Catalyst: A Learning Hub, New Private Middle School Opening Sept. 2019 in Agoura Hills

I’m always excited to share information about new private schools. Here’s news from Catalyst: A Learning Hub. –Christina

Revolutionary Independent Middle School Opens Its Doors to 6th– 8th Graders

From the founders of The Sycamore School in Malibu, an independent elementary school featuring a challenging curriculum rooted in collaboration, innovation, and learning through play and creativity, comes CATALYST: A Learning Hub, a revolutionary middle school based on the same foundational belief that education must be humanized for the 21st Century. Assumptions of the industrial-age-model of schooling are no longer sufficient for children to thrive in the 21st Century. Students are given choice with the aim of becoming self-directed, autonomous problem solvers, who create meaning in the world around them. CLH will open in Agoura Hills in September, 2019. CLH is the realization of Los Angeles-based Catalyst Education’s vision and philosophy and was founded on the belief that education must evolve to meet the needs of a connected and evolving world. Its three founders, Tedd Wakeman, AJ Webster, and Christy Durham, comprise the leadership team at The Sycamore School, founded in 2015 in Malibu. They bring their distinctive approach to learning and extensive experience to CLH as its founding Leadership Team. 

“We are very excited to bring an alternative option for middle school education to families from Malibu and the west valley. We are thrilled to be able to take this next step, building on our experiences, relevant research, and the latest brain science in education,” says Tedd Wakeman, Catalyst Learning Hub. “The world we live in now demands a different approach to education. Students need a learning experience that is engaging, continuous, and future focused, allowing them to thrive in a connected and evolving world.” CLH is located on the campus of the Gateway Foursquare Church off Agoura Road, north of Kanan and west of the 101 Fwy. Three school buildings are surrounded by trees, grass and green flora, which also serve as outdoor learning spaces. On campus is a pool, gardens, open fields, a ropes course, hiking trails, sport courts, a kitchen, and much more. Beginning January 2019, the buildings will undergo renovations to prepare for a September opening. 


The student experience at CLH will be guided by the question, “How will you affect the world?” We will help students develop the kind of entrepreneurial mindsets (collaborating, taking action, being adaptable, living imaginatively, and thinking critically) that will help them thrive in a world that demands agility and agency. Over the course of each year, students will be charged with developing “real world consumables.” This may take the form of an idea, a product, an organization, or a human experience. For example, they may choose to create effective portable water purifiers, publish a book of poetry, organize a 5K run for a cause, or start a movement to reduce homelessness. Identifying student passions and exploring ways in which to create something meaningful and tangible from them will be a central tenant of the school’s “10% Time” classes. In these classes, students will design and document their process in the development of these consumables.

CLH will also offer a relevant approach to traditional subject areas like English, History, and Math, allowing students to access knowledge in a manner that ignites curiosity. For example, Humanities will be approached from the perspective of “THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE” and will explore literature, history, geography, ethics, and empathy. Science will be explored through the lens of “EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES,” helping students make sense of how and why our world works. Other courses include “QUANTITATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING,” a class designed to explore mathematical thinking from the perspective of relevant application, and “COMMUNICATION DESIGN,” where students make the shift toward becoming producers of various types of communication. In addition to these core classes, a variety of additional enrichment opportunities will be offered, including Latin and Linguistics, music appreciation and composition, maker and tech, and both the visual and performing arts. A beautiful physical environment coupled with an engaging approach enhance the student experience and ignite young minds. 


Research shows that schools do better when educators are collaborative. To that end, CLH will not have a principal, per se. Instead, the three-member leadership team shares teaching and decision-making responsibilities and each governs a particular sphere of influence. AJ Webster oversees curriculum; Christy Durham, logistics and operations; Tedd Wakeman, community and outreach. In addition to the founding of the Sycamore School in Malibu in 2015, the LT brings varied and vast experience to the CLH community. 

• AJ Webster has almost 20 years of classroom experience teaching science, Latin, language arts, math, and social science at schools including Buckley in Sherman Oaks and the PlayMaker program at New Roads in Santa Monica. He holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. He embraces the Maker Movement, in which students design, construct and “think with their hands.” Webster has conducted workshops for the national Game Learning Society and was the keynote speaker for the 2014 Milken Playful Learning Summit. His work with PlayMaker was featured on PBS NewsHour. 

• Christy Durham also brings almost 20 years of elementary and middle school teaching experience. She holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and was a sixth grade teacher at Buckley, where she orchestrated an outdoor educational program and created a diversity initiative round table for the faculty. In 2011 she was awarded the Buckley School’s Parents’ Association Award, which allowed her to study in Peru. She received the National Junior Honor Society Teacher of the Year Award in 2012. Durham left Buckley in 2012 to teach fourth and fifth grade at Los Encinos School in Encino, which embraces integrated, project-based learning. She has presented at the Archer School for Girls STEM conference and the Milken Community School Playful Learning Summit. 

• Tedd Wakeman has been working with children in education, recreation, and research for more than 20 years. For 13 of those, he taught inner-city youth in LAUSD at the elementary level, concurrently traveling the country teaching and developing STEM curriculum for Nike/Eco Educators. He has taught extensively across the globe, working in the Republic of the Maldives teaching English to groups of adults from more than 25 different nations while diving the local coral reefs as a dive master. In Bali, he lived and worked with Indonesian rice farmers and taught local teenagers. He taught fourth and fifth grade for two years in Costa Rica, while exploring the local rainforest ecosystems. Wakeman then joined the GameDesk team in Los Angeles to open the revolutionary PlayMaker School, which has gained notoriety for its unique approach to 21st Century learning and game-based curriculum. 


Initial funding for Catalyst is provided by generous private donations. There is a one-time tuition reduction for the first year. Tuition will begin at $20,000 for 2019/2020 and return to its normal rate of $25,000 for 2020/2021. Need-based tuition assistance is available. Applications are due March 29, 2019. 

For more details about Catalyst’s mission and educational philosophy, and to apply online, please visit

Contact Molly Ripton at to set up interviews or a campus tour.

Waiting, Waitlists and Waitpools by Lisa Marfisi

Waiting for Admission Decisions – so close, yet so far away! March 15, 2019 is when Los Angeles independent schools notify families of their decisions.

Let’s face it, for most of us, keeping busy is much easier than sitting and waiting. The application process is filled with responsibilities and chores that keep you occupied.  During the fall and winter, you have taken time to write an application, visit schools, attend events, interview, go to assessments and testing, and do LOTS of research.  Now is the hardest part – all you can do is WAIT……

If you have a definite first choice which is clearly FAR above the others, you should let the school know.  This is sometimes called a “first choice” letter. Write a letter to indicate your strong interest and be sure to tell them why the school is your first choice AND that you will enroll if you are offered a space.  You can ONLY write this letter to ONE school.  Then, you will need to enroll if you are offered a space.  Spaces are limited and schools take these letters VERY seriously.  You must be sure the school is without a doubt where you want to enroll your child.

Here are a few productive things you can do during this time: clarify which school your child would attend if you are lucky enough to get in. Do your research.  When you get your decision letter, you will only have between one week to 10 days to send in your response.  The earlier you send in your contract or let the school know that you will not accept the space, the faster the school can figure out how many students they still have room for. It is proper etiquette to respond quickly, even if you do not want to accept admission, so that you are not holding up the process for another family.  

  • Try to drive to each school during drop off/pick up hours to see what the traffic is like.  You may have gone to meetings and appointments during the middle of the day. Many parents are surprised to learn how long it actually takes to get to a school during rush hour.  Make sure you have this information BEFORE you make a decision.
  • Plan ahead financially.  You will be required to make a sizable deposit to hold your child’s spot. Make sure you can do this quickly so that you can respond in a timely fashion to the school of your choice. The deposit is non-refundable. It secures your spot!  You will of course at only put down a deposit at one school. However, there are some instances where parents will put a deposit to hold a spot at their second choice school and then a wait-list spot opens at their first choice school. In this case, the deposit on the first choice space will not be refunded.
  • Talk to other parents who you trust who are going through the same thing. You are NOT alone!  You can support each other during this time.  Instead of stressing on your own, try to talk to another parent who can relate to what you are feeling.  It will help both of you. DON’T post your feelings on social media.  Talk to parents in person.

Waitlist and Waitpool Letters

Decision letters will be emailed in March. A few schools still use regular mail. Other schools require parents to log on to find out the admissions decision. There are three types of letters. Two of the three are very straightforward.  An acceptance letter – yes you are offered a spot!  Your child has met the requirements for admission and there is a space in the grade you have applied to.   A denial letter – No, your child will not be invited to attend the school. 

It’s the other category that’s more complicated. A waitlist or waitpool letter.  It is important to understand the difference between waitlists and waitpools.  Both of these indicate good news. The schools are letting you know that your child is qualified to attend, but there is not a space in the grade you are applying for at this time. Parents often ask schools if the waitlist is ranked and if so, where their child is on the waitlist. Some schools will provide the information and others will not. Waitlists and waitpool spots can open up in March or right before school begins in September. Or not at all. So, the waiting continues.

However, there is a BIG difference between a waitlist and a waitpool.  A waitlist is ranked.  The student who is first on the wait-list will be the one accepted if a space opens up. If that student declines the spot, the student who is second on the list will be offered the spot and so on.

A waitpool is ALL of the students who are qualified and waiting for a spot.    If a girl space becomes available, ALL the girls in the waitpool are considered, same for boys.  The school is trying to figure out which child will fit best with the class they are putting together.

If you get a waitpool or waitlist letter, it is important to respond quickly so that the school knows that you are still interested.  You can remain in the waitpool or waitlist until the beginning of the school year or until you decide that you want to withdraw.  It is important to let a school know when you enroll in another school, so that you are no longer taking a space in the waitpool/waitlist and other students will be considered. 

Hang in there…… your child is beginning a new phase of their education and you are right there with them!  Soon this will be a distant memory and your child will be enrolled in a new school!

Lisa Marfisi has been a professional in education in Los Angeles since 1991. She was the Director of Admissions K-12 at Wildwood School and PK-6 at Echo Horizon School. She also worked at the Archer School for Girls, PS #1, and Westside Neighborhood School. Lisa’s experience has given her an understanding of what schools are looking for and enables her to help parents navigate the admissions process from an insider’s point of view. She is knowledgeable about schools in Los Angeles and is an expert at matching children to schools where they will thrive. Lisa has been helping families with the admission process for 19 years. Her two children are college graduates (UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara). Lisa has experience as a parent at independent, public, charter and parochial schools.  She holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.

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