Viewpoint School Selects New Headmaster

Mark McKee, Viewpoint School's new headmaster with his family
Mark McKee, Viewpoint School’s new headmaster with his family

I’m so excited to welcome our school’s new headmaster! Of course, we’re glad Dr. Dworkoski isn’t going too far…after 28 years as headmaster, he’s been named the president of the Viewpoint Educational Foundation).–Christina


Following an international Search, Viewpoint School’s Board of Trustees unanimously selected Mark McKee as Viewpoint’s next Head of School. Mark is currently Head of School at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School in San Mateo, California, and is a recognized educator of national repute. Mark will assume his role at Viewpoint on July 1, 2015.


Mark brings impressive leadership skills to Viewpoint, but as he pointed out to us many times during the search process, his first and most important role is that of an educator. After graduating from Harvard College, Mark joined Polytechnic School in Pasadena as an English teacher. While teaching at Poly, he completed a Master’s program and further graduate study in English from U.C. Irvine. He also became Poly’s Director of Technology and Director of Summer School. He next served as Head of Upper School at Chase Collegiate School, a PK-12 school in Waterbury, Connecticut, for seven years, where he fostered collaboration and built the academic reputation of the program. He was named Head of School at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School in 2007.


During his time at St. Matthews, Mark has revitalized curricular and program development while focusing on the critical skills of a 21st century education. He has led the development and substantial completion of the school’s strategic plan, including its first-ever capital campaign and the addition of $22 million worth of construction. Mark is currently completing his Ed.D. dissertation for a doctorate in Education Leadership from Columbia University’s Teachers College.


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Happiest Holidays: Photos, Good Reads and Gratitude….

December 7. Late night after the holiday party.
December 7. Enjoying the flowers after A Holiday Party In The Spirit of Generosity

Happy Holidays 2014

I hope everyone is having a wonderful winter break. My family is definitely enjoying the time off from our normal routine. We’re hiking with our pit bull Cocoa, watching too much HGTV and Gossip Girl, cooking, sleeping late, playing tennis and seeing friends.

Christina and Jessica Gottlieb. Party time!
Christina and Jessica Gottlieb

Our family started the holiday season with a holiday party we co-hosted at our home with my fabulous friend Jessica Gottlieb (some of you probably read her popular blog). When Jessica and I realized we’re both friends with the same inspiring mom whose 11 year-old son is battling Leukemia, we decided to host a party to raise money for our friend’s huge expenses that aren’t covered by insurance (hospital parking, tutors for a year of missed school… and so much more) as her son continues his multi-year chemotherapy treatment. Los Angeles is a big city, but for one night we brought together a “village” for our friend who was deeply touched by the outpouring of generosity. We raised $5,500, including a contribution from Beyond The Brochure. You can see the photos and read about this very special party here.


Gratitude extends to all of you who read this blog and buy the book! Thank you!


We went to see my daughter’s first performance in the Viewpoint middle school Jazz Band. Wow! The band opened the Holiday Concert with jazzy versions of Winter Wonderland and Frosty The Snowman. All those hours and hours my daughter spent practicing the guitar, taking lessons, learning the songs, getting to the 7:00 a.m. class every week were so worth it. I’m waiting for the DVD since I didn’t take any photos. The band was amazing!

Earl Watson Elite 2


If you have a kid who plays club sports, you know that tournaments are year-round so we’ve been in Orange County for the past two weeks for basketball tournaments. My son loves sports, plays hard and doesn’t get rattled when his team loses (huge losses both weekends). I love his competitive spirit and good sportsmanship.


Here are some good reads from around the web:

Time’s Up For Time Out. A discussion of parenting discipline techniques through the decades in The Atlantic.


Trying To Make Mom Friends Is The Worst. Like the author, I too underestimated how hard it was/is to make mom friends. But, when the stars align, really great mom friends are everything.  In New York Magazine.


The Last Thing I Expected People To Say About My Daughter. If you’re a mom who had kids later in life i.e. your mid-late 30s, did anybody ever ask if you’re their grandmother? This has never happened to me (thankfully!). One mom writes about her experience being mistaken for her daughter’s grandmother and her husband the grandfather. On


If you haven’t checked out the hilarious (ficticious) Los Feliz Daycare on Twitter, it’s a must-read. Here’s one very funny Tweet. #Repost: LFDC


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Notre Dame Academy Elementary and Middle School: A Traditional Catholic School For The 21st Century

Notre Dame Front


Notre Dame Academy Elementary and Middle School (NDA) in West Los Angeles is a traditional Catholic (Transitional Kindergarten-8th Grade) located on a picturesque campus in West L.A. It is located next to its sister school, Notre Dame Academy High School (all girls). NDA’s quaint, statuesque façade may be familiar to Westsiders, since it has been a landmark on Overland, south of the Westside Pavilion for 60 years. The school is a small, safe hamlet within big, bustling Los Angeles.


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NDA is a co-ed, private school run by The Sisters of Notre Dame and a Board of Trustees. It is affiliated with the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles but is not a parish-supported school. NDA is a traditional Catholic school in the sense that religion class is taught for TK-8, teachers must be Catholic and there is school wide prayer every morning. Upon entering and leaving the classroom, students say a quiet prayer (so quiet in fact that I didn’t even notice until it was pointed out to me). Students wear uniforms and the Sacraments are taught by a Sister in the lower grades.


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The school’s mission is as follows: “Guided by the Educational Principles of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the mission to proclaim God’s goodness and provident care, the faculty and staff of Notre Dame Academy believe that a solid instruction in Catholic doctrine and practices is essential for shaping morally centered adults.”


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NDA exemplifies modern Catholic education. It is a religious school in every sense of the word. Yet it is contemporary, both in its curriculum and its bold use of technology. I was intrigued by the blending of old and new at this distinguished private school.


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Meeting Lilliam Paetzold, the principal for a tour and interview was like being greeted by a dear friend. She’s such a burst of positive energy. Warm, intelligent and dynamic, she is excited about the school’s tremendous advances over the past five years which include a major project: to implement an updated curriculum map, which includes a significant new technology component. Lilliam is herself a graduate of NDA and her connection to the school is genuine and heartfelt. She is completing her 4th year as principal and her 25th year as an educator.


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The curriculum map was created to ensure Common Core standards are met. Spanish, Technology, Drama, Music, Art, Debate and P.E. are included in the weekly schedule. Enrichment classes are offered in music, yoga and other fun subjects. School athletics begin in 3rd grade. Choir is offered for grades 2nd-8th. There is a resource specialist on staff. NDA has many of the “bells and whistles” of a non-religious private school, making its admissions more competitive than many other Catholic schools.


NDA is consciously, thoughtfully utilizing the best practices in the education world. The school’s major focus on an updated curriculum with an integrated technology plan is impressive and carefully engineered. The classrooms are almost all updated with a few left to be re-designed. The amount of resources and hard work that has gone into the curriculum map is a signal that the school fully embraces teaching and learning for its current students and beyond.


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Perhaps the most important aspects of the curriculum update is the full integration of technology into the classroom, with a technology coordinator and training for teachers and staff to ensure systematic use of new technologies.


For grades 4th-8th, there is a 1:1 iPad program, which is integrated with the curriculum (this means kids use the iPad for real learning, not just for fun or searching online). For grades TK-3, there are 2 iPad carts in the classrooms.


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In middle school (grades 6th-8th), there is a student broadcast studio filled with all kinds of Apple equipment. The middle school offers a host of tech electives including robotics, web design and coding. Students in the middle school use iPads for their books, note taking, and project sharing and collaborating. One very talented middle schooler won an award or his iPad animated video, “An Interview with Martin Luther King, Jr.” from the LA County Office of Education.


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Using the most up-to-date technology helps ensure students work independently on platforms like IXL Math and Spelling City. Apps and programs track real time progress that is monitored by teachers and instruction is differentiated. Teachers are supplied with–and trained to use–Mac Books and iPads to create a true technology-based curriculum. Interestingly, students remain with the same teacher for science, math and English for grades 5th-8th to help ensure a smooth from elementary to middle school. There is a 5th grade study skills program to help students prepare for 6th grade.


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Parents benefit from the school’s use of technology, including social media, to communicate, plan events, order healthy hot lunch online and ensure it is easy to keep up to date with everything that’s happening with just a click of the computer.


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NDA students are diverse, coming from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. About 25 percent of the student body is non-Catholic (most are Christian and they aren’t required to take communion).


After passing by this quaint school many times, I was pleased to finally visit it. I absolutely loved the school! It is impressive on many levels. NDA adheres to a personalized approach for each child. It summons a nostalgia-tinged memory of an era gone by, at the same time it is thoroughly modern and so right now it in its educational philosophy. There’s nothing stodgy about this faith-based learning institution. This combination makes it fairly unique among Catholic elementary and middle schools. Notre Dame’s covetable use of technology is a signature aspect of its commitment to state-of-the-art education. The emphasis on technology is the finishing touch on an already robust school.


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Charity work includes St. Anne’s Food Pantry, Halloween Candy for Operation Gratitude and funds raised for a sister school in Uganda, among other causes that are both parent and student led.


At NDA there is one class per grade with two teachers in per class. TK has approximately 20 students, with kindergarten and grades 1st-8th average 30 students. There are 280 students, with a student to faculty ratio of 10:1.


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NDA is an academically rigorous, traditional school with a meticulous commitment to Catholic teachings. The school equips its graduates with the skills to aim high, to become future leaders or whatever they want to be in life. Notre Dame graduates exemplify a strong moral and spiritual foundation. The school retains a personalized approach to each child, exactly what all kids need during their formative years. All of this is a wonderful endeavor indeed.


NDA students matriculate to the following schools for 9th grade: Notre Dame Academy High School (girls), Loyola, Notre Dame High School, Marymount, St. Monica, Crespi, Pacifica Christian and Marlborough.


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For more information: 


PS1’s Point of View: Purposeful, Progressive, Pluralism (co-authored by Matt Steiner)

PS 1 outside


There’s something captivating about PS1 (Pluralistic School One). Of course, the immediate impact of the award-winning sustainable campus, built from the ground up on an acre in Santa Monica, is remarkable. It’s a series of buildings where the architecture encourages exploration into every inch of the creatively constructed school. Modern classrooms surround a central outdoor space, perfect for gathering and playing. There’s plenty of shade in just the right places, provided in part by a 100-year-old oak tree. There’s an easy indoor-outdoor feel that makes this urban school instantly welcoming. It’s a place you’ll want to stay a while, like the parents I observed, who’d dropped off their kids and stayed to chat with each other.


PS1 1


PS1 asks, encourages, requests parents to be a part of the school community, modeling an inclusive school community for the students. We absolutely love the philosophy at PS1, where the school is part of an extended community in which parents raise their kids. Trust us when we say this doesn’t happen accidentally at private schools. It takes unwavering school leadership to set the tone for an inclusive, connected community and encourage even the most reluctant cynics to help foster these relationships through events and volunteerism.


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The outdoor courtyard is where I ran into Lisa Perttula, a PS1 mom and herself an educator. Before the prospective parent tour started, Lisa and I spent a few minutes talking about the school. Lisa loves this place where her family feels so immersed in its activities. The Perttulas have strong ties to the school (her mom is on the board) and her kids are thriving and happy there. We talked mostly about the school’s remarkable ability to educate a wide array of kids from different backgrounds.


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The tour began with remarks from Joel Pelcyger, the head of school. He co-founded the school in 1971, when he was just 24 years old! A bold, ambitious task that was no small feat, Joel has stayed true to his mission and thus the school has too. PS1’s unique brand of progressive education is the result of Joel’s vision and work, along with his co-founder and team. The place Joel occupies as a leader in the forefront of progressive education has remained powerful for more than three decades. This experience gives PS1 the confidence to teach what it believes, to incorporate the latest in educational best practices and to resist pressure to conform to ideas it doesn’t believe serve children well (i.e. teaching to the test). The result is a fabulous mélange of big ideas that come together inside the classroom and extend to the school community. “Pluralism is the belief that a community is enriched when individual differences are respected and welcomed.” A founding value of PS1, this concept is woven into all aspects of the school.


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Joel opened the tour by welcoming the packed room of about 80 prospective parents. He is bright and engaging, candid and committed, reminding me of one of my favorite college professors at UC Berkeley. He imparts strong, well-honed beliefs about the state of education in 2014. Overall, he sees the U.S. educational system as one which creates a “high-pressure environment where the focus in on success at any cost.” The result, he says, is “kids cheating on standardized tests and trying desperately to get ahead.” Astutely, he observed, this approach is “unbalanced and lacks engagement…we need engagement and performance, not just performance.” The essence of his brand of progressive education the belief that creativity, innovation, storytelling and critical thinking get young people jobs, creates entrepreneurs and leads to lifelong success. Learning, he believes, should be for life not just for the sake of learning to get through school. “Start with fitting in by being yourself,” Joel believes. That is the essence of pluralism.


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Pluralism, Learning, and ‘Self-Making’

In order to fully appreciate PS1’s program, it’s helpful to have an understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of pluralism. We can then use this understanding to analyze the school’s curriculum and how it upholds pluralistic virtues.


At the root of pluralism is the notion that individuals espouse different beliefs about ‘truth, goodness, and beauty.’ These divergent belief systems, although occasionally in conflict with one another, are honored for the complexity and richness that they bring to a community. Put another way, pluralism recognizes that there is not a singular framework through which every person should construct a meaningful life. For example, a collectivist society that values collaboration, solidarity, and the well-being of the group is not more or less important than a society that highlights individual success, autonomy, and independent leadership. Pluralism allows space for multiple ways of being.  


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At PS1, students are celebrated for the unique histories, heritage, and life experience that they bring to the school. Simultaneously, they are offered the opportunity to explore who they are and to shape their identities through the numerous creative and academic pursuits offered on-campus. Essays on family histories, learning style and personality inventories, and a vast number of visual arts and music projects allow children – even as early as kindergarten – to think about who they are and tinker with their evolving identities. Unlike some of PS1’s more traditional peer schools – which may emphasize the cultivation of an ‘academic’ self above all things – PS1 empowers its students to steer the process of self-making, to be introspective, and to see themselves reflected in schoolwork. Academics are incredibly important, but they are not the sole focal point of an education at PS1.


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A clear example of PS1’s commitment to ‘plural self-making’ is its recent launch of the STEAM Studio program (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math). The Studio is, quite literally, an intellectual and creative playground filled with art supplies, gadgets, and building materials (I’m reminded of the ‘black box’ experimental theaters that are popular in college). Under the supervision of the Studio’s director, Abbie Perttula, a veteran PS1 teacher with 43 years of experience, children engage in collaborative and experiential projects connected to what they are doing in their respective classes. The Studio is an ideal space for the early self-expression and reflection mentioned above. In addition to simply being a ‘fun’ place, the Studio grants students a sense of self-possession that is atypical of elementary learners.


PS1 uses a developmental approach. Every kid learns in different ways, at different rates and at different times. The school’s teaching techniques help each child reach his/her maximum potential. There is, says Joel, “an element of genius in every one of us.”


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The size of PS1 is intentionally small. It is a K-6 with 220 students. All classes are multi-age, called “clusters” with a 2-year age range. There are two lead teachers for every class and 5 full-time specialists for music, PE, art, drama and library.


There’s a happy adrenaline that flows through PS1. As the tour visited classrooms, we stopped in at one of the two K-1 classes where were working on a writing workshop. Every classroom has a shared outdoor space to connect it to its neighboring classroom. In the 2-3 grade class, kids were talking about their social justice study unit. There is a lot collaborative group work among the students. The science unit focused on energy was using computers to research wind, solar and geothermal energy. The kids were articulate and engaged, willing to explain their work to us as we stopped into their classrooms. The classrooms are big and bright, humming with the kids’ sense of fun, exuberance and creativity. PS1 uses traditional teacher-directed lessons in combination with students working in groups and individually.


PS1 is a plastic-free, nut-free school, with an emphasis on eco-friendly practices and sustainability. Financial aid based on need is available at PS1. The school allocates nearly 15 percent of its tuition to financial assistance. This is about $900,000 annual in financial aid.


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Students graduation from PS1 and go on to Crossroads, Marlborough, Harvard-Westlake, Brentwood, Windward, Viewpoint, Archer, New Roads, Chadwick, Paul Revere and Lincoln Middle School, among others. PS1 admits students from over 50 preschools and zip codes in the greater L.A. area.


At PS1, the equation is clear: instead of knowledge acquisition with a singular focus on performance outcomes, students are taught, inspired and encouraged to be engaged learners who embrace differences.  These are tools and skills that will be acquired during students’ formative years at PS1. These are the same skills that will empower kids and easily translate into the real world. A powerful notion exists here: there is immense value in fitting in by being yourself. Community, acceptance, self-expression, non-tradition, engagement, diversity, learning, gratitude, future, community service. In a word, PLURALISM.


For more information, visit 


I enjoyed collaborating with my friend and colleague Matt Steiner on this piece!–Christina

Matt Steiner has worked in the fields of elementary and secondary education for nearly 10 years. His nuanced knowledge of elementary schools is informed by his relationships with admission directors, school placement consultants, and his many visits to private schools in Los Angeles. He is currently the Director of Marketing at Compass Education Group, a test preparation firm that specializes in private SAT, ACT, and ISEE tutoring. 


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Holiday Gift Giving: One Private School’s Guide


When a friend forwarded me this message from her kid’s school to all parents, I had to post it, of course. While I’m not mentioning the school name, I will say it this gift list is clearly not voluntary, despite claims to the contrary. But, most of all, the ranked order of staff and dollar amounts for their gifts is cringe-worthy. If it were me, I’d double triple the gift amount for the facilities staff. Take that, posh Westside private school! 


From the school:


We invite you to participate in the holiday gift-giving program for our faculty and staff. This program is designed to give them monetary gifts instead of presents to show our appreciation for their dedication to our children.

Attached is a list of our faculty and staff (except for XX and XX few staffers), who are not eligible for cash gifts).

Your gifts are completely voluntary, and you can give any amount to as few or to as many people as you wish. Some parents have also asked us for a gift-giving guideline:

Lead Classroom Teachers: $50-$75
Lead Specialist Teachers
(Spanish, Technology, Music, P.E., Art, Science, Library):
Assistant Teachers (both classroom and specialist assistants): $15-$25
Staff (office staff, facilities, administration): $10-$15



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