Why A Private School’s Culture REALLY Matters

VP Soccer 2016

 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve probably read my posts about “school culture” or a school’s vibe. That’s because I think it is one of the most important things to know about L.A. private schools. Ideally, you’ll learn as much about the school’s culture as possible before you enroll your kid. Figuring out what a school is really all about–not just what they want you to see–isn’t always easy. Unless you have a close friend at the school or know someone who works there, it can be difficult to figure out what a school is really like for kids and for their parents.

So many factors go into creating the culture of the school. Some of these things are accidental or subjective, others are carefully planned and cultivated. Things like geography or location, school size, school leadership, age of the school, educational philosophy can all influence a school’s culture.

When we were choosing an elementary school, the things I cared the most about were finding a sense of community at our school and the quality of the education. I didn’t care whether parents worked in a certain industry or if kids were interested in becoming movie stars. It was important to me to find parents who felt the school was an extension of their community and treated it that way. I hoped to find families with similar interests to our own. I didn’t want a commuter school, a place where parents dropped off their kids and avoided other families whenever possible. Unfortunately, that wasn’t my experience at The Willows.

So, what can you look for to figure out whether a school’s culture will be right for your family? I say family because when you’re dropping off your 6 year-old at somebody’s house, you need to feel comfortable. If the family’s nanny opens the door to let your kid in, without even inviting you inside and the mom is nowhere to be found, this isn’t the kind of community I’m talking about. A sense of belonging can only happen if the school helps facilitate a sense of community. It’s not enough for a school to assume parents will meet each other eventually. L.A. is too big and fragmented for that to happen. If the school takes that approach, it will take a lot longer to schedule playdates or plan a mom’s night out…possibly even years. After all, are you going to go down the roster and start cold-calling? I don’t think so!

I’ve been candid about the fact that the culture of The Willows School was wrong for my family. The school’s culture, in my experience, wasn’t friendly or inviting. Instead, it was kind of like a commuter school where parents dropped off their kids and left. The lack of community left me wishing for a true community school, one where parents were friendly and cared about the school community rather than just the people they already knew. Scheduling playdates was difficult. For the most part, a lot of parents weren’t interested. Or, they’d cancel or flake at the last minute, leaving me to explain to my kids what happened. Board members and the head of school strutted through the halls speaking only to other parents they deemed “worthy.” The head of school created a board and top staff filled with unqualified or marginally qualified cronies. No issue was too small for them to micro-manage. Any issue that negatively impacted them or their friends was ignored, shoved under the rug. The offending complainant was snubbed, considered disloyal. Volunteering there was one of the most unprofessional experiences of my entire life. Screaming matches between parents, stony silence, an absence of staff to demand professionalism from volunteers. I’m not blameless. This all brought out the worst in me. I shouted back. I stopped speaking. This type of culture, I might add, starts at the top with the school’s leadership. It is a cultivated way of behaving, not a mere one-time oversight. As my husband, Barry, pointed out, “A fish rots from the head.”

In contrast, Viewpoint School is professional, friendly and expects parents to behave in a civilized manner. This culture fits my family so much better. We appreciate and respect the school for creating an environment where if I email a parent I don’t know personally, he or she will most likely respond. I would have never thought something like this would matter until I didn’t have it.

So, how can you discern what a school is really like from the outside?

  • Ask around. How do parents get to know each other when they’re new? Are there school welcoming events? Host families? Probe further. Do most of the families come from the same preschool? Will your kid be entering a class filled with more than fifty percent siblings? If so, how will you and your kid schedule playdates or get-togethers?
  • Look at the school’s events on the website. If the events don’t appeal to you, think carefully about how they reflect the culture of the school. Do the events scream “status?” If so, look for schools where the vibe is more low-key… a camping trip or something more accessible.
  • Schools have a reputation for a reason. When somebody tells you the school is “country club” or “entertainment industry” or “rich-hippie” it’s because that’s what most of the families are like, influencing the school’s culture. If that’s not you, think about whether it will work for your family.
  • Look at the school’s annual report. It will tell you a lot about the school’s priorities, financial aid and categories of giving.
  • Examine the qualifications of the head of school, the board and the next level of administrative staff. Do they bring professional skills? Or, do they appear as if they are there because they are friends with the head of school? This has implications for whether issues like bullying are handled fairly or with favoritism. Every private schools needs trust fund families on the board, but there should also be real estate experts, lawyers, finance people, educators and others with specific skill sets.
  • Figure out if the school draws from a wide geographic area or from just one or two communities. This has implications for everything from playdates to volunteering and finding your community.
  • Go to as many school events as possible. Pay close attention to the annual fundraiser and where it is held, ticket prices, the number of events held at country clubs or exclusive locations. These all give you an idea of what the school values.

Ultimately, what you see is sometimes not what you get. And then, there’s that school where what you see really is exactly what you get. Hopefully, you find the latter. Like we have at Viewpoint School.

 

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Kindergarten and Secondary School Fairs-May 2016

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 8.10.48 AMHi Everyone!

There are two private (independent) school fairs in May 2016.

The expert Sandy Eiges of LA School Scout gives a great overview below of what to expect when you attend a kindergarten or secondary school fair. If you’re just getting started with your school search, these events can help you gather information all in once place–Christina

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

Yes, it’s that time of year, when parents’ thoughts turn to – their kids’ educational future. Here to help you is the Los Angeles Association of Independent Schools (LAAIS), which holds “fairs” twice a year, both in the fall and the spring. If you’re contemplating applying to schools for admission in 2015, you can get a glimpse of the variety of schools out there now. Wait until the fall Kindergarten fair, and you’ll be part of a frenzied mob, feeling like you’ve already missed the boat (and for the schools with early application deadlines, you will have).

This year the Kindergarten Fair is on May 5, 2016, from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m., at Wise School, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. You don’t need to RSVP. What you do need to do is a little bit of homework, to determine which schools you’re truly interested in exploring. If time permits you’ll be able to visit more, but always better to have a plan in hand. Also note that not all private schools belong to Los Angeles Area Independent Schools; in general, you won’t find the Catholic schools represented here, for example, or any of the Pasadena schools, which have their own event. But certainly all of the 32 Los Angeles Area Independent Schools member schools will attend.

Is this an opportunity to discuss your child and what you’re looking for in a school? Absolutely not. In fact, you should not bring your child. I repeat, do not bring any children to this event. It is crowded and loud, they will just contribute to the noise, and no one will be interested in meeting your child here. It’s a fair, and you’ll have an opportunity to meet some lovely directors of admission, who act as ambassadors for their schools; and ask some critical and specific questions, about structure, about the curriculum, financial aid, etc. They will encourage you to sign up for a tour or an Open House, and you should do so if you’re interested in the school.

By the way, every year different schools host these fairs – and the host school is just that, a host. While the event might afford you a glimpse of their parking and part of the campus, the fair is not a campus tour.

I repeat – this is an opportunity to meet some of the people involved with the school you might be interested in, so take advantage of it. It is not an opportunity to tour the campus or have them meet your child – that will happen when and if you decide to apply.

Each school has a table, with materials about the school, and at least one member of the admissions team. Once you’ve made the rounds of the schools you’ve heard of or are interested in – all the same “big name” schools all of your friends and neighbors are talking about – if time permits I would encourage you to explore some other schools and see what they have to offer. You might be very pleasantly surprised. Los Angeles has a wide variety of independent schools, ranging from traditional to progressive and everything in-between.

There is also a Secondary School Fair, on May 3, 2016 from 6:30PM – 8:00PM at Curtis School, 15871 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. This fair is for parents of students entering either 6th, 7th or 9th grade in 2015. Some secondary schools start at 6th; some at 7th. Unlike neighborhood public schools, private middle schools that start at 6th or 7th generally go straight through high school. They may open up some additional spots in 9th grade, but not many; their real entry point is middle school.

The secondary school fair is somewhat different from the Kindergarten Fair. Yes, there will be tables out for all of the schools, and you will get to visit them both before and after the “main event,” that being breakout workshops given by the schools where you can learn more about individual schools in depth. There will be more of a presentation – which is good, since most upper school open houses are going to take place in late fall, and you’re dying for more information now.

Here it is worth doing your homework in advance, going online to determine which schools you are truly interested in, so you can get to their workshop. Generally speaking you can attend 2 workshops, so you can learn more in-depth about those schools. As mentioned earlier, you can still visit many more of the tables and meet the directors of admission at some of the other schools as well.

Since there will also be another fair in the fall, you will be able to attend another 2 workshops then. Secondary school applications are due later than those for Kindergarten, so you have ample time to explore your options between now and next fall.

As mentioned earlier, this is not a place to bring your middle or upper school student. They will have an opportunity to attend an Open House at these schools next fall.

Thoroughly overwhelmed and confused about which schools might be a good fit for your child? I am now scheduling school consultations for September 2017 admissions. Please contact Sandy Eiges at sandy@LAschoolscout.com, or 310 926 0050. www.laschoolscout.com

 

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L.A. Private School Event with Christina Simon and Academic Achievers

Hi Everyone,

Please join me for this L.A. private elementary and middle school event! It is free but you must RSVP to Janis at info@academicachievers.com 

Hope to see you there!

Christina 

ISEE Event FlyerAA2

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The ‘School Of Perpetual Pretension’ Ends A Bad Blind Date by Caroline H.

Tina Fey, 30 Rock (WiffleGif)

 

Dear Puerile Entitled Hollywood Writer:

My bleeding heart is torn to shreds over the abrupt ending of our twenty-minute date.

If I may, let’s back it up and see if there’s a teeny tiny atom of hope that you just might, run like a pony to your nearest smart phone and tell me that it was all a terrible mistake. Just be careful not to trip over your four-inch, too long khakis.

Anyhoo, there we were, two strangers, unattracted at first sight attempting to make idle chit-chat over a cup of Earl and a piece of not so lemony, lemon poopy, err, lemon poppy seed cake, when forgive the pun, it all turned sour.

At the crux of this blind date gone to hell in a bread basket is just how fast the crazy flies when it comes to the slightest slight (real or imagined) toward our children. It’s no secret that in Los Angeles, especially, many a parent’s ego, self-worth, and identity is far too easily attached to their child’s success. Our children’s school can run dangerously close to becoming trophies, like so many other aspects of life in this town. I suppose perhaps, that I’m as guilty as the next Mommy or Daddy Dearest – but let’s face it, there’s crazy and then there’s helicopter, tiger parent, bat-shit crazy.

Back to our saga. When you asked where my daughter went to high school, I guess I bought into the game. When it was my turn to ask where your kids went to school, you mentioned School(s) of Perpetual Pretension A, B, and C. Of course they are all great schools, but admit it, saying their name feeds your ego, just a tad? Or, in your case, a freight train full of tads?

As our family had considered School of Perpetual Pretension C (progressive, hip and on the easy-breezy Westside), I asked how you liked it. You said you hadn’t really participated in the life of the school, and therefore had little in the way of opinion. And here’s where I unwittingly went off the rails. I told you that we didn’t really connect with the school. I’ll repeat why. For starters, at the open house a group of about one hundred fifty parents, eager to belong to such an elite institution (I mean, for their children to belong to such an elite institution), were asked to compliment the stranger sitting next to them – (an exercise undoubtedly designed to showcase their academic excellence). I mentioned that it was a rather uncomfortable exercise and suggested that while being a very good school that perhaps they were having an off night.

Our stilted conversation proceeded for maybe ten more minutes, with me once again, doing the heavy lifting. I asked what you were working on. You stiffly told me “a commercial”. Well, holy shit-balls of information overload!! I said that sounded “great!” – followed by a few seconds of ‘get me the eff ‘ out of here silence.

Then you dropped the H–Bomb. “I have to be Honest” you exclaimed. Yes! I thought for sure that you were going to liberate me from the clutches of this insipid date and tell me you weren’t feeling it. As my relief and exhilaration began to swell, you swung the hammer, and I was your little nail.

“I just spent $200,000 on School of Perpetual Pretension C and you said you hated it,” you bravely pronounced, like a child who just cornered the schoolyard bully. “No, I did not say I hated it” I replied, pleasantly surprised by my even tone and demeanor. “You said it was a terrible school.” Still calm, I said, “No, I don’t think you actually heard what I said.” “Well, we hated your daughter’s Mid-City, equally progressive School of Perpetual Pretension!” you spouted. Ooo, the knockout punch.

“That’s OK,” I said, and I truly meant it. I don’t know how many times friends, or friends of friends have checked out our former school and found it wasn’t for them. Their reasons were subjective and would never offend me, unless, they said the teachers were dumb and smelled like doody – then I may have had a tantwum, just like you.

“I’m going to leave now.” You heartlessly announced. What could I say, except “Bye?” Oh, what could have been. So much to say, from the truly cruel to the empathetic, yet so little time.

“Look you pompous pee-wee leprechaun, take your baw-baw and go play in your sandbox.” Or, on the sincere and empathetic side – “I’m sorry, I should not have said that, I understand school pride and I did not mean to offend you.”

But alas, I sat there, somewhat flummoxed as I watched you drag the excess fabric from your very long khakis along the floor, until you intrepidly strolled out of sight. Welp, I twisted my mouth from side to side for a beat, then took a sip of my lukewarm Earl. As I began to take another bite of the lemon poopy, damn, lemon poppy seed cake, I set it back down and decided it just wasn’t worth it.

Necessary disclaimers:

I have no problem with small men, only small mindedness.
Potty humor is childish and cheap. I’ll get back to you with my excuse.

Caroline H. is a divorced mom and writer in Los Angeles. Of course this isn’t her real name. 

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L.A. Private School Party Books

 

VP Gala 2016

 

It’s spring and that means Gala and Party Book season at Los Angeles private schools. Most L.A. private schools host an Auction or Gala fundraiser, followed by separate parties hosted by families at the school. The Party Book is a popular way for the school to raise money after the Gala is over. Anybody can join in the Party Book fun or you can host one yourself if you’re willing to cover the costs of the event. I co-hosted one of these events at our former school (The Willows) and it was a lot of fun–a dance class followed by lunch. I’ve also been to a lot of them, some for grown-ups and others with my kids. These are always some of my favorite events. Depending on the school, Party Book events can be very fancy or low-key (of course, “low-key” has it’s own definition in the world of L.A. private schools). Take your pick!

 

Here are a few Party Book events from private schools around L.A.

 

Wildwood School:

#04 – Hollywood Hills Dinner Party

Dinner party featuring “Entertainologist” celebrity chef Lulu Powers, for a 3-course gourmet meal, dessert buffet, and specialty cocktails in the home of very, very high net worth family* in the former home of Liberace!. Special musical performances on Liberace’s wacky and magnificent Pipe Organ. Cocktail attire please. $200 per person.

 

Brentwood School:

#115 Sinskey Wine Dinner at the Belushi Home

Jim and Jenny Belushi host an evening of gourmet food and wine at their home. Sample delicious wines from the award-winning Robert Sinskey Vineyards and enjoy a delectable gourmet meal. It is sure to be a night you will never forget! This event will be held on an evening in the spring. $250 per person. See the full list of Brentwood School parties here. 

 

Viewpoint School:

Ladies’ Sunset Drinks at the Beach
Put on your jeans and flip flops and join us at The Beach Club for ladies’ sunset margaritas and guacamole. Plenty of other nibbles and drinks for us all to enjoy over great conversation and a stunning view. At The Beach Club, Santa Monica. $75 per person. This sounds so fun! To see more Viewpoint Party Book events, click here.

 

Oakwood School:

#134 GAME, SET AND MATCH

The “Oakwood Open” is back! Throw on your tennis duds and join your hosts on the court for a tennis clinic that is fast, fun, and fierce. We can’t promise to turn you into Serena or Roger, but in 90 minutes, two of the LA Tennis Club’s senior pros will give you tips and drills for taking your game to the next level. We’ll even reward your hard work with tasty snacks and refreshing beverages after the clinic, and you can talk about all your amazing shots at the net! $85 per person.

#128 FARM TO TABLE COOKING CLASS

Join Nancy Carell at EATZ, LA’s coolest spot for cooking classes, and learn all about farm-to-table cuisine. What’s in season and why is cooking seasonal and locally grown produce tastier AND healthier? In this class, you’ll learn simple cooking techniques that will allow you to approach vegetables of any kind with confidence. You’ll also learn how to prepare your veggies so that they retain the most nutrients. If you want to improve your enjoyment and success cooking vegetables, don’t miss this fun evening! Class includes wine/cocktails and a hefty supply of leftovers. $100 per person. To see more Oakwood School parties, click here.

 

Center For Early Education:

#202 Family Day at the Beach (Club)

Summer starts early at this fabulous family party. All the fun of a day at the beach without any of the hassles of planning, packing or parking. This day at the Jonathan Beach Club is sure to be fun for all ages: Coach Samir, a bounce house, kid-friendly lunch, adult beverages. So, come and hit the waves, or just kick back and let the kids bounce the day away! $100 per person. For more Center For Early Education parties, click here.

#703 Ojai Slumber Party

This one is for the ladies! You worked hard all year, and now it’s time to relax and let off some steam at this super chill girls’ night with other CEE moms at CEE mom’s* Ojai country house. Your hosts will guide you on a gorgeous sunset hike, and then you’ll enjoy appetizers, dinner and wine. This casual party has all the makings of a campout – games, s’mores, karaoke, and swimming (weather permitting) – without the actual camping part! You’ll wake up in the morning and have a lovely breakfast send-off. You’ll remember this amazing night long after your drive home! $500 per person.

 

 *names and identifying details changed

 

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