Finding The “Best” School by Sandy Eiges, LA School Scout

Centro Infantil Municipal in El Chaparral, Granada, Spain. Photo: Timbuktu Magazine
Kindergarten. Centro Infantil Municipal in El Chaparral, Granada, Spain. Photo: Timbuktu Magazine

I know, we’ve talked about this before, and I am constantly being asked which school I consider to be “the best.” It can be frustrating for parents to figure out what is “the best” school for their child, be it preschool, elementary, middle or high – or even college. But the reality is that there is no unilateral “best.” Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.


For those of you who need a definitive answer (all of us!) I know this can be maddening. For those of you who have high-performing children, who would tear their hair out with boredom if in an undemanding environment where the norm falls far below their abilities and there is little or no differentiation for high ability kids, well, your path is clear. Your child will be happy in an academically demanding, highly structured environment.


If you are not that parent, but you have that child, well, good luck there. Not every school is a perfect fit for the whole family. If you go with your preference, your high ability kid may start acting out in ways that make it look like they are struggling. They are struggling – and might need a classroom where that same energy is being used to master more demanding material. Their brains are hungry for that finely ordered style of learning.


There are some less structured, more child-driven educational environments that have the same level of high expectations as the more structured classroom – but you might not see them that way. What they’re doing in the classroom is hands-on, no one is memorizing a thing, parents seem to love the school but you have no idea what your child is actually doing day-to-day – this might be a fit for your child but it might not be a school for you.


Whatever your choice is in schools, you really do need to “drink the Kool-Aid”™ or the whole experience will not be a match for you.


If you have a task-driven child, it goes without saying that you want to give them those tasks. If you have a deep or original thinker, or a “creative kid,” the mundane tasks of learning – repetition, memorization, detail – may hold no interest whatsoever. If they are in a school environment that is less structured, they might thrive. For some, though, they will need to “do the detail” in order to keep their lofty ideas grounded. Figuring out what might be the right match is not as easy as it seems.


So that notion of “best”? It’s really a moving target, based on too many inconsistent factors.


The key here is to make sure that you’re offering your child the school that fits who they are, not just who you are. Sometimes that’s an easy guess; sometimes not. Take a look at the variety of schools out there, and make your best choice. That’s all that any parent can do.


If you need help with any part of this process, that’s why I’m here. Trying to decide between “progressive” and “traditional”? Considering a move from public to private? Are you concerned that your child might have some learning issues which did not surface until they started school? We can help you with all of your school-related questions.


Sandy Eiges is the founder of LA School Scout, one of LA’s premier educational consulting firms.

Sandy Eiges
Sandy Eiges, M.S.W.
L.A. School Scout

LA Private School Moms “It Bags” By Campus on The Daily Truffle

Phillip Lim
Phillip Lim’s chic handbag will play a staring role at one Valley school

Every private school has its own signature style. What could be more definitive than a handbag to showcase one’s personal style? After checking in with our well-placed sources at various schools, here are some of the hottest designer handbags that we hear will be fixtures on the arms of some of LA’s chicest moms.


Of course, well-to-do moms at several elite schools will be seen carrying the same uber-hot brands like Celine. At other schools, edgy moms will be setting their own trends with lesser known and new designers. Either way, its fun to watch as morning drop-off becomes the catwalk.  After all, nothing glams up a pair of Lululemon yoga pants faster than a Celine Tote. Me? I’m still carrying my gorgeous Reed Krakoff from 2012…can it go another season? We’ll see. It has a lot of competition from the Celine bag and a Prada I’ve got my eye on.


See our collaboration with LA’s favorite social site, The Daily Truffle for a campus by campus list of “It bags!”

This Goyard tote bag will be seen at lots of private schools around town.
Tote it! This Goyard tote bag will be seen at lots of private schools around town.


Hugh Gallagher’s NYU Admissions Essay (really?)


Our recent family vacation to D.C. My kid on a canoe. West River, MD.
There’s still time to be a kid. Our recent family vacation to D.C. My daughter and a family friend on a canoe, West River, MD.

Best. Essay. Ever. Humorist Hugh Gallagher’s brilliant and funny admissions essay for a writing contest and possibly for NYU, his alma mater. I re-read it every once in a while. It’s one of my favorites because it makes me laugh out loud and reminds me to take a step back and try not to get caught up in the pressure many of us feel to ensure that our kids achieve and over-achieve. -Christina



Essay Question: In order for the admissions staff of our college to get to know you, the applicant, better, we ask that you answer the following question: are there any significant experiences you have had, or accomplishments you have realized, that have helped to define you as a person?


Gallagher ‘s Essay:

I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently.


Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.


I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.


Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants.


I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.


I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller ‘number nine’ and have won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400.


My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.


I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.


I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four course meals using only a mouli and a toaster oven.


I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.


But I have not yet gone to college.


Why Your Preschool Director May Be Your Best Ally During Admissions


Gorgeous front garden at Montessori Shir-Hashirim Preschool
Gorgeous front garden at Montessori Shir-Hashirim Preschool

I’ve written about the role preschool directors play in private elementary school admissions. I’ve talked about how I truly appreciated Elena Cielak at Montessori Shir-Hashirim, who helped us get my daughter into Willows, Oakwood and Wildwood, the three schools where we applied.


But, Elena’s job wasn’t easy. The line at her door during peak admissions season was long and she was fielding phone calls from anxious parents all day long. I met with Elena once formally and several times in the preschool hallway. She suggested schools for us to tour, steered us away from schools she didn’t think were right for our child and assured us we’d get in. She was right. But, Elena is one of a select few preschool directors who are able to navigate the rocky waves of admissions on behalf of all her families each year. She had visited many of the top-tier schools and was known by admissions directors. Some preschool directors aren’t interested in playing that role, preferring to let families go it alone. Others send most of their kids to public school and are uniformed about private school admissions. They are also unconnected from the all-important admissions directors.


Making sure your preschool director is your ally, not your adversary during admissions is key to a successful admissions outcome.


Here are a few ways to ensure preschool director is an ally during admissions:


1. Find out whether he/she is well-connected with schools that interest you by asking director and talking to other parents. If your preschool director knows the admissions director at schools where you’ll be applying, let her know early. She will be able to mention that to the school the next time she talks to the admissions director. If your director isn’t familiar with a school(s) you like, ask if she’d be willing to go on a tour to see the school and get to know the staff.


2. Understand that your preschool director knows your child and may have strong opinions about the right school for him/her. Respect the director’s opinion and tour some of the schools she suggests. Ask why she feels so strongly about a particular school for your child. If there are a lot of kids applying to a school that year, ask her to be candid about your chances (in other words, will she advocate for your kid).


3. If there has been tension between you and your preschool director, try to clear the air before you start asking her to fill out admissions forms. Being on good terms is essential to this process.


4. Realize that no matter how much you want something, it may not be possible. A lot of preschool directors won’t advocate for a family for a specific school. There are many reasons for this, including she may have other families in mind for that school or she just doesn’t think your child will do well there.


5. Build a relationship early with your preschool director. Let her know you’re aiming for private school. Get involved with the school, get to know her, volunteer, try to stay calm when things go wrong at school (it is almost inevitable that little things will happen at preschool to upset you or your child…try to remain even tempered).


6. Your preschool director is balancing a lot of complicated requests, jockeying parental interests and school politics (hers and the elementary school(s). She is likely trying to determine the best fit for each kid, the chances they will get in and make sure everyone gets a spot somewhere so nobody is shut out. This doesn’t mean she’s your adversary, it means she has a lot of interests to fulfill on behalf of a lot of families at her preschool. Her preschool’s reputation is important to her. Placing your child is important and so is pleasing powerful admissions directors at top elementary schools. She will also want to make sure that if she advocates strongly for your child at a specific school, you really want to attend if your child is accepted. Nothing will upset her more than a family who begs and pleads for her to help them get into a competitive school, only to turn it down.


7. Be cautious about what you say to your preschool director and other parents. If you know a board member at a competitive school, no need to broadcast that fact. Tell your preschool director only if you like the school. If you don’t plan to apply there, don’t play that card because you may find yourself being pushed to apply to the school based on the connection to a board member.


8. In Beyond The Brochure we include a copy of the detailed form your preschool director fills out for school’s where you’re applying. You don’t see her answers to the form’s questions, but you want to do everything possible to make sure your family and child are portrayed positively. That doesn’t mean perfection. She will be honest. But, you control whether you pay your tuition on time and volunteer at the school.


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Weekend Links: Yearbook Pics By Celeb Photographer, Matt Damon’s Kids Attend Progressive LA Private School

The Second Edition: Coming Sept./Oct. 2013!
The Second Edition: Coming Sept./Oct. 2013!

Much controversy has ensued over the idea of offering subsidized loans for preschool for middle-income families in NYC (middle income can mean $200K/year in NYC) (Slate) and a super-snarky take on the issue in Jezebel


Not surprising. LA Private Schools Using Celebrity Photographers For Yearbooks (


Why Private Schools Are Dying Out. This story sites charter schools as competition for private schools. Really interesting read. (The Atlantic)


Helpful if you’re undecided about public or private school. What To Consider When Thinking About Public or Private School (Great Schools)


We The People documentary chronicles controversial new charter school law in Los Angeles public school, called the Parent Trigger Law. (The Daily Beast)


An amazing, touching article on Friday by my friend and former neighbor at Cal Berkeley, Kurt Streeter. Kurt chronicles the first year of a Cal Freshman from South L.A. Spoiler alert: This may make you cry. (LA Times)


In case you missed it, from our Facebook page this week:

Matt Damon decides to send his kids to LA private schools, despite his advocacy for public schools. Lots of discussion, comments on our FB page. (Daily Mail)


Experiential Learning at Seven Arrows School, Palisades. A wonderful progressive school. (Launch Education Group)


This is devastating to this school…Nine filthy rich board members resign from Horace Mann prep school in NYC, over handling of a sex scandal. (NY Post)


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