Leonardo School: From L.A. To Panama, A Unique Global School

Jeff Guckert, founder of Leonardo School
Jeff Guckert, founding director of Leonardo School

 Please note: Leonardo School will be hosting an information session on April 25th.

The other day I was having coffee with my friend Lisa Marfisi when she told me about a new school called Leonardo. This was news to me, but as soon as she described this exciting new venture, I knew I wanted to learn more about it. Lisa connected me with Leonardo’s founding director, Jeff Guckert, who was gracious enough to take the time on Friday to speak with me on the phone about his new school.

Jeff explained that after leaving Crossroads School last June, where he was the assistant head of school, he planned to start a new school, one that brings new ideas to existing educational models. Jeff’s vision for Leonardo School is the manifestation of his years of experience combined with a group of impressive education professionals (teachers, board members, advisors) who share the same excitement about a next generation school where the “campus is the world.”


Panama, photo: Leonardo School
Panama, photo: Leonardo School

Notably, Jeff has the ideal background to serve as founder of a new school:

“After graduating from Stanford with a PhD in Chemistry, Jeff was looking for something meaningful to do with his life.  Fortunately, he found teaching. For 21 years, at three renowned schools – The Bishops School (La Jolla, CA), Sidwell Friends School (Washington, DC) and Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences (Santa Monica, CA) – Jeff has developed his educational philosophy serving as science teacher for grades 6-12, department chair, academic dean, division director, dean of faculty, and assistant head of school.”*

As Jeff explained to me, “At Leonardo School, we believe that that the purpose of secondary school is to empower students to see the world for themselves and to be the change they want to see in the world, now and in the future.”


Photo: Leonardo School
Photo: Leonardo School

Leonardo School, which will open in Fall 2017, starting with grades 6 and 7 and adding subsequent grades each year, will be located on the Westside of L.A., most likely in Culver City or Santa Monica.  Currently, Jeff and his team are actively scouting sites.

Leonardo is intended to be a next-generation school where the classroom serves as a “base camp” for students as they learn in an environment which, according to Jeff, “Rethinks schooling in order to allow kids to see the world for themselves, not as adults tell them the world is or should be.” The school, says Jeff, “will encourage students to become changes agents in our world. The entire curriculum will be purpose-based, rather than having a community service requirement to fulfill a certain amount of hours.”

Not only will students develop projects while exploring Los Angeles, in partnership with Earth Train and Geoversity, students will establish extended projects and relationships with the peoples, cultures, biomes, and more of this amazing country.


L.A. River Mural at The Village, Topanga
L.A. River Mural at The Village, Topanga

The most significant partnership Leonardo School has established is with the school’s satellite campus in Panama. Students at the Los Angeles campus will travel to Panama as part of the curriculum and students from Panama will collaborate with students here in Los Angeles. Spanish will be taught in order for Leonardo School students to converse here in L.A. as they complete project-based learning around the city, speaking with street vendors for example, or students in Panama and other places around the world. “Ultimately, expansion to Mexico and other locations is envisioned,” says Jeff.

One of the most fascinating elements of the school will be the non-traditional partnerships. Jeff is truly passionate about the early connections the school has developed with naturalists, a bamboo architect, musicians and other experts in their fields. If students are interested in outdoor education, he says, “It could take place in a course in the rainforest in Panama.”


Photo: Trip Advisor
Photo: Trip Advisor

Ultimately, Leonardo School seeks to answer the question, “What does it mean for a student to be successful?” At the core of its mission is to help students develop these core principles:

  • Knowing yourself
  • Empathy, Compassion: understanding, defining your role in groups, communities
  • Evolution & Change, Equilibrium, Sustainability
  • Connectedness of ideas, knowledge, skills, people


Each year of study is centered around a major element of global impact. Skills in traditionally-defined disciplines (e.g. social & emotional intelligence, arts, reading, writing, history, math) are covered through practical studies of each topic.

Year 1: Agriculture

Year 2: Cities

Year 3: Health/Wellness

Year 4: Environment

Year 5: Government Systems

Year 6: Economic Systems

Year 7: Belief Systems

Here are a few more details about Leonardo School:

  • Applications are now being accepted for Fall 2017, grades 6 and 7. Note: if there are enough applications for grades 8 and 9, the school will consider adding those grades for 2017. The school plans to grow each year to become a 6-12th grade secondary school.
  •  The ISEE entrance exam is not required.
  • Class size is expected to have between 10-20 students.
  • Tuition will be approximately $34,000 per year, with a 15% discount ($28,900) for the first incoming class. Tuition is expected to increase by 2% each year. Some financial aid will be offered.

*Source: Leonardo School Website

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Priya Nambiar: From Brentwood School Admissions to Educational Consultant

Priya Nambiar


I’m excited to welcome Priya Nambiar of Nambiar Advising to the blog today! I asked her a few questions about private school admissions and she shared her answers below. Thank you, Priya!–Christina

How does your 8 years of experience as a former Associate Director of Admissions for Middle and Upper Schools at Brentwood and your work at Viewpoint School help you serve your clients?

Through my experience at Brentwood School and at Viewpoint School, where I was the Associate Director of Admissions before Brentwood, I understand what it feels like to admit one student over another. It was extraordinarily difficult to choose some students and deny others – especially when it was due to limited class space. I’ve been in the trenches in those decisions committees, so I have some unique insights into those admissions nuances.

Also, all schools have slightly different processes, but ultimately it’s always about “fit”. I appreciate what it means to find the right school for a specific child, not just a “bumper sticker school” that’s more about prestige or bragging rights rather than what’s best for the student. I understand how a family and student would want to do everything possible to impress an admissions office. Yet, Los Angeles has so many wonderful schools that match different types of families and students. Not everyone will be happy at every school. Experiencing this from the perspective of an admissions officer makes me emphasize the importance of finding the right environment for each child.

What does finding the “right fit” in a school mean to you? Why is this so important?

The right fit can be composed of many elements: academics, student and family culture, social and emotional development, athletics, arts programs, class size, and more. It’s about the connection a student and family has with the school on multiple levels. And that’s what makes it so important – when that connection occurs, children and families thrive. The school becomes more about shaping a life experience and goes far beyond tests and grades.

Each school – whether is K-12, K-6, K-8, or 9-12 – has its own culture. The challenge is to understand both the student and schools well enough to identify where the best connections will happen.

What services do you provide to your clients?

I work with families applying to everything from Kindergarten to 12th grade, from independent private schools to public schools, and with children with special needs and learning differences.

I provide a variety of services to try to accommodate different families’ needs. I have an initial two-hour consultation where I meet with the family and student, research potential schools, review timelines and required materials, and provide guidance to help them navigate this often-confusing process. I offer a full package that entails in-depth work with the family and student in all aspects of the admissions process, including essay review and editing, advocacy when appropriate, and more. This is a more involved, customized service where I’m with the family for everything they might need.

Additionally, I offer interview preparation sessions (in-person one- to two-hour sessions that prepare students and parents for their interviews) as well as group seminars (two-hour sessions for 15-30 people hosted at a family’s home where I provide an in-depth overview of the admissions process).

Can you give us a few reasons why a student might get wait-listed?

Students can get wait-listed for several reasons. Sometimes there truly is not space for them, even if they are very qualified. There may be another student with a similar profile that was chosen over them. As schools want to create a balanced class, sometimes wait-list decisions are about timing and that specific school year. For example, suppose four male oboe players are applying in your year. If your child is a male oboe player, he may be waitlisted. Had it been another year, the result could have been different.

Schools also want to ensure that students are academically qualified, will fit in socially and find friends, be kind to others, and contribute to the extracurricular life of the school. Some children will be a great fit for some of these parameters, but not for others. Additionally, schools want to have full bands, performing arts programs, sports teams, students interested in journalism, and other extracurricular elements. Applicants will look attractive to a school based on what the school needs to fill.

 What about a declined admission letter?

Similar to the wait-list, students can be declined admission for several reasons. Sometimes a school will deny students if they won’t be successful there academically. A child’s grades, ISEE scores, school visits, and assessments will imply that potential. But keep in mind that all schools are different. While a child may not be an academic fit for one school, he or she may be a perfect fit for another.

Also, sometimes a school will deny students admission even if they are academically qualified, if other class factors are involved. For example, the class simply may have too many boys (or girls, or artists, or goalies, etc.). This might seem random or too dependent on happenstance, but unfortunately it’s a reality of the admissions process.

Additionally, wait-list vs. deny is a challenging decision. While you want the student to know that they are qualified, you don’t want to give them hope if there isn’t any. If the fit just isn’t there, you want to make sure they get excited about the school or schools they do get into. Sometimes you shouldn’t wait to sign a contract because you feel there is a chance at the school where you’re wait-listed.

You’ve been an educational consultant for 3 years. What do you like most about it? 

I love my work. As an educator for over 20 years, I love learning about my client families and students and identifying where they would thrive. It’s exciting to then combine that understanding with my knowledge of the schools and the different ways they approach education. All of this comes together to help families and students find the best school matches. I have helped families get into Berkeley Hall, Brentwood, Brawerman, Buckley, Campbell Hall, Carlthorp, Chadwick, Harvard-Westlake, John Thomas Dye, Laurence, New Roads, Oakwood, PS1, Turning Point, Village, Vistamar, Willows, Wildwood, Westland, and more school across Los Angeles. It’s incredibly rewarding and fulfilling to see these kids get into schools and begin a journey that could help them realize their potential.

Priya Nambiar has spent over a decade in private school admissions and over 20 years in education. For eight years, she was the associate director of admissions for middle and upper school at Brentwood School. She understands the stress and anxiety that applying to competitive schools creates. She also understands what private schools are looking for in a candidate’s application. Additionally, Priya is a mom of twin daughters who attend a private elementary school. She has experienced first-hand the application process as a parent and as an admissions officer. With her direct experience and dedication to education, she hopes to reduce the stress that families experience and to match parents and children with the best schools for them.

You can find out more about Priya at www.nambiaradvising.com or by email at: priya@nambiaradvising.com or by phone: 323-630-7182


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Yes, no and maybe so. Those admissions letters!


Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The countdown begins for notifications from L.A. and Pasadena private schools. Schools will notify families on March 10 and 17th. I remember applying for kindergarten, then DK, then 7th and 4th grades. Each time was stressful. Developmental Kindergarten was less stressful since my son was a sibling at Willows. As we waited, it was tempting to second-guess decisions we’d made along the way. Then, I’d think STOP. It’s done. My friends and I were on the phone non-stop. The stakes seem so high, especially when you start to imagine the worst possible outcome. Yet, over the years, I’ve seen that most families will have a school to attend. It may not be your first choice, but once your kid is accepted, it becomes “your kid’s school” and that’s a great feeling.

Our family has received acceptance letters, wait-list letters and we’re had to withdraw an application when our parent interview went south. If your family gets even one acceptance letter, congratulations! Two or more is an abundance of riches. If not, here’s what I’ve learned as a parent who has been through the process multiple times and as someone who writes about admissions: your kid (like mine) may not get into the school you think is the best school, the perfect school, the school where your family needs to be, the school where “everyone else” is going.  If that happens, it can feel like a harsh blow. After all, you did everything right and yet…a wait-list or “no” letter. What!?! Frenemies are getting in and that makes it feel even worse. The most obnoxious family at your school posts their acceptance letter on Facebook. You feel like crying. You start crying. After a time, you stop crying and call a close friend, preferably someone who doesn’t live in L.A. You vent and rage as she listens. It helps. You feel better. It’s also helpful to remember that sometimes things happen during the admissions process that are completely out of your control. Maybe you don’t have the support of your head of school (that was our situation leaving Willows for 7th grade, which has a middle school or maybe your kid barely made the age cutoff date and schools want older kids). Now what?

So what can you do? After gulping your favorite alcoholic beverage and taking some time to process it, come up with a plan to move forward. For secondary school, you’ll have to tell your kid it’s not personal, this rejection. If you have options, focus on what’s great about where he/she did get in. Don’t do anything you’ll regret like stalking the admissions office or firing off a nasty email to your preschool director or head of school. Think those thoughts if you want, but remain professional. Trust me on this one! Instead, focus on options to move forward. Maybe that means figuring out a plan for a school where your kid has been wait-listed (see below for helpful posts).  Perhaps you should think about submitting a late application at a school where you didn’t apply. This may require the help of an educational consultant to get your calls returned, but it can be well worth it. Cold calling can work, but sometimes a consultant will know which schools have that one open spot that could belong to you.

My kids are now at Viewpoint in 7th and 10th and I couldn’t have asked for a better school for them both!

Here are posts we’ve complied from my experience and those of our contributors. I hope they help. And, you can buy a copy of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles if you want a comprehensive overview of the L.A. admissions process including sample written applications.

Good luck to everyone!


Update: March 9, 2017

From Los Angeles Independent Schools:

Friday, March 10, 2017
Email notifications can be sent at 5pm on Friday, March 10, 2017
Replies will be due on Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Grades K-8: Notification can be sent on Friday, March 17, 2017
Email notifications can be sent starting at 5pm on Friday, March 17, 2017
Replies will be due on Monday, March 27, 201 

Waiting For Admissions Letters by Jenny Heitz

Waiting For Admissions Letters: Advice From L.A. Admissions Directors 

Black Friday: The Day L.A. Private Schools Send Admissions Letters on The Daily Truffle

Grateful, Hopeful or Dismayed: When Admissions Letters Arrive

Various Types of Admissions Letters by Kim Hamer

Good News: How To Choose

0/X: What’s Next When You Don’t Get In?

Confronting Rejection: When Your All Isn’t Enough

Tips For If Your Child Is Wait-Listed

Hiring An Educational Consultant To Go From Wait-Listed To Accepted

List of Educational Consultants


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Welcome to Crestview Preparatory: Q and A with Head of School Baudelia Chavez Taylor

CP Front

A few weeks ago, I stopped by Crestview Preparatory in La Canada to chat with head of school Baudelia Chavez Tayor. I’d never seen this absolutely charming school, but I’ve heard parents buzzing about it since Baudelia left the Center For Early Education about three years ago to become Crestview’s head of school.

Baudelia is immediately likable, personable and low-key. As we talked, I saw her genuine passion for the school, as our conversation flowed from big picture education trends like STEM, Maker Spaces and Robotics (yes, Crestview has these programs) to what’s happening in the school’s Harry Potter garden which functions as a science lab of sorts. The school plants fruits and veggies that local wildlife animals won’t eat, hence the gorgeous Kumquat tree.

CP kumquattrees

Crestview is very close to Pasadena and is accessible for families who live in Eagle Rock, Atwater, Silverlake, Los Feliz and other areas including the San Gabriel Valley. The school is a blend of traditional and developmental philosophies, with a focus on respect for childhood. One big change Baudelia instituted since taking over the school is a new homework policy. Now, there is “must-do” homework and “may-do” homework. Homework, Baudelia notes, must reinforce and relate to classroom work. The school has a lot of impressive programs like a robust technology program where kids start learning about computers in kindergarten where, as part of the curriculum, they learn to take apart a computer and put it back together, treating the computer as a “family” of parts that combine to create a whole. In later grades, robotics, coding and maker activities round out the program. The school garden is a real-life laboratory, where students plant and grow various fruits and vegetables, with the goal of learning why certain plants flourished and others withered.

CP Kinder Classroom

The school is small, with 155 students total for grades K-6, so Baudelia knows each student and their family personally. She beams with pride as we walk around the campus, peeking in classrooms. She gives credit to her team of teachers, administrators and staff at the school as we walk around the campus. Parent volunteers, she notes, do a lot of work at the school too. Baudelia is no stranger to the secondary school application process, so when it’s time to apply for secondary school, she takes a hands-on approach beginning in 5th grade to help families find the right school for their child. I really like the way she described extracurricular activities, an important part of the secondary school process. She noted that a student can participate in the traditional activities like soccer and piano, but she believes in a broad definition of what comprises a student’s passion like reading voraciously outside of school, which can show a secondary school a student applicant who is studious, patient, imaginative and typically, a very strong writer. So what if your kid doesn’t play soccer! See the impressive list of schools where Crestview kids enroll for secondary school. On my way out, I grabbed a copy of the school’s newspaper, Crestview Blastoff. How cool is that!

CP yard

Can you talk a bit about your background and experience? What brought you to Crestview?

I started my career as a teacher at LAUSD working with bilingual students at the middle school level. In 2001, I moved to The Center for Early Education in West Hollywood. I joined as a teacher in the early childhood and moved to the elementary several years later, landing in the third grade- my favorite grade to teach. From there, I joined the administration as the Director of Early Childhood Programs and led the early childhood division for several years before starting my headship at Crestview.

The opportunity to lead Crestview was a blessing, as the moment I visited the school it felt like home. At that time, I was ready to begin a headship and the small size of the Crestview community was perfect. I was drawn to its commitment to elementary education and to providing a balanced school experience to its students.

How would you describe the school’s educational philosophy?

Crestview’s philosophy is centered around the “respect for childhood” and balance in education. We strive to provide structure and nurture as we deliver instruction. We provide hands-on experiences that our students anchor conceptual understanding around.

CP Garden

Crestview describes itself as “the neighborhood school”. What are some things you do to build a strong school community of parents and students.

Amongst the students, we help build community through our Reading Buddies program. We pair students in kindergarten and third grade, first and fourth grade, and second and fifth grade each year. They initially begin their interactions by reading with each other, as the year progresses they work on projects together, they working on community service initiatives and come together to play on a weekly basis. This allow them to build a strong rapport and feel connected across grade-levels.

With our parents, we have many opportunities for them to volunteer on campus. We also have parties throughout the year that parents attend to get to know each other and build community. We have host families that welcome new families.

CP Garden2

Each school has a unique culture. How would you describe Crestview?

Crestview is a small but mighty school, focused on educating children 5 to 12 years old. It is a welcoming environment that is nimble and dedicated on being reflective. We honor the voices of all constituents and encourage conversation about learning and development.

Parents worry about placement into 7-12 schools. Crestview students go on to top schools in SGV and LA area. What does the school do to help students get into top secondary schools?

Families are supported in the secondary school process by Crestview. We begin the process in fifth grade into the sixth grade year. The head of school meets with every family to discuss the student’s profile, advice focus in the summer, and suggest schools to consider. Students are given mock interviews and practice in writing essays to prepare them for the admission’s process. Here’s a list of some of the schools are graduates attend.


Crestview offers CTY online for gifted students who are eligible. Can you describe this unique program?

We identify current students in accelerated in mathematics through teacher referral, year-end grade-level tests, and ERB standardized testing results on the independent school norm. When identified they are still responsible for completing their grade-level work as they are provided with above grade-level material according to their individual level. We subsidize the courses for our students.

CP Kinder 2

What advice would you offer parents who are applying to Crestview? Any tips for getting their child in?

I advice families to be themselves, we are interested in authenticity. We are child advocates and work hard to make the process a welcoming one for prospective families. We want parents and children to feel comfortable and share who they are with us.

CP Paper

For more information, visit, www.crestviewprep.org

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Your L.A. Private Schools Admissions Checklist by Lisa Marfisi

Lisa M. Headshot

We’re excited to have Lisa Marfisi’s  words of wisdom on the blog! Lisa has been an L.A. private school admissions director for 15 years (see her full bio below). 

So, you’re applying to private school and you think you have a plan.  You’ve visited many schools, narrowed your choices and applied. You have edited your answers multiple times, gotten recommendations from your child’s favorite teachers, and submitted transcripts.  You have friends who recommended you.   You have interviewed, attended events and written lovely thank you notes to each Director of Admission you met.  You are doing everything right!  These are just the basics…. there are a few more “Dos and Don’ts” to think about and add to your to do list.

Clipboard with colorful checkmarks and magnifying glass. Flat vector illustration

TIPS, ADVICE and SUGGESTIONS for applying to L.A. Private/Independent Schools:

  1. ONLY apply to schools where you would feel comfortable enrolling your child.  If you are not CERTAIN that the school is compatible with your educational philosophy and/or the culture does not “feel” right…don’t waste your time or the school’s time.  It takes hours to visit, apply, interview and review each school.
  1. DRIVE to the school at the EXACT time of day you would be going to drop off or pick up. Many parents visit schools in the middle of the day and then are shocked to find out that there is A LOT more traffic and it takes A LOT longer than they thought it would to get there.
  1. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS! If the school asks for a photo of your child.  Send them ONE.  Do NOT send an entire baby album!  If you are required to get recommendations, send recs from teachers who are CURRENT and who teach the subjects which were requested.  When applying, remember MORE is not BETTER!  If you send extra letters, recs, videos, etc….they will not HELP.  In fact, it is unlikely that they will even be reviewed.
  1. PAY ATTENTION! Read the questions on each application carefully and answer the question that has been asked.  If the question is about your child, the answer should be too!  If the question is about your family, stick to the topic and tell the school what they are asking for. Don’t tell about your volunteer experience unless that is what the question is about!  There is a reason they are asking.  Schools try to get information that will help them determine if your child/family is a good fit.  They will NOTICE if you do not follow instructions. In my practice, this is the ONE area that is consistently a problem for most parents.  It is challenging to stick to the topic when you want to share SO much information. Make sure you only answer the question which has been asked!
  1. EVERYTHING counts! If you have to change your appointment multiple times, it will be remembered.  If you are late, it will be noted, If your child jumps on the furniture in the reception area or you drive too fast in the parking lot, the school will KNOW.  On the other hand, if you are very pleasant, on time and you attend many events at the school, this will be noticed too.
  1. DON’T tell EVERY school that it is your first choice. Schools are interested in families that understand their program and WANT them.  If you REALLY have a first choice, it is important to tell the Director of Admission, but if you are not sure, it is better to say nothing.

Take time to reflect on your own educational experience so you can remember all of the things that were important to you as a student.  Think about your child and how he/she is different.  Will the experience you had work for your child?  If not, try to focus on your child’s needs so you can find an environment that is JUST RIGHT!

This may be the only time in your life that you get to enjoy this reflective process. (When students are older, they do not depend on you as much for this process.)  ENJOY this time.  Talk to your child, your partner, your family and use this time to learn about yourself and your family.

Remember that your idea of where your child should be may not match where he/she ends up and THAT’s OK.  You may be pleasantly surprised to find you didn’t really “get” a school until you landed there.

KEEP BREATHING!  It will be OK!  March will be here soon!

Lisa Marfisi has been a professional in education in Los Angeles since 1991. She was the Director of Admissions K-12 at Wildwood School and PK-6 at Echo Horizon School. She also worked at the Archer School for Girls, PS #1, and Westside Neighborhood School. Lisa’s experience has given her an understanding of what schools are looking for and enables her to help parents navigate the admissions process from an insider’s point of view. Lisa has been helping families with the admission process as a Director of Admission for 15 years. Her two children are in college at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara. Lisa has experience as a parent at independent, public, charter and parochial schools.  She holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Contact information: email: lisa@lisamarfisi.com  Ph: 310-560-9393 and web: www.lisamarfisi.com

Lisa Marfisi

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