Setting The Bar Just Right: Expectations That Are Challenging and Realistic by Anne Simon

"Metropolis" at LA County Museum of Art: Just Right!

Every private elementary school has its own set of expectations – academic, social, behavioral. When touring schools and considering them for your child and your family, it is helpful to try to get a sense of a school’s expectations so you can determine whether your child will thrive in the school.


While it is easy to see this as dividing into competitive vs. cooperative school environments, it is not quite that simple. It is a bit more of a spectrum between, for example, a school that sets up a strictly competitive model and believes that it is desirable for students to rank themselves and each other in all things. Another type of school might not have grades, keep score, or do summative evaluations of any kind. What is important is to find the school that fits your child.


Expectations are important – children do not know what they can achieve in a vacuum – they need something to measure up against in most things. A standard of excellence gives them this awareness. But these standards must be presented carefully and they must be realistic. What often becomes problematic is that children internalize this standard as a measure of their success or failure. This sets in motion the possibility of constructing an unhealthy competitive situation that can result in all kinds of issues of perfectionism, self worth problems, as well as insider/outsider feelings.


There is a rational way to set expectations without sacrificing the self esteem of our children. If we instill in them the concept of “personal best” and set this as the standard for our expectation of them, they are able to learn to self monitor their achievements in light of their own effort and capacity rather than the achievement of someone else or some vague idea of what excellence might be. This allows children to be challenged while remaining realistic and feel good about their efforts toward this goal. This is when you know that the bar has been set just right.


I have seen this ethic folded into the philosophy of schools that offer students a strong and competitive athletic program with great results. Students could push themselves as far as they were able and still champion the efforts and achievements of their classmates. This same idea was present in the classroom and evident in the caring and supportive relationships among the students and with their teachers.


 Of course there needs to be an ongoing dialogue between parents and teachers or coaches and the children in order for this concept to take hold and be effective. Consistently helping your child understand the idea of effort, persistence, and practice, and its value, will help him/her develop these skills. When it comes to looking at and choosing a school, try to get a grasp on how each school interprets this concept of expectations.


Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles. She has more than 30 years of experience as a head of school and private school administrator. She is the former head of the Wildwood Elementary School and the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School. Anne’s daughter, a veterinarian, is a graduate of Crossroads. 

The Scoop on Applying To L.A. Private Elementary Schools (re-post) and Upcoming Private School Events

Hi Friends!

There are several private school events on the calendar:


  • Beyond The Brochure event! Join Momangeles at Kidville in Brentwood for Demystifying the LA Private Elementary School Admissions Process led by our regular contributor Christina Simon of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles and co-author Porcha Dodson, with additional expert insight from school consultant Sandy Eiges of L.A. School Scout. This event is chock full of great information about the private elementary school application process and answer your questions. Discussion starts promptly at 7:00 pm. Topics will include:
      • Selecting Which Schools To Visit
      • The Parent Interview
      • Your Child’s Visiting/Testing Day
      • Letters of Recommendation
      • When To Use The Phrase, “if accepted, we will enroll”
      • What To Do If Your Child Is Wait-Listed
      • Financial Aid 

Tickets are $25.00 per person and $40.00 per couple. Visit Momangeles for more information.


  • Elementary School Admissions Directors (EASD) Fall 2012 Fair, September 27, 2012 at Campbell Hall. Visit, EASD for more details and read about the best tips for navigating the Fair on Launch Education’s blog.
  • Club Mom Me, “The Ins and Outs of Preschool in LA,” with Sandy Eiges and Michelle Nitka, Sat. Oct. 6, 2012 at 2 p.m. at Joslyn Park, Santa Monica. Visit, for more information.
  •  Curtis School Fair, Sunday, Oct. 14, 11-5, Open to the community, a great chance to see the school and have fun with your family!
  • Willows School Book Fair: Sunday, November 11, 11-4. This is my favorite school event…books, food, entertainment for the whole family. Open to the community.

Here’s a guest post I wrote for Mommy Poppins in March. I’m re-posting it because many of you are just beginning the school admissions process. I hope you find it helpful!

Here’s a quote from my Mommy Poppins piece:


“When my husband and I applied to kindergarten for my daughter, the schools seemed somewhat mysterious, like hidden gems. Neither of us attended private school, and most of these schools aren’t exactly an open book. Terms like “visiting day” and “parent interview” weren’t part of our daily vocabulary. That would soon change!”

Click on Mommy Poppins to read.



Wordless Weekend: Area Codes…310 and 626

My daughter dissecting a sheep's brain at UCLA's Young Doctor's Program, Dept. of Neurosurgery
Porcha and me, speaking at Aria Montessori Preschool, Pasadena. With the school's parent association leadership and director, Gillian (far right)
A personality on display!
We love our blow-outs: At DryBar, Sunset Plaza
Coldwater Canyon: A view from our street
The "Finding Balance as a Mom" panel at Kidville Brentwood: Club Mom Me, Show, Belly Bandit, Beyond The Brochure, WELLthy Families, Sleepy Planet, The Pump Station.


Stephen S. Wise Elementary School: A Very “Wise” Choice

A compelling corner of the campus

A sunny L.A. morning last week found me visiting Stephen S. Wise Elementary School for the first time. Headed by principal Tami Weiser, this Jewish Day School is tucked away on a picturesque campus nestled in the trees, accessible from a small private drive off Mulholland in Bel Air.


Tami welcomed me graciously into her office where Beth Behar, the admissions director, joined us. Our conversation flowed from general private school observations to the popular school Tami oversees. Within a few minutes, I quickly realized this is a school with a lot to offer!


Tami is an educator with many years of experience who is constantly seeking the best scholarly ideas in education to implement at the school. She is vibrant and likable. Her mood sparkles as she proudly talks about two of their signature programs: The Gifted Education Partnership with USC and The Studio Lab.


Peak viewing!


Tradition With A Twist

When I asked how she would describe the school’s educational philosophy, she responded, “This is a traditional school within a Reform congregation.” Speaking with the confidence we all want from the principal responsible for educating our kids, Tami was quick to point out there is a lot of experiential education taking place, making the school a hybrid of new and traditional ideas.  She was also effusive in her praise for the staff and board, who help make these ideas come to life.


One of three kindergarten classes


Walking around the sprawling campus with its low slung buildings that are punctuated by open spaces, Beth, one of the friendliest and most knowledgeable directors I’ve met, was happy to showcase the school. From the kindergarten classroom to the kindergarten play yard, kids dressed in their blue uniforms, were happily buzzing with activity.


The kindergarten playground


Stopping by a math class, we saw kids gathered on a rug as the young, energetic teacher discussed a math concept. They were focused and engaged. Science class students were finishing up a project.


Earthworks: The school garden


Gifted Education, Re-interpreted

One of the school’s signature programs is its unique partnership with USC Professor Dr. Sandra Kaplan, a gifted education expert. Putting their combined talents to work, the elementary school and the University have created implemented a program that ensures “every student is exposed to a gifted curriculum and high level learning experiences.”* This collaboration between the principal and the professor is an integral part of the school’s curriculum for every kid, not only those who are gifted.


Weiser shares, “It is our belief that children are gifted in different ways; be it intellectually, creatively, artistically or athletically. Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School recognizes and cultivates these gifts.” *


According to the school’s website, “Our program provides a variety of teaching and learning strategies by grouping children according to their achievement in reading, math and Hebrew; and in homogeneous groups in writing, social studies and specialist areas of technology, science, music and art. These learning experiences provide children with the opportunity to build critical, problem solving and research skills, be creative and innovative, and exhibit leadership and responsibility.


Project Studio: Innovation happens here


Project Studio

Entering Project Studio, teacher Jason Meth was busy setting up maps on the floor of a large open classroom before his students arrived. He explained that Project Studio is a space for kids to explore, solve problems and learn in a space without the constraints of tables, chairs and desks. This encourages connection and collaboration between students and between teacher and students. A smart board and other technologies are at the center of this inquiry-based program.


It is important to note that Jewish education is a major theme at Stephen S. Wise. Jewish ethical and spiritual values, along with Hebrew as a second language are taught.


How cool! Fun and safety in the pool

There are 350 students in the school, with two teachers per grade. Importantly, the school disburses $800,000 annually in financial aid (that’s a lot of money that is most welcome in these uncertain economic times).


Where Graduates Go

Most of the school’s graduates attend Milken Middle School and Milken Community High School of Stephen S. Wise Temple, but of those who did not, all 21 were accepted at secondary schools of their choice. Graduates attend Milken, Harvard-Westlake, Brentwood, Buckley, Windward, Campbell Hall, Oakwood and Archer.


My experience touring Stephen S. Wise Elementary School provided me with an up close look at a remarkable school.


For more information, visit,

* Source: Stephen S. Wise Elementary website




Pasadena: Great Private Schools, Lots of Competition To Get In

It’s no surprise that Pasadena is a desirable place for families to live. Beautiful homes, historic venues, ethnic diversity and lots to do make the city a sought after location to raise a family. But, when it comes to educating your kids there, you may be surprised at how competitive it can be to gain acceptance to a top private school.


Pasadena has a seemingly large number of private schools given its geographic size. But, what makes Pasadena different than any other competitive private school market? A few important factors converge within Pasadena to create highly desirable private schools, with far more applications than available openings for kindergarten.


Geography. Pasadena has about 50 private schools within the boundaries of the Pasadena Unified School District (source: Pasadena Sun).  However, the demand for top private schools in Pasadena still far exceeds the supply of available spaces. Part of the challenge for applicant families is that those parents who live outside Pasadena in surrounding areas also apply to Pasadena schools. But, families who live in Pasadena find it difficult to apply to schools in Studio City or Santa Monica. So, incoming applications from outside the San Gabriel Valley add to the volume of applicants, while L.A. schools are less desirable for families living in the city due to driving distance.


Legacy Families. Part of what makes Pasadena such a close-knit, wonderful community is the fact that families remain there for many generations. These same families also send their kids to the schools they attended. Tradition is an important part of what makes Pasadena unique. Some families have been in the city for many generations. This makes the “legacy factor” a formidable part of the Pasadena private school community. Legacies who date back many generations with a school and who have remained active alumni, are well positioned (but not guaranteed) to gain admission. Some schools have deeper legacy ties than others, particularly the older schools who have adult alumni with their own kids and grandchildren. Legacy families are both wealthy and middle income. Some need financial aid. But, competition is so fierce that even legacy families worry about getting in and therefore apply to multiple schools!



If you’re planning to apply to private elementary schools in the Pasadena area, you’ll find a mix of traditional, religious and progressive schools. As we’ve said before, tour schools to see for yourself whether they will be right for your child and your family. Don’t take the word of another parent. Don’t listen to rumors about a specific school. Go see it with your own eyes!


One of my friends was born and raised in Pasadena. Her family has lived in the city for many generations and her children attend the same private school she graduated from. She is now on the board of her children’s school. They are a middle-income family and she was a Rose Queen. When I asked her what advice she would give to prospective parents, she said “Pay attention to the school’s mission statement. If its filled with words like, “tradition” and “community”, make sure you understand what that really means for each particular school. 


My friend makes an excellent point by emphasizing the role tradition plays in some Pasadena private schools. However,  what “tradition” means to one family could have an entirely different meaning to another family. This is especially true for parochial schools, where it is expected that families endorse the school’s religious traditions, values and practices.  Do school uniforms convey tradition to you? What about a salute to the flag or a big, extravagant Christmas celebration? What if you don’t celebrate Christmas? Will you be offended if school events are held at private, membership-only country clubs? If a school’s tradition includes having kids harvest and cook vegetables from the school garden, what would you think? These are the type of questions to keep in mind when you read a school’s mission statement as well as when you compile a list of qualities you’re seeking in a school.


Another mom with a child who entered Polytechnic this September, has some helpful tips from her admissions experience:

“For reasons unrelated to the application process, my husband and I wrote a mission statement detailing our family values and goals about a year before we applied.  Writing this mission statement not only proved to be extremely helpful in aligning our family values with our individual and familial activities, but also served as a blueprint for our responses to the essay questions.


She continues, “The kindergarten application process is your time to show that you are “walking the walk” and not just “talking the talk.” When speaking of family values some may reference the arts, community service, athletics or diversity, but at the root of all the essay questions is whether your reverence for those values is reflected in your activities with your child.Mom of Polytechnic kindergartner (She is a graduate of Polytechnic) 


When I asked a dad I know why Pasadena private schools are so competitive, his half-serious answer was, “Parental hysterical!” – Chandler School Dad 


When applying, you should note that Pasadena school use Integrated Learning Solutions to administer testing required as part of the kindergarten application process. (L.A. schools test kids at their own schools).


Here are a few previous posts related to Pasadena area private schools:

1. Our Waverly School Experience by Samantha Sackin

2. The Pasadena Private Schools Race: Families Face Competition In Private Schools Race-Pasadena Sun

3. How To Apply To Private Elementary Schools by Christina Simon in the S. Pasadena Patch.