The Only Admissions Letter That Mattered

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As many of you know, my kids happily entered Viewpoint School in Fall 2013 after 7 years at The Willows Community School. We knew it was time for a change after so many years at one school and my daughter was ready to begin 7th grade at a bigger school. So, we set out to find the right school for her. Twists and turns during the process last year left us feeling like we’d chosen to apply to the wrong schools. What seemed right at the time felt completely wrong for our daughter midway through the process. But, we pressed on, thinking that we’d finish the process and make our decisions then. I’m keeping things intentionally vague to protect the privacy of my 13 year-old, who is keenly aware of a lot of the things her mom writes. I know you understand.


As you may have guessed, applying for private middle school in L.A. is serious business. It’s also fickle because you’re dealing with a tween/teen. At one school where my daughter spent the day, they didn’t have enough chairs so she had to stand during several classes. This upset her, so she hated the school. We didn’t apply there. She loved another school because she had friends on the tour. We didn’t apply there either.


There are only a few top-tier schools for huge numbers of applicants, coming from both public and private elementary schools, including gifted magnets and charters. Points of entry for middle school are 6th grade (if there is one at the school), 7th grade and then for high school, 9th grade. The middle school admissions process is rigorous.


There are tours, parent interviews, student visiting days (long ones), an interview for the kid, letters of recommendation, lengthy applications (one written by the student and one by the parent). I do a lot of writing, but my portion of one written application still took me seven hours to complete. There are tons of prospective parent events and even more if you’re a minority family. There is the ISEE test and it is a very BIG DEAL that involves an ISEE tutor and at least a few months of tutoring (unless your kid already knows the material, which happens). Then there’s the 4-hour ISEE test on a Saturday. It is a mini-SAT. Of course, whether you kid plays sports is a huge deal.


We initially suspected that our interests and those of the incumbent school would not align. The Willows has a middle school and they want kids to stay through 8th grade for a variety of legitimate reasons.  However, our daughter’s world had become too small and she needed a change. Still, it was our backup plan. We had a daughter with all As, who was in 6th grade, but was taking 7th grade math and who had never had a discipline issue. Somewhere in the process we realized our son needed to move to a new school too. The pressure doubled. During our time at Willows we had donated the equivalent of the annual GNP of a small island nation over and above tuition.  Still, we anticipated, that wouldn’t be enough to ensure a smooth exit from the school. So we knew we’d need a contingency plan. But, we didn’t know what it would be. What we did know was that we were ready to move on–with or without their support.  


When a parent representative from one school where we applied called me during dinnertime to invite me to an African American parent event and then kept me on the phone for 30 minutes talking about her daughter’s basketball prowess (my daughter doesn’t play sports), I was about to lose my mind. Her voice droned on, as she asked me yet again whether my daughter played sports. I  tried politely to end the call. I was exhausted from the hours the process required and at that moment I realized this particular school was completely wrong for my daughter (who was totally dejected after spending an entire day there) and for our family. The call from Pompous Mom was the final straw. I didn’t attend the event for prospective African American families. The mere thought of it made me cringe…I pictured a bunch of prospective black parents standing around sipping cocktails, pretending to be comfortable, but really freaking out inside, while current black families talked about how fabulous the school was. No thanks. If Pompous Mom was any indication of what the evening would be like, I’d skip it. I didn’t attend the event, knowing it could be a deal breaker for our application. People are climbing over each other to get into this school and I’d just declined to show up at a black family event after a call from Pompous Mom and several emails from the school.


I also unwittingly made a terrible blunder during the admissions process at this school  by not asking a friend’s kid to host my daughter during visiting day. To do this, I would have needed to contact the school and request her kid, a current student. The message I got from my friend accused me of upsetting her kid–and worse. Confused and rattled, I had no idea that visiting day at this school is really a popularity contest and the kids who have a visitor assigned to them get public recognition by the school. I hadn’t meant to hurt her kid, I just didn’t know what other moms at her school already knew (but kept quiet for fear that their child wouldn’t have a visitor). Internal school politics that play out in the admissions process is how I’d sum this up.


Our parent interview at the same school can only be described as ridiculous. A 20-something admissions assistant who was brand new at the job conducted our parent interview. The interview consisted of her reading off a checklist to confirm that what our daughter said in her interview sounded correct. “Yes, that sounds like our daughter,” we nodded, making a mental note that our daughter hadn’t said anything inflammatory or immature. Once the checklist was completed, the interview was finished. The scenario in the waiting room was like something out of a cheesy movie…families dropping names, bragging ostentatiously about how rich they were, hurrying to coach their kids to make sure to say XYZ in the interview.  When the admissions director emerged from her office, she got a big over-the-top hug from the family she was about to interview. Their kid was the cousin of a current student who “happened” to stop by at that moment to say hi. They’d mentioned this to us as we waited. Sitting in the claustrophobic waiting room, Barry and I whispered to each other, “We misread this one!” What we saw—and what we’d seen during the tours and events– was not what we wanted. Nor did they want us, it turned out (we were wait-listed, but opted not to remain on the list). And that was a good thing, although stressful at the time.


Then, the most amazing thing happened: Viewpoint School. We toured, spending half a day there. Our kids loved it. Barry and I knew this was the right school in so many ways. Big academics (6 grads went to Stanford this year) and big sports, with a remarkable professionalism and warmth that starts at the top with the Headmaster, Dr. Bob Dworkoski. It seemed ideal for both our kids. We couldn’t believe that luck, serendipity, a few smart decisions, some quick thinking, advice from those in the know and a gut feeling about the school would result in both our kids getting in. The admissions director, Laurel Baker Tew was gracious, knowledgeable and welcoming. We connected with her in a way we hadn’t with admissions officials at the other schools. On the car ride home, we sensed the day had gone well, but we didn’t know what Viewpoint thought. We’d have to wait.


Then we got the only admissions letter that mattered. Acceptance to Viewpoint! For two kids. Cheers and hugs in our family. Calls to friends and family. A dinner celebration with our kids. The admissions process had worked, although not in the way we’d anticipated it would play out.


This school year at Viewpoint has been incredible for so many reasons. My daughter is pushed and encouraged academically—she works hard and has a lot of studying and homework in a traditional college preparatory environment. She also has a chance to try new activities like journalism, which she loves. She was selected as one of the editors of the middle school newspaper. She placed second in a middle school writing contest. She’s planning to audition for Jazz Lab (she plays guitar). She’s received Highest Honors for both quarters because she’s worked hard and has classes with teachers she adores. Many of the academic skills she learned in elementary school have served her well in the transition from progressive to traditional school. She has a wonderful group of friends. She’s happy because she’s at the right school. I’m not even going to pretend I’m humble-bragging. I’m just really proud of her (and my son too). I know you understand.


Our family is at the right school. It’s an awesome feeling.


I truly hope your family ends up at the right school too. Even if the route there is unpredictable. Good luck!


Here’s a link to some of our most popular previous posts about getting in, not getting in and being wait listed. Also, once you have acceptance letters, how do you chose? It’s all here. 



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What You Need To Know About The 3 Types of Private School Admissions Letters

Admissions Letters

Here’s the deal. There are 3 types of admissions letters that will be mailed or emailed to Los Angeles applicant families on Friday (sent via post office mail) or Saturday (emailed or delivered by the post office…this can also happen Monday if the mail is slow). All across Los Angeles, parents are waiting, fingers crossed, champagne or Xanax in the house, for these letters. The Los Angeles Times once called this day, Black Friday.


Here’s my latest piece on the 3 types of letters families can expect to receive. We hope you get the good news you want! Click on Elizabeth Street to read. Also, click on the slide show that accompanies the article to read Beyond The Brochure’s previous Elizabeth Street posts.


Differences Between Progressive and Traditional Schools (Part 4)

Here are mission statements from two excellent but very different L.A. private elementary schools, Westland in Los Angeles and Carlthorp in Santa Monica. It can be helpful to read a school’s self-description to learn more about its approach to education. Then, comparing and contracting traditional and progressive schools highlights the differences in educational philosophies, how students acquire knowledge, core values and mission of the school.  Many schools are a hybrid of several philosophies, while others like those below are examples of schools which stick close to their guiding educational philosophies and are able to clear articulate this fact. 

Welcome to Westland!

Westland School, Los Angeles

Westland School’s Philosophy

“Among elementary schools in Los Angeles, Westland is widely known and respected as a pioneer in the teaching philosophy known as progressive education. This philosophy evolved in recognition of the limitations of traditional education and its emphasis on training children to memorize and recite large amounts of information. As we enter the 21st-century, information storage has clearly become the domain of technology, but our most human traits—the ability to wonder, to think critically, to question, to share, to create, and to care about each other—are timeless and uniquely valuable. These are the qualities that Westland has sought to develop in our students since our founding more than 60 years ago.”


Carlthorp School, Santa Monica

Carlthorp School, Santa Monica

Carlthorp’s Mission Statement

“Dedicated to the academic, social, and emotional growth of children, our highly qualified faculty and staff create a nurturing environment that inspires children to become life-long learners.  Rigorous academics, including foreign language, are balanced with music, art, drama, and physical education.  Accelerated classes challenge the gifted, and specialists make learning fun for everyone.

Traditionally academic in approach within a warm and secure setting, Carlthorp School’s philosophy stresses our Code of Conduct and the cohesiveness of all constituents of the School’s family.  Students live by the “Code,” which becomes a permanent part of their being.  All children strive to do their personal best, inside school and out.

Carlthorp School graduates are prepared to face the rigors of private independent secondary school and the challenges of life.  Not only are they talented critical thinkers and speakers, they are also good citizens who are responsible, respectful, and kind.”

BTB Co-Author Anne Simon’s New “Life”

Anne Simon headshot 2014

Anne Simon

1.Tell us a bit about your new Life Coaching endeavor! 

In a way I have just formalized what I have been doing during all of my personal and professional life. As a parent, teacher and educational administrator I spent a large portion of my time and energy dealing with the inevitable issues that arise as children and families grow and learn; child development, work/family balance, etc. As a therapeutic foster parent, I received a lot of training and experience supporting adolescents and young adults in defining their life’s purpose and goals and figuring out how to make their own dreams come true. Becoming a Life Coach is a natural progression for me; I have developed additional skills that are used to listen deeply, ask meaningful questions, clarify goals and determine strategies and accountabilities for reaching those goals. To me, it is taking parenting, teaching and education to a new professional level and it is a way to share the lessons I have learned through both my professional and life experience.


2. You’re also continuing to offer educational guidance to a select few clients. Can you describe these services?

I am happy to work with families who are embarking on the journey of finding and applying to private/independent schools. I know how these schools operate very intimately and I can assist parents in learning about what kinds of schools are out there and what type of school might be best for their family. I do not do the traditional educational consulting that is offered by those professionals who have built personal relationships with individual schools and admissions directors and advocate directly with these schools for their clients. I work with parents to define and articulate an educational mission statement for their family as well as learn about and choose the schools that seem to be a good fit. From there I shepherd them through the process of the applications and support their ownership of that process. I review applications, help prepare for interviews, brainstorm recommendations, and make sure none of the necessary steps are missed. I am thrilled to help the families who want to maintain control of this most personal and important family building experience.


3. You have such incredible life experience as a wonderful mom, my step-mom, grandmother, foster-mom, wife and educator. How will these experiences help your clients?

I don’t know about the “wonderful” part – I have faced as many challenges and have as many regrets as anyone. But I have had a tremendous amount of experience, so the quantity and variety of my time in these roles has given me the opportunity to reflect, grow, change, and learn some things about what works and what doesn’t. Knowing oneself, knowing what you really value, and striving for the emotional maturity and perspective necessary to realize the life you want does not come without some deep consideration. I want to share the lessons I have learned and use the skills I have acquired to assist others in gaining some of this self-insight and finding the clarity, goals and strategies they need to achieve the life they really want.


4. How do the logistics work if a client wants to work with you and they aren’t in your city?

Coaching is done most often on the phone. Some of us are used to having good, meaningful conversations with friends or family when we need to figure something out. It is often a similar experience to that, albeit with a professional guide and a proven structure to the work. When I work with a client in another part of the country, we set up a regular time to speak on the phone for a prescribed amount of time, usually 45-60 minutes. We establish an agreement for a certain number of sessions. During these conversations we establish a real relationship that becomes quite close, one based on gaining trust, exploring dreams and establishing goals. I become your companion along the way, supporting you and holding you accountable for the actions you choose to take in pursuit of your goals.

At the end of the determined number of sessions, we either establish a new agreement or we end our work together, and you continue on your life’s journey with a new or renewed sense of self and purpose, considered goals and actions, and the knowledge that you can always connect with me to find support.


5. What’s the best advice you can offer parents who are waiting for March 2014 admissions letters?

My best advice is to stay open to all possibilities. Private school admissions is a daunting process and it can seem that if things don’t go just the way you most want them too that all is lost – but this is NEVER the case. There is not only one school for your child. Sometimes there are reasons why things don’t go the way you expect. Stay focused on your core family educational values and be willing to continue to work toward them. Embrace the journey!


Thank you, Anne! For more information, click on The Journey Coach. 

Beyond The Brochure’s “Compelling Schools, Competitive Admissions” in L.A. Parent Magazine


LA Parent Cover March 2014

I’m super-excited to contribute an article about L.A. private elementary school admissions to the March 2014 issue of L.A. Parent Magazine.


“Compelling Schools, Competitive Admissions” in this month’s issue, is an overview piece that covers the essentials of private elementary school admissions in Los Angeles. But, even if you already have a solid grasp on admissions basics, you might want to check it out to see if there’s new information! –Christina


Click on LA Parent to read the article and click to Page 14.



What You Need To Know About Private School Recommendation Letters


Elizabeth Street Logo


My latest post for Elizabeth Street is all about letters of recommendation for private school. It’s not too late to send them if you weren’t aware of this much-used, but under-the-radar- strategy to help your kid get into private schools.–Christina


Click on Elizabeth Street to read.



And Then There Was One…THE “It” Bag For Private School Moms

The Goyard Saint Louis Tote Bag is a big, coated canvas handbag that has become THE “It” Bag for L.A. for private school moms. Step onto almost any campus and you won’t have to walk far before you spot one of this season’s most popular statement bags. I don’t have this bag…it’s just not me. What about you?


The Goyard Saint Louis tote retails for about $1,200. I don't own this bag. Do you?

The Goyard Saint Louis tote retails for about $1,200.

The Goyard Tote was featured in our previous post about “It” Bags, school by school on L.A.’s social diary, The Daily Truffle. 


Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. 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 or your local bookstores!

Weekend Links: Former NFL Player Blames Harvard-Westlake, John Thomas Dye for “Soft, White” Education…and more!

Porcha and I spoke with parents about private elementary school admissions at a combined event hosted by Branches Atelier and New School West Preschools.

Thursday night, Porcha and I spoke with wonderful parents about private elementary school admissions at a combined event hosted by Branches Atelier and New School West Preschools. Thanks for a great evening!

Isn't this gorgeous? The new pergola at the farm is absolutely gorgeous--many thanks to Waverly parents Simon Morgan and Esteban Nuno for their generous design and construction skills, and, of course, to Waverly staff member Carlos Aldaco for absolutely everything.

The new pergola at the farm is absolutely gorgeous–many thanks to Waverly parents Simon Morgan and Esteban Nuno for their generous design and construction skills, and, of course, to Waverly staff member Carlos Aldaco for absolutely everything. Check out Beyond The Brochure’s School Profile of Waverly School in Pasadena!

Former Miami Dolphins football player, Jonathan Martin, who is African American, blames his John Thomas Dye and Harvard-Westlake education for the problems he encountered in the NFL.  “I suppose it’s white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek,” he wrote to his father. John Thomas Dye declined to respond to the article. Harvard-Westlake did respond. This is a fascinating article, yet I don’t think private schools are to blame, but rather the toxic culture within the NFL.  (NYT Motherlode) 


News flash! “Moms who brag about being lazy and sloppy can be just as judge as too-perfect ones.” Slacker moms, who don’t worry about nap schedules, sugar or too much screen time, are creating a culture of reverse bullying, says writer Elissa Strauss. It’s unfortunate that adherents of any single parenting style feel compelled to judge other moms. In this case, the slacker moms may not even realize what they’re doing. (


Happy Weekend!

Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook or Follow us on TwitterAre 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 or your local bookstores!


Revisiting Our Oakwood School Kindergarten Visiting Day

Oakwood School

Oakwood School

I’ve written about my daughter’s kindergarten visiting day at Oakwood School previously. Here’s my recollection about that morning again. Did I make the right school choice? I’ll never know, but I’m looking forward now that our family is THRILLED to be at Viewpoint School. We truly fit in there in a way we never did at The Willows. But, if we hadn’t gone to The Willows, would we be at Viewpoint now? 


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 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 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. The competition for spots at this popular school was no joke.


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.


Let’s be social! Like Beyond The Brochure on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter. 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 or your local bookstores!


Weekend Links: The 13-Page Preschool Application, Pics and more!

I attended a fabulous event, Swap Your Style, at Give + Take in Santa Monica. I brought items I haven’t worn (or no longer wear) and swapped them for some really cool clothes and accessories. Here are the pics from the event.

With my partner in shopping, Jessica Gottlieb ( at #SwapYourStyle

With my partner-in-swapping, Jessica Gottlieb ( at #SwapYourStyle

Give and Take

Ready to #swapyourstyle? Oh yes! Thx @momsla #momsla @giveplustake @swapdom_com  @omcocktails @wholefoods  @ilovegurus @thewonderseed @josie_maran,@RachelLSarnoff,

With author Sarah Maizes, "On My Way To The Bath"

With my friend, author Sarah Maizes, “On My Way To The Bath” at #SwapYourStyle

@RachelLSarnoff ( giving us the scoop on shopping and swapping at Give+Take.

@RachelLSarnoff ( giving us the scoop on shopping and swapping at Give+Take.

I stopped by Viewpoint School’s Invention Convention to check out my son’s science project. Very cool!

My son at Viewpoint's 4th grade Invention Convention

My son at Viewpoint’s 4th grade Invention Convention

The "laptop" with suctions so it will stick to a wall or treadmill

The “laptop” with suctions so it will stick to a wall or treadmill

The i-Suction 3000. It sticks!

The i-Suction 3000. It sticks!

We profiled Pasadena Waldorf School on the blog previously. Waldorf schools are unique and compelling. If you’re interested in a Waldorf education for your child, check out this event:

Waldorf Day

Experience Waldorf Day:

Adults attend Class at a Waldorf School – See why Waldorf Education Works

March 8th from 10am-2pm

The City School Waldorf Initiative (Preschool to G8) presents Experience Waldorf Day, where adults attend a day of “Waldorf” classes spanning Preschool to Grade 8! Waldorf Education is the largest independent, non-sectarian educational philosophy in the world. With 900 schools in 60 countries, Waldorf education reaches the heart, mind and soul of its students. Sign up online or call 818-776-0011. 17424 Sherman Way in Lake Balboa, 91406.


Weekend Links:

In a new series, Preschool Admissions Diary, The New York Times parenting blog will be covering preschool admissions through April. Do parents really hire consultants to help kids hide the fact that they took a class? Read on…here’s the first post, The 13-Page Preschool Application. (NYT Motherlode)


A very useful piece about how to approach a parent-teacher conference when your kid’s elementary school teacher is ineffective. (NYT Motherlode)


Low-income schools use mindfulness (meditation) in the classroom with big results. (KPCC’s Take Two). 


We shared this on Beyond The Brochure’s FaceBook page, but it’s worth sharing here in case you missed it. Read about how one teacher uses a simple but powerful method to find out a lot about what’s on her students’ minds. The is a WOW piece! (Momastery).