Setting The Bar Just Right: Expectations That Are Challenging and Realistic by Anne Simon

"Metropolis" at LA County Museum of Art: Just Right!

Every private elementary school has its own set of expectations – academic, social, behavioral. When touring schools and considering them for your child and your family, it is helpful to try to get a sense of a school’s expectations so you can determine whether your child will thrive in the school.


While it is easy to see this as dividing into competitive vs. cooperative school environments, it is not quite that simple. It is a bit more of a spectrum between, for example, a school that sets up a strictly competitive model and believes that it is desirable for students to rank themselves and each other in all things. Another type of school might not have grades, keep score, or do summative evaluations of any kind. What is important is to find the school that fits your child.


Expectations are important – children do not know what they can achieve in a vacuum – they need something to measure up against in most things. A standard of excellence gives them this awareness. But these standards must be presented carefully and they must be realistic. What often becomes problematic is that children internalize this standard as a measure of their success or failure. This sets in motion the possibility of constructing an unhealthy competitive situation that can result in all kinds of issues of perfectionism, self worth problems, as well as insider/outsider feelings.


There is a rational way to set expectations without sacrificing the self esteem of our children. If we instill in them the concept of “personal best” and set this as the standard for our expectation of them, they are able to learn to self monitor their achievements in light of their own effort and capacity rather than the achievement of someone else or some vague idea of what excellence might be. This allows children to be challenged while remaining realistic and feel good about their efforts toward this goal. This is when you know that the bar has been set just right.


I have seen this ethic folded into the philosophy of schools that offer students a strong and competitive athletic program with great results. Students could push themselves as far as they were able and still champion the efforts and achievements of their classmates. This same idea was present in the classroom and evident in the caring and supportive relationships among the students and with their teachers.


 Of course there needs to be an ongoing dialogue between parents and teachers or coaches and the children in order for this concept to take hold and be effective. Consistently helping your child understand the idea of effort, persistence, and practice, and its value, will help him/her develop these skills. When it comes to looking at and choosing a school, try to get a grasp on how each school interprets this concept of expectations.


Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles. She has more than 30 years of experience as a head of school and private school administrator. She is the former head of the Wildwood Elementary School and the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School. Anne’s daughter, a veterinarian, is a graduate of Crossroads. 

Read More

The Scoop on Applying To L.A. Private Elementary Schools (re-post) and Upcoming Private School Events

Hi Friends!

There are several private school events on the calendar:


  • Beyond The Brochure event! Join Momangeles at Kidville in Brentwood for Demystifying the LA Private Elementary School Admissions Process led by our regular contributor Christina Simon of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles and co-author Porcha Dodson, with additional expert insight from school consultant Sandy Eiges of L.A. School Scout. This event is chock full of great information about the private elementary school application process and answer your questions. Discussion starts promptly at 7:00 pm. Topics will include:
      • Selecting Which Schools To Visit
      • The Parent Interview
      • Your Child’s Visiting/Testing Day
      • Letters of Recommendation
      • When To Use The Phrase, “if accepted, we will enroll”
      • What To Do If Your Child Is Wait-Listed
      • Financial Aid 

Tickets are $25.00 per person and $40.00 per couple. Visit Momangeles for more information.


  • Elementary School Admissions Directors (EASD) Fall 2012 Fair, September 27, 2012 at Campbell Hall. Visit, EASD for more details and read about the best tips for navigating the Fair on Launch Education’s blog.
  • Club Mom Me, “The Ins and Outs of Preschool in LA,” with Sandy Eiges and Michelle Nitka, Sat. Oct. 6, 2012 at 2 p.m. at Joslyn Park, Santa Monica. Visit, for more information.
  •  Curtis School Fair, Sunday, Oct. 14, 11-5, Open to the community, a great chance to see the school and have fun with your family!
  • Willows School Book Fair: Sunday, November 11, 11-4. This is my favorite school event…books, food, entertainment for the whole family. Open to the community.

Here’s a guest post I wrote for Mommy Poppins in March. I’m re-posting it because many of you are just beginning the school admissions process. I hope you find it helpful!

Here’s a quote from my Mommy Poppins piece:


“When my husband and I applied to kindergarten for my daughter, the schools seemed somewhat mysterious, like hidden gems. Neither of us attended private school, and most of these schools aren’t exactly an open book. Terms like “visiting day” and “parent interview” weren’t part of our daily vocabulary. That would soon change!”

Click on Mommy Poppins to read.



Read More

Wordless Weekend: Area Codes…310 and 626

My daughter dissecting a sheep's brain at UCLA's Young Doctor's Program, Dept. of Neurosurgery
Porcha and me, speaking at Aria Montessori Preschool, Pasadena. With the school's parent association leadership and director, Gillian (far right)
A personality on display!
We love our blow-outs: At DryBar, Sunset Plaza
Coldwater Canyon: A view from our street
The "Finding Balance as a Mom" panel at Kidville Brentwood: Club Mom Me, Show, Belly Bandit, Beyond The Brochure, WELLthy Families, Sleepy Planet, The Pump Station.


Read More

Stephen S. Wise Elementary School: A Very “Wise” Choice

A compelling corner of the campus

A sunny L.A. morning last week found me visiting Stephen S. Wise Elementary School for the first time. Headed by principal Tami Weiser, this Jewish Day School is tucked away on a picturesque campus nestled in the trees, accessible from a small private drive off Mulholland in Bel Air.


Tami welcomed me graciously into her office where Beth Behar, the admissions director, joined us. Our conversation flowed from general private school observations to the popular school Tami oversees. Within a few minutes, I quickly realized this is a school with a lot to offer!


Tami is an educator with many years of experience who is constantly seeking the best scholarly ideas in education to implement at the school. She is vibrant and likable. Her mood sparkles as she proudly talks about two of their signature programs: The Gifted Education Partnership with USC and The Studio Lab.


Peak viewing!


Tradition With A Twist

When I asked how she would describe the school’s educational philosophy, she responded, “This is a traditional school within a Reform congregation.” Speaking with the confidence we all want from the principal responsible for educating our kids, Tami was quick to point out there is a lot of experiential education taking place, making the school a hybrid of new and traditional ideas.  She was also effusive in her praise for the staff and board, who help make these ideas come to life.


One of three kindergarten classes


Walking around the sprawling campus with its low slung buildings that are punctuated by open spaces, Beth, one of the friendliest and most knowledgeable directors I’ve met, was happy to showcase the school. From the kindergarten classroom to the kindergarten play yard, kids dressed in their blue uniforms, were happily buzzing with activity.


The kindergarten playground


Stopping by a math class, we saw kids gathered on a rug as the young, energetic teacher discussed a math concept. They were focused and engaged. Science class students were finishing up a project.


Earthworks: The school garden


Gifted Education, Re-interpreted

One of the school’s signature programs is its unique partnership with USC Professor Dr. Sandra Kaplan, a gifted education expert. Putting their combined talents to work, the elementary school and the University have created implemented a program that ensures “every student is exposed to a gifted curriculum and high level learning experiences.”* This collaboration between the principal and the professor is an integral part of the school’s curriculum for every kid, not only those who are gifted.


Weiser shares, “It is our belief that children are gifted in different ways; be it intellectually, creatively, artistically or athletically. Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School recognizes and cultivates these gifts.” *


According to the school’s website, “Our program provides a variety of teaching and learning strategies by grouping children according to their achievement in reading, math and Hebrew; and in homogeneous groups in writing, social studies and specialist areas of technology, science, music and art. These learning experiences provide children with the opportunity to build critical, problem solving and research skills, be creative and innovative, and exhibit leadership and responsibility.


Project Studio: Innovation happens here


Project Studio

Entering Project Studio, teacher Jason Meth was busy setting up maps on the floor of a large open classroom before his students arrived. He explained that Project Studio is a space for kids to explore, solve problems and learn in a space without the constraints of tables, chairs and desks. This encourages connection and collaboration between students and between teacher and students. A smart board and other technologies are at the center of this inquiry-based program.


It is important to note that Jewish education is a major theme at Stephen S. Wise. Jewish ethical and spiritual values, along with Hebrew as a second language are taught.


How cool! Fun and safety in the pool

There are 350 students in the school, with two teachers per grade. Importantly, the school disburses $800,000 annually in financial aid (that’s a lot of money that is most welcome in these uncertain economic times).


Where Graduates Go

Most of the school’s graduates attend Milken Middle School and Milken Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple, but of those who did not, all 21 were accepted at secondary schools of their choice. Graduates attend Milken, Harvard-Westlake, Brentwood, Buckley, Windward, Campbell Hall, Oakwood and Archer.


My experience touring Stephen S. Wise Elementary School provided me with an up close look at a remarkable school.


For more information, visit,

* Source: Stephen S. Wise Elementary website




Read More

Pasadena: Great Private Schools, Lots of Competition To Get In

It’s no surprise that Pasadena is a desirable place for families to live. Beautiful homes, historic venues, ethnic diversity and lots to do make the city a sought after location to raise a family. But, when it comes to educating your kids there, you may be surprised at how competitive it can be to gain acceptance to a top private school.


Pasadena has a seemingly large number of private schools given its geographic size. But, what makes Pasadena different than any other competitive private school market? A few important factors converge within Pasadena to create highly desirable private schools, with far more applications than available openings for kindergarten.


Geography. Pasadena has about 50 private schools within the boundaries of the Pasadena Unified School District (source: Pasadena Sun).  However, the demand for top private schools in Pasadena still far exceeds the supply of available spaces. Part of the challenge for applicant families is that those parents who live outside Pasadena in surrounding areas also apply to Pasadena schools. But, families who live in Pasadena find it difficult to apply to schools in Studio City or Santa Monica. So, incoming applications from outside the San Gabriel Valley add to the volume of applicants, while L.A. schools are less desirable for families living in the city due to driving distance.


Legacy Families. Part of what makes Pasadena such a close-knit, wonderful community is the fact that families remain there for many generations. These same families also send their kids to the schools they attended. Tradition is an important part of what makes Pasadena unique. Some families have been in the city for many generations. This makes the “legacy factor” a formidable part of the Pasadena private school community. Legacies who date back many generations with a school and who have remained active alumni, are well positioned (but not guaranteed) to gain admission. Some schools have deeper legacy ties than others, particularly the older schools who have adult alumni with their own kids and grandchildren. Legacy families are both wealthy and middle income. Some need financial aid. But, competition is so fierce that even legacy families worry about getting in and therefore apply to multiple schools!



If you’re planning to apply to private elementary schools in the Pasadena area, you’ll find a mix of traditional, religious and progressive schools. As we’ve said before, tour schools to see for yourself whether they will be right for your child and your family. Don’t take the word of another parent. Don’t listen to rumors about a specific school. Go see it with your own eyes!


One of my friends was born and raised in Pasadena. Her family has lived in the city for many generations and her children attend the same private school she graduated from. She is now on the board of her children’s school. They are a middle-income family and she was a Rose Queen. When I asked her what advice she would give to prospective parents, she said “Pay attention to the school’s mission statement. If its filled with words like, “tradition” and “community”, make sure you understand what that really means for each particular school. 


My friend makes an excellent point by emphasizing the role tradition plays in some Pasadena private schools. However,  what “tradition” means to one family could have an entirely different meaning to another family. This is especially true for parochial schools, where it is expected that families endorse the school’s religious traditions, values and practices.  Do school uniforms convey tradition to you? What about a salute to the flag or a big, extravagant Christmas celebration? What if you don’t celebrate Christmas? Will you be offended if school events are held at private, membership-only country clubs? If a school’s tradition includes having kids harvest and cook vegetables from the school garden, what would you think? These are the type of questions to keep in mind when you read a school’s mission statement as well as when you compile a list of qualities you’re seeking in a school.


Another mom with a child who entered Polytechnic this September, has some helpful tips from her admissions experience:

“For reasons unrelated to the application process, my husband and I wrote a mission statement detailing our family values and goals about a year before we applied.  Writing this mission statement not only proved to be extremely helpful in aligning our family values with our individual and familial activities, but also served as a blueprint for our responses to the essay questions.


She continues, “The kindergarten application process is your time to show that you are “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk.” When speaking of family values some may reference the arts, community service, athletics or diversity, but at the root of all the essay questions is whether your reverence for those values is reflected in your activities with your child.-Mom of Polytechnic kindergartner (She is a graduate of Polytechnic) 


When I asked a dad I know why Pasadena private schools are so competitive, his half-serious answer was, “Parental hysterical!” - Chandler School Dad 


When applying, you should note that Pasadena school use Integrated Learning Solutions to administer testing required as part of the kindergarten application process. (L.A. schools test kids at their own schools).


Here are a few previous posts related to Pasadena area private schools:

1. Our Waverly School Experience by Samantha Sackin

2. The Pasadena Private Schools Race: Families Face Competition In Private Schools Race-Pasadena Sun

3. How To Apply To Private Elementary Schools by Christina Simon in the S. Pasadena Patch.

Read More

Map and List of Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley Private Schools

We created this road-map for Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley private schools. Most of these schools have an elementary school. See below for list of schools.

Click on map to enlarge

Pasadena Area Private Schools (created on by BTB)

Pasadena /San Gabriel Valley Private Schools (Partial List)

Barnhardt School

Chandler School

Clairbourn School

Crestview School

Friends Western School

Gooden School

High Point Academy 

Holy Family School

Lycee International de Los Angeles (LILA)

Mayfield Junior School of the Holy Child Jesus

 New Horizon School

Pasadena Christian School 

Pasadena Waldorf

Polytechnic School

Sequoyah School

St. Bede’s School

St. Mark’s Episcopal

St. Philip The Apostle

Waverly School

Westridge School For Girls (4-12)

The Walden School


Read More

Guest Blogger Jenny: A “Nurturing” Environment: Does Mirman School Deliver?


Mirman School (Photo: Google Images)

The word “nurture” means to nourish or feed, either in the form of food and sustenance or skills and education. By that definition, any Los Angeles private school has a “nurturing” environment. Each educates children every day, and most even gives them a balanced lunch, too.


But, (sigh) “nurturing” has taken on a much more involved and expanded definition according to our crop of private school helicopter parents.  Apparently, “nurturing” also means listening to and respecting everything the child says or desires, not letting them ever feel bad for even a moment about themselves (this includes bad grades that they earned), praising everything they do (no matter how mediocre it might be), and just generally kowtowing to the so-called “self esteem” movement (a movement which actually has produced kids with lower self esteem, but don’t get me started on that rant).


Thus, when parents are looking at private schools, they might be looking for the most “nurturing” environment, a place where their child is accepted for who she is in everything she does (even if she turns out to be disruptive, disrespectful, and refuses to eat her broccoli). Some schools do better at presenting the “nurturing” image better than others; The Willows School, for example, has a sterling reputation in this regard. In some ways, these schools appear to be nurturing the parents’ needs, not the children’s.


Well, my child doesn’t go to The Willows. My child goes to Mirman, a school with an air of mystery. What do they do there? I’ve heard it called (from rather clueless sources) everything from elitist (any private school earns this adjective in an instant) to “the Nazi school” (obviously listening to Rush Limbaugh instead of reading the brochure). So what’s the story? Is Mirman “nurturing?”


My daughter didn’t enter Mirman until 4th grade. She was understandably nervous about going to a new school with kids who’d mostly been there since Room 1 (there is no kindergarten). She was also uptight about the academic expectations; Mirman is a school for “highly gifted” students, and Anna came from public school. She worried about having to play catch up.


From the first day, Anna settled in quickly. Her teacher, a real pro, was kind to her while still expecting excellent work. Anna’s emotional comfort was greatly considered; nasty girl politics were shut down. Friends were made. Lunches were eaten. All in all, it was the easiest school transition Anna has ever had. Sure, she was the “new girl” for the first year. But that’s life.


If you define “nurturing” as educating, I honestly can’t think of a school that does a better job. The kinds of assignments they’re given are pretty extraordinary. Mirman teaches the kids to work in small groups, and encourages them to analyze their group’s dynamic in order to improve performance. Honest self-evaluation is a valuable skill, and Anna learned it early.  From self-analysis comes improvement, and that’s a true self-esteem booster.


Is the school squishy and warm and full of free time? Well, no it’s not. Mirman students are smart and wily; they’re a tough room. Mirman teachers are hyper organized and structured, because highly gifted children need to keep their brains occupied at all times. Those kids are stimulated all day long with constant knowledge and problem solving. They’re encouraged to have good manners (my daughter’s manners skyrocketed) and be able to make good conversation. They’re also expected to manage their own time, be responsible for their own work, remember the school’s honor code, and use their school distributed laptops according to the school’s ultra strict use agreement they signed.


Does that mean there’s no jokes or hugs? Of course not! Students get plenty of positive feedback, when it’s merited. The students are still treated like children, not like adults. Anna has had great, funny , respectful relationships with her teachers. This respect is reflected in the way the students treat one another; I’ve seen no substantive bullying or mean girl behavior there.


I think Mirman nurtures students in the best, purest possible way. The education is incredible, the social skills invaluable, the campus itself a lovely little oasis where the nerdy kids can be themselves. What’s more nurturing than that?


You know whom they don’t nurture? The parents! Seriously, the school just wants parents to drop the kids off, pay the tuition, help out when asked, and otherwise vaporize.  And I’m totally fine with that, because my daughter gets exactly what she needs to thrive.


Jenny Heitz Schulte 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 in 2010. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published in the Daily News and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Hybrid Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.






Read More

Starting Kindergarten: What I Wish I Knew Then…

The Willows School
  • It takes time for your kid (and you) to make friends at a new school
  • Cliques look better from the outside. This goes for kid and parent cliques
  • If your child is having a rough start, don’t be too hard on yourself or leap to conclusions about the school
  • If things are going really well, be prepared for some ups and downs, which are inevitable
  • Don’t try to take on too much volunteer work the first year
  • Ignored, rejected playdate requests happen to almost everyone; its not personal!
  • Perspective, perspective, perspective!

Want all the latest news, events and articles? “Like” Beyond The Brochure on Facebook!


Read More

Touring Schools: Ideal Conditions for Growth and Learning by Anne Simon

Los Angeles private elementary schools have begun their school year.  For parents who are sending their children off to school for the first time (or to a new school) it is a time of hope combined with anxiety. Moms and dads hope that their children will grow and learn as they become happy, well adjusted members of their school community. But, as parents can also be afraid of all the things that come along with the ride. Private school families (and public school parents too) have great expectations and great hopes, and therefore great stress.


It’s a time of year when parents of 3 and 4 year olds who are planning to go the private (independent) school route start to think about where they want their children to be a year from now. There are many questions to address and decisions to make. Tours, coffees, applications, interviews, testing… These are all part of the process that will consume their lives for the next eight months.


I want to take a step back from all the logistics of applying to private schools for a minute and offer some ideas about what parents need to think about as they seek out the best school for their child and family. It is very important to consider these issues in the context of your own family values and circumstances. There is no best answer, best school, or best situation. Each child is unique and each family must decide which school(s) will give that child the best education for him/her and for their family.


I call these ideas Conditions for Growth and Learning. I have tried to distill them from my decades of experience in private/independent schools with different styles and philosophies. This is a rubric to be filled in by parents as they look at the schools. It is hopefully a tool to help determine the best fit for their child and/or family.


They are:

  • Physical and Emotional Safety
  • The Foundation; Challenge and Expectations
  • Setting the Bar Just Right
  • Encouraging Risk Taking
  • Appreciation for the Value of Mistakes and Course Corrections
  • Limit Setting –Padded Walls; and Engagement
  • Being Known and Encouraged to Participate


Look for further embellishment on each of these ideas in the future!



The most basic need that we all have is to feel safe – safe physically and emotionally. This is something that some of us, especially those of us who have lived our lives in relative comfort, take for granted, or at least assume comes with the package of being able to offer opportunities to our children. It is not necessarily so! Sometimes we don’t even recognize that this essential need is absent until we experience some kind of threatening situation. Every child has her/his own unique personality and will grow optimally in an environment that compliments her/him within a foundation of safety. As parents, we spend those first precious years discovering who our children really are and trying to figure out what they need. In choosing a school, it is important to make sure that the environment you are thinking of placing your child into is one that will enfold him/her and offer the security that will allow your child to feel safe enough to attend, explore, and flourish.


There is no “one size fits all” school! Everything about a private elementary school is thought out – its philosophy, mission, structure, and style. These institutions are very intentional. The values of each school flow into the environment and influence every aspect of the school culture. This plays itself out in many ways.


A school that focuses on traditional academic rigor can be intimidating to a student who is has a unique learning style. Intimidation does not allow a child to feel safe to explore and take risks, even ask the questions he/she might need to ask in order to learn. Similarly, a school that focuses on allowing children to choose their own learning experiences all the time might find a student paralyzed by too many choices and not know where to start. This can have an equally damaging result.  There are numerous other examples within this spectrum.


You should assess each school you tour in the context of what you know about your child and your family values. First look at all the written material you can – brochures, websites, reviews, etc. Talk to people you know who have attended the school. When you visit, take a good look at the way the school lives out its mission and philosophy – the tone and style of the school.  Ask yourself if it is an environment that will support and challenge and encourage the development of your child’s best self. If you sense a hint of toxicity for your child, pay attention to it.


The more we know about learning, the more we understand that the first order of business is attention. What makes it possible for a child to attend deeply and engage in the curriculum and the culture of the school? The elements that comprise this ability to attend, and therefore grow and learn, are wrapped up in the nuances of the style, tone and culture of the school as much as it is in the school’s program and curriculum. A sense of safety – security, being known, being cared about – is the basis for any learning that is to take place. Once that benchmark is met, you can look forward to assessing the next condition for growth and learning.


Coming soon:



Anne Simon is the 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. Her daughter, a veterinarian, is a graduate of Crossroads. 

Thank you to everyone who voted for Beyond The Brochure in the Circle of Moms Top 25 Mompreneurs! We are one of the proud winners!  

Thank you! xo Christina, Anne and Porcha

Read More

More…L.A. Private School Buzz

Johnny Depp (Photo: Wildsound Filmmaking)
  • Johnny Depp and his ex, Vanessa Paradis, hosted the end-of-summer party for their kid’s grade at this Valley private K-12 school.  According to our friend whose kid attended the soiree, it was drop off with Vanessa hosting. For those longing hoping to see Johnny, he wasn’t there.
  • One mom we know was upset to learn she’d no longer be chairing a prominent school committee when the list was published and her name wasn’t on it. Whatever happened to treating “community” volunteers like…well, like volunteers?
  • Will Elizabeth Berkeley (Showgirls) be returning for another year as life skills advisor to middle school girls at The Willows? Curious dads want to know.
  • More about The Center For Early Education’s (CEE) well-oiled “feeder school” path to Harvard-Westlake. Our friend, Ronnie Cazeau, left Harvard-Westlake to take a job as head of school in Seattle. She was the dean of the H-W Middle School and its former admissions director. Ronnie’s kids attended CEE and she was a CEE board member. In our last Buzz, we mentioned the “cozy” Hudnut family connections between CEE and H-W.
  • A very well-informed source tells us the #1 “feeder school” to Harvard-Westlake is Carlthorp, which sends up to 75 percent of its class each year to H-W. “If they want in, they’re in,” says our source.
  • Casa Vega, the dive-y Mexican restaurant on Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, is a hangout for some socialite-moms at Curtis School.

If you have a second, please vote for Beyond The Brochure in the
Circle of Moms Top 25 “Mompreneur” contest!
Vote daily! One click, no registration, and we really appreciate it!  Click HERE to vote!

Read More