Chandler School: Acclaimed Academics On An Expansive Campus

Entrance to Chandler School
Entrance to Chandler School

 

Last year I was invited to attend a book signing at Chandler, organized by a friend who is a parent at the school. Connie Rice, the author of Power Concedes Nothing, was the eloquent and fascinating featured speaker. It was my first time at Chandler and the beauty of the campus awed me.

 

Inside the school
Inside the school

 

When the school invited me to tour and write about it, I happily accepted. John Finch, Chandler’s head of school, presides over one of Pasadena’s most in-demand institutions. The word that comes to mind when I think of Chandler is refined. John was friendly and generous with his time as he ushered me into his office to talk about the school. John garners praise from Chandler parents who applaud his excellent oratory skills, his years of educational experience and his ability to handle any situation that arises with diplomacy and fairness. Even after eight years at Chandler, John (or Mr. Finch as the kids call him) wears a coat and tie every day. A quintessential British headmaster, he greets the children every morning with a handshake, remembering all their names.

 

“Chandler’s curriculum is purposeful,” says John, as I ask him about what makes this K-8 school so impressive. “We want kids to think critically and work with their classmates to solve authentic problems,” he continued.

 

Outdoor space
Outdoor space

 

A champion of academic excellence, Chandler is a traditional school. It is located in several large craftsman-inspired buildings. Its woodsy aesthetic is carefully cultivated to blend with its ideal location, a tree-lined residential street.

 

Craftsman inspired buildings fit the neighborhood
Craftsman inspired buildings fit the neighborhood

 

With its sprawling outdoor campus, minutes from the heart of Old Town Pasadena. Chandler has distinguished itself as an academic powerhouse. Chandler’s is a traditional paradigm, with a laser focus on academic excellence and strong moral character. Many of the parents at Chandler are professionals such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, executives, and faculty at Cal Tech. Legacy families return with their kids, recalling their own wonderful experience at the school.

 

A Kindergarten classroom
A Kindergarten classroom

 

Gretchen Lurie, the admissions director took me on a campus tour. Gretchen is extremely knowledgeable about all things Chandler. She’s energetic and friendly, a mom of two-college age kids. Walking in and out of classrooms, Gretchen discussed the school’s multi-faceted programs. It bears repeating: Chandler’s is an academically rigorous program. Just as important, however, as subject matter learning is organization, which is emphasized by the school. Starting in kindergarten, kids learn how to study. There is about 10-15 minutes of homework per night for kindergarten. This increases by grade so that by 6th grade there is approximately 2 hours of homework per night. Each class has a teacher and an assistant. There are specialists for art, Spanish, science, library and music. Competitive team sports begin in 7th grade.

 

Kindergarten play area
Kindergarten play area

 

Chandler uses differential instruction to create learning groups for math and reading. There is fluidity between groups, meaning kids can move into different groups during the year. There are also pullout groups run by resources specialists for gifted or advanced kids and for those who need a bit more help.

 

Theater program
Theater program

 

The school uses a 1:1 laptop program in the Middle School. For K-2nd grades, there are iPads and laptops are introduced for grades 3-5. All technology is well integrated into the curriculum the students are learning. Chad is the school’s technology specialists who works in the Library, teaching Internet skills and other aspects of the use and application of technology.

 

Gretchen was very straightforward about Chandler’s admissions process, telling me that the school’s wait-list does open up and sometimes a family can be offered a spot as early as March or as late as August. It is a “very active” wait-list, she said. There are approximately 40 openings for kindergarten. There are two classes of about 20 kids per grade for Kindergarten. Chandler seeks “bright, motivated and well-rounded students who can benefit from a strong academic program…” (Source: Chandler School). Gretchen also let me know that for 2012-13, there were about 100 fewer 5 year-old students who took the Integrated Learning Solutions (ILS) readiness exam than in previous years. It may be a good year to apply!

 

The library
The library
A close-up of a corner of the library
A close-up of a corner of the library

 

The STEAM Program

Martin Voss, in charge of communications for the school, showed me several of Chandler’s facilities and provided me information about an exciting new program. STEAM is science, technology, engineering, art and math. It’s a very new development at Chandler, a project-based curriculum organized by grade. Each grade level in the school will be executing a project based on a theme.

 

STEAM will celebrate the end of the 2013 school year with STEAM week, where students and faculty show their work.

 

One of the first STEAM projects is one where Eighth-graders designed miniature golf courses in the classrooms based on some historical or geographical element. Students worked on these in their advisory groups. Within those groups, each student had a specific role, be it historian or brochure maker, accountant, architect, fabricator and more. Brochures were made in English and Spanish. The students updated their work on a Wiki page to detail the theme of the golf holes and all of their research with documentation. The students are enthused by STEAM and their ability to create and innovate.

 

The science lab
The science lab

 

Chandler is committed to finding the best resources in its community—and on its own campus!  First grade teacher, Christine Barry, was awarded the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program’s Teacher Recognition award 2010-11. The fifth grade class took a visual calculus course with Caltech astrophysicist Dr. Mamikon Mnatsakanian, or just “Mamikon” to the students. Alumnus Ben Samuels, ’05, was elected president of the Harvard Crimson, joining Max Child, ’02, as the second Chandler to helm the Crimson in the last four years. (Source: Chandler School).

 

A garden grows at Chandler!
A garden grows at Chandler!

 

Chandler is a warm, nurturing school infused with a very traditional approach to education  which includes many of the hallmarks of a traditional school including uniforms and addressing teachers by their surnames.  It is committed to providing its students with an excellent academic education that prepares them for professional and personal success. A key part of a Chandler education is the promotion of the values of good citizenship.

 

Arts Studio
Arts Studio

 

Visiting Chandler was a true delight! It is a venerable institution, where a love of learning shines bright among students and staff. Respected for its esteemed academics, it is a contemplative, energetic and beautiful place for kids to accept academic challenges, as well as to learn how to challenge themselves as they grow.

 

Pottery and ceramics
Pottery and ceramics

 

Chandler students go on to 9th grade at a variety of schools, including Polytechnic, Flintridge Preparatory, Mayfield, Harvard-Westlake, St. Francis, Loyola and others.

 

Athletic fields!
Athletic fields!

 

For more information, visit, www.chandlerschool.org

 

Read More

They Want To Test My Kid?

 

Photo: Scott Stewart Photography
Photo: Scott Stewart Photography

I’m guest blogging this week at Santa Monica Macaroni Kid, a fabulous resource for parents! The piece is about testing/visiting day, which is part of the private elementary school admissions process at many schools.

 

Also, here’s a piece by Laura over at Hollywood Housewife (one of my favorite blogs). She writes about the ups and downs involved in her preschool search and mentions Beyond The Brochure!

 

Read More

Westland School: Proudly Progressive!

Welcome to Westland!
Welcome to Westland!

When I asked Scott Moran, Westland’s head of school, if he would describe Westland as a progressive school, he told me emphatically, “Yes!” Marcia Capparela, Westland’s assistant head of school, echoed his sentiment, adding, “Proudly.”

 

Proudly Progressive. That’s exactly what Westland School is. An excellent progressive K-6th grade located on a scenic, two acre campus along Mulholland in the Santa Monica Mountains. It is an exquisite gem of a school, idyllic and inspiring, with one story buildings which center around a courtyard, omitting the need for indoor hallways. The indoor-outdoor quality gives a spacious, open feeling to the small school.

 

Indoor/outdoor quality defines the campus
Indoor/outdoor quality defines the campus

 

Scott relocated from NYC to become head of Westland last July. He is the dad of a Westland daughter and a two-year old. He’s super-smart, very nice, high energy and down-to-earth. His energy and enthusiasm for the job make you want to join in whatever he’s doing. Marcia is an incredibly friendly and soft-spoken educator whose friendship with my step-mom and co-author, Anne Simon, dates back to their days at Wildwood School. Scott and Marcia’s combined experience brings with it a discerning eye for both the big picture and minute detail.  A dynanic duo, these two top administrators share a love of progressive education, years of combined experience and a strong commitment to the school’s 1949 founding principles.

Outside a classroom building
Outside a classroom building

 

Together with the Westland faculty and staff, Scott and Marcia have set their collective minds on answering the question, What does progressive education look like in the 21st century? Scott articulates some of the central ideas, including collaboration, risk taking and how to pick the best educational concepts and tools that are available now– and in the future. For example, he says, teaching sharing through the use of wooden blocks rather than putting two students on an Ipad and telling them to “share” is just one way to balance progressive concepts with the newest tools. Of course, Westland believes there is a time and place for technology, but it isn’t the best way to teach a 5 year-old the concept of collaboration, Scott points out.

 

A view of the outdoor play area
A view of the outdoor play area

 

A Progressive State Of Mind

Westland defines its educational philosophy as one where teachers are involved in developing and implementing an integrated, hands on social-studies based curriculum. It is a child-centered, non-competitive learning environment that uses experiential learning to develop problem solving and critical thinking skills (Source: Westland literature). One of my favorite aspects of this philosophy is the integrated curriculum, where what is being taught in one class relates to the subject being taught in another class. The non-competitive aspect of the school is perhaps most noticeable in the lack of school sports teams. However, students play sports in local recreation leagues and club teams.

 

Room to move!
Room to move!

 

Scott is refreshingly candid, opening up about many aspects of Westland School. A thought leader who understands the why and how of progressive education, we spent time in his office talking about how Westland strives to stay true to its roots while incorporating 21st century ideas.  The small size of the school (about 131 students total) offers a place where parents are very involved in virtually every part of the school (volunteering is required!) and kids help make things happen too.

 

Group One (K-1)
Group One Classroom

 

Westland uses a unique system to place students in classes. There are six class groups for the seven grade levels K-6. This gives flexibility and a multi-age environment. At one point during their elementary years, students are re-grouped which means that they spend a second year in one group that has been carefully re-configured based on each’s child’s academics, skills, friendships, and other factors. Rather than remain with one group from K-6, re-grouping offers new opportunities for a child’s social and educational growth.

 

The Westland Studio

Woodworking is a signature program at Westland. Learning by doing is a central theme that flows throughout the school and woodworking is a hands-on activity where all students create projects linked to their social studies themes. A full-time teacher/woodworker oversees the projects and through building, designing, sawing, sanding and seeing the final projects come to life, students develop a wide range of skills including math, measuring and design. The finished projects are visible around the school and a lot of them are used for student activities. Kids build houses, neighborhoods, cities and more!

 

Made by students!
Made by students!
Woodshop for the 21st Century!
Woodshop for the 21st Century!

 

A melding of progressive ideas, interpreted for the modern classroom is what sets Westland apart. There is nothing outdated about this school. It is present, ready to leap and bound into the future. A spirited, expansive view of education by its administrators and faculty make the notion of sitting in a classroom exciting by knowing how to tap into the joys of being a kid.

 

Community Sings 

Music is an important program at Westland, where the program includes an array of instruments and voice. Community Sings is a tradition where the entire school comes together for schoolwide sings that showcase school projects and experiences. A Civil Rights sing coincides with the MLK Jr. Holiday. Parents, siblings and friends are welcome to attend these popular gatherings.

 

Westland’s Garden

 

Lauri Kranz, a Westland mom of two and my lovely friend, is the designer/manager of Westland’s gorgeous garden. Lauri is a landscape gardener extraordinaire and one of the coolest people I know. Loyal devotees in the form of parents help Lauri work with students to create “harvest and cook days,” including, Potato Pancake Day, Radish Day and Stir Fry Day. Getting kids to eat vegetables isn’t difficult when they’ve planted, grown and harvested these delightful goodies! She often posts recipes for parents to make at home with their kids.

Urban beauty!
Urban beauty!
Eco-friendly
Eco-friendly

 

Westland uses technology not for the ‘bells and whistles’ effect, but rather as one tool among numerous tools that is introduced gradually into the curriculum. In the early grades, technology is not present in the classroom. However, by ages 8-9, the school uses technology to help kids learn. The school believes kids should be “savvy users of technology not just consumers.” (Source: Westland School).

 

Library
Library

 

Scott pointed out that because Westland’s tuition is in the lowest quarter for L.A. private elementary schools (about $19K per year), it attracts middle-income families. For 2013-14, the amount of financial aid will double. Parents should note that Westland admissions are competitive. The school receives far more applicants than available spaces. This is partly due to the small size of the school and partly due to its enormous popularity.

 

Group 3 classroom
Group 3 classroom

 

Westland is a school where a kid centered sensibility defines its core.  Westland is both offbeat and charming. Splashes of green, one-story buildings and a collection of wooden blocks reveal function and fun. Westland sparkles with imagination. Versatility and confidence, experimentation and creativity are hallmarks of this stellar school. It takes parents and kids on a journey that is a composite of ideas, old and new, bold and understated. It is the ultimate progressive school.

 

Students help care for chickens
Students help care for chickens

For more information, visit, www.westlandschool.org

You can visit Lauri’s website at www.ediblegardensla.com

 

Read More

Sierra Canyon School: Majestic Beauty Illuminates Illustrious Tradition

Entrance to Sierra Canyon

 

Take a beautiful campus, a multi-generational connection to one of the visionary founding families and an unyielding focus on academic and athletic prowess and the result is Sierra Canyon, an Early Kindergarten-12th school on two campuses in Chatsworth. I’ve wanted to see the school for several years so I was super-excited when Kendall Pillsbury, Sierra Canyon’s admissions director, invited me to tour the school and have brunch from the delicious Brent’s Deli.

 

Campus view!
Campus view!

 

Arriving at Sierra Canyon requires a short drive along a rural road to the entrance of the lower school, which is extremely private, sitting on 17 acres of classrooms, outdoor play areas and sports fields. The campus is a palette of earth tone, greenery dotted with one-story brown-hued buildings.  The school is currently undergoing a renovation of one of its outdoor spaces and has completed the first phase of its athletic field expansion

 

On a bright, cold morning, I spent about more than an hour talking with three top administrators and touring the school. Sipping coffee with Kendall, Adam Horitz, dean of students and Kristine Theodoratos, lower school director, gave me a thorough sense of the school’s history, philosophy and plans for the future. This is a traditional academic school with an energetic, upbeat ambience tucked away on secluded, spacious grounds.

 

SC Classrooms
One story-classroom and learning buildings give the school a rustic feel

 

Sierra Canyon has some of the L.A’s most experienced educators on its staff Head of School, Jim Skrumbis previously spent 10 years at Marlborough School, as a dean and head of the upper school.  Although I didn’t meet Jim, I learned he has an impressive background (he’s also coached sports and taught history) and the big picture vision to lead the school into the future.

 

Kendall is a warm, bubbly Texan, the mom of three Sierra Canyon students. She’s super-easy to talk to and tries to make the admissions process as accessible and un-intimidating as possible for families.

 

State of Nature: The garden
State of Nature: The garden

 

Sierra Canyon is steeped in family tradition. Adam Horwitz is the connection between the school’s past, present and future. His father (currently a board member) is one of the school’s founding families. Adam, a graduate of the school, is the dean of students and also a father of two Sierra Canyon students. He has been at Sierra Canyon since the beginning, literally (the school opened in 1978). Adam is a genuine, outgoing and dynamic guy who is truly a huge part of the heart and soul of this community school. He is steeped in the school’s history and cares about its roots and future. Keenly attuned to student life, Adam knows all the kids and cares deeply about them.

 

Kristine Theodoratos, who hails from Turing Point School, is the lower school director and also the mom of two Sierra Canyon students. An experienced educator with a calm, friendly demeanor, she discussed the school’s academic approach within the kindergarten and lower school. Sierra Canyon, she explained is a traditional school with a developmental twist. Beginning in kindergarten, the school utilizes what it calls “Like Learner Groups.” These include: On Grade, On Grade Enriched and Above Grade. These groups are fluid and kids may move between the groups within a school year, depending on their needs. There is also a gifted teaching specialist who pulls out highly gifted kids for math. Starting next year, the kids will wear uniforms. Sierra Canyon utilizes the well-known “Character Counts” program, which ties directly into the school’s theme, Excellence Is Its Own Reward.

 

A kindergarten classroom
A kindergarten classroom
Get ready for kindergarten!
Get ready for kindergarten!

 

Sierra Canyon’s educators are both in their comfort zone and always looking for new ways to innovate, whether its in the area of curriculum, technology, facilities or any aspect of the school.  Smart Boards and a computer lab comprise the basis for elementary school technology education.

 

Hitting a high note in the music room
Hitting a high note in the music room

 

Ethnic and socioeconomic diversity is another of the school’s assets (about 39 percent of the student body). And, I saw diversity among the faculty and staff too. Approximately 15 percent of the school’s budget is designated for financial aid. Families attending the school live in 95 different zip codes!

 

Field of Dreams
Field of Dreams
Rendering of athletic field renovation
Rendering of athletic field renovation

 

I was extremely impressed to learn that Head of School, Jim Skrumbis, accompanies upper school students on one of the Civil Rights tours in Alabama. This is the first school I’ve encountered that takes this trip. When my kids are older, we plan to visit this take this same trip.

 

Sierra Canyon’s high school is 5 years old and on a separate campus. It has already distinguished itself with college acceptances to a variety of top schools including, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Northwestern, Yale and this year an Early Decision to Harvard for one student.

 

Library!
Library!

 

Sierra Canyon takes its cues from its understated past and blends that legacy with a 21st century focus on academic excellence, diversity and sports. The pristine beauty of the school is a nostalgic reminder of a time when kids could be kids. It’s a place you want to linger and explore. And that’s exactly what the students at Sierra Canyon do!

 

Art studio
Art studio!

 

I was excited to see Sierra Canyon and to offer it a chance to take a solo turn in the spotlight on this blog!

 

One last, lingering look...
Kid-friendly!

For more information, please visit, www.sierracanyonschool.org

 

Read More