Things You Can Do To Get Ready For Fall Admissions


Inside the multi-age K-1 classroom
Inside the multi-age K-1 classroom at Sequoyah School, Pasadena

Hi Friends!

Happy Summer! Hope you’re enjoying our hot summer here in L.A. We just returned from my son’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas where it hit 113 degrees. That’s just too hot! I posted the team’s photo on Beyond The Brochure’s Facebook page.

If you’re reading this post, you are probably anticipating the fall admissions season. Before then, there are a few important things you can do to get ready for the hectic time when you’re touring schools, writing applications, attending parent interviews and all the other activities that surround the admissions process.

1. Do The Drive. If you know a few schools where you plan to apply, drive to and from the school during morning drop off and afternoon pickup. Can you do this drive every day? Can your child be in the car comfortably for the duration of the drive? Could you find a carpool? Is the school near your work or your home? Is there a bus? If you will have two kids at different schools, how would the logistics of that work? What about before and/or after school sports or activities? The school’s distance from your home and/or office can be a huge factor when considering schools in Los Angeles, due to the enormous size of our city.

2. Make A List of Schools. If you aren’t familiar with the schools your child will be eligible to apply for, compile a list now. If you’re planning to apply for kindergarten, but you only know of two schools, find more options. There is a list of LA and Pasadena area schools in our book, Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. Also, CAIS has a list of all the independent schools in the Los Angeles area. You can also talk to friends, acquaintances, colleagues and anybody who might be familiar with school options. The more people you talk to, the more you learn. People tend to be very open to talking about schools here in L.A. Sort of like real-estate and home prices. It’s a constant topic of conversation. We’ve also profiled selected schools here.

3. Get organized. Grab a big 3-ring binder notebook from Target and create tab sections for each school. Then, for each school, create sections for every step of the process: tours (your notes from tours), parent interviews, etc. If you’re more comfortable with digital organization, find the best option i.e. Google documents, iPhone Notes, Evernote or whatever you like best. Another tip: create an email folder for school admissions and keep all correspondence from schools in that folder. The main thing here is to keep every piece of paper the school sends you, either a hard copy or a scan of it. The amount of paper and organization required for the admissions process can’t be underestimated. Calling the school because you’ve lost a document can–and should–be avoided.

4. Cost of Private School. Check out our post on L.A. private school tuition and the extra expenses that aren’t covered by tuition. This is an easy way to cross schools off the list if they don’t fit your family’s budget.

5. Extra Help. If you are considering hiring an educational consultant, here’s a list of experts to guide you through the process.

If you can tackle these manageable tasks, you’ll be ready to tour schools in September!


The Lowdown on L.A. Private Elementary School Tours by Alice

Photo: Flickr/Brad Flickinger
Photo: Flickr/Brad Flickinger

If it’s your first time through the private school gauntlet, the tours are everything. As a family you are trying to make a decision that could impact the next six to twelve years of your lives and no other form of reconnaissance replaces boots on the ground. Even if you’ve seen the brochures, or have driven by a particular school countless times and even if all your best friend’s kids go there and they’ve given all the inside scoop, it still doesn’t replace the tour.

For me the campus was never exactly what I pictured. No matter how eloquent my friends were, or how well photographed a campus was, really walking around it was irreplaceable. It’s seeing the kids and their enthusiasm or lack there of. It’s feeling the buzz in the air, the way and where they eat, where the backpacks get tossed, the lockers, the fields, the size of the campus, how it’s maintained. All of these little vignettes come together to paint a picture. For most of us, it’s a feeling we get, that out kid would be happy, or not, in any given school.

It’s also really the best time to get your questions out. The “evening” that many of the schools sponsor specifically for Q & A’s with kids often feels staged and overly prepared. As my friend Karen said about one evening in particular, “The kids felt like they’d been too coached. The headmaster at the time stood off to the side. If questions went in a direction he wasn’t comfortable with, he’d jump in and steer things in another direction. “

Particularly if you get lucky and get a student led tour, even if your student guide is extremely well prepared and rehearsed, you’re going to have a chance for real interaction and get a more candid insights into what your guide loves about his or her school. For that reason alone, I’m a fan of student led tours.

However, many tours of K-8 schools are done by admissions officers and that’s still a good opportunity not only to see the school and ask questions, but to see if it’s a personality match. Don’t panic if your child is a total dolt through whole tour. Admissions people have seen it all. For most kindergarten classes they are looking more at the family than the child (assuming the child is not an outlier).

There are some schools that are so exclusive it’s hard to get a tour. I tried to tour John Thomas Dye and Curtis for my son, but I waited until September to call and apparently I was too late!. If you don’t get on the tour/application list over the summer at those schools you’re out, and there’s no getting back in.

Also buyer beware. Most schools do a good job of touring and your little one may fall in love. My son fell in love with Oakwood on the tour, but I had an early sense Oakwood wasn’t in love with us and I was right. He didn’t get in, so don’t let a five-year old’s emotions play too big a role in your decision making and what eggs you are putting in what baskets. The family and school have to be a match and that really isn’t going to be determined by the tour. You will learn things. You may decide a school is or isn’t right, but a lot of other things have to line up between the tour and an acceptance letter.

Final note, one woman I know got pretty offended when she was being toured by an admissions director only to look around and see the Headmaster touring another family. Why them and not me she thought? The truth is there could be a million good reasons, including they are his relatives. Let it go and enjoy the tour. It really is about you. It’s about your chance to see the place and get the feel for it and then all the other posturing, planning, applying, interviewing, waiting and suffering can take place.

God Speed.


Mother of three, Alice attended east coast private schools as a child and has been in the private school world as a parent for nearly twenty years. Her kids attended Mirman for elementary, then Harvard-Westlake and Brentwood for high school, with one still to go. She is a writer working in film, TV and for various magazines such as Family Fun, Wondertime, Glamour and Brides.


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3 Things I (Unexpectedly) Found Challenging About L.A. Kindergarten Admissions


Photo: Emran Kassin, Flickr Creative Commons
Photo: Emran Kassin, Flickr Creative Commons


If you talked to me the summer before we applied to kindergarten for my daughter, I would have told you certain things I was predicting would go smoothly and other things I was worried about. (I use “we” because schools are evaluating both your kid and your family.)


As with so many things in life, I got it only partially right. The stuff that was easy (in retrospect) wasn’t the stuff I thought would cause me to stumble. The things that I expected to go smoothly didn’t for one reason or another.


The private school admissions process in L.A. is very unpredictable. We all know that, but until you have the admissions letters in your hand, or an email in your inbox, you just don’t know how erratic it can be.


My kids have been accepted, wait-listed and in one case, we withdrew our application because the parent interview went so badly we knew the school would never admit our family (I write about this in the book). We were so appalled at they way the admissions director handled the interview we lost interest in the school.


Here are 3 things I (unexpectedly) found challenging:


  1. Getting to the school on time at the correct location. Actually, I went to the wrong location at one school, completely stressing me out and leaving me a frazzled wreck. The school has two separate campuses and I went to the high school, not the elementary school. With L.A. traffic, the drive time is so unpredictable, it’s not even slightly humorous to discuss what it feels like to be running late to a school interview. Just leave even earlier than you think is super-early.


  1. Sitting in a room with prospective parents while our kids were being tested for kindergarten. Listening to the conversations happening around me made me want to exit the room through a secret back door, if only one existed. “Kate is hosting Board Member X at her Aspen house and we’ll be there in a few weeks so I’m not worried,” says one mom to another.” “Alex tested off the charts gifted so Mirman is always an option for us,” says the other mom. “Ava’s soccer coach says he’s never seen a kid with so much talent.” “Ben’s writing his first book. So adorbable!” And so on and on and on and ON AND ON. BLAH BLAH BLAH. Bring a book or a magazine or a Kindle or something so you can block out all this chatter.


  1. Realizing that the mom giving the tour isn’t always the best reflection of the school. Yes, she may be an ambassador for the school since she’s holding a very visible volunteer position. But, if her behavior is rude, disinterested or cluelessly uninformed, it doesn’t always mean the school is all of those things. Parents can be selected to lead tours for various reasons ($$$ donations) and now I know these volunteers are just one out of many parents at the school. Unfortunately, they just happen to be showing you around that day. Instead of focusing on her, here’s what you should be looking for.


Beyond The Brochure, the book and the blog contains all the information I wish I’d had before we applied to Los Angeles private elementary schools. It’s the issues, big and small, I’d tell you about if we were having coffee, just the two of us.


Coming Soon: Things I Thought Would Be Difficult, But Were Not So Bad


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Los Encinos: A Small School For A Big World

Los Encinos Front


Along an understated stretch of Ventura Boulevard, sits Los Encinos, a small, progressive gem of a school in the heart of Encino. My curiosity about the school was piqued last year when I met one of its impressive graduates at Viewpoint, my kids’ school. I’ve also heard rave reviews from my friend who used to teach there. So, I asked her to introduce me to Ilene Reinfeld, the head of school at Los Encinos.


Los Encinos’ unassuming urban location belies a dynamic and absolutely charming interior. I arrived on a day when the school was celebrating the Lunar New Year and parent volunteers were getting ready for the lunchtime festivities in the brightly decorated outdoor space. There were lots of volunteers–as family involvement at the school is considered essential to creating a sense of community and ensuring parents are involved in their children’s education.


Los Encinos 9


Los Encinos radiates a fun sensibility. The school is vibrant and high-spirited–as if it is harnessing the energy of the kids to create a place that’s about learning, freedom of expression and community service. It is the embodiment of progressive education, equal parts utilitarian and inspiration. I came away with the sense that Los Encinos is freethinking and non-conformist, with just enough structure for kids to explore their fullest potential in each subject.


Los Encinos 2


Ilene greeted me in her office and we quickly set out for a tour of the school. Ilene talked as she walked, surveying the environment, peeking into classrooms and proudly showing me the newest building. She’s a tour-de-force at the school, overseeing the big picture vision and involved in day-to-day management of curriculum and teaching.


Ilene has the tools and insight to make big things happen. When the school needed new classrooms, science labs, offices and a library, she pushed donors to raise $1.5 million with the promise the new building renovation would be completed over the summer (an ambitious schedule!). Donors answered her call. They raised the money and she, along with help from the board, parents and her staff, delivered the project on time and on budget. This followed a 2009 renovation with a similar budget. The stunning new library, with its cozy, inviting sitting area, practically begs for a good book and a cup of hot cocoa. It is absolutely gorgeous. The librarian told me she feels lucky to work in such a magical place.


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Los Encinos 13


Los Encinos 14


It is this kind of tenacity that helped Ilene win a coveted fellowship to the Klingenstein Center for a two-week intensive study for the Heads of Schools Program at Columbia University.


Ilene’s commitment to a diverse faculty, including male teachers, is something she says is important to a school that reflects the diversity of our world. Hiring the best teachers, even if it means relocating them from the East Coast, is just part of her day.


Los Encinos 19

Los Encinos 17


In just 10 years, under the leadership of this smart mom of two, the school has flourished by leaps and bounds. Her dedication to the school is undeniable. Running Los Encinos isn’t just a job for Ilene, but a passion. She oversees it with the attentiveness of someone who has a lot at stake because she does: the education of 168 kids. Along with change, the school has withstood the test of time, staying true to the original vision set forth in 1980 by its founder, a former Oakwood School administrator. The school has remained purposefully small, a hallmark of its founding principles.


Ilene has successfully built upon the school’s mission, which is based on the social and academic benefits of a learning environment within a close-knit community. There is a deep respect for collaboration, compassion and sharing; all progressive educational tenets. While Ilene has definitely reimagined parts of the school in her own vision, she has always stayed true to its roots.


Los Encinos 7


If you’re looking for a small, progressive school, Los Encinos checks off all the requirements. The curriculum is challenging and encouraging, not always an easy balance to achieve. Seeing the kids in big, sunlight-filled classrooms, it was evident they were fully immersed in activities or absorbing the teacher’s lesson. An important tenet of the school is an emphasis on collaboration, not competition. As we stopped in a science class, one student’s boundless enthusiasm greeted us, “Look, we are making the most awesome project!” she exclaimed. Her lab partner nodded in agreement as he continued working, completely engrossed in the lab.


Los Encinos 10


Los Encinos has one class per grade, K-6. There are 26 kids in each class, with two teachers. When half of the class is in art or science, for example, the other half remains in the class, making individual teaching and small group learning possible.


Los Encinos Virtues and Values


In each classroom, there are 16 words called values and virtues, reflecting the school’s core character. Creativity, Friendship, Effort, Responsibility, Patience, Initiative, Integrity and more. These words to live by are taught in grades K-3 and reinforced in grades 4-6. They are referred to frequently, as they remind students what the school is all about.


Ilene’s focus is on overseeing a school that can provide each student with a high degree of individualized instruction. She knows every kid, their needs and their specific interests. She hires teachers who are dynamic, diverse in both ethnicity and gender, skilled and energetic. Every teacher can offer each student one-on-one time to discuss a project, answer questions, refine ideas and encourage exploration.


Los Encinos 11


Learning doesn’t happen in isolation so the integrated curriculum, another progressive concept, plays a big role in how subjects are taught. For example, when kids are learning about the ocean in science, they might also be reading about it in another class and taking a field trip to study the ocean, while completing community service in the same study area. When fables are taught in 1st grade, there is a connection to other subject areas. Nothing is taught in isolation of other study areas, so students make connections between various subjects and ideas.


“Every kid should feel successful. They need to take risks because that’s where learning takes place,” says Ilene. “Los Encinos is a school with a heart!”


Los Encinos 23


To expand upon the core educational philosophy, Ilene explains that not every young kid learns best by sitting still in a chair or walking in a perfectly straight line. That’s okay at Los Encinos. All rules should have a purpose and Los Encinos is a relaxed learning environment. Students are trusted to walk to class in formations other than a straight line. Kids learn the power of both leading and following, with the confidence to know when to do both.


Los Encinos1


Art, music, drama, technology & media, P.E., science and library are part of the curriculum taught by specialists. Frequent field trips and guest speakers round out the areas of study. In 4th grade, there are intramural sports. The school plays at Tarzana Park. Every kid gets a chance to play. There is computer lab and 1:1 laptop beginning in 4th grade. Students participate in yearlong, grade-specific volunteer service programs to help develop a meaningful connection with the larger community.


On the school’s website, an overview is offered: “Small class sizes and a low student-teacher ratio enable the teachers to know each child and to assign work that challenges individual ability levels and learning styles. Coursework follows an established curriculum that is personalized by the incorporation of current events, student interests and curiosity, community opportunities, and individual student needs. Technology, manipulatives, and cooperative projects are used to involve the students in the learning process.”


Los Encinos 21


I asked Ilene what is most important to her when looking at prospective students and their families. Her reply? Parents who understand what we do and feel strongly that it is the right place for their kid. The school offers 14 percent of its annual budget for financial aid. There is ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. There are kids of famous people alongside the kids of regular families.


Ilene also personally oversees placement to middle school. As a result, the kids from Los Encinos go on to top middle schools like Campbell Hall, Marlborough, Harvard-Westlake, Oakwood, Windward and Viewpoint, to name a few.


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Los Encinos’ understanding of how important it is to for students to be able to take risks as they learn is a huge, important concept they will carry with them throughout their lives. Combined with a dedication to community service and a class size where individualized instruction happens, these attributes make the school a small but powerful place to learn.


I can imagine a Los Encinos student saying to another, “Come sit with us.” This is the kind of stuff that can be life changing.


For more information, visit,

Photos credit #3 & #11: Los Encinos School


A Buckley School Alum Turns To Beyond The Brochure For Kindergarten Admissions Advice


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


A review of Beyond The Brochure by Elaine Sir on her lovely lifestyle blog:


“If you’re on the LA private school admissions circuit right now, say AYE!

I was lucky enough to attend and graduate from The Buckley School — where the teachers held Stanford degrees and PHDs. The education and the lifelong friendships from such an intimate and private community were invaluable — and I hope to gift my own kids with the same luxury. I have to say though, I’m not sure that I would be admitted if I was to apply today. These LA schools’ admissions process is a [bleepin’] racket these days.

The Center for Early Education, for example, had 178 applicants one year with only 16 spots available. That’s a whole lot of rejections mailed out on Black Friday.”

To continue reading, click on ELAINESIR