Newly Established Non-Profit Private School Axis Aims to Diversify L.A. Private Schools

Collette Bowers Zinn

I was a guest on the Motherbird podcast a few months ago and was asked who in the L.A. private school world I would love to meet. One name immediately came to mind: Collette Bowers Zinn, daughter of legendary Center for Early Education head of school Reveta Bowers, and founder of the new nonprofit Private School Axis

I was able to meet Bowers Zinn for an outdoor lunch recently, where we discussed her plans for increasing diversity in private school admissions. With 15 years of experience in school administration and admissions, this lawyer-turned-educator is passionate, focused and brimming with ideas for how to make these private schools more inclusive. She exudes warmth and a sense of humor, but also has a personal connection to this issue–as a mom of two kids who attend L.A. private schools, she knows firsthand the importance of diversifying these schools. This is one of the reasons she founded Private School Axis in 2020.

Private School Axis is a nonprofit organization in partnership with L.A. area private schools with the goal of increasing racial and ethnic diversity by helping families of color with all aspects of the application process. Once accepted, the relationship does not end there–Private School Axis assists families with the transition to private school and helps them navigate the school experience throughout the year. This is a first-of-its kind, comprehensive model rooted in a relational, community-building, service-oriented approach. Private School Axis creates a bridge between communities of color and independent schools by:

1) Helping under-served families of color navigate the school selection, admission, and enrollment process
2) Recruiting, placing, and supporting educators of color in schools
3) Providing professional development to schools around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), including a defined accreditation process

Bowers Zinn said she is proud to announce the first cohort of Private School Axis families is hard at work on their admissions process and will apply during the 2021-22 year. Families can apply to a maximum of 5 schools for grades K-10 and will be assisted with understanding educational models (progressive, developmental and traditional), financial aid, and how to select the best school for their child. The cost is $75.00 and fee waivers are available. 

Private schools often wait for families of color to apply, which explains the lack of underserved applicants of color at some schools. Bowers Zinn said she plans to change that. 

“Private School Axis is going into communities whose zip codes are not represented in L.A. private schools to encourage families to apply,” she said. “It’s a proactive approach.” 

The work Bowers Zinn, her board of directors and partner schools are doing is not only important, but timely, especially given today’s environment. Because of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black@schoolname movement on Instagram, private schools around the nation are focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. For some schools, this work is not new. For others, it is something they have neglected for too long and are now scrambling to address in order to make up for lost time. 

Unfortunately, there has been vocal backlash from white parents who do not want DEI plans implemented. At some schools, parents object to the term “white privilege” being discussed in the classroom or at school assemblies because they believe it makes their kids uncomfortable. At other schools, parents are fighting curriculum changes and challenging reading lists. These private schools are hardly bastions of radical change. However, even the slightest efforts towards creating a more inclusive environment are being met with anger and attempts to undermine progress. Bowers Zinn pointed out that fortunately, there are schools where DEI is part of who they are, so these concepts are being embraced by the school communities. Of course, there is always more that can be done in the area of diversity, but some schools are way ahead of others on this front. 

As the debate over DEI rages at some of L.A.’s most prestigious private schools, Bowers Zinn believes that misunderstanding is driving the tension. 

“Schools must examine who they are and where they are with DEI,” she said. “It’s about community examination and exploration. Not blame or shame or negativity.” 

Private School Axis is focused on access and healthy environments at schools. The organization knows the data shows that diversity leads to better outcomes for everyone. Because the world is multi-cultural, Private School Axis believes people of different backgrounds must learn to work together. 

As if Bowers Zinn isn’t busy enough, she co-hosts a wonderful podcast, Eraced, with Lisa Johnson, co-founder of Private School Village. I love listening because these two women can get serious one minute and laugh the next. They also have fantastic guests who bring unique and expert perspectives to the show. The two episodes on DEI are a must-listen–timely, informative and exactly what I needed to hear right now.

Collette Bowers Zinn is the founder of Private School Axis. She holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania, a J.D. from the University of Southern California and an M.Ed from Pepperdine University. She is a graduate of Harvard-Westlake School and has 15 years of experience in L.A. private school administration, including at Brentwood School and Wildwood School. Bowers Zinn is also the founder of Zinn Education Management which offers parent education, tutoring, application support and DEI consulting for schools. She is the mom of two kids who attend L.A. private schools. 

We Applied to 26 L.A. Schools for Kindergarten by Mia Sable Hays

Hear me out. I had more “reasonable” plans during the winter of 2020 for our Los Angeles kindergarten search, but the unimaginable happened, and Covid-19 upended our world.

First, the tours were all canceled and the schools were closed to the public for the rest of the year. Anything we hadn’t already seen would remain a mystery hinging on the technical, marketing, and communication savvy of each school (and the health department). Then, amidst the lockdowns we decided to sell our open floorplan condo in Playa Vista and temporarily rent a house with more space to better navigate homeschooling and work-from-home for both my husband and I. The best option for us ended up being on the complete other side of town, in the historic north hills of Glendale. “Great now we can consider more schools! We can apply everywhere and pick a school, then buy a house!”, this optimistic mom naively said to herself…

Cut to – a literal color-coded spreadsheet of information and dates, and SO many Zoom events – like over 100. Preliminary midnight website-reading had me crossing off the ones for which my summer birthday baby would not make the cut-off (Brentwood, Laurence, Crossroads… the universe has predestined we were not meant to be). In the end we chose to hold a place for our preschool (Exploring Minds Montessori)’s older group, put our name in the lottery for 17 charter & magnet schools, and apply to 8 private schools across the westside and San Fernando valley; The Willows, Wildwood, Turning Point, Buckley, Children’s Community School, Oakwood, The Wesley School, and Campbell Hall. 

Right off the bat, it was a cyclone of qualitative data. Not having the normal impressions of the campuses, nor the social opportunities to mingle with our fellow prospective parents, we were locked into what I can best describe as The Bachelor meets meets college applications meets doing your taxes. It was intimate, it was awkward, it was “dating” them all as if we might get married, never knowing how they really felt about us. We knew a great education was the baseline at ALL of these schools. So what ELSE mattered? My gut said we were also looking for the trustworthy third caregiver, the curator of our community, the unified captain and crew of a pandemic cruise ship… the right people would be the right place. 

Then I had this moment where I lost it. Near the end of the Zoom kindergarten assessments I started to freak out. I had half the schools telling me Zooms with 4 year olds were developmentally inappropriate and they would forgo any such thing, and then The Wesley School required TWO. In my defense I was coming off another school’s ill-fated attempt during which my normally happy-go-lucky kid frowned at the chaotic group of Zoom strangers and laid down on the ground for the duration. I felt horribly guilty like a toddler pageant mom trying to convince her the next one might be fun.

I wrote to Wesley politely asking if there was another option they would consider rather than a second Zoom. The reply was essentially, No – that this was the way they made their decisions. I was tortured and borderline offended to be in the position – but something unexpected happened. Wesley’s teachers brought some other magic with my kid – she lit up! It was like easy (dare I say breezy) – BOTH TIMES. Later, in the parent interview, we addressed my erm, little panic. I listened, and I felt heard. They told me what they had noticed of my child. It was spot on. And I knew for a fact that no other school had truly SEEN her the way they had. I was taken aback by how respectfully the matter was resolved, that instead of making me feel like an insurgent jerk or pandering to my request, there was a sincere and transparent conversation. Was this love? Did I screw it up? 

On that fateful day at 5pm in mid-March the decisions hit my inbox. To my surprise… I was surprised. I had to quickly process a confusing mix of emotions for schools I’d been SURE we’d connected deeply with, schools sending us their cool-toned “Waitlist” offers, and others we’d felt less certain about sending their warmest proposal. As of deciding time, the public and charter schools were still virtual-only, and it felt like too much of an unknown leap if we had a good private option – and we thankfully had several. 

Among our private acceptances were 2 of our top 3 choices! The Willows on the westside (our long-time “progressive” dream school), and The Wesley School in NoHo (the late discovery “traditional” which had stolen a piece of our hearts). For you Bachelor fans: The Willows had our first-impression rose, but The Wesley School sent us a curveball when it won over the family during hometowns.

Turning from our hearts back to our heads for final answers, another factor (and long story) was that we had applied for financial aid, and not received any. This little detail put greater pressure on our house hunt as we realized that it would be financially risky for our family to pay full tuition AND invest in the kind of home we needed back on the westside. Choosing Wesley meant we could probably swing it if I got another part-time gig, plus a larger selection of affordable homes nearby. These were grownup facts that could impact our family life for years… and I suppose my point is that, if other BIG things like buying a house or affording tuition, or you know, getting through a global crisis – intersect with your school search, then you’ve got to look at the big picture and not get too wound up in the romance.

We knew what we had to do, and crossed off our westside offers, including The Willows. It was a dramatic season finale of the most massive blind school search ever, but we are relieved and excited to enthusiastically say “Yes” to The Wesley School and to finding our new village in the valley. 

Mia Sable Hays is a writer, producer, and host of The Motherbird Podcast and founder of Motherbird, a curated community and newsletter for Los Angeles parents.

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

5 Things You Should Know Before Your Child’s ZOOM Assessment by Lisa Marfisi

Applying to private/independent schools is stressful enough without the Covid -19 virus. But with a pandemic and the private school admissions process moved online, there’s an added complexity. So, how can you prepare for your your child’s assessments on Zoom? Here are 5 things you should know:

  • Let your child do the talking. Don’t answer, don’t give clues, don’t speak for your kid. The school wants to get to know your child. You will have a separate chance to share your thoughts. This is an opportunity for your child to shine. If your child is shy, that is ok. If your child does not answer the question that was asked, that is ok. Try to remember this is about your child, not you. If you interrupt or answer for your child, the school may not have the opportunity to see your child at their best. And, the school may draw incorrect conclusions about your child’s ability to communicate and/or ability to answer questions without help. It is important to let your child represent him/herself. If your child is ready for elementary school, he/she is ready to do an assessment independently.  
  • Don’t open the packet ahead of time. Wait for the ZOOM meeting. The school gave instructions for a reason. They want to see if you can follow them! You will be told when to open the packet after the meeting starts.
  • Headphones. If your child is not used to wearing headphones, be sure to have him/her practice before the assessment. It is important that kids are used to wearing them and that they fit properly so he/she does not tug at them during the assessment. The reason the kids wear headphones is so the Admissions Team can talk to them directly.  You do not need to hear (or respond to) what they are saying. 
  • What to expect? Ask the school if your child’s Zoom will be a one -on- one meeting with your child and the Admissions Team or a group assessment i.e. other kids on the same Zoom. It is helpful to be able to tell your son/daughter what to expect. If they know that there will be a group and that they will need take turns talking or answering questions, it is different than having the time all to themselves.
  • Don’t forget that you should write a thank you email after the assessment. Make sure you get the name of the person who met with your child so you can send an email. During non-Covid times, you could send a pretty card, but during Covid, an email is better. Most people are working remotely and they may not receive your lovely note if it is sent by regular mail.

Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy the experience of meeting with each school!

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 son is a graduate of UC Berkeley and her daughter graduated from UC Santa Barbara and is in grad school at Georgia Tech. Lisa has experience as a parent at independent, public, charter and parochial schools. Education: BA – University of Pennsylvania.

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

L.A. Private School Buzz

Hi Friends, we hope your family is staying safe and healthy. It’s been a long time since we’ve featured one of these Buzz posts, but here goes! –Christina

  • There’s a group of private/independent schools that has created a coalition to fight to re-open schools during the pandemic: The Student First Coalition. The problem is, they’ve made public school unions the enemy (see letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors). Not only is this wrong–the coronavirus is the enemy–but it’s also politically tone deaf. The board of supervisors has a majority that is strongly pro-union.
  • The tension between the Curtis School head of school and current/alumni parents is heating up. An anonymous Instagram account, SadForCurtisSchool, details some of the complaints from parents. From what I can tell, the new-ish head, Meera Ratnesar, has angered those who love Curtis traditions and want them to remain in place (like the school logo, which she changed). But, it goes beyond the logo. Longtime teachers have been fired or have resigned. Programs have been cut. The board and head of school appear to see these changes as necessary, while the contingent of unhappy current and former parents see them as antithetical to the culture and mission of the school. Is this a battle for the soul of Curtis School?
  • During the pandemic, Brentwood School and others have decided to use group “playdates” on Zoom as part of the admissions process. I cannot think of a more stressful way to have my child evaluated. During normal times, the child assessment part of the admissions process involves dropping your kid off at the school for a mock “playdate” and you’re not in the room. Can you imagine sitting next to your elementary schooler on Zoom during this assessment? I can’t.
  • Even the most benign Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives developed by most of the L.A. private schools are being met with strong resistance by families who don’t like topics like “white privilege” or the murder of George Floyd and organizations like “Black Lives Matter” being talked about in class or at school assemblies. Savvy school administrators know exactly how to deal with these Trump supporters’ attempts to snuff out progress.

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.