About admin

Christina Simon: Los Angeles, California, United States I'm the mom of a daughter (11) and a son (8) who attend The Willows Community School in Culver City. I live with my husband, Barry Perlstein, in Coldwater Canyon. Contact me at csimon2007@gmail.com

Who’s Nervous? Your Child’s Private School Kindergarten Testing Day

Testing Day

A version of this piece was originally published on Elizabeth Street on January 27, 2014


It was early and I was nervous. With my daughter in the car, we drove to the 8 a.m. “visiting day,” one of the requirements of the private school kindergarten admissions process. The school, Oakwood, was more than 30 minutes from our house, traffic was bad and I mistakenly went to the high school rather than the elementary school. Frazzled and arriving with a minute to spare, I arrived at the correct location, a progressive school on a rustic campus.


After a brief time in the school library with our kids, parents were asked to go into a conference room for a meet and greet with the Oakwood head of school. At the same time, our kids were taken into classrooms with teachers for various for visiting day. This was the aspect of the admissions process that filled me with anxiety, since a lot depends on how your 4-5 year-old is feeling the day of the visit and how he/she acts when you arrive at the school. As soon as we got there, my usually shy daughter turned on her biggest, most charming personality (one I had only seen at home). Feeling very comfortable in the library, she pulled some books off the shelf and began reading in a loud voice. The admissions director turned to look at her, clearly impressed. Now that she had an audience (the best possible audience, I might add), my daughter continued reading other parents and kids turned to watch.


Relieved, I went with other parents into the conference room for what turned out to be a chance to ask questions of the head of school. This, you should note, is a time to ask smart, well-formulated questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the school. It’s also a good time to find something nice to say about the place you want to accept your kid. The room was filled with parents who already had older kids at the school, so they were confident about the process and even joked about their chances of getting in. There were also parents there applying for the second time, after being wait-listed the previous year. The competition for spots Oakwood is no joke, I learned. After about an hour, my daughter emerged from the classroom bursting with enthusiasm. We thanked the staff and left. I didn’t have to ask my kid if it has gone well. I knew. She’d nailed it. The look on her face told me everything. In March, we received our acceptance letter from the school.


Beyond The Brochure co-author, Porcha Dodson, has administered numerous testing days at Curtis and St. James schools in Los Angeles. Her advice to parents is from the perspective of the teacher/administrator. Here are Porcha’s tips:


• Many private schools use the terms “visiting day,” “testing day” or “play date”. This is the opportunity for the school to observe your child in a mock kindergarten setting with other applicant kids.

• Telling your child the day will be like a fun play date or a visit to kindergarten with teachers and other kids can help them understand what to expect.

• Some schools prefer to visit applicant kids at their preschools and observe them in a setting familiar to the kids. The preschool director will let parents know ahead of time to make sure the child is at school that day.

• Don’t over dress your child! They should wear comfortable clothing that they can move around in. A suit and tie is too formal.

• Some families hire tutors to prepare their kids for written tests, but this isn’t required by schools. Helping your child learn to recognize basic letters, shapes and colors can help ease anxiety.

• If your child is having a bad day when you arrive at the school, try to gently encourage him/her to separate from you and participate in the activity. If he/she refuses, politely ask the teacher to help. If that doesn’t work, as a last resort, ask to come back another day. This happens occasionally and schools expect kids to have bad days.


Visiting/Testing Day usually includes some or all of the following activities:


o Circle Time/Story Time. Listening to a story read by a teacher and answering questions about the story. Schools are not expecting kindergarten applicants to read, but many kids are early readers. Many schools also give kids a snack.


o Written Tests. Written tests can include questions about shapes, colors, letters, lower case and upper case letter and fill in the blank (see sample test questions in our book). Schools will be looking to see if kids can answer the questions, as well as use fine motor skills to hold a pencil to write their name or ABCs.


o Play time. Outdoor play time on the school yard. These activities can include playing games, unstructured play with other kids and activities designed to give kids a chance to use gross motor skills to climb, run and play. Schools will watch to see which kids actively play and who takes more time to participate, who shares the ball or play space and who can follow directions. Schools are interested in which kids demonstrate readiness for kindergarten and those kids they believe will be a good fit for their school’s educational philosophy. In order to determine a child’s readiness for kindergarten, schools want to observe a child’s motor skills, language skills and a range of other developmental indicators. For example, the school will be looking to see whether kids raise their hands to answer questions when asked, if they can sit still, if they demonstrate patience by listening to the teacher, whether they will allow other kids a chance to talk and whether or not they can follow basic instructions.


Remember, this day is only one aspect of a multi-faceted admissions process. The amount of emphasis placed on visiting day varies by school.


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8 Steps To Getting Your Kid Into Private Elementary School on mom.me



Applying to private elementary school is like trying to set up an arranged marriage, one Los Angeles preschool director told me.


She’s so right.


The entire process is an awkward series of applications, interviews and events, all attempts to find out if you’re the right match for each other. But to even get to that point, you’ll need to know what steps in the admissions process are required. Only after that will you know whether you have found a perfect match.


As a mom of two kids, 11 and 14, I’ve been through the kindergarten and middle school admissions process twice for each kid. Here are the eight steps you need to take when applying to private elementary schools:


To read the entire post, click on mom.me 


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Odd Squad: PBS Kids’ Smart New TV Show

Earlier this week, I attended a screening of Odd Squad, a new TV show for kids on PBS Kids. The show is educational and fun! Odd Squad It features an adorable, quirky cast and the cutest puppets you’ll ever see. Odd Squad is an agency run by kids and they investigate anything strange or unusual. In quintessential PBS Kids style, Odd Squad teaches kids as they watch. Computing fractions, how to tell time and other learning lesson are creatively woven into the plot. Yucky foods caused the kids in the audience (preschool-early elementary ages) to laugh uproariously…Did you say broccoli pudding? How about egg salad pizza? Yuck! This is definitely one of the best new kids shows on TV. Thanks, PBS Kids!

The cast of Odd Squad

The cast of Odd Squad

Agent Olive being interviewed at the screening of Odd Squad

Agent Olive being interviewed at the screening of Odd Squad

Odd Squad 2

Odd Squad solves a mystery

At the screening with my friend Candi

At the screening with my friend Candi

The fabulous KidSpace museum, Pasadena

Screening at the fabulous KidSpace museum, Pasadena

This post is not sponsored. I did not receive compensation and all opinions are my own. 


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Guest Blogger Alice: The Dreaded Parent Interview



So you’re applying to private elementary schools and you’ve managed to actually get a date for a tour and/or interview  (which for some schools means you called months in advance and already jumped through some hoops), which generally means both you and your child will be interviewed. You’re a grown up and have survived job interviews and talked banks into loaning you money, so this should be a piece of cake.  “You aren’t nervous,” you tell yourself and pretend the new outfit you bought is for some other reason, but the truth is as much as we are prepping our kid by begging and bribing them to behave for just one hour, we know that we also have to pull it off.


In fact, when you’re applying for a kindergarten spot in the competitive L.A. private school market, it may even be more about the family than it is about the child.   I remember the butterflies.  I remember trying to look like I had money, but not so much that I was pretending to be a big donor.  I remember wondering if it’s better to look like working mom, or a stay at home mom, (as if I could fake it one way or another).  I remember frantically searching a school’s web site to see if I could think of at least one or two “intelligent” questions to ask, and then trying to memorize those questions.


I decided to go to a source and ask an admissions director at one of these schools, to sit with me and anonymously give me some insights into what they are hoping to get out of the parent interview


Alice: What’s the single most important thing you are looking for in a parent interview?


Admissions Director:  For parent interviews I want to hear in their voice that they are supportive of their child and will be of the school.  In other words, once they put their kid in the school, I want to know they will trust the school to do what it’s supposed to and not get in the way.


Alice: You mean?


Admissions Director: (laughing) Get in the teacher’s faces.


Alice: Is there a tip off that makes you know you may be talking to a difficult parent?


Admissions Director: Yes.  When they start getting really pushy, questioning the curriculum before they even spend time here.  “If my child does this or that, will you do this or that?”  They are always seeking more and more.  It’s not many parents, but you do find them.


Alice: What would your biggest tip be for a parent going into a parent interview?


Admissions Director:  For them to realize that not every school is necessarily a perfect fit for their child.  They may think it’s a fit because of the status of the school, or whatever, but they need to understand that a child has to be socially and emotionally ready for any school they’re applying to.   Some parents want to push them further than they can actually handle.  Know the boundaries of your child and what’s good for them.


Alice: Can you give me an example?


Admissions Director:  Often the child is just too young and not ready for what a school is going to ask from them.


Alice: I’m just curious, does it mater what you wear to an interview?


Admissions Director:  No.  I mean, some parents dress up and that’s nice, but what’s on the outside doesn’t matter.  It’s the way they present themselves verbally in conversation that’s more important.


Alice: What if one of the parents doesn’t show up?   Does that matter?


Admissions Director:  It’s not a big deal for one interview, but if dad, for example, doesn’t show up, I’ll reach out at some point.


Alice: You’d like to lay eyes on both parents?


Admissions Director nods.


Alice: So any final tip for us parents?


Admissions Director: Parents should do their homework about the schools they are applying to, try to talk to other families and get the pros and cons and have questions.


Alice: Sure, but what kinds of questions?


Admissions Director: Anything, about their financial commitments, what after school programs are offered, what transportation, parent involvement on campus?   What high schools the kids matriculate to?


Alice: And finally?


Admissions Director: Come in with an open mind.  Before deciding if this is or isn’t the right place for your child.  Even if you come in thinking it is right, listen and make sure before you apply.


My own final thought is this:  I once was in a group interview situation for one of the most of prestigious K-12 schools in the city and they had about eight to ten parents around a large table and opened it up to questions.  It started with one person asking how many letters from board members of the school would be too much to include in the application.  I believe the officer responded with one is likely enough and then another hand went up and a parent asked, “Following up on that, is it obnoxious…?”  I didn’t even have to hear the end of the question, because if you start with, “Is it obnoxious?”, it obviously will be obnoxious.  Sure enough: “Is it obnoxious to have someone from Clinton’s Cabinet write letters recommending our family?”   Clinton at that time was President.  I can’t say how the admissions director took that, but everyone else in the room including me, rolled their eyes.  So my personal thought would be, try not to be obnoxious.


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


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Tips To Help You ACE Your Private Elementary School Parent Interview

This piece was originally published on Elizabeth Street on January 19, 2014.

Photo credit: Adam Capriola, Flickr Creative Commons

Photo credit: Adam Capriola, Flickr Creative Commons License

Many, but not all, private elementary schools want to meet applicant parents without their kids present as part of the admissions process. Parent interviews are typically meetings between parents and the admissions director. There is no single format and each school determines how the interview will work. Some schools are very casual, while others are more formal. The tone of the interview will depend on the personality of the admissions director and the general atmosphere of the school.


If you’re applying for kindergarten, keep in mind that a parent interview is about you and your child. Some schools are very interested in how well a family will fit into the school’s culture. Other schools are more focused on whether the child will excel academically. It’s hard to know what to anticipate, but researching the school and talking to your preschool director and current parents at the school can help you prepare.


Here are our tips to help you ace your parent interviews:


1. Do your homework ahead of time. Review the school’s website and be sure you are familiar with the mission of the school and what differentiates it from other schools. Be prepared to talk about how your family fits with the philosophy of the school. Why your kid would be a great addition to the school should also be something you are prepared to talk about.


2. Review your written application and be consistent in your interview conversation with what you said in your application about your family and its values and goals. Make sure you communicate who you are and make your family’s story one that will be remembered by the admissions director.


3. Be positive AND honest about your child. Don’t try to make him/her look perfect. In talking about his/her strengths, give real examples of these characteristics. You might talk about how he/she is willing to share toys in the park. Or, perhaps your kid will include other children in playtime at preschool, rather than exclude them. These two examples indicate friendliness, empathy and maturity. In speaking about any challenges, make sure you share that you understand and accept them and are committed to working with the school to partner in serving your child’s needs.


4. Be careful about telling the admissions director you’ll definitely accept a spot if it is offered. You may feel tempted to do this, but it isn’t necessary and could hinder your applications at other schools since some admissions directors do talk to each other. And, don’t make the mistake of being too aggressive in the type of questions you ask like, “Why does this school cost so much?” or, “How much will it cost us to guarantee you’ll let our kid in?” These are inappropriate questions!


5. Arrive early. Plan your route and allow for traffic and other delays. Showing up late is a big no-no. Both parents (if there are two) should attend. The absence of one parent signals a lack of interest in the school.


6. Try to anticipate a few commonly asked questions like, “Tell me about your child,” or “Why do you want your child to attend our school.?” Sometimes, starting with a broad comment about why you love the school and then moving to specifics about why this school is right for your kid works well. It also helps to discuss your answers to these questions with your spouse/partner before the interview. You should both be in agreement about why you want your child to attend the school!


7. Not every parent interview will go well. In Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles, I write in detail about a parent interview for kindergarten that went so badly we withdrew our application from the popular school. Sometimes, the interview may feel more like the admissions director is merely going through the motions and has little interest in what you have to say. Or, you may learn more about the school and realize it doesn’t seem right for your child. However, just because you don’t think an interview went well doesn’t necessarily mean the admissions director felt that way. There are plenty of families who were convinced their interview was a disaster or just adequate, only to receive an acceptance letter a few months later!


Finally, we highly recommend approaching each parent interview with confidence, professionalism and a bit of luck.


Written by Christina Simon and Anne Simon, co-authors of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles


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Lycée International de Los Angeles shows solidarity for France as it mourns the victims from the Charlie Hebdo attack

Lycée International de Los Angeles

January 8th school assembly at LILA Burbank


The events of the past two days in Paris have been truly horrifying. We know Beyond The Brochure readers are as devastated as we are at the loss of life and the attack on the freedom of speech. Here’s how Lycée International de Los Angeles (LILA) showed solidarity with France and helped students express their sympathy. –Christina


Los Angeles, CA – January 8, 2015 – While France is mourning the dead from a fatal act of terrorism on January 7, 2015, many countries are expressing sympathy and support. At Lycée International de Los Angeles (LILA) where almost half of the students on its five campuses are of French nationality, of French origins, or Francophiles, the emotional reaction has been acute.


“As a school whose origins are deeply anchored in the French language and culture, the LILA community stands in solidarity with France and her people in light of the awful attacks in Paris,” said Michael Maniska, LILA’s Head of School.


A minute of silence was observed on the school’s secondary campus in Burbank on the morning of the attack. On January 8th, the following day, a whole school assembly was held in order to pay respects to the victims of the tragedy. “It is essential for us to both educate and inform our students in order to provide them with the tools to enable them to understand such a tragic event,” explained Anneli Harvey, Director of the Burbank campus. The assembly, conducted in French, was led by LILA’s Secondary Academic Director,Emmanuel Bonin, who said, “We remain firm believers in France’s national motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité.” The somber students, many of whom had attended an homage to the victims in Los Feliz the night before, talked about the cartoonists, journalists and police officers who were killed in the ambush that marked France’s deadliest act of terrorism since 1961.


“Just as my father grew up with Charlie Hebdo, I was also doing the same,” said 11th grader Théo Grison of the satirical left-wing newspaper that became famous for its controversial and irreverent cartoons and reports skewering politics, culture, and religion. “Killing these journalists is like killing freedom of expression. We are mourning the people who died but we are also mourning the death of an essential freedom.”

7 Things You Can Do To Find The Right Private Elementary School In L.A.

Photo credit: Nick Amoscato (Flickr Creative Commons License)

Photo credit: Nick Amoscato (Flickr Creative Commons License)

Conquer these essentials and you’ll be more likely to find a school that truly fits your kid and your parenting style.


1. Understand the type of school (traditional, developmental, progressive, religious, Waldorf). Many schools are a hybrid of philosophies.


2. Think about your kid’s learning style and the environment that will be best for them…can you picture your kid at the school?


3. Assess the culture of the school (who are the other parents, is it laid back or strict, etc.). Do the parents look like hippies and artists or golfers and bankers? I got this one very wrong in a big way at The Willows…the culture of that school was never the right fit for our family.


4. Geography. Can you get there and back daily. Where do the other families live?


5. Tuition cost. Private schools can cost $8000/year or $30,000/year for K. There are costs in addition to tuition (enrollment fee ($1,500) annual fund, enrichment, field trips, uniforms, hot lunch).


6. Financial aid. Try to determine whether a school has a generous financial aid budget. Look at the percent of the school’s budget allocated to financial aid…listed on the website or in the annual report. Schools with endowments are typically more likely to have robust financial aid budgets, but smaller schools can offer generous financial aid packages too.


7. Trust your intuition. The most popular schools (or the most expensive) aren’t always the BEST schools!


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Goodbye, 2014…What’s Up, 2015?


After visiting family in Florida, I’m back in Los Angeles for a low-key New Year. I’ll be cooking the traditional Hoppin’ John (so delicious and very special to my family!) and hanging out with my daughter while my husband and son watch tons of sports.  I thought I’d give you a few highlights from 2014 and a peek at what’s on the agenda for Beyond The Brochure in 2015.


The most challenging post I wrote this year was about this blog.


The most popular post this year was about L.A. private school tuition.


The posts I’ve enjoyed writing the most are Private School Profiles.


I became a contributing writer to Mom.me (an AOL Lifestyle site).


The most exciting moment was finding out the book is sold at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena.


I’ve tiptoed around the issue of middle school admissions, but I think I’ve found the answer: Guest Blogger Alice. She’ll be a regular contributor in 2015. Alice is a Mirman School parent and a former Brentwood and Harvard-Westlake mom, so she knows her L.A. private school stuff…I mean she really KNOWS. And, she’s funny, brutally honest and a really good writer too.


In 2015, Beyond The Brochure will feature more posts about who gets into private school (and why), what you need to know about all aspects of admissions, more private School Profiles, a post or two about feeder schools (I learned something new I want to write about), the most affordable and the most expensive private schools in the L.A. area, more reader questions/answers, upcoming private school events, private school buzz, what makes a private school “academic” and a tiny bit of snark, of course. There’s just too much about the private school world that makes my head spin not to mention it here.


I hope you’ll keep reading and following along on Facebook since that’s where you can find blog posts, events, private school news and articles. Most of all I appreciate you telling your friends about this blog and the book too. This is definitely a word-of-mouth endeavor. It is everything I wished I’d known when I applied to kindergarten for my daughter in 2005-06. I hope it’s everything you’re looking for too.


Cheers to a wonderful 2015!--Christina



Viewpoint School Selects New Headmaster

Mark McKee, Viewpoint School's new headmaster with his family

Mark McKee, Viewpoint School’s new headmaster with his family

I’m so excited to welcome our school’s new headmaster! Of course, we’re glad Dr. Dworkoski isn’t going too far…after 28 years as headmaster, he’s been named the president of the Viewpoint Educational Foundation).–Christina


Following an international Search, Viewpoint School’s Board of Trustees unanimously selected Mark McKee as Viewpoint’s next Head of School. Mark is currently Head of School at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School in San Mateo, California, and is a recognized educator of national repute. Mark will assume his role at Viewpoint on July 1, 2015.


Mark brings impressive leadership skills to Viewpoint, but as he pointed out to us many times during the search process, his first and most important role is that of an educator. After graduating from Harvard College, Mark joined Polytechnic School in Pasadena as an English teacher. While teaching at Poly, he completed a Master’s program and further graduate study in English from U.C. Irvine. He also became Poly’s Director of Technology and Director of Summer School. He next served as Head of Upper School at Chase Collegiate School, a PK-12 school in Waterbury, Connecticut, for seven years, where he fostered collaboration and built the academic reputation of the program. He was named Head of School at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School in 2007.


During his time at St. Matthews, Mark has revitalized curricular and program development while focusing on the critical skills of a 21st century education. He has led the development and substantial completion of the school’s strategic plan, including its first-ever capital campaign and the addition of $22 million worth of construction. Mark is currently completing his Ed.D. dissertation for a doctorate in Education Leadership from Columbia University’s Teachers College.


Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. We post a lot of stuff on Facebook that’s not on the blog!  Are you more the email type? Get our posts in your in box by subscribing (enter your email in the subscribe” box on the right sidebar of the blog. Or, buy the Second Edition of our book at Amazon.com or your local bookstores!

Happiest Holidays: Photos, Good Reads and Gratitude….

December 7. Late night after the holiday party.

December 7. Enjoying the flowers after A Holiday Party In The Spirit of Generosity

Happy Holidays 2014

I hope everyone is having a wonderful winter break. My family is definitely enjoying the time off from our normal routine. We’re hiking with our pit bull Cocoa, watching too much HGTV and Gossip Girl, cooking, sleeping late, playing tennis and seeing friends.

Christina and Jessica Gottlieb. Party time!

Christina and Jessica Gottlieb

Our family started the holiday season with a holiday party we co-hosted at our home with my fabulous friend Jessica Gottlieb (some of you probably read her popular blog). When Jessica and I realized we’re both friends with the same inspiring mom whose 11 year-old son is battling Leukemia, we decided to host a party to raise money for our friend’s huge expenses that aren’t covered by insurance (hospital parking, tutors for a year of missed school… and so much more) as her son continues his multi-year chemotherapy treatment. Los Angeles is a big city, but for one night we brought together a “village” for our friend who was deeply touched by the outpouring of generosity. We raised $5,500, including a contribution from Beyond The Brochure. You can see the photos and read about this very special party here.


Gratitude extends to all of you who read this blog and buy the book! Thank you!


We went to see my daughter’s first performance in the Viewpoint middle school Jazz Band. Wow! The band opened the Holiday Concert with jazzy versions of Winter Wonderland and Frosty The Snowman. All those hours and hours my daughter spent practicing the guitar, taking lessons, learning the songs, getting to the 7:00 a.m. class every week were so worth it. I’m waiting for the DVD since I didn’t take any photos. The band was amazing!

Earl Watson Elite 2


If you have a kid who plays club sports, you know that tournaments are year-round so we’ve been in Orange County for the past two weeks for basketball tournaments. My son loves sports, plays hard and doesn’t get rattled when his team loses (huge losses both weekends). I love his competitive spirit and good sportsmanship.


Here are some good reads from around the web:

Time’s Up For Time Out. A discussion of parenting discipline techniques through the decades in The Atlantic.


Trying To Make Mom Friends Is The Worst. Like the author, I too underestimated how hard it was/is to make mom friends. But, when the stars align, really great mom friends are everything.  In New York Magazine.


The Last Thing I Expected People To Say About My Daughter. If you’re a mom who had kids later in life i.e. your mid-late 30s, did anybody ever ask if you’re their grandmother? This has never happened to me (thankfully!). One mom writes about her experience being mistaken for her daughter’s grandmother and her husband the grandfather. On Mom.me


If you haven’t checked out the hilarious (ficticious) Los Feliz Daycare on Twitter, it’s a must-read. Here’s one very funny Tweet. #Repost: LFDC


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