Public School Woes Impacting Private Elementary Schools?

Over the past school year, we’ve talked with several private elementary school insiders about the impact of public school budget woes on private elementary schools. Now that the admissions cycle for Fall 2010 is completed, some private school insiders believe that public school budget cuts, negative press and other challenges have caused some parents to apply to private elementary schools at the kindergarten and other grade levels at a higher rate than usual. This trend, they believe, will continue next year. Next year may also find families from Beverly Hills Unified, who were on out-of-district permits that are no longer allowed, applying to private elementary schools.


And, this perceived trend away from public schools may be responsible for less movement on wait-lists at top schools this year than in previous years. Apparently, there has been very little movement on wait-lists so far this admissions cycle at the top private elementary schools. In other words, very few families are being accepted from wait-lists, according to one of our well-connected sources. This is in contrast to last year where there was quite a bit of wait-list movement. However, that’s not to say there is no wait-list movement, just not a lot. We do know several families this year who have been accepted from wait-lists already.


One school official told us that the single most important factor this year driving admissions to private elementary schools has been the exit of public school families to private schools. Obviously, this information is anecdotal. We have friends at LAUSD and Santa Monica Unified who are very happy with their public elementary schools and are busy fundraising like crazy to fill the budget gaps. Nonetheless, we are always curious about private elementary school trends and like to share this information on the blog.


We know at least a few of you are as interested in this stuff as we are!

Private Elementary School Buzz…

Overheard at a private jewelry trunk show Porcha and I attended to benefit Project Knapsack, Porcha’s nonprofit which provides school supplies to African children…LA socialites raving about Wildwood School and Windward School.

 The Pilgrim School is creating a buzz within private school circles.  It hired an impressive new head of school within the past few years. Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth is also attracting positive attention from private school insiders and entertainment industry parents for its all academic and all-around excellence.

Curtis School accepted only two non-sibling families for DK for fall 2010.

The Willows Community School recently invited all parents to a meeting with architects to learn more about the school’s master planning process for long-term campus enhancements.

The Very Private Side Of Private Elementary Schools

During our April 19 panel discussion at the Beverly Hills Country Club, panelist and private school expert, Kim Hamer* told the audience she lost her husband a year ago to cancer. Parents who heard her speak were moved by her composure in the face of such a staggering loss. Several of them were in tears. Kim went on to say that her children’s schools (PS#1 and Windward) have been incredibly supportive and continue to provide support to her and her three children. She mentioned that a mom who she doesn’t know called her recently to ask if Kim needed something from Target. When Kim hesitated, the mom pressed her saying, “Kim I know there’s something you must need.”


I realized that Kim’s willingness to share her story illustrated a side of private schools many people don’t really know about. The supportive community found at many private schools (and probably public schools too) was new to me when my kids began school at The Willows. When my daughter was in kindergarten, a Willows mom who had breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy was offered help to deal with the crisis facing her family. Willows families drove her kids to school and back. Many of us dropped off healthy meals for her family. We grocery shopped for her, using a list she provided. When she felt well enough for us to stop, we did. Then, when she needed more help, we picked up where we left off. I’m sure the school did much more than I even know. I’m thrilled to say that she is now healthy and gorgeous, taking care of her two kids.


The school also rallied around an amazing Willows mom who cared for her husband during his long battle with non-smokers lung cancer. The school helped take care of her family’s needs both during his illness and after his death. Recently, she entered a Facebook contest on Ciao Bambino to win a free trip to Italy to honor her late husband’s work there. Willows families used Facebook to help her win the trip. She’s so excited that together with her two children, she’ll get the chance to visit the places in Italy she and her late husband shared together.


I can honestly say that this is a side of private schools I didn’t know existed. I lost my mom to breast cancer when I was 19 so I think I’m especially sensitive to the needs of families who are facing illness and death. I’ve been so amazed at the outpouring of support for families who are dealing with tragedy at our school. There may be many things that come to mind when you think of private schools in LA. But, taking care of their own during difficult times probably isn’t something most people think much about. The schools don’t talk about it. They just help to take care of the family in need. That’s the way it should be.

Kim Hamer is a mom at Windward and PS#1 and a former educational consultant. 

Private Elementary School Homework: What’s it really like?

When I was applying to schools, and once my daughter was accepted to The Willows School, I wondered about the homework. What would the homework be like? Would my daughter be able to complete it on her own or would she need help? Would she resist doing homework or welcome the challenge? Obviously, each private elementary school is different, but here are some examples of my kids’ homework from first and third grades for you to see. At The Willows School, homework in kindergarten is infrequent so first grade is when homework really begins.

When you tour schools, pay attention to the issue of homework. Parents sometimes have misconceptions about the type or amount of homework a school should be giving their child. They want MORE homework or LESS homework. Whatever the problem, if they are out of sync with the school’s educational philosophy, it can be a frustrating situation. And, the problem can probably be avoided if you ask questions early and look carefully at the school’s academic program. Still, at every school you’ll find parents who think the school is “too academic” or “not academic enough” and they tend to focus on homework as the most visible example of their dissatisfaction. Try not to get pulled into the frenzy. You can trust that most private elementary schools balance homework with the entire academic program as well as extra-curricular activities.

First Grade Homework Example:

Language Arts Homework Example:

Read 15 minutes per night, kids choose the book (my son is reading “Diary of A Wimpy Kid”)

Write a sentence for each of these 5 spelling words:

1. Food, 2. True, Spoon, Clue, Glue

2. List the words you know how to spell with the /ae/ sound. (a, ai, a-e, ay ) and /ie (ie i-e, y, igh. Write a descriptive sentence for each word.

3. Trace over each word below and write the word 2 more times.

Wet, Yes, Set, Gas, Hot, Red, Hen,

4. Look at a picture. Use an adjective to describe the picture.

First Grade Math:

1. Make these true: 30>?, 18>? 103>?
2. Count by 2s, starting at 20, ending at 36
3. Count by 2s, starting at 50, ending at 66

Third Grade Homework:

Language Arts:

“Her skill at constructing webs landed her a job as the first spider to go up in space”
The word “constructing” in paragraph 1 above means
a. finding
b. fixing
c. making
d. moving

In Class Math Test:
1, 2 x 322=
a. 644
b. 744
c. 544
d. not given

2. 572 x 468 =
a. 267,686
b. 67, 696
c. 167, 696
d. none of these

Math Homework:
1. 4/5<> 8/11

2. 1/8 <> 1/2

3. What does the 4 in 9,742 mean?
a. four hundred
b. four
c. forty
d. four thousand

At home reading, several books per week (my daughter is reading “Anastasia” by Lois Lowry)

"Race To Nowhere" Pre-Screening, Q&A With Director

* Update: I saw this film yesterday. It was totally eye-opening, and thought-provoking…extremely powerful stories and messages from students, parents and educators. I highly recommend seeing it if you get the opportunity!

The Race To Nowhere: The Dark Side Of America’s Achievement Culture is a documentary film examining the pressures faced by youth, teachers and parents in our achievement obsessed education system and culture. Featuring the heartbreaking stories of young people who have been pushed to the brink, educators who are burned out and worried that students aren’t developing the skills needed, and parents who are trying to do what’s best for their kids, Race to Nowhere points to the silent epidemic running rampant in our schools.

Vicki Abeles directed The Race To Nowhere and she was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions about the film (see below). I plan to attend the film’s pre-release screening on May 24th at 3:30 p.m. and I hope you’ll join me! Vicki will be there to host a lively and thought-provoking discussion following the film. Details below.

Q. I watched the four-minute trailer of The Race To Nowhere and it’s absolutely fascinating. As the director, what is the main message of the film you’d like viewers to take away from the movie?

A. My main message is that we have an epidemic of unprepared, disengaged, unhealthy kids trying to manage an extreme. We cannot wait for policies to change or for large institutions to make the changes our kids need today. My hope is that everyone leaves the film inspired and empowered to form alliances and become advocates for change. The film is a vehicle for bringing communities together to break the silence and to move forward, together in a way that better serves all children. We need to transform education, redefine success and safeguard the health and well being of our children.

Q. You write that The Race To Nowhere came about because your daughter became physically ill from the stress she was under. How do you think the film will help other parents learn from your family’s experience as well as the intense challenges the kids in the film discuss?

A. The film is an eye opener for many, and at the most basic level reminds all of us to listen to our kids. As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the fear and competition driving today’s education system and culture, and the film is a reminder that we need to see our kids as so much more than their last grade or homework assignment. Seeing the long-term toll on the adolescents in the film and the educational outcomes (kids arriving in college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired), parents are reminded to start trusting their instincts and becoming advocates in their schools and communities for real change.

Q. I’m the mom of two kids, ages 6 and 9. The film focuses on the pressures and stresses faced primarily by teenagers, but I already see pressure on elementary school kids to overachieve in every area of their lives. Should parents with younger kids see the film?

A. Absolutely. My 3rd grade son is featured in the film and the issues impacting young children are addressed. I often hear from parents they would have done things differently had they seen the film when their children were younger. It’s never too late to start the dialogue and to become advocates for change. And everyone can make the simple changes in their homes by valuing sleep and health over test grades and homework, making time for family dinners, and by listening to our kids.

Q. As the director, how did you find kids who are so willing to be brutally honest about their feelings and the intense pressures they face with school, sports, homework, extracurricular activities, physical appearance, and more?

A. At the time, I was surprised about how easy it was to find young people and families willing to be so courageous and trusting with their stories. Young people want to be seen and heard by the adults in their lives, and I believe in every case the young people who participated felt it was important to contribute to the film and be part of the solution. For several of the young people, they have younger siblings and they didn’t want to see them have the same experience.

Q. The film’s title The Race To Nowhere is fascinating. Do you think kids are truly unable to envision a life beyond the enormous pressure they face during the middle and high school years?

A. The title actually came from something one of the students said. Young people are usually focused on the present, and it’s difficult to get them to see beyond that. Besides, when they look at the adults in their lives who often lead unbalanced, stressful lives, they may not see an end in sight to the pressures they feel. I hope everyone steps back and thinks about the fact that as adults we have a choice about whether to lead 24/7 lives, but we aren’t giving our children a choice. And, we need to consider the impact of this kind of pressure on bodies and minds that are still growing and developing.

Thank you, Vicki, for taking the time to answer my questions and for making such a thought-provoking film. I can’t wait to see it!

What: Screening of The Race To Nowhere

When: Monday, May 24th, 2010 at 3:30 p.m. includes Q&A with director Vicki Abeles. Please note: the 7 p.m. show is SOLD OUT

Where: St. James Parish Church and Preschool in South Pasadena, 1325 Monterey Rd. S. Pasadena, 91030. Tickets are $15 in advance (order on website under “screenings”) or $20 at the door.

You can also see the film’s four-minute trailer on the website.

A special thank you to Lauren Albrecht, Publisher Mom of Pasadena Macaroni Kids, for facilitating my interview with