Guest Blogger Gina: Finding The Perfect Fit School

My neurotic tendency toward organization and over-preparation, while sometimes annoying to my husband, has served me well on many occasions. Most recently, I put this “skill” into use when it came time to think about elementary schools for our twin son and daughter.


I grew up in New York and, although my husband grew up in Los Angeles, he really wasn’t much help in figuring out the complex school system in L.A., so I was left to my own devices. My default operating system is to get rather methodical when I am dealing with something I am unfamiliar with, and figuring out the best school for our family was no different.


Once we realized that our local public school wasn’t a viable option, we knew we were looking at private elementary schools for our children. Although I would much rather have the “free” education that public school offers, I am not comfortable pinning my hopes on a charter school lottery system that might leave us with no school to attend when the time comes.


Thus I began, as many people do, by asking friends about the private schools they knew about, using books like Beyond The Brochure and researching online, using various sites like and This allowed me to at least get a list together of names and locations. We narrowed the list down by crossing off schools that didn’t present themselves as Progressive or Developmental and weren’t in a comfortable radius to where we lived. Simple enough.


And then the worries set in. Should we consider schools that are on the West Side even though we live an hour East? Should we look at a school where we have good connections even if the school doesn’t really appeal to us? Will our connections be insulted if we don’t apply there? How many schools should we look at? How many should we apply to? What about those schools that make you apply before you tour? Do we bother applying to schools that are so popular you need to be married to Brad Pitt in order to be accepted? And the list went on and on. I knew I just had to start or my over-thinking would get the best of me.


We began touring when our children were a little more than 3 years old, a year and a half before we would actually apply to any of these schools. Our first tour was at The Willows Community School and we were really excited about it. From the inspired artwork on the walls, to the enthusiastic teachers to the way the director thoughtfully answered every question the parents had; we could picture our family being a part of this school. A few months later we took our children to the Fall Book Fair on their campus and were again impressed by community spirit and genuine friendliness of all the families we met. Our kids were equally enchanted and, a few weeks later when I told them I was touring another school, cried out “No! But we want to go to The Willows!” It seems we were all in agreement.


Well, if the first school we looked at was such a hit, we were excited to see what else LA private elementary schools had in store for us. This fall we toured 4 other schools and only at one, Oakwood, did we feel as enthusiastic as we did at The Willows. Oakwood isn’t as close to where we live, but there are enough great things about it that will make us consider applying there.


We still have 4 schools on our list to tour this spring and we will then have our “short list” of schools to re-tour in the fall of 2011, which is the year we will submit applications for the class of 2012. I am glad we decided to begin our touring early. I wanted to be able to see as many schools as I could so I could get a sense of what I really liked and what I definitely didn’t like. My sense is that the Fall before your child starts Kindergarten many parents are stressed about interviews and applications; I didn’t want to compound that with having to research and tour 10 or 15 schools. I feel good knowing that my husband and I can focus in on the 4 or 5 schools we really love and feel are the best fit for our family.


I’m feeling calm now. Check in with me again come September when interviews begin!

Gina Osher is a former Holistic Healer turned SAHM to boy/girl twins, a twin parenting coach and the author of the popular blog, The Twin Coach. There she writes on topics ranging from how Halloween candy helped her discover the meaning of life, to how to handle bed rest and premature babies. Gina describes herself and her blog as “one part friend who’s been through it all, one part mom of twins trying to figure it out, one part mentor willing to share”. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.




Guest Blogger Jenny: Happy Holidaze & The Big Holiday School Program

Happy Holidaze

Now that the holidays are behind us, I can afford a bit of introspection regarding them, particularly where school is concerned. Take, for instance, the holiday school program. The holiday school program is practically an American institution, and certainly a tradition I’m loathe to disparage. But then again, the silliness the holiday program has morphed into deserves at least some scrutiny.

My daughter goes to The Mirman School, a school that isn’t known for flash or grandiosity. This is a school more likely to nurture the next Oliver Sacks than the next Katy Perry. While performance is definitely an aspect of the Mirman curriculum, it’s not a major emphasis; it’s not a performing arts school.

So imagine my surprise upon attending my first Mirman holiday program. Held not in the school’s spacious auditorium, but in the enormous Presbyterian church across the road (not a bad seat in the house, and that includes the restrooms), this was a full scale production. The classes wore color coded t-shirts (the theme was The Colors of Winter). There was a band (the bass player stunk). There was fairly elaborate staging and a tremendous amount of organization. It was impressive, in a grand way. It also seemed unlike anything else I’d seen come out of the school.

In contrast to this hoopla was the general blandness of the program itself. This isn’t necessarily the school’s fault. In an attempt to please everyone, and please them in a way that is almost entirely secular, the life has been bled out of the “holiday” program. Watching the Mirman program, I noticed no references directly to any religious Christmas significance. Chanukah was mentioned, along with temples and Judaism (there’s really no way to secularize the Jewish holidays fully). Kwanza got a song (a really bad song that seemed, well, unfortunate). And winter was mentioned, repeatedly, for its colors (pretty much the same in LA year round, although perhaps the air’s less yellow in December), its climate (the day of the program it was raining, so that was at least a change from 74 and sunny), and its activities (totally irrelevant to our climate and culture).

So here it was, this hugely produced show, the product of months of work, falling fairly limp. Certainly it was good for the kids to perform, and perform well. But it so missed the boat in terms of being anything meaningful.

Lest you say that I just need to send my kid to a more religious, less secular school if I so miss the spirit of Christmas, I have another example to prove you wrong. I have friends who send their children to an Episcopal school that has an enormous Christmas pageant every year, in a church, with nothing but big holiday significance. Yet, this program doesn’t deliver, either. One friend said she just gets her daughter ready and basically hangs out in an adjacent room, watching the event on closed circuit tv (“I can never really see her,” my friend admitted). Another couple drops their son off and then heads to a bar across the street for a couple of cocktails. So, there’s spirits involved here, but they don’t have anything to do with yuletide festivities.

One of the things that struck me so hard regarding these elaborate holiday festivities is how much they are about pleasing the adults. After all, the much beloved (and truly wonderful) music teacher at Mirman needs an outlet for his talents, the school feels the need to show just where your money is going, and the parents want to see results. But what about the kids?  Of course there’s benefit to learning to operate in a group, sing on command, and follow detailed instructions. But at private school, kids do these things, in one form or another, all day long. I’m not sure making them practice for hours, wear reindeer antlers and sing totally secular songs is exactly a value added.

Then again, I’m not the kind of parent eager to document every moment of my child’s life with pictures, video, and awestruck wonder. I live with the kid. I know she’s wonderful already. The school uses the professionally shot videos of the production as a fundraiser, practically forcing parents to purchase the DVDs of these “special moments.” The thing is, with all due respect to my child and her performing prowess, I’d rather not buy the DVD and donate some extra cash directly to the school instead.

Is the story the same at other schools across LA? I’m not sure. Maybe school productions are just inherently unsatisfying on some level; you’re there, mostly, to see your child, not to be massively entertained. Yet, can’t they do both? Couldn’t kids sing songs about the religious significance of Christmas, and the religious significance of Chanukah? Do we have to listen to “The Reindeer Rap” and pretend it’s a Christmas song? There must be a compromise in there, somewhere, that’s both politically neutral (being correct might be a lost cause) and, in the end, entertaining.

Or maybe I’m just being a Scrooge.
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.