Applying To John Thomas Dye: Our Guest Blogger Tells Her Story

Do Or Die For John Thomas Dye

Before I begin this tale of very civilized rejection, I should note that my daughter had an ultimately happy ending: she got into a private school for fourth grade. But it wasn’t John Thomas Dye.


When we began the search for a private school, we were very discriminating (if also naïve. Ok, that’s being kind. We were, as I’ve said in my previous post, idiots). We didn’t apply to ten schools, some of which were safety schools; we only applied to two. And one was, of course, John Thomas Dye.


Now, I’m an L.A. native. I went to Crossroads for middle and high school. I should, apparently, know something about all the private schools in the area, right? Well, maybe not. JTD is only for elementary school. When I was in elementary school (in public school, no less), I didn’t know from JTD. No one I knew went there. The only impression I had of the place was that it seemed somehow, at least in my mother’s mind, connected to old money and the L.A. Country Club. In other words, they don’t let “our kind” in there (‘our kind” being residents of Beverlywood?).


My impression of the school only changed when two different families I know from Anna’s* preschool (Montessori Shir-Hashirim), got in. The first lucky entrants were very bright identical twins for kindergarten (a tough and unenviable job, gaining twins entrance anywhere). The second entrant was another girl who got in for third grade. Seemingly, JTD entrance was a breeze, right?


We never did any research on the matter (if I had ever looked at this blog, I would have known that hardly anyone gets into JTD, but instead I was oblivious).We just went along with the admissions process.


The first time I ever saw JTD was at its prospective parents’ night. The locale, up in the Bel Air hills, has the impact of an eagle’s nest, looking down upon the rest of the city in lofty assurance. There was a fire roaring in the auditorium. I couldn’t get much of a read on the other parents, although it seemed far more diverse than I expected. Affluence level? I couldn’t really tell.It had that waspy, money is something we don’t really talk about here attitude.


It began with a short film, much in black and white, telling the story of the school’s beginnings in 1949. The site looked much the same, the demographic was decidedly Anglo (not a shocker), there were some shots of traditional Thanksgiving, during which the founder parceled out turkey sandwiches with mayo (so L.A. Country Club, I could see my mom’s vindicated grimace).


But that was the past. The present seemed refreshingly no nonsense, even mellow compared to other schools we’d toured. The headmaster even stated, “It’s just elementary school, people.” For a person like myself, with limited tolerance for panic or pretension, this was a grand approach. I was sold. And hey, it seemed so friendly! Certainly they’d let Anna in.


There was one aspect that sent alarm bells off for me. There was a huge emphasis put on families, not individual kids. But what does a “family” mean, these days? For example, I’m divorced and have a significant other. We know families with same sex parents, single parents, and intact marriages that no one would want. What kind of “family” did JTD want?It seemed so no nonsense, but so squeaky clean and straight. Polite. Even if we definitely weren’t the type of family JTD wanted, it would never say so on any level.


They introduced a panel of kids, who fielded questions from the parents. The kids seemed awfully nice, well spoken but not precocious. They answered some fairly inane questions in a patient way. They simply sounded like well-educated kids. The only false note for me was the underprivileged Latina girl from Hawthorne, who seemed to be in the position of token scholarship case. She was fabulous. Any school would have loved to have this kid. But she seemed so grateful. And that bothered me. She shouldn’t have to display that for the school’s benefit; everyone knows that every private school has highly qualified scholarship kids.


What struck me, though, was how nice the kids seemed. That was really stressed. There was a solid, long established behavior and honor code that was strictly followed. This was highly appealing.And the academics, of course, were already established as being of the highest caliber. JTD kids go to great middle and upper schools. End of story.


Next, the application. Nothing unusual there. We were fortunate enough to have the head of Montessori Shir-Hashirim, Elena Cielak, write a glowing recommendation. Elena carries a lot of weight at certain private schools, so that was a plus.


The interview itself was, in retrospect, a real mixed bag. At the time, I convinced myself that it went fine. The JTD AD is a very professional yet warm woman. She’s very to the point, yet is so welcoming that you feel like your kid’s already in. All I can say is: ignore this feeling. She started out the interview by saying that they had limited spots for 4th grade (I’ll stick with my previous theme: we were idiots), and that, judging from her scores and recommendations, Anna would be a shoo-in at Archer for 6th grade, thus solving that lost year problem.That sounded nice. And I didn’t hear the message underneath: we have no space, but she’ll be ok.


Then, there was that stress on the family thing. I’ve written regarding this aspect of the interview previously. So I’ll just reiterate that I felt we were being evaluated, as a divorced family, for any signs of discord. Now, we really don’t have any. We work well together. But I got the impression that JTD’s comfort level in this arena leans toward the traditional and intact. But, again, denial is a wonderful thing, so I shook it off.


Anna, naturally, loved the school. Who wouldn’t? It looks like a hybrid of a farm, a country club, and a camp. It has a fireplace. It has lovely white buildings. It doesn’t feel like it’s in the city. It has a comforting vibe.


Of course she didn’t get in. Although she made it onto the wait list, which I guess is an accomplishment on some level. What did we do to ingratiate ourselves? Not much beyond calling and keeping in touch with the AD. It’s not like our unconventional family could buy JTD more land or pay for its new facility.So, we never made it off the wait list. She’s going to Mirman instead.


Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about JTD. I had no idea that Los Angeles was littered with its rejection letters. I didn’t realize that the 3rd grader we know who gained entrance had parents who worked JTD for years, attending school events although their child didn’t even go to the school. Maybe they even gave money, I don’t know.


So if you’re seeking entrance to JTD (and hey, it really is a great school, so I wouldn’t blame you), you’d better seriously work it. Get the family involved early. Go to every event. Charm the AD (although even if you’re not charming her, you’d never know it).Don’t be idiots. And then, cross your fingers and pray to the deity of your choice.


* Name changed for privacy. Thank you to our guest blogger, Jenny Heitz, for sharing her story. Jenny’s daughter Anna attended preschool at Montessori Shir-Hashirim. She attended 3rd St. Elementary School and will enter Mirman School for 4th Grade this fall.


Editor’s Note: For the past few years, my son has played football at Barrington Park in Brentwood with families from JTD. They are super-nice, extremely high net-worth, live in Brentwood and Bel Air. They love JTD. Some of the moms are socialites. They all belong to country clubs like Brentwood, Bel Air and The Jonathan Club. They vacation in Europe and Martha’s Vineyard and other high-end locations.- Christina



Reader Question: Great School, Inconvenient Location

What do you do if you have great personal contacts at a school, but the school is too far from your house? A great question! Not always an easy answer.

In this situation you may have a difficult decision. Let’s say your best friend’s child attends this school. Assume you’ve seen the school and really like it. But, its an hour drive each way to and from your house.
If you go ahead and apply to this school, a letter of recommendation from your friend would probably help your application. If your friend offers to speak to the admissions director about your family, all the better.
In this situation you really need to determine if the location of the school is going to make it too difficult to get your child there every day. Will the drive be too hard on you? Will the drive be too long for your child? If the drive is more than an hour each way, you really need to consider the feasibility of this commute over the years your child will be at the school. Don’t forget about evening events like Back To School Night and other parent events at the school.
If you ask your friend to write you a letter of recommendation, she will probably ask you to promise her you’ll accept the schools offer of admission if your child is accepted. If you don’t, you’ll be putting your friend in a very awkward position with the admissions director. Parents get asked to write letters for friends all the time. But, it’s very uncomfortable if a friend makes a promise to accept the schools offer, but then changes their mind. It puts the parent at the school in an embarrassing situation.
So, if you’re asking a friend or contact to recommend your family to an admissions director, don’t double-cross your friend!
This isn’t always easy. You’ll need to walk a fine line between asking a friend for a favor and committing to her school and your desire to keep your options open once you get your admissions letters.
If you’re unsure about what to do, discuss it with your friend.
Private schools want to know that if they offer a family admission, they will accept the offer! One way to potentially avoid this problem is to wait until February to ask your friend to write the letter of recommendation. That way, its late in the admission process, but not yet March. By then you should have a better idea of what other schools you like and a sense of how the parent interviews and child visiting days have transpired.
I think every parent at a private school has probably been asked to write a letter for a family only to have that family select another school. It happened to me. Now, I always ask the friend if they will accept an offer of admission before I write the letter.

Example Of Private Elementary School Volunteer Jobs: The Willows School

Here is the list of The Willows School volunteer activities any parent can sign up for. As you can see, there’s lots to do at my kids school and at most private elementary schools. This isn’t even all of the volunteer positions that need to be filled (committee co-chairs, room parent and other leadership positions are generally offered to parents who have volunteered in one or more of the positions below first).
Hint: When you are writing your applications, look at the school’s events and volunteer activities to see if your skills or interests match their needs. If so, mention it in your application!! I’ve worked on the Book Fair, Co-Chaired the Auction, Served as Class Captain for the annual giving campaign and more. Everything I’ve done has been based on my interests and skills.
Most popular: #5 (Book Fair), #7 (Gardening), #8 (Hot Lunch)
Least Popular: #10 Lost and Found, #3 Auction Solicitation

1. AUCTION: Assist the Auction Co-Chairs in planning, organizing, and publicizing the Annual Auction and Party. (This is the biggest parent-run fundraiser of the year, so please join in the fun, there’s lots to do.)

2. AUCTION CATALOGUE CREATION: Help with writing, designing and formatting the catalogue entries for silent and live auctions
3. AUCTION ITEM SOLICITATION: Join the team in procuring fabulous auction items and sponsorships.
4. AUCTION ITEM MANAGEMENT: Database input and management of auction items.

5. BOOK FAIR: Help plan and organize the Fall Book Fair Celebration.

6. CULTURAL PROGRAMS: Help committee to promote a greater understanding of the history and diversity of cultures and people.
7. GARDENING: Garden with your child’s grade (DK through 2nd) in the learning garden on a semi-regular basis
8. HOT LUNCH: Assist the Hot Lunch program Co-Chairs. Act as a “lead” hot lunch server. “Lead” servers are asked to commit to overseeing the serving of hot lunch one day, every other week throughout the school year. (Hours are from 11:30 am –1 pm).
9. LIBRARY: Work with the Librarian and the Library Co-Chairs to assist in maintenance of the school library, Birthday Book Program and special projects. (Must commit to involvement in Book Fair and end-of-year inventory.)
10. LOST & FOUND: Help keep lost and found organized. Sort and deliver items with names to classrooms. Volunteers are asked to commit approximately one hour every other week.
11. PACIFIC PARK PIER EVENT: Help plan and organize the spring family event.
12. POSTER/SIGNAGE COMMITTEE (A): Looking for Graphic Designers to create posters/signage and invitations for school events. Knowledge of Photoshop and other design programs required.
13. POSTER/SIGNAGE COMMITTEE (B): If you are not a graphic designer, you can volunteers to print posters/signage on our large format printer, and then mount for use at school and special events. We will train on printer. Some knowledge of Photoshop required.
14. SCHOOL PHOTO COORDINATION: Work with co-chair to coordinate activities between photographer, yearbook staff, teachers, administration and parents. Coordinate scheduling for portraits, all school photo and class photos. Organize parent volunteers for photo shoots.
15. T-Shirt Sales. Assist in the organization, sales and delivery of Willows T-shirts, both regular and event (Book Fair and Pier Party) throughout the year.
16. VIDEOGRAPHY: Video various school activities and daytime/evening events as coordinated by Willows staff. Supply Communication/Media with footage we will share on our website and use in school video productions. Responsible for downloading footage to our Willows Yearbook server. Willows will supply a digital camcorder that can be checked out for use at the school. Download is easy with a DV memory card. It’s important to have some computer knowledge for downloading to a Macintosh.

17. YEARBOOK: Assist in the planning, assembly and production of the annual Willows yearbook.

Private Elementary School Parent Associations: The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times

Wacky antics, stealth agendas, soap opera plots, screaming fights, politics more labyrinthine than Capitol Hill. Is this a high powered, testostorone-fueled corporate boardroom? No, this is just your average LA private elementary school parent association.

Volunteering at your child’s school can be as fun as a girlfriend’s lunch or about as dreadful as spending time with a bunch of mean girls.
All the private elementary schools have parent associations. Some schools make sure the administration keeps a tight rein on the activities of the group, for obvious reasons. Other schools take the approach that the parent association’s events are “parent run” and therefore somewhat out of the control of the school. Parent associations are a very visible reflection of the school in many ways, especially when they are responsible for numerous school events each year and selecting parents to serve on volunteer committees.
Here are a few types of parent association volunteers you might encounter:
  • The Professional. Accustomed to working efficiently in a high-level job, this no-nonsense mom doesn’t have time to waste. She knows how to run a meeting and cut to the chase. She doesn’t suffer fools easily. If she gets antsy, she won’t look up from her Blackberry.
  • The Flake. You’ll see her name everywhere there is a volunteer job to be done, but you’ll never see her. She’ll text the person in charge at the last minute with an excuse. But, her name was all over the place, so that’s all she cares about.
  • The Micromanager. She clings tightly to her job and likes to keep those under her on a tight leash. Refusing to share helpful information, this volunteer is not a team player.
  • The Reliable One. The most loved volunteer. She’s always willing to help, no matter what the task or how late at night she gets called. She shows up, does the work and leaves. No drama. No problem.
  • The Hidden Agenda. This mom has an agenda. It may be to be appointed to the board of the school. It may have to do with her child. Either way, she’s using volunteer work to advance her agenda and will step on anyone who gets in her way.
  • The Talker. Her divorce, dating life, problems with her kids. It’s all about her during meetings. She’s hard to shut up and if you try, she may just keep talking.
  • The Self-Designated Super-Star. She jets in at the last second to find fault with other volunteers decorations, yearbook design or other work. She insists on redoing the work herself so she feels like she contributed. She angers other volunteers with her sheer arrogance.
  • The Leader. Brings people together, motivates parents to stay late and makes it fun. A true leader who everyone wants to work with.
  • In Over Her Head. This mom means well, but just doesn’t have the skills or ability to do the job she’s supposed to do. Usually people try to work around her, but sometimes, she’ll be asked to step aside if a big project starts to fall apart.
  • Toxic Mom. By far the worst of the bunch. She is unbalanced to begin with and a pressure-filled volunteer role makes her mean and antagonistic toward anyone she perceives as a threat. Try to figure out who she is early on and steer clear!

My shouting match one morning with a mom from the parent association (she’s also on the board) in the Willows School parent lounge filled with other parents isn’t one of my proudest moments. Tensions were running high. I was exhausted. It was the final few days before the auction fundraiser (I was a co-chair) and this mom came in swinging. This cringeworthy episode was, unfortunately, not all that unusual for private elementary school parent-run events. But, I learned my lesson. I’m just not cut out for parent association volunteering. I help our school in other ways, but I now stay far away from the parent association. Its in my best interest…and theirs too.


Reader Question: Left Application Question Blank…What To Do?

We pulled this interesting reader question from the comment section: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?

July 19, 2010 4:08 PMChristina 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


July 19, 2010 4:31 PM

Anonymous said…

Thanks so much! Great advice!!!

July 19, 2010 4:58 PM