Reader Comment on "Insider’s Perspective…"

We pulled from this from a reader comment on the post, “An Insider’s Perspective On Private Elementary School Admissions” (7/14/10)
Anonymous said…

I just bought your book and finished it really quickly. Thanks for all the useful information! Unfortunately, we had already submitted our application for the school that I am keen on before I read all the advice. We left the section on the application where we were invited to share ‘any other important information about our family’ blank. However, I feel good about what we wrote about our child. After reading your book I realize how important it is to share information about the family. Should I wait for the tour or interview to offer the admissions director a revised application or should I call right now? Did I blow it?

Christina Simon said…

Hi Anon:

Thanks for buying the book and reading the blog!! Anne and I both feel that the section of the application you left blank is generally to give a family the chance to forewarn the school about something unique, out of the ordinary or unusual about your family. The fact that you left it blank is fine. We don’t think you should revise the application or call the school. Leave your application as it is. But, make sure to round out your “family messages” or information about your family in the parent interview. You should have the opportunity in the parent interview to discuss your family in detail. If the parent interview is focused on other topics i.e the weather, you will need to try to guide the conversation towards your family’s attributes and importantly why your child will be a GREAT FIT for this particular school. Not any private school, but the school where you’re applying. Try to be specific with examples i.e. the sports program, the reading program, the similarity to your preschool, etc. Obviously, private schools want kids that they can teach and that will be happy and stay at the school and, of course, parents who will contribute their volunteer time and contribute financially, if possible. You can help them understand that YOU are that family! Also, see our previous post about “Family Messages”. Good luck!

Christina and Anne

Anonymous said…

Thanks so much! Great advice!!!

Reader Question: Resume Building To Appeal To Schools?

One of our readers asked us what things she should “build up” or emphasize on her “resume” as a parent to be more appealing during the school admissions process.

This is a great question!
As we’ve said many times before, private elementary schools are evaluating the child AND the family. It’s so important for you as a parent to highlight your skills, volunteer work, charity work and anything else you think you’ll be able to contribute to your child’s elementary school.
If your child is currently at preschool and has another year there, get involved, if possible. Private elementary schools like to see a track record of school volunteerism. Simply paying tuition and never helping out isn’t what they like to see.
Really think about your professional and volunteer skills and how they could apply to a private elementary school environment.
Parents sometimes underestimate the unique and in-demand skills they possess so they don’t mention them on the application or in the parent interview. Your skills have been developed over a professional career, your time at preschool, your time as a mom and your work in your community. All these experiences can be relevant! But, nobody will know about them unless you break them down into specific, “can-do” skills and abilities:
For example:
  • I’m skilled with graphic design computer programs and can train volunteers to use them
  • We own a restaurant and often donate to locate community events
  • As a volunteer, I chaired a non profit organization’s committee to bring in donations for our charity event
  • I’m a writer and would love to help with any school publications like the newsletter, website, etc.
  • We just re-landscaped our back yard and would welcome the opportunity to work in the school garden
  • We own a small printing business and would be happy to donate printing services for school events (invitations, flyers, announcements)
  • And, you can just simply say, “I’d be happy to help out with whatever is needed at your school…I really want to be involved”. What admissions director wouldn’t want to hear that from a prospective parent?

Public vs. Private School: Public Debate or Family Decision?

Recently, I saw a comment on a popular LA mom blog which read:

“I have looked at several public schools, and mentally I am having such a hard time with the idea of my child attending for kindergarten, all of them look like cement-and-chain-link fence prisons. What do you guys think? Will my child be emotionally scarred by the sheer ugliness of those places?”

The responses to this mom’s comment ranged from openly hostile to supportive. I didn’t comment. Sarah Maizes, LA mom and writer of the hilarious blog, Mommy Lite, did leave the following comment:

“Yes. Yes it will…and while you’re at it, you should also avoid pictures of hungry children.”

She went on to blog about the fallout from her comment the next day (see her post “Fresh Picked Fight” 7/12/10).

As some of you know, I have never attended private school. I’m a product of LAUSD, Santa Monica Unified, UC Berkeley and UCLA. My elementary school, Topanga Elementary, was idyllic. Hidden away in the hills of the canyon and shaded with beautiful trees. My university and graduate school were also quite spectacular public schools.

You’ll also notice that we do not criticize public schools on this blog. Like you, we’re well aware of the very public problems LAUSD struggles with. We also know that within LAUSD there are some very good schools. One of my oldest friends is on the LAUSD School Board working hard to make things better. Obviously, her children attend public school. And, private school is simply not a financial option for many families.

Private schools aren’t perfect either. The problems may be different (or maybe not), but they do exist. Toxic parents, bullies and other issues are common at private schools. We’ve written about some of these issues on this blog (see “Kindergarten And The Bully” 7/2/10). Quite frankly, some of the private elementary school campuses are downright depressing. They definitely won’t make you Ohh and Aah! One school I toured made me want to run the opposite direction because it was so run down and in need of serious repairs.

Rather than have an explosive public vs. private “debate” or shouting match online, we think the decision about where to send your child is personal and for your family. You may be open to public OR private school when your child is still in preschool. Look at all your options!

The public school vs. private school debate is really only of interest to us on this blog to the extent that parents want to figure out how to transfer from public school to private school and to learn more about how to get into private elementary schools. And, we try to paint a real picture of what life is like at private elementary schools…and, no, it’s not perfect.

Even within private school parents, “debate” goes on about which is better, a traditional or developmental or progressive school (this is code for which school will help your child get into Harvard-Westlake and then an Ivy League college).

Choosing a school is such a personal family decision that we want to make sure parents have as many options available to them as possible. The difficulty of getting into private elementary schools in LA is what motivated us to write Beyond The Brochure and create this blog. The more information, the better!

K-8 Private Elementary School Model

Families at The Willows Community School recently received a letter from the Board of Trustees updating us on campus projects and thanking families for our help with various school accomplishments over the past year.

The letter also discussed the merits of a K-8 school on the same campus, which is the Willows School model. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
“At The Willows, children have the opportunity to become natural leaders, and all our students, from youngest to oldest, are surrounded by a faculty that knows each individual child. Remaining in an environment which many of our students know as a second home allows our children to retain their confidence and sense of safety during both childhood and early adolescent years that follow…and, once again, this year’s 8th grade graduates who applied to independent schools received multiple acceptances and gained admission into one or more of his top choices.”
When I was applying to kindergarten for my daughter, I didn’t really think about the various school models. We loved the Willows immediately, but I was more concerned about getting into at least one school! Therefore, I focused on the kindergarten and not much beyond that. It’s difficult to project ahead years down the road when you have a young child. But, I can say that the K-8 campus is really unique. When I walked into Marlborough this summer to drop off my soon-to-be 10 year old daughter for summer camp, I was amazed at how Marlborough is really designed for older kids (it is a 7-12 school). It’s a wonderful summer program and a fantastic school. My daughter has loved every minute at summer camp, but she misses The Willows.

Reader Comment/Question re: "Gap Year"

We pulled this reader question from our April 8, 2010 post, “Your Family’s Key Messages”. In case you missed this in the comments section…
Anonymous said…

I just discovered your blog and find it enormously informative and helpful. I am trying to decide if we should start our daughter in private K or for middle school. I am finding that many LAUSD elementary schools end in 5th grade while private schools have major entry points in 7th grade. Are there other schools that accept students for 6th grade? How do other making the switch to private for middle school deal with the gap year?

June 10, 2010 8:34 AM

Christina Simon said…

Dear Anonymous, thanks for reading our blog! We love writing it!

Your question brings up an issue lots of LA parents deal with. Here are my thoughts. If you start in public kindergarten, you will need to find a school for 6th grade, since public schools are K-5. Then, if you decide to move your child again for 7th grade, that could be 3 schools in 3 years. That’s a lot of transition…just something to think about.


Or, you could move your child to a private school that has a 6-12 or a 6-8th grade and create more stability for your child. Kids get admitted to private school from public schools regularly. Private schools are very well aware of the “gap” problem and tend to be understanding of it, if they have space.


Some private schools DO except students for 6th grade, Brentwood and Crossroads are two that I believe accept applications for 6th grade. At other schools, there are less spots, as I understand it for 6th grade. However, it can be done. Generally, points of entry are K, 3rd (limited spots), 7th, 9th (limited spots).


The “gap year” issue is a tough one for everyone. It’s something that certainly can be handled, it will just require some time and effort to plan ahead, knowing it’s coming up ahead for your child. You could also leave public school for 3rd grade, 5th grade, etc. Sometimes, this is a smart strategy that a lot of parents use. Openings occur every year in every grade, it’s just a question of numbers. If you prepare in advance, you will find a spot, I’m sure. Just remember, like kindergarten, you’ll need to apply to several schools, not just one. And, there is an exam your child will need to take to get into private middle school.


One last point. A very savvy educational consultant told me recently she tells her clients that if they have a “gap” year to go to public school for a year and then apply to private for 7th, since private schools don’t like to “poach” students from other private schools. In other words, if you go to a private for one year and then apply out to another private right away, that can be tricky, for the reason called “poaching”. Interesting advice.

Hope that helps!!! Good luck!



June 10, 2010 8:58 AM

Anonymous said…

Thanks again for this helpful advice!