Guest Blogger Kim Hamer: Parent Faux Pas At The Secondary School Fair

A Pretty, But Misguided Gift For Admissions Directors 

Two weeks ago, I attended the  Secondary School Consortium event. Think Kindergarten Fair for Los Angeles private schools grades 4 – 12.  

It was an evening event in a crowded, small room.  Here are a two mistakes I observed parents making.  
My first observation was that there were quite a few 5- 6th grade kids there who were with their parents. This was an adults only event.
Then, I noticed one mom had sprigs of lavender tied together with an organza ribbon. Her daughter had on a purple top.  The mom guided her daughter to several tables to meet the admissions director. The daughter then handed the lavender to the admissions director.  The two admissions directors she handed them to that I saw were NOT the kind who would appreciate sprigs of lavender. 

I was appalled that these moms thought it was OK to ignore the “adults only” rule that the admission directors as a group set!  

I was also appalled at that one mother thought it was a good idea to have her daughter, who is not even supposed to be there, introduce herself and hand the admissions directors her gift in a blatant attempt to make an impression! 
She did make an impression and it is one she will have to work past just to be even with the other candidates! 
These events are not for kids and they are NOT the place to try and make an impression.  Please don’t make that mistake!

Kim Hamer is a former private school expert. Her children attended PS#1 School in Santa Monica and Windward School. 

Why ARE Private Elementary Schools In LA So Hard To Get Into?

I stumbled across this post by a mom on Urban Baby recently:
“LA private school process sucks, and there are fewer schools than NY (at least within reasonable driving area of wherever you live) so there are fewer choices. They are full of siblings and celebrities and then a few diversity admits. If you are white and unconnected, good luck with the most popular schools. On the next tier, you can find spaces…”
This mom writes what many parents in LA think: that it’s impossible to get into LA’s top private elementary schools unless you are a celebrity, a minority family or your kid is a sibling. 

What this mom underestimates is the sheer number of white families in LA private schools who have family money, but not necessarily “connections”. Some may be legacies, others are not. 
While there is no doubt LA private schools are uber-competitive, it’s not impossible to secure a spot for your kid. Every year, all types of families get into the best private elementary schools in LA. We wrote Beyond The Brochure to help parents navigate the admissions process and understand what really happens behind the scenes, how decisions are made and what you need to do to get your child into a great school. Your positive attitude and a sense of optimism are an absolutely necessary component to getting in. A belief that your child will get into the best school possible will help sustain you through the process. And, it will certainly come across as you interview at the schools. 
The biggest problem is there are not enough spaces for families who want their kids to attend the top private elementary schools. So, schools must choose among applicants based on subjective and objective factors. Subjective factors can be as subtle as a family’s perceived commitment to private school, family wealth, a strong letter of recommendation or a good “fit” between child and school. Objective factors mean things like an equal number of boys and girls in a class. 
My co-author Porcha and I recently spoke at 10th St. Preschool in Santa Monica. The question about whether wait-list letters are “real” or just a polite way of saying “no” came up. We know families who have kids accepted off wait-lists every year. But, some schools don’t send rejection letters. They use wait-list letters as their way of saying “no”. We understand that Crossroads, PS#1 and Echo Horizon don’t send rejection letters, but only acceptance and wait-list letters. This is a polite way of trying to avoid alienating families.  And, some schools send out wait-list letters but have such a high acceptance rate that their wait-lists rarely open up.
During our talk at 10th St. Preschool, panelist and former education consultant Kim Hamer, brought up the issue of celebrities. “They are really not your competition”, she said. She pointed out that many schools don’t want to deal with the high-maintence demands and security concern of famous families and their children. And, being wealthy does not mean famous families are always financially generous to schools. Of course, celebrities DO get their kids into private schools. They just aren’t the real competition for most families.  
Diversity is a priority for many private elementary schools in LA. They seek diverse families, both socio-econonic and ethnically diverse. However, not all diverse families get in. I know of one diverse family who tried to get into The Willows for several years, to no avail. The same considerations about a good fit between child, parent and school still apply for diverse families. The admissions criteria don’t go out the window just so diverse families can be seen on campuses. 
Financial aid is another confusing issue. Kim Hamer points out that schools are seeking middle class families who can pay some, but not all of the tuition. For example, a family who takes home $80K after taxes could qualify for financial aid. The schools can find plenty of families who can’t pay any tuition. They also know there are families who can pay full tuition if they adjust their lifestyle. 
It’s our believe that the admissions process is an “insider’s game” for most families. But, anyone can play the game if you understand it’s rules!

Two Lawsuits Shock Exclusive NY, D.C. Private Schools: What’s Really Going On?

Sidwell Friends School in D.C., attended by the Obama’s daughters (and which counts Chelsea Clinton as an alum) was rocked last week by a scandal involving an affair by the school’s former psychologist with the mom of a child he was treating. The mom’s jilted husband is suing the school for $10 million, which works out to about 10 years worth of tuition (kidding!).
In March, news broke that a Manhattan mom sued York Preschool, a $19,000-a-year preschool for failing to prepare her child for the Ivy League. This poisoned ivy lawsuit had the mom blogs buzzing, mostly negatively about Nicole Imprescia, the mom-plantiff.
As a private elementary school mom in Los Angeles, I’m not in the least surprised by these stories, but I am curious as to what would compel a parent to sue their child’s private school.
Are we seeing the start of a new trend? Or, is the York Preschool lawsuit an isolated case of an overwrought, entitled mom losing her cool? Is the Sidwell Friends case an isolated incident of angry husband/dad blaming the school rather than his wife and her alleged school counselor/lover?
Most elite private schools operate within a small community of parents and administrators, where virtually no parent is willing to cause public drama lest they ruin their child’s chances of continuing at that school, getting their younger kids into the school or having their kids matriculate on to another top school. Or, more importantly, upset their standing in the social pecking order.
Is there something unique about the most coveted, uber-competitive private schools that create toxic environments where parents become livid enough to sue? Have these two lawsuits emboldened other parents to think about suing their child’s school when something goes wrong?
Private school scandal and drama can definitely be attributed to the culture of some of these expensive schools. Whenever you mix hefty tuitions that can reach as high as $30,000 per year for elementary school, wealth, privilege, celebrity and parents who are unaccustomed to being told “no”, it creates an accident waiting to happen. Then, add very powerful administrators, young pretty teachers, enfant terribles disguised as grown-ups and kids to the mix and the situation could ignite at any moment. Want to add more fuel to this volatile situation? Factor in the huge pressure on private school parents (largely self-imposed) and the schools themselves to magically produce super-talented braniacs who are athletically gifted, speak numerous languages and will go to one of three Ivy League Schools to continue their family’s lineage and tradition, can make even a normal person insane.
And it does, frequently. In private.
Shortly after we enrolled our daughter in a top LA private elementary school, my husband, Barry, told me he thought he was a scarce commodity at the school: a dad who worked at a “real job”. Terms like “hand me down money” and “born on third base, but thought they hit a triple”, have been tossed about in our conversations. You get the picture. At the time, Barry was CEO of a company, owned by a major NY private equity firm, with thirty locations around the globe. He wasn’t exactly working 9-5. It was more like 24/7.
Barry thinks that parents who don’t have to work at “real jobs”, and instead create “vanity projects” appear to dominate LA private elementary schools. Wineries, artistic endeavors, housing projects (not the HUD variety), clothing stores that are shuttered quickly and oversized, money-losing, signature projects are rampant. I remind him that a lot of families work hard to pay school tuition. He asks whether it’s really that hard sucking up to the grandparents who pay tuition for their grandchildren. Who really knows? But, it can make for some hilarious social situations when we find ourselves nodding supportively as a parent talks about their “business” or a “huge deal” they are working on. We feign interest, knowing it’s not making or breaking the family finances.
My kids’ school is understated compared to some of the other LA private schools. We don’t see the outrageousness found at other schools. I’m talking about play dates based solely on social status, not on the child’s friendships. Or enrolling a child in a school for the parent’s networking opportunities. That stuff is pretty non-existent at our school, thankfully.
When a parent gets involved in a dispute with a private school, it’s typically resolved privately. I don’t expect this to change. There’s way too much at stake for most families to risk a suing a school, no matter how wronged they feel or how many attorneys they have in their iPhone contacts.
Sidwell Friends and York Preschool certaintly aren’t the only schools to deal with disgruntled parents. Bad parent behavior has been created major problems at several LA private elementary schools in in the not so distant past. The operative word here is private. These scandals (involving sex, awful parent behavior and not-so-kosher sex) have remained private, known only to those at the school or in the larger private school community. Most unhappy families simply leave the school. When you’re paying $25,000 or more per year, per child, if you’re desperately unhappy, you pull your kid out of the school.
The high quality of the education is what makes private school worth it. I believe private school families have a common thread that keeps us at our respective schools, even if that thread isn’t so “common” or is sometimes badly frayed. When all is said and done, it’s about the education of our kids.

* This piece was originally published on 

Guest Blogger Jenny: The Memories of Mean Girls Endure

I have always fully admitted that I didn’t have a good adolescence. As a smart, somewhat dorky, gawky and bespectacled 13 year old, I entered a fancy, very well known private school. I was a year late because my parents had sort of dropped the ball on the whole middle school thing, so I ended up at Palms Junior High School for 7thgrade (a scary disaster, and then my parents scrambled to get me out of there).


My being a year late to private middle school wasn’t helpful, although in retrospect I don’t think starting in 7th grade at Crossroads would have made a difference. The sort of social scene present there in the early ‘80s was like something out of a John Hughes movie, except with palm fronds waving in the background. The popular girls were very tightly controlled by one girl in particular; she had bigger breasts and was meaner than the rest. Apparently, the other girls had to call this one girl every morning, just to make sure their outfits wouldn’t clash with hers.


My experience in classes with these girls was either that they completely ignored me or laughed at me behind my back. It really didn’t matter if there was a good reason or not. If I did well on, say, an oral report, it got turned into a negative (“You really memorized all that?” one of them asked me once with a sneer). The other option was no response whatsoever, as if I weren’t really there. Once, in 9th grade, I had a Cellophane temporary hair color go awry, turning my hair fairly purple. By 10th grade, this would be common place, but naturally I had to inadvertently be the school pioneer in hair dye. As I skulked through the halls with my hair ablazing, one girl’s announcement was thus: “She just wants attention. Let’s just ignore her.” ‘And how would that be any different from any other day’, I thought to myself.


Sometimes the popular boys followed the mean girls’ lead, making nasty comments about my lack of a bra size, or the aforementioned purple hair (one boy’s comment: “Did someone have her period on your head?”), or somehow turning my good grades into a negative. By sixteen, I was a black haired, black dressed, sulky nightmare of a teen; my parents nicknamed me “The Widow.” I was unfriendly, inadvertently channeling Ally Sheedy’s character in “The Breakfast Club.” Alternately being treated like a nobody or like a freak really weighed on me. Needless to say, college was a relief. Not only could I start over, but college kids weren’t really interested in that sort of victimization, anyway.


Cut to years later, on Facebook, becoming Facebook friends with that head mean girl. She “friended” me; I didn’t seek her out. And I honestly wanted to be the bigger person. After over twenty years, it seemed time to be a grown up. Those days were long gone, right? We exchanged pleasantries and I even featured a book she wrote on my blog. Why not let bygones be bygones.


But then one day, something snapped. A picture was posted online of three of the popular mean girls from my class (including the Facebook friend). It was probably taken a couple of years ago, at the beach, and there they were, the Trifecta of Terror. They looked very much the same. And viewing the image caused me a visceral reaction of rage and shame. Wow. ‘Up yours,’ I thought, staring at their self-satisfied faces with venom.


The funny thing is that those girls so many years ago weren’t even that awful. For all I know, they felt as horrible and awkward and bullied as I did (I’m really, really trying to be very adult here; the main mean girl had even posted, ironically, an anti-bullying article on her updates). These days, girl terror takes on sinister levels of sophistication, using emailing and texting and god knows what else to humiliate the victim.  I never had anything like that happen, yet my reaction to those relatively mild tormentors was strong. What will a truly cyber-bullied girl feel years from now?


I think of my daughter, who so far has been able to shake off any nasty mean girl behavior (and who, at least so far, doesn’t seem like a mean girl herself), and I really hope she keeps her sense of self as adolescence approaches. Because as much as I firmly believe in getting over things and getting on with life, some things, like the mean girls, appear to endure, sneaking up to sucker punch you on your Facebook page.



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 and on Mamapedia, The Well Mom, Sane Moms, Hybrid Mom, The Culture Mom and A Child Grows In Brooklyn. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Guest Blogger Samantha: Seeing "The Race To Nowhere" Made Me Grateful For Wildwood School


Did you see the film The Race to Nowhere?  Well, if you didn’t, you should.  I’m not here to critique filmmaking (as if everyone needs to be Ingmar Bergman), but this film really gives one food for thought.  Not to mention also giving you dyspepsia, and a bout of depression as you contemplate the state of the world, and more specifically, the state of education in this country.  Oy vey.


Basically, as stated in the petition on the film’s website, Race to Nowhere wants to “end the race” by implementing these basic ideas:


•  Support a broad based quality curriculum (including the arts and physical education) and teaching in every school;


•  Eliminate the competitive allocation of resources based on high stakes tests;


•  Reflect quality research and practices supporting the developmental needs of “whole” children and adolescents;


•  Foster diverse talents, develop 21st century and citizen skills and encourage the growth of individual students and teachers and respect for both; and


•  Restrict the number of hours students are in school and working on schoolwork outside of school hours.


Clearly, there are many problems with our educational template.  Some caused by politicians, some caused by teachers unions, some caused by Boards of Education, and yes, some caused by us – the parents.  When I was thinking about schools for my son, and then, in turn, for my daughter, I pondered many of these issues as a concerned and relatively well-informed parent.  After seeing The Race to Nowhere I thanked my lucky stars to have chosen the educational path that we did for our children and I thanked my lucky stars for Wildwood School.  Miraculously, Wildwood was addressing almost every single issue discussed in the film, and they had been doing it long before the topic became the “it” subject across the country.


The thought process that led me to Wildwood School was as follows:  Of course, I am interested in my child doing well academically.  But, I believe that doing well in school is a desire that has to be ignited in children; they have to associate school with that which is enjoyable.  If school starts reminding a child of what it feels like to take medicine, well, you’ve lost them already.  I figured that if I wanted a shot for my kids academically I had to pick a place where they would really learn to love learning.  I had to pick a place where the journey to academic mastery was as important as the mastery itself.  I had to pick a place where children could be children, and where joy in the classroom didn’t compete with test scores.  Luckily, I found Wildwood.


Here is how Wildwood embraces the ideas proposed in The Race to Nowhere:


Wildwood uses Best Practices, which are philosophies and practices based upon 32 years of research from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  This ongoing study has looked into how the brain works and how students, all students, learn best. See, here at Wildwood, educational research is put into practice. Wildwood has a learner centered curriculum, which means that the kids really like learning! They get to be part of their own learning process. Now come on, how cool is that?  Don’t you wish you’d gone to a school that did that?


Wildwood assesses children beyond standard letter grades by giving a multi-dimensional picture of student growth.  The whole child is evaluated, so you really know how your child is doing, not just how they are doing on a test.


Homework isn’t assigned arbitrarily, and isn’t formalized until 3rd grade.


Route memorization and cramming useless facts and figures into your head is NOT what is happening at Wildwood!  Instead, Wildwood incorporates Project Based Learning, which has been proven to be one of the most effective ways that children learn.  Really.  Google it. Project-based learning (PBL): is an approach for classroom activity that emphasizes learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary and student-centered.


And don’t fool yourself, kids at Wildwood work really hard, and they learn all the things that they need to be competitive for college and in life.


It’s just that they like doing it a little more than at other schools and they won’t get an ulcer before they graduate.


I found The Race To Nowhere, frankly, to be a calling card for Wildwood.  I watched some of my friends at more traditional schools give serious pause to some of their choices.  They started cutting back on extracurricular activities for their kids, slowing down a bit, toning down the pressure, and maybe giving a second look at Wildwood come Middle School application time…


And I smile, because I remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

Samantha Goodman is the mom of a Kindergartner at Wildwood School and a preschooler at 10th St. Preschool in Santa Monica. Samantha’s son also attended 10th St. Preschool. Before her current parenting hiatus she was a screenwriter in Hollywood.