I am intimately familiar with its many challenges. I experienced bullying, incompetent teachers and an uneven education. Naturally, I was seeking something better for my kids. I repeat, there are some excellent public schools in our city, it all comes back to the question of where you live. Does it make sense to buy a house you can’t really afford just to send your kid to public school in Bel Air?

The year before my daughter started elementary school, I wanted to put my public school memories behind me. After all, who had a great middle school experience anywhere?  So, I decided to look at our local public elementary school. It was three blocks from our house in Hancock Park, had high student test scores and seemed like a real possibility for my daughter. When the school’s computer lab was broken into the year before, I made a generous donation based on a letter sent to neighbors by the school. I was trying to keep an open mind, despite the fact that I only knew one neighbor who sent their kid there.  

Another mom at our preschool and I set up an appointment with to meet with the principal and tour the school . The day of our appointment we arrived on time just to learn that the principal was “unavailable.”  So, we waited, politely sitting in the front waiting area. Finally, after about 20 minutes the receptionist told us the principal wouldn’t be able to meet with us. We asked if a teacher could show us the school. A very nice kindergarten teacher gave us a quick tour and told us the principal was now available to see us in her office. We sat down and introduced ourselves. The principal seemed uninterested in us and bored with the conversation. We asked about class size, hot lunch and homework. Waving her hands and practically shouting us down, the principal didn’t answer our questions. Instead, she aimed a pointed question at me, “is your daughter smart?” she demanded to know. She didn’t ask the other mom the same question. My response was, “I live in your district.” In other words, you have to enroll my kid, whether or not she’s smart. I refused to answer her question. I found it offensive. We asked to see a 1st grade class. The principal said no. As we were leaving, the kindergarten teacher told us, “just be quiet, I’ll show you the 1st grade class.” We peeked into the 1st grade class and I suspected the reason why the principal didn’t want us to see it. It was a Korean-language immersion class. None of the kids in the class spoke English.  The principal was also Korean. Could she have been subtly trying to discourage me from enrolling my daughter in the school?

A few months later, I went back to the public school again during a school community fair. I tried to like it, but with 1000 elementary students, I felt my shy daughter might be lost in the crowd. And, I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with the principal’s personality. The mom from our preschool who toured with me decided to enroll her child. Her perception of the school was vastly different than mine. Then again, the principal never asked if her white daughter was “smart.” That question was reserved for me, the African American mom.

Despite living in a “good” public school district, my husband and I decided private school would be the best option for our kids. And so began the hellish, ultra-competitive process to get our daughter into a top private elementary school in L.A.

In September 2005, we embarked on a time-consuming whirlwind of tours (10 schools), applications ($100 each), parent interviews, kid testing days, parent coffee chats, and then the agonizing waiting period in late March, as we held our breath to find out if our daughter had been accepted to private school. The LA Times dubbed the day the letters arrive as “Black Friday” because there are so many rejection lettersreceived, so much bad news for families who applied. On “Black Friday,” parents begin obsessively checking the mail, email, phone messages for any sign of admission letters. A fat envelope signals an acceptance. A thin, flat letter means rejection, or so the rumor goes. Stalking the mail truck, going to the school, drinking large quanties of wine, eating everything in sight and spending hours on the phone with girlfriends are just a few of the survival tactics my friends and I used until our letters arrived. When they ripped open their letters, overjoyed parents have admitted to running crazily into the middle of the street shouting to everyone they know that their kid got into private school. A bunch of “no” letters sent one mom friend of mine into the closet for a tear-filled, drinking binge, devastated that her child was denied admission everywhere she applied. I felt the process was very personal. You’ve put your entire family on the line for admissions directors to evaluate. The parent interviews are like a job interview that includes your 4 or 5 year old’s “resume.”

“You have to ‘work it’ to get your kid into private school,” I heard over and over from everyone. What did that mean? I filled out the applications, dragged my husband to the interviews with a strict warning to leave his sarcastic sense of humor at home, had my daughter tested, attended school events.  What else could I do? Well, there was more to do, I just didn’t know it. About two weeks before letters arrived, I found out through the parent grapevine that there is an entire “behind the scenes” process that is happening during admissions season. Parents who told me, “I’d never ask a parent at the school where we’re applying to write me a letter of recommendation” were not telling the truth. Everyone was getting letters from anybody they knew who was remotely connected to the private schools. Some parents have been known to go up the food chain seeking letters from U.S. Senators and Ambassadors. These types also send fancy gifts to admissions directors. Upon learning this, I scrambled to asked several families we knew to write letters on our behalf. Luckily, they wrote the letters, which at minimum eased my mind and at best helped my daughter get into all three schools we applied to. 

My daughter is now about to enter 5th grade. Was all the stress of admissions worth it?  Absolutely. But, private schools aren’t perfect either, although their challenges are different than public schools. They are insanely expensive and tuition rises 4-8 percent per year. On top of tuition, there are other costs, like annual giving and “extras” for your kid. There is also elitism and privilege like I’ve never seen before. Not surprisingly, there are very few working class or lower middle class families. The term “I’ll give you a ride” doesn’t necessarily mean a car ride. It can also mean a ride on somebody’s PRIVATE JET.

Because the admissions process was so stressful and there was so much “off the radar” networking happening, I collaborated with two educators (one of them is my step mom) to write a book about navigating the private school process. I also blog about it because I believe parents who wants a private school education for their child should have access to information that is accessible to some families, but not all. In order to play the game, you must understand its hidden rules.

I’m grateful my kids are at a progressive urban private school. I know we are fortunate to be able to pay the cost of their education. We also make this a financial priority in our family, in part because of my negative experience in LA public schools. My husband attended top public suburban schools outside Philadelphia so he doesn’t completely grasp the idea that public school isn’t an option. We contribute to our school’s scholarship fund to help finance diverse families who can’t pay the full tuition. On days when I’ve come across a particularly entitled, snobbish parent, I wonder if I made the right choice. Then again I don’t think the suburbs are for me.

Six years after the public school principal demanded to know if my daughter was “smart” I can tell her she didn’t need to worry. The answer is yes. She’s also sweet, funny and kind. 

* First published on Open Salon

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Book Giveaway! Beyond The Brochure’s 2 Year Anniversary

Hi Everyone!

It’s our blogoversary! Beyond The Brochure, the book and the blog. turn 2 years old today! We want to say a huge THANK YOU to our readers! It’s been an exciting adventure and we plan to continue writing as long as you’ll keep reading. To celebrate our blogoversary, we’re giving away a free copy of Beyond The Brochure! (see excerpt below).

Over the past 2 years, our blog has grown steadily. We’ve had more than 122,000 page views. We’re very proud that our blog won a Circle Of Moms award for “Best Parent Resource Blog.” Beyond The Brochure has also been nominated for a 2011 Parents Magazine best local blog award. 

We’ve been privileged to feature amazing guest bloggers, who offer expertise and perspectives different than our own. We’d like to give a huge shout-out to guest blogger extraordinaire, Jenny Heitz, Mirman mom and writer of the modern gift blog Find A Toad, for her incredible writing, insight into L.A. private elementary schools and her sense of humor. 

One of our favorite aspects of Beyond The Brochure is speaking to parents at preschools and private events about the admissions process. And, of course we love blog comments! You also send us heartfelt emails asking questions. This wouldn’t be a private schools blog without the occasional criticism or scolding from our readers. 

If you have topics you’d like to see featured on the blog, please leave a comment and let us know! As many of you start the admissions process for 2011-12, please know that we understand the emotions, the time and energy involved, the stress and the highs and lows of the admissions process. We’ve lived it. 

From our hearts, Anne, Porcha and I wish you all the best in your quest for a great private school for your child.

To enter the giveaway, it’s easy!

1. Leave a comment telling us why you want to win a copy of Beyond The Brochure. You must leave your email, but you can use the format, csimon2007 at gmail dot com (to prevent spam)

2. Earn an extra chance to win by subscribing to our blog! Click here. If you’re already a subscriber, let us know. 

3. Winner will be selected at random on Thursday, September 8, 2011. We will post the winner’s name on our Facebook page. 

A Portion Of A Real Sample Application For A Child That Was Admitted To Top Schools

The Inside Scoop: How Private Schools Hire Teachers by Anne Simon

One of the biggest concerns among prospective parents is the hiring of teachers in private schools: What are their qualifications?  How are they hired? How can parents know they are the best teachers out there?
Private schools hire their teachers based on their own criteria and standards. Each school has its own process and expectations. Since private schools are not bound by any state licensing laws, it is up to them to determine whether an teacher applicant is qualified for the job and whether the candidate is a good fit for the school.
Just like finding the right match for your child and your family in a school, the school seeks to find the right match in its teachers. The two main areas for consideration are teaching qualifications and ability to fit with the culture of the school. The analogy to a student’s readiness to learn and his fit with the style and culture of the school is appropriate.
Qualifications vary from school to school and grade to grade, and it is perfectly appropriate to ask the school to describe their teacher qualification standards as part your information gathering as you search for the right school. In the elementary years, there is generally more emphasis on teacher training and methodology. In the upper grades there is more focus on content (does the teacher know the subject being taught). Generally speaking, private schools require at least a B.A. degree and many are increasingly seeking teachers with M.A. degrees. At the high school level you will find a smattering of PhDs among the faculty in most good schools.
The other academic, as well as social qualification, relates to years of teaching experience. It is interesting to find out what the average years of experience is of the faculty at the schools you are visiting. It is also interesting to know the age span of the teachers. It is probably a good idea for a school to have a moderately high average number of years of teaching experience and a pretty broad age range among the faculty. This profile offers stability, while it also brings in new ideas that come with younger teachers.
Getting a sense of the cultural side of things is a little more ephemeral. You can ask an administrator what qualities they are looking for when hiring new faculty and see what they say. They will undoubtedly start with their standard qualifications and then talk about experience. From there they should say something about personal traits that they feel best suit their particular style of school. An example might be that they look for well-prepared and experienced faculty who love their subject, or who have a gift for relating to their students. How they answer these questions should give you some idea about the nature of the faculty as a group.
My last school had a structural component that helped to ensure that our teachers became both academically and culturally acclimated. We had “assistant teacher” positions in our first four grades (PK-2). At least in these classes it was possible to have a teacher develop experience under the tutelage of an experienced lead teacher. Sometimes these teachers became lead teachers in other grades if there was an opening, and sometimes they graduated to lead teacher in the class where they had been an assistant.  Of course, these assistant positions were less well paid and often part time, and they did not attract highly experienced teachers who wanted their own classroom. These highly qualified candidates also came along when opening occurred and were vetted extensively by both administrators and teachers alike. The biggest advantage of the assistant scenario was that teachers were able to become very familiar with the school’s curriculum before having to take complete responsibility for delivering it to a group of students. The biggest difficulty in this structure was that we had a very stable faculty and there was not always room for a teacher to move up when ready.
Qualifications, qualities, experience, fit – these are the questions you will want to explore as you learn about a school. Most private schools have their “legendary teachers”, their “problematic teachers”, and their “unknowns “or “newbies”. Talking with current parents will give you some idea of this. But it is important to remember that one size does not fit all. The kindergarten teacher who is a savior to both child and parent alike for one family can be a thorn in the side for another. It gets back to knowing your child, getting to know the school’s standards and style, and recognizing that your student, and you, will have a variety of experiences as the years pass by. Some will be treasured and hopefully few will be just endured.

Anne Simon is co-author of “Beyond The Brochure.” She is the former head of Wildwood School and former dean of the Crossroads Middle School. 

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Guest Blogger Jenny: Apply To The Schools YOU Like

Private elementary school searches in Los Angeles always seem to lead to the same few schools being touted as “the best.” So, inevitably you, the proud parent of some innocent pre-schooler (usually) who’s still building faulty block architecture and trying not to pee her pants, feel pressure to apply to those “best” schools, or look like a loser.

Don’t lie about it. You sometimes hang out with parents who seem to know the scoop on the private school scene, and they have some tough and shill standards to holler at you during cocktail parties. Stuff about the best “progressive” education (I’m still unclear as to what that actually means), the most innovative classroom organization, and (the dirty little LA private school secret) the incredible business connections you could foster with other well heeled parents.

Goodness knows the schools we’re talking about are excellent. All are feeder schools to the top middle and upper schools in the city. All have high ERB scores, and scores of educational goodies. Most are a bit artsy, although underneath that cuddly, slightly 1970’s exterior lurks a ruthless competitive drive. But here’s the problem: you can apply, but the odds of getting in aren’t in your favor.

Take The Center For Early Education (CEE), for instance. CEE is probably the top of the top tier of private elementary schools. Designed by psychologists and other educational experts, CEE is the utmost in “progressive” education (as stated above: not entirely sure what that means), and it’s one cozy and cloistered environment. CEE kids go on to schools like Harvard-Westlake, Marlborough, and Brentwood.

And by all means, you should apply! Why not? But here’s a little statistic for you: your child has more likelihood of getting into Harvard for college than getting into CEE for kindergarten. It’s true.

I’m not writing this to bum you out, but to clue you in on the private school reality. If all you do is apply to the totally top tier, super competitive, ultra progressive (see my other parenthetical statements above) LA schools, you might not get into any of them. Schools like CEE, Brentwood, Oakwood, Crossroads, John Thomas Dye (not progressive, but just as impossible to gain entrance to), Carlthorp and The Willows are a total crap shoot. Your child might get in, either through exceptional performance (could happen with sufficient bladder control that day; skip that extra apple juice box), some connection you happen to have (mazel tov), or sheer amazingly good luck.

This is why it’s important to look at other schools, schools which may be excellent and perfect for your child, but aren’t in that ultra top tier. Kids from mildly religious schools like St. James and St. Brendan’s in Hancock Park still have impressive matriculation stats and offer an excellent education, often for a far lower tuition.  Another example of a great school with limited buzz is our friend Virginia’s take on Children’s Community Schoola slightly less well known school that sounds really wonderful. Check those schools out. And then apply to combination of the heavy hitter long shots and the so called underdog schools which might turn out to be the greatest educational experience your child ever has.

Finally, ignore those cocktail party braying donkeys. Private elementary school is not, ultimately, a status symbol. It shouldn’t be a place for the parents to get ahead in business, it’s a place for children to learn how to function in the world. Your child is the one attending the school; you’ve been done with school for a long, long time. Sip your martini, nod politely, and let all the nonsense roll right off you.

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog,

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Anne Simon, "Beyond The Brochure" Co-Author Makes It Official: She’s Retired!

Anne Simon, my step-mom and Beyond The Brochure co-author steps down as head of school. She’s retired! Congratulations, Anne on more than 30 years as an educator, mom, grandmother, step-mom, foster mom, mentor and more! Now Anne will be able to spend more time in L.A. seeing my family and helping parents navigate the private elementary school admissions process.
We love you! Christina and Porcha

Apply To The Private Schools YOU Like…

Look For The Hidden Gems

Starting with private elementary school tours, parents need to be careful they’re not swept up in the enormous wave of “Top School” pressure. Even before you’ve seen one school, you’ve probably already heard about “The Best School” and “The Ivy League Feeder School” and so on. If everyone you know is buzzing about one or two schools, try to think outside the box and tour a few schools that aren’t on everyone’s speed dial.


When I was touring schools, I looked at about 10 schools. I needed to know more about schools that sounded good, but weren’t on the radar of anybody I knew. I felt certain that the schools that were uber-popular would have a lot to offer, although I didn’t end up liking all of them. But, I also wanted to see schools with solid reputations and minimal hype. They’re out there in every neighborhood, you just have to be willing to ignore the opinion of the preschool queen bee moms and seek out these schools on your own. Of course, talking to other parents is a great way to get information about private schools. But, parents are highly opinionated when it comes to this topic. So, don’t let a very small group of them be your only source of information.


One of my friends has a very bright daughter who is about to enter middle school from a public elementary school. I like my friend’s approach. Rather than become obsessed with the most popular schools, she sought schools that would be sufficiently low key for her family, yet still challenging for her daughter. I was a bit surprised, given that her daughter could probably get into any school. But, knowing my friend, she wants her daughter to have a school experience that will be about learning, growing and thriving and not about her mom’s ability to drop the name of her kid’s school.


Applying to private schools in L.A. is competitive in every way, there’s no denying it. This reality hits most parents even before they submit their first application.  Prospective parents are bombarded with education terms they’ve never heard of like “feeder schools” and “developmental schools” and horror stories about families getting shut out. You’ll hear about celebrities whose kids attend one school and entertainment moguls who financed the new building at another school.


All this talk naturally makes many of us tense and worried, wondering how we’ll beat out hundreds of other families for a spot. We assume we’re not doing enough, that we can do more thing to get our application into the “accept” pile during the admissions process…one more letter of recommendation, one more call, one more tour, gifts for admissions directors, donations prior to admissions letters arriving (yes, it happens, but isn’t recommended).


But, if you include “off the radar” or “hidden gem” schools on your list, you’ll be able to see the full range of schools in the L.A. area, from those that are talked about ad nauseum at cocktail parties to the schools that aren’t on the cocktail party chatter circuit, but that just do a great job educating kids. They’re out there, you’ll see. You just have to look. Oh, and get ready for a wide-eyed stare from the preschool queen bee. She’s so busy buzzing about the “top schools” she may not know what to say.

The Paradox Of Redshirting: A View From Inside The Classroom by Anne Simon

“Redshirting” refers to the athletic practice of holding a player 
back a year to give them time to grow and develop skills

I applaud the wisdom of parents (my own children included) who pay close attention to their child’s development and make the decision for when they should enter kindergarten based on an assessment of not only the academic, but the social and emotional readiness of that individual child. This is often a great gift to the long-term happiness and wellbeing of a child in school. This practice does contain, however, the potential for unintended consequences that may sabotage the sincere efforts made to help the child succeed.

I have been an educator observing and participating in the private school admissions process for almost 40 years, I am concerned about the impact of “Redshirting” (keeping a student in preschool an extra year) on the kindergarten curriculum and consequently, that of every other grade. It can go something like this: parents and school officials make individual decisions that skew the age of the kindergarten class toward 5½ to 6 years of age instead of late 4s and 5s. Ambitious teachers see and act on the ability to move this new age group along the curricular continuum more quickly that they might with a younger group. Voila! Kindergarten becomes the new 1st grade!
Most private elementary schools, and many public school districts around the country, have added a new entry-level class to their program – Jr. K, DK, Pre-K – it goes by many names. This is the place where children are prepared to begin the process of being in school and taking on the challenges of whatever style curriculum the school offers. This is not restricted to any particular style of school. The progressive schools are as likely to do this as the more traditional academic schools. In this first year children learn to follow a routine, listen to instruction, take turns, help your friend, and work together. Hmm…sound familiar? Everything we learned in kindergarten is now what children are learning in Pre-K.
While this works well for many children, and it makes schools feel good because their students seem so accomplished in earlier grades, there are some unintended consequences of this shift. For those who are not older but are fully ready to handle the program of kindergarten, there may be as much as 18 months difference between the age of that child and the oldest child in the class. There can be huge size differences between the children in the same class. Most importantly, if the curriculum continues to accelerate, there will come a time when it does not fit the development of the students and the whole purpose is defeated.
In the last few years of my tenure as Head Of The Lower School of an independent school in Virginia, I too established a wonderful Pre-K program. We rehabbed a donated construction modular office into a colorful “Cottage” complete with deck and ramp. The younger siblings of our enrolled students flocked to the program, delighted in the options offered: ½ day, full-day, extended day. We could really pay attention to what each 4-year-old needed and even tailor that need throughout the year. Several students started the year as ½ day and graduated to full day students around January of their Pre-K year. 

In the second year of the program I needed to hire a new teacher for the class. Guess what? I hired a talented veteran kindergarten teacher from a nearby public school district. She was delighted to be in an environment that allowed her to attend to the developmental needs of her students and not primarily to the concerns of state tests and benchmarks. I was happy that she understood both where the students were currently, as well as where they needed to go to be ready for our more academically focused kindergarten program.
Somewhere in all of this is a warning – be careful what you wish for! While I agree completely with the need to make sure your child is ready for the kindergarten experience, it is equally important that the schools you are applying to that are accelerating their curriculum as a result of having classes with slightly older students be mindful of the potential pitfalls of this practice over time. Schools must adjust their programs to fit the new profile of their students – larger age spans and greater differences in size and capability perhaps. This can be done well if the school and its teachers resist the temptation to simply accelerate their program and truly reframe their curriculum and methodologies to fit the needs of the students they have. If this is accomplished, students can have the best of all possible worlds.   

Anne Simon is co-author of “Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles”. She is the former Head of Wildwood Elementary School and the former Dean of the Crossroads Middle School. 

Guest Blogger Jenny: How Are Private Elementary Schools Different From Public Schools? One Mom’s Opinion

Although Beyond The Brochure is a blog about Los Angeles private elementary schools (and I kind of assume that, if you’re reading this blog, it’s because private school is of interest to you), occasionally I feel the need to discuss the differences between LAUSD schools and private schools.

First off, I’m not anti-public school. On the contrary: I attended LAUSD schools from K-7, and my daughter attended public school at Third St. Elementary from 1-3rd grades.  That’s why I think I can write this comparison with confidence and relatively little bias; I’ve experienced both.

Obviously, there’s a huge difference in how your child’s education is funded at a private school vs. a public one. At private school, the funder is you, pretty pure and simple. You pay the tuition (ranging anywhere from $12K to $30K annually, depending on the school), and then you pay again in terms of annual giving, plus fundraising offers galore. Even if you get financial aid, you’ll probably still be paying something.

In public school, our tax dollars pay for education. Just how much of our tax dollars trickles down to the actual schools, however, remains a mystery. LAUSD claims anything from around $3,600 to $10,000 per pupil, depending on the school (it’s too complicated to explain here; rest assured if you live in a low income area, even if your school is overcrowded, your school is probably receiving less money per kid than the schools in more affluent areas. It’s not fair). Some sources claim that, since LAUSD doesn’t count money raised by public school funding bond measures in these figures, that the actual funding is higher. Lord knows I’m no expert on this topic, but twenty minutes of researching it online made my head spin in confusion.

What is definitely true (and I know this from our three years at Third St. Elementary), is that you’ll be fundraising all the time, perhaps just as much as at a private school. The difference is that often the parents’ hands are tied in terms of how to allocate the funds; at a private school, you know exactly where the funding is going: straight back into the little school and thus to your child.

Perhaps it’s not fair to compare private schools, which are essentially medium-sized businesses, to public schools, which are vast bureaucracies with massive infrastructure. But it is an important, if somewhat obvious, distinction.

Bullying and Behavioral Issues
There are bullies and nasty girl terror everywhere. That is simply a given. And I’m not sure there’s much difference between public and private schools in how they deal with these entities. I’ve heard unbelievable horror stories circulating about texting harassment at private L.A. schools. Sometimes more money and entitlement absolutely leads to awful behavior. And it’s up to the school and its overall culture to deal with it.

On a personal note, my daughter had trouble on the playground at Third St. with mean girls and aggressive boys. She handled it fine, but she pretty much had to handle it on her own. Then again, it wasn’t anything extreme. But she’s experienced nothing like that at Mirman. The school seems to have a zero tolerance policy for that kind of nonsense.

If you’re concerned, ask the administration about things like honor codes and discipline.  And if the school doesn’t have a real code of conduct, I would ask some current parents about their experiences regarding student behavior.

Quality of Teachers
There are dedicated and wonderful teachers everywhere.  Anna’s second grade teacher at Third St. was one of the best teachers she has ever had; he was an example of how years of experience (I believe he had 17 years) can add up to true excellence.

The difference in public and private school teachers doesn’t really come into play unless you’re talking about bad or ineffective teachers. In public school, teachers earn tenure after only a couple of years of teaching, and after that it’s almost impossible for LAUSD to rid itself of a bad teacher. The best you can do in public school, if your child gets a lousy teacher, is to transfer your child to a different classroom. Forget about getting the teacher fired. It isn’t going to happen.

Private schools, however, pretty much hire and fire at will. If a teacher isn’t cutting it, he or she won’t last long.  Private schools don’t need to tolerate substandard teaching, or attitude problems, or laziness. On the other hand, private schools don’t have to hire terribly qualified teachers, either. Some twenty-something with a history M.A. and no teaching credential could end up teaching your child, and the results could be less than stellar. I got more than a couple of these types of teachers when I attended Crossroads for middle and upper school; Crossroads did get rid of the lousy newbies, but there was some chaos along the way.

Another comparison is the quality of teaching, but that’s hard to gauge. These days, LAUSD teachers are so bound by testing requirements that it’s difficult for them to fit in anything creative or different. It’s a system that doesn’t necessarily reward initiative, but does reward quantitative test results, so many teachers have to teach to the tests (this isn’t true of charter schools, which have different criteria for funding than regular LAUSD campuses).

On the other hand, teaching quality at private schools is more qualitative and far fuzzier. Sure, the kids do get tested every year at private school, but there wasn’t much attention paid to it.  One could argue that a successful private school teacher is willing to compete in a popularity contest, whereas in public school popularity plays no part in job security.

Public school wins this one, hands down. Private schools, however they wish to sugar coat it, will never be as diverse as public schools. And I’m not just talking about ethnicity, I’m talking about class as well. If you send your child to private school, she will be with mostly upper middle class to outright rich kids. This does vary from school to school, as some private schools are truly enclaves for the rich and famous.

So there it is, some of the pluses and minuses regarding private and public schools. I’ve tried to be as fair to both sides as I can. At the same time, though, if I’ve inadvertently offended any of you, you might want to keep in mind that Beyond The Brochure is a blog about private schools. If you’re a huge public school- at-all -costs-and-in -all-circumstances-advocate (and all power to you), you might want to ask yourself: why are you reading this???!

Editor’s note: Among our readers we are pleased to include public school parents. Yes, we have public school moms who email us and say they read this blog for a few reasons: 1. They are considering transferring their child to private elementary school at some point in the future. 2. They want a glimpse into what life is really like at private schools. 

A few months ago, Beyond The Brochure was mocked by another mom v-blogger (as Jenny says, if you can’t write, you video yourself) who called us “private schools snobs” and a bunch of other nasty names. We don’t think we’re snobs, and we try hard to be fair and inclusive on this blog, but if we have strong opinions, we write them. If we’ve struggled with a parenting issue at our school, we’ll talk about it. We answer every email and read (and welcome!) your comments. I have never attended a private school in my life! I matriculated through the LAUSD, SMUSD and UC systems from elementary school through graduate school. Oh, and last but not least, we aim for keeping our sense of humor present at all times. If that makes us snobs, so be it. 
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad
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Should You Wait A Year Before Your Child Starts Kindergarten?

“Redshirting” refers to the athletic practice of holding a player
back a year to give them time to grow and develop skills

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times, “On The Question Of When To Start Kindergarten, There’s No Easy Answer,” raised several issues to consider if your grappling with the decision to “redshirt” your child or hold him/her back a year before starting kindergarten. This is a growing trend, according to the article. 

According to the L.A. Times, schools are placing more emphasis on academic achievement, standardized testing and parents are increasingly focused on kids’ emotional needs. The article points out that research on the question of whether or not to hold a child back before starting kindergarten is mixed. Some experts believe there are benefits to a child being one of the oldest in his/her class, while other research shows few benefits to “redshirting” and even discovered some kids who are older than their classmates exhibit behavioral problems.

So, what’s a parent to do? First, understand that in L.A. the vast majority of top private elementary schools want kids who are close to 6 years-old (or already 6) when they start kindergarten. According to Sharon Lynn Kagan, co-director of the National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College in New York, education experts focus on the following when assessing a child’s readiness for kindergarten. Physical well being and motor skills, social and emotional development, language skills, approaches to learning and cognition (source: L.A. Times)

For some families, “redshirting” isn’t a question because their child’s birthday falls at at time where they have no choice but to wait because they miss a school’s cut-off date. But, for families like mine, where both my kids have July birthdays, we could have gone either way with many schools having a Sept. 1st  cutoff date.  After talking with our preschool director, we decided that my daughter would stay an extra year at preschool with most of her preschool classmates. She entered kindergarten at age 6. She is one of the oldest in her class at The Willows School, but not the oldest.

My son, who is also born in July, was not “redshirted” and he is the youngest in his class. When we considered whether he was ready to start kindergarten at age 5, we factored in his maturity and overall readiness. He was also at a preschool where kids did not stay an extra year because most of them went on to public school where the kids generally begin kindergarten a year earlier than private school. So, we enrolled him in the Willows DK program at age 4 and he entered K at age 5.

Now that I’ve been the parent of a daughter who was red-shirted and a son who was not, here are my thoughts on the issue.
  • If you’re applying to private elementary schools, recognize that these schools want kids who are older. When the schools tell prospective parents, “give him/her the gift of time” they are saying wait another year until the child is older and more mature. The schools are looking beyond kindergarten to every grade level your child will enter. If the school has a concern about a child’s readiness, they may wait-list him/her.
  • My daughter was shy and reserved. My husband and I, and the preschool director felt she needed the extra year at preschool for emotional and social development. Her preschool had a full class of kids her age, so she would not have been among 3 year-olds her last year. I’m very glad we made the decision to “redshirt” her. 
  • My son is the youngest in his class. There are kids in his class who are a year older than he is. And, if a kid repeats a grade, you might have a kid who is 18 months older than your child. 
  • I’ve also observed that age doesn’t determine how well the child does academically. There are kids a year older than my son who struggle in school. There are kids almost a year younger than my daughter who do extremely well. 
  • Trust your instincts and the opinion of your preschool director. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your child at preschool for an extra year. Kindergarten will be there waiting for him/her. 
  • In terms of behavioral problems, I haven’t noticed a correlation with age at The Willows. Discipline problems seem to happen with kids on both the younger and older side in my kids’ classes. 
  • If your child is the youngest in the class, consider that there will probably be kids bigger than your child (unless your child is big for his/her age). The bigger kids may dominate the sports activities (or try to) and may try to use their size/age to their advantage. I knew my son wouldn’t be bothered by this stuff, but some kids are and it’s up to parents to think about this issue as you make the decision to “redshirt” or not. 
To read the L.A. Times article, click here

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Guest Blogger Virginia: Children’s Community School: Where Kids Learn To Get Ahead By Getting Along

When it was time to begin the private elementary school application process for my daughter, I knew what I didn’t want. 

I didn’t want a traditional, ultra-elitist private elementary school environment, the kind that my son had been struggling in for four years. The school that he attended was, and still is, a favorite destination for Hollywood parents paying for a pipeline into top-echelon secondary schools. I refer to this institution as “The Stepford School,” because all the parents and teachers wore the same vacant expression, the same shellacked-on smile, and repeated the same parenting sound bytes spooned to them during parent education meetings moderated by the Napoleonic School Director.  To bastardize George Orwell, this Director believed in treating the celebrity parents more equally than others. The trickle-down effect on the kids was alarming: the school was churning out well-groomed automatons unable to think for themselves and anxiously monitoring their ever-shifting spot on the social pecking order. 

At the same time that my son was not thriving at “Stepford,” my daughter “Katherine” was flourishing at All Children Great and Small, a progressive preschool that operates out of a funky Craftsman bungalow in Los Feliz. In keeping with the progressive education philosophy, “Katherine” didn’t learn much about letters and numbers at preschool, but she learned how to work and play well with others.

Whenever I went to All Children, whether to pick up my daughter, or participate in School Clean-Up day, I noticed that my cares evaporated when I walked through the door, and I just felt happy. When I looked around at the teachers, the kids, and the other parents, I saw that they looked happy too. And they actually enjoyed talking to each other! This could not have been further from my experience stepping onto the pristine grounds of “Stepford,” where the tacit message behind every clenched jaw and unfurrowed Botoxed forehead was: “How-much-do-I-need-to-donate-to-the-Annual-Fund-to-get-my-kid-into-Harvard-Westlake?” At “Stepford,” community events consisted more of jockeying for position than in truly working together towards a common goal.

So when I began elementary school tours in the fall of ’06, I looked for one thing: a community of people who seemed happy and well-adjusted. I looked for a community in which middle-class people were treated the same as rich people.  Where teachers had their own voice instead of serving as the Director’s puppets. Where everyone–kids, teachers, and parents–felt that they had something of value to contribute.

I encountered this ambience of authentic, democratic community the moment I walked through the gate of Children’s Community School (CCS). Located in Van Nuys on a pleasant but decidedly non-bells-and-whistles campus, CCS has been providing a progressive K-6 education for over 30 years. Founded by current Director Neal Wrightson and Leni Jacksen, CCS attracts a diverse population. Almost 40% of the student body receives financial aid. As one CCS mom puts it in her tongue-in-cheek yet apt way, “CCS is where rich people go so they don’t have to act like rich people.”

Of all the elementary schools to which we applied, the CCS application process was the sanest. I attended a parent-led tour ending with a conversation facilitated by Wrightson. Then a staff member from CCS visited “Katherine’s” preschool to observe her in her familiar school setting—the opposite approach of most other schools, which put 5-year-olds in the stressful position of going into a new environment, being separated from their parents, and taking tests. There was no parent interview required. The CCS application form was brief. I noted two CCS parents who knew our family and who could act as referrals. And that was that.

During the conversation on the parent tour, Wrightson answered nervous parents’ questions about the school’s policy on homework, conflict resolution and students’ transitions into secondary schools. One comment he made, in response to a query about what CCS offered to give kids a competitive edge, struck me as profoundly commonsensical. He explained that none of us knows what the best job markets will be in 20 years, so the school doesn’t teach to that. What CCS does do, however, is teach kids how to be part of a community. When kids learn how to contribute meaningfully to a group, how to listen to others, partner with others, and motivate others, they will be successful regardless of what profession they choose to go into.

Now that “Katherine” is entering her 4th grade year at CCS, I reflect on Wrightson’s comment often. While I have no clue what field she might go into one day, I know this: she’s good at working with others and she’s someone other kids want to work with. She’s able walk into a group of people she doesn’t know, strike up a conversation, make a friend, join in any activity. In CCS group projects (most of the learning is group-based) she knows both her roles and the roles of her peers. She has a voice and an ear; she can communicate her ideas and she can listen. 

What she has gleaned more than anything is a sense that she is personally invested in her learning process. It is not something forced upon her, but something she feels responsible to own. She has a healthy pride and self-agency that comes both from being part of a community and feeling valued in that community.

Four years after starting that elementary school application process, I realize I found what I wanted: a place where kids learn how to belong and are taught that everyone deserves respect, regardless of the label on their pocketbook.

For More Information About Children’s Community School, visit, www.ccsteaches.org

For More Information About All Children Great And Small Preschool, visit, www.allchildrengreatandsmall.com

Virginia Gilbert is a licensed marriage and family therapist living in Los Angeles. She is also a writer whose articles have appeared in Salon, the Los Angeles Times, and Examiner.com, to name a few. Together, her two children have attended three preschools, two elementary schools, and two middle schools in the L.A. area.