Q&A Interview with Robert Evans, Executive Director of the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs

I recently stopped by the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs (Alliance) to meet with executive director Robert Evans. I’ve been a longtime admirer of the work the Alliance does to help families of color navigate the competitive independent school (also commonly called private school) admissions process. In person, Robert is a wealth of information about school admissions. As a former independent school educator and current parent at a top school, Robert is a true insider who understands how school admissions really work. He also happens to be a very smart, friendly and outgoing guy who welcomes families to his office where, along with his staff, they roll up their sleeves and tackle all aspects of admissions. The goal? Acceptance to schools like Buckley, Brentwood, Campbell Hall, The Center For Early Education, Crossroads, Harvard-Westlake, John Thomas Dye, Polytechnic, Viewpoint, Walden and Westland to name a few. The admissions success rate for Alliance families speaks for itself: 84 percent of families are accepted to schools where they apply (the average acceptance rate for non-Alliance families is around 20 percent). The deadline to apply to work with the Alliance is August 1, 2019. Thank you Robert for your time and the work you do! –Christina

Robert Evans (Photo by Vince Bucci)

Q: How does the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs (Alliance) help families get into the most competitive private schools in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley?

A: We understand that choosing the right school is by far one of the most important decisions that parents can make for their child. For 35 years, we have worked with our families to demystify the complexity of applying to independent schools. Our program takes a holistic approach to school admissions by providing general education about the various schooling options offered at our 50+ member schools; leading families through the application process; providing testing preparation services for students; matching families to schools that best meet their needs; and providing ongoing support for students in families throughout their educational career.

We offer workshops and resources on educational philosophies so that our parents understand the mission and vision of our 50+ unique member schools. Through our program, parents learn about progressive, developmental, project-based, constructivist, and traditional approaches to education. As parents consider the various schooling options, we perform an initial vetting in order to understand the best fit for their child’s strengths, personality, and learning style. When our member schools receive an application from the Alliance, they know and trust that we have worked hard to ensure a good match for all parties involved. Additionally, we take the stress out of the paperwork of applying as Alliance families complete ONE common application, which is honored by all of our member schools. We also offer fee waivers for the ISEE, FAST, and SSS, which make the cost of applying to independent school substantially lower than families who apply without the support of the Alliance.

Q: Do families have to demonstrate financial need to work with the Alliance? Also, do you assist families with the financial process at private schools?

A: The Alliance brokers substantial financial aid for an average of 80% of its students annually. We provide information regarding budgeting and financial planning for independent school education, and we work with our families to identify schools that are within the financial range of what they are able and willing to contribute. We are very proud to work with families of varying degrees of socioeconomic status as many of our families are considered low-to-moderate income while others are able to pay 50% to 90% of their tuition fees.

Tuition and fees vary according to the type of school (day school, boarding, etc.) and other factors. Although independent schools rely on tuition income as their major source of revenue, financial aid may be available to families who qualify. Details about financial aid policies and how to apply for financial assistance can be obtained from the individual schools.

Q: What percentage of Alliance families are accepted to schools where they apply?

A: Approximately 84% of the students who apply through the Independent School Alliance are accepted at one or more of our 50+ member schools. Such a high percentage rate of acceptance can be credited to personal counseling, appropriate recommendations, and solid matches between families and schools by the Independent School Alliance staff.

Q: How does your experience as an educator help the Alliance’s families find the right school?

A: I am fortunate to come into the role of Executive Director of the Alliance having previously taught in one of our member schools and having two of my children in another. As a parent, I understand the importance of community and believe in the culture of academic excellence that is supported at independent schools. I empathize with other parents with wanting my children to have educational success in an environment that nurtures their abilities, grows their interest, and helps to define their talents. As an educator, I also understand that students thrive in an environment that is built upon the foundation of relationships, respect, and rigor; and it is therefore important for a school to employ teachers who are committed to educating the whole child with love, care, and respect. As such, I have chosen to educate my children in the independent school environment and speak from firsthand knowledge about our experience in this community as a family. 

Additionally, I am on the board of an organization that focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in Southern California independent schools. This organization works in tandem with the support prong of the Alliance’s mission to provide resources, professional development, and opportunities for conversations, programming, and institutional changes to make our schools more equitable. My experiences as both a parent of children in independent schools and as an independent school educator has definitely informed my understanding of how best to serve Alliance families as they prepare to join the independent school community. 

Q: The Alliance’s board of directors includes administrators from Archer, Crossroads, Harvard-Westlake and Wildwood. The board members serve terms, but you have a direct line to officials at highly selective schools every year. How do you use this access on behalf of ISA families? 

A: We were fortunate to have independent school educators involved at the inception of the founding of our organization. Our governance committee of the board has determined that a quarter of our board must be comprised of senior administrators from our member schools at all times. This intentionality allows us to keep our fingers on the pulse of issues that affect independent schools. Additionally, each year we meet with our partners about their specific needs as a school and ensure that we are in communication about the changing landscape of admissions in independent schools. We engage in ongoing work with our member schools throughout each school year to increase diversity on their campuses while simultaneously working to eliminate inequitable barriers to educational access.

In thinking about how to best utilize our unique access to member schools, we have adopted a philosophy of family and student advocacy. Through mutual respect, communication, and understanding, we gain a commitment from our school partners to help our students and families gain access to a great education. Throughout the admissions process, we have frequent touchpoints with our member schools to ensure that our students and families have the most opportune chance of being considered for admission. Our strategic advocacy, intentional programming, and well-designed and organized support systems influence school decision makers about all the important issues that will affect the student, family, and school community.

Q: Is there a student who stands out in your mind as a great example of the partnership between the Alliance and a family? 

A: Partnerships ensure that students are active participants in the learning process and parents are well- informed about their child’s educational experiences. Strong partnerships are built on regular, open communication about educational goals, as well as student academic achievement and personal development. These relationships are an integral part of quality education.

Parents play an essential and positive role in the life of an independent school and in the life of the Alliance as an organization. Not only are parents advocates for their children, but they also support the school and the Alliance through extensive volunteer activities and events. 

There are a number of students that stand out as great examples of the partnership between families and the Alliance. One such example is found in the partnership between the Alliance and Kelsey and her mom, Roberta (both pseudonyms). Kelsey and her mom used our program twice for middle and again for high school. Kelsey was a reserved and soft-spoken student when she initially applied to our program; however, today, Kelsey is one of the Alliance’s biggest cheerleaders and she also serves as a Youth Ambassador. Kelsey supports us by attending our information sessions for outreach in the community and providing prospective Alliance families with anecdotes about her personal independent school experience. Her mom, Roberta, routinely volunteers to support the Alliance. She was most recently a greeter at our annual family end-of-school-year gathering. Whenever we ask, Roberta is there to offer the support and feedback that we need to improve our ability to meet the needs of our families and students. We truly appreciate the commitment and dedication of families such as Kelsey and Roberta and we are grateful for their ongoing support and family advocacy. We look forward to seeing how Kelsey continues to learn and grow during her educational career.

One success story that comes to mind is of Kalief (also a pseudonym), a young man who entered our program in the 6th grade. After graduating from a member school and an Ivy League college, Kalief returned to the Los Angeles area to serve as a teacher in one of our partner schools. In addition, Kalief also made his way back to the Alliance to support our mission as a teacher in our Student Orientation Program, which is designed as a transition program for new students. Last summer, when I walked into Kalief’s classroom, his students were reading the Declaration of Independence, the Ten-Point Plan of the Black Panther Party, and the Brown Beret Ten-Point Program. Kalief not only challenged his students to think through primary source documents for contextual understanding but to also extract information from these documents to make informed judgments related to decisions of the time. It was amazing to watch 6th graders grapple with issues of justice while simultaneously strengthening their reading and comprehension skills. Kalief used narrative comments, report cards, and test scores of our students to create personalized, needs-based, skills-based, and culturally competent class lessons. I sincerely appreciated the care and energy that he put into this learning experience and believe that his personal connection to the Alliance made the experience much more fruitful for our students.

For more information, contact the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs. The deadline to work with the Alliance is August 1, 2019! Information sessions will be held July 20 and August 1. 2019.

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Private School Auctions At Progressive And Traditional Schools: What Would YOU Bid On?

Auctions and galas are a big deal at private schools. The items up for bid tend to fall into similar categories: vacation getaways, tickets for sporting or entertainment, fun stuff for kids and more. But, within those categories progressive schools offer some very different items than those at traditional schools. Take a look…and glimpse inside the school’s culture as highlighted at school auctions.

Here are 3 auction items from Sequoyah School in Pasadena, a progressive school with parents who’d love the hippest items in town!

Sequoyah School, Pasadena 2019

Sequoyah School, Pasadena 2019
Sequoyah School, Pasadena 2019

Progressive Oakwood School’s dad Steve Carrell hosts a tequila party!

The Center For Early Education is a progressive school, known for parents like Beyonce. So, it’s no surprise that it’s gala features items that might seem more luxe than hipster.

Center For Early Education 2018

Center For Early Education 2018

Brentwood School’s pure elegance!

Brentwood School 2019
Brentwood School 2019

Harvard-Westlake School doesn’t host a gala or auction event, but it’s Party Book is something to celebrate along with celebrity dad Will Farrell.

Viewpoint School invites you to take a luxury vacation in Park City!

Viewpoint School 2019

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 Prep Tips for the K-12 Private School Application Process by Sanjay Nambiar

We’re pleased to welcome Sanjay Nambiar back to Beyond The Brochure. His reassuring advice and excellent tips are always a hit with our readers. In addition to offering suggestions for what to do the summer before September admissions begins, Sanjay highlights some of the most important steps in the process. –Christina

Take Advantage of Your Summer Before Application Craziness Begins!
Summer. It’s time for vacations, pool days, backyard cookouts, and general laziness. But wait, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves . . .

In late summer/early fall, the private school admissions season begins in earnest. That’s that time to fill out inquiry forms online, set up school tours, sign up for open houses, and begin working on applications when possible. When these balls start rolling, it can get hectic and stressful quite quickly; or, you can approach it with a slow and steady mindset.

That’s why we love starting in the summer. Because in June and July, in between your trips and relaxing weekends, you actually can start preparing for your admissions process – at your leisure and with less stress. And when you can do that, you get ahead of the curve and make the rest of the admissions process that much easier.

A Summer Checklist: June-July-August

As you contemplate the daunting admissions season that’s just a few months away, consider doing the following to ease yourself into the mindset of applying.

1. Think about your child

  • Far before you start looking at schools, spend a good amount of time thinking about your child and the type of student he or she is. 
  • Does your child thrive with structure or in more free-form environments. Is she competitive and a good fit for rigorous academics? 
  • Does he enjoy the creative arts and settings where he can get to the next level in fine art, acting, singing, or music? 
  • How important are athletics? 
  • What types of parents do you want to engage with and possibly befriend? 
  • Are you interested in K-12, K-8, or K-6? (See our previous post that addresses the pros and cons of each.)

2. Pick your schools

  • If you haven’t done so already, start narrowing down the schools you want to apply to. 
    • Visit their websites, fill out and submit inquiry forms, and get a feel for the culture and academic approach. 
    • Think about locations and possible commute times or school bus schedules.
    • Create a spreadsheet or tracking system to organize your thoughts about each school (strengths, weaknesses, how it fits your family, how it doesn’t, culture, extracurricular activities, volunteering opportunities, etc.).
    • For Kindergarten, some deadlines are in early September, so starting in the summer is even better timing.

3. Start thinking about (and maybe even writing) essays.

  • Essays are critical elements of your admissions application. You are in charge of how you describe your child and family, so it’s worth the effort to make it as strong as possible.
  • Start thinking about anecdotes and detailed stories from your child’s past. These narratives should describe specific aspects of your child’s personality or ability.
    • For example, how about that one time your son helped a new classmate who just moved to L.A. from another city? Or when your daughter overcame an academic challenge by studying harder and working with her teachers. Or when your child worked extra hard to make the basketball team.
  • Write down specific details, memories, and anecdotes. These will become important points in your essays.
  • If you have the time and don’t mind the work, you can even start writing general paragraphs. The questions below often appear in applications in some form or another. And even if these questions don’t appear in your specific applications, the text you develop now can be used for other responses where relevant (of course, there is a risk that you don’t use any of the text.).
  • Sample Questions for Parents
    • Describe your child as a student and individual.
    • How have you been involved in your current school?
    • What do you want from your child’s education?
    • What are your child’s strengths and weaknesses?
    • Describe any special circumstances that have affected your child’s education.
  • Sample Questions for Students (middle & upper school applicants)
    • What are your favorite activities?
    • What is your strongest interest and why do you like it?
    • Describe a challenge you had and how you overcame it.

4. Start thinking about interviews

  • Interviews are the most important in-person aspect of the application. This is your chance to connect, shine, and learn more about the school (for both students and parents).
    • Start preparing by thinking about and answering potential interview questions. Here are a few:
      • What are your favorite classes and why?
      • Tell me about a school project you enjoyed.
      • How do you handle challenges and disappointments?

5. Register for the ISEE Exam (for middle & upper school applicants) & other exams

  • ISEE registration typically begins August 1 for the fall test season (August – November), and spaces fill very quickly.
    • You can take the test only once per season (e.g., once in the fall season (Aug-Nov) and once in the winter season (Dec-Mar)); make sure to look for your school ISEE deadlines, however.
  • Some schools, such as Crossroads, also take the SSAT.
  • Catholic schools require the HSPT, which the student often should take at the school they want to attend; contact the schools for more information.

Take a Deep Breath & Dive In!

The application process can be overwhelming for even the most prepared families. That’s when a little head start can make a huge difference. If you can use the summer to consider the application elements listed above, you save some time during the hectic fall months, when kids are back in school and many adults become busier with work. 

Additionally, this is a great way to model for your kids how to tackle a huge project and reduce anxiety. Our kids are watching us, and when we’re calmer, they’re calmer. Also, just as important, prepping over the summer tends to give families a boost of confidence as they begin application season. And sometimes that little extra edge can alleviate a lot of stress.

Priya and Sanjay Nambiar run Nambiar Advising, a consulting practice that shepherds families through the private school admissions process, from helping clients find the best-fit schools for children to application support, essay editing, interview preparation, and more. Priya has spent more than 20 years in education and was the Associate Director of Admissions at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles. She earned a B.A. in Education from Brown University and an M.Ed. from Harvard University. Sanjay is an entrepreneur and professional writer who has written several award-winning children’s books. He earned a B.A. in Economics and Neurobiology from U.C. Berkeley and an M.B.A. from UCLA. To learn more, please visit www.nambiaradvising.com

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.

Q&A with Larry Kilgman, head of Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School

I’d been to Heschel as a spectator when my son was in 5th grade and Viewpoint played their school in sports. I always remember how courteous and hospitable the kids and parents were during and after games, treating us as guests as opposed to rivals. Win or lose, Heschel always exhibited excellent sportsmanship, which I’ve learned, is an important part of a school’s culture. Since then, I’d been curious about the school, so I was pleased to accept the invitation to tour Heschel. Last month, I met Larry, along with Lara Martin, admissions director and Susan Kussin, head of marketing and alumni relations. Before walking around the lovely, sparkling campus–set on three acres– we chatted about Larry’s vision for the school’s future and his nearly lifelong connection to the school. I was inspired by his belief that the skills kids need most for the future include collaboration, critical thinking and, among others, empathy. The inclusion of empathy as a necessary skill is the type of forward-thinking leadership our world needs now and indefinitely. Heschel is a Jewish Day School grades TK-8 located in Northridge. –Christina 

Larry Kligman

1. You have a long history with Heschel, from student, teacher, coach and now head of school. What has kept you connected to the school for so long? 

Any Heschel student will tell you that once you attend our school, you remain a part of the Heschel community long past graduation.  As a transitional kindergarten through eighth grade program, our students spend their formative years learning and growing on our campus, and the connection lasts a lifetime. Heschel played an important role in my youth, and when I made the decision to have a career in education, I was lucky enough to come home to Heschel.

I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a dynamic, collaborative, and innovative administrative team and Board of Directors who have continuously supported and inspired my growth as an educator and leader.  Having a long history with Heschel affords me a unique perspective in balancing the ever-evolving nature of a school environment, while keeping the traditions and underlying values of our school at the heart of our mission.

2. How would you describe the educational philosophy of the school?

We hold onto the best of the principles and traditions upon which Heschel was founded, and strive constantly to learn and embrace current and forward thinking concepts, research, and strategies best suited to prepare our students for the future. Balancing individual engagement and joyful learning with rigorous studies within a dual curriculum is at the forefront of a Heschel education.

We are fortunate that the size of our school and the expertise of our faculty allow us to put into action the best elements from multiple learning approaches including project based learning, design thinking, and small group and ability-based instruction. The professional growth and development of our faculty promotes our innovative and fresh curriculum focused on critical thinking and curiosity, and as a result Heschel students experience true intellectual and ethical inquiry.

3. You described the 5 skills students will need for the future: Creativity, Collaboration, Design Thinking, Critical Thinking and Empathy. I’m pleased to see “empathy” is included. Can you talk about how you ensure students leave Heschel possessing these important skills and values?

Students in transitional kindergarten through eighth grade are encouraged to question and engage in respectful debate, problem solve and think critically as they master new math concepts, strategize in games, interpret and respond to literature, and express themselves via writing and the arts.  

While we do not know what jobs may exist when our current students join the work force, we do know they will need to possess a strong sense of self, have a “growth mindset” – a willingness to work hard, take risks, and challenge their own comfort level.

As a pluralistic Jewish school, we have a natural lens for the inclusion of empathy, which is woven throughout the program in both general and Judaic studies. By exploring Jewish roots and other cultures, we encourage our students to explore sameness and difference.  Our students know who they are and what they stand for, and as a result, they have the ability to take on others’ perspectives. Every grade level participates in Tikkun Olam, acts of kindness which are performed to repair the world at large. The relevant and developmentally appropriate grade level projects are instrumental in instilling not just an understanding of the concept, but teaching students to live it in the form of action as a lifelong responsibility.

4. A big vote of confidence in a school is when alumni parents return to enroll their own children. Heschel has 69 legacy students! What did Heschel give so many families that they want for their own children? Does this make admissions more competitive for non-legacy families?

In my experience, all parents of our incoming new students want what any parent is seeking for their child; to grow confident, healthy individuals who make a positive difference in our world.  Our alumni families are already familiar with the Heschel partnership and community, and our new families quickly become part of the Heschel experience as they attend new parent events, community events, and experience Jewish holidays.

It is amazing how many Heschel alums share that their closest friends today are still the friends they made at Heschel. This is remarkable when considering our program concludes in eighth grade! Walking alumni through our school as prospective parents are some of my favorite tours. The reminiscing is endless and they are always amazed at the updated facility and incredible faculty. They see that the values, strong academic programs, and amazing community are still here, and they want that for their children.

In terms of admissions, we accept mission appropriate families where we can serve the child(ren) and family well. New and legacy families go through the same admissions process. When it comes to accepting new students, the competitive nature of private school admissions is dependent on class size and the applicant pool.

5. Where do Heschel’s eighth graders matriculate to and what is your process for helping place families in L.A. area private high schools?

This year our eighth graders have been accepted to 14 schools, which include Archer, Buckley, Campbell Hall, Chaminade, de Toledo High School, Harvard-Westlake, Marlborough, Milken, Shalhevet, Sierra Canyon, Valley Torah, Viewpoint, Village Christian, and Yula. We guide families through each step of the process, helping them transition from acceptance to graduation to matriculation. We recognize what an important process this is for our families, and our eighth grade faculty and the entire administration work hard to create an atmosphere of exploration and excitement for our families, rather than one of stress and angst. As a result, students feel empowered and excited to spread their wings after Heschel! We see Heschel as a place that opens endless opportunities to our students, and our matriculation process is no different.

For more information, visit Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School

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Photos: Heschel School and Christina Simon