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. 

STUDENT EXPERIENCE

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. 

CLH LEADERSHIP TEAM 

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. 

FUNDING AND HOW TO APPLY

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 www.catalyst-education.org.

Contact Molly Ripton at mripton@sycamore-school.org 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. www.lisamarfisi.com

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

Spring is for Spending at L.A. Private School Galas!

Spring is the season for L.A private school auctions and galas! Of course, planning for these swanky events starts long before the actual date, as committees of parents and staff begin securing big ticket items that will fill up school coffers with money raised from both live and silent auctions. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the selection of items to bid on. “Priceless” is the operative word when we’re talking about live auctions. With professional auctioneers encouraging the crowd, after a few drinks and some friendly competition, nothing will stop parents from outbidding their friends for a luxury vacation, a shiny piece of jewelry, a fabulous piece of art signed by a famous painter or a VIP parking space at the front of the school. It happens every year, a time-honored tradition. Eat, drink and bid. Repeat.

Private schools put so much time into making auctions and galas–often held at high-end hotels, country clubs, studio lots or party venues–successful because they help close the budget gap not covered by tuition. Despite the $30,000/year+ you may be about to start paying for your kid to attend a private school, there’s more money to be spent if you can afford it. Of course, not all families choose to attend auctions and they are most certainly optional. These soirees are definitely part of L.A. private school culture, an example of the immense wealth that makes up the world of private schools and a glimpse into how schools are funded and who is writing checks.

I’ve co-chaired an auction at our kids’ former school (The Willows) and attended several at Viewpoint (our current school). Barry and I bid anxiously on a photo of Air Force One landing at LAX with an unseen president aboard (it’s George W. Bush). The photo is signed by the former White House photographer, Brooks Kraft. There’s something eerie and cool about it. Although small, its one of my all-time favorite photographs in our home–and I’m a Democrat! I’ve also bid on a pair of diamond stud earrings that I love as well as tickets for dinner parties and cooking classes. Obviously, we aren’t the big spenders at these events, but we’re fortunate to be able to participate.

The money from auctions and galas goes toward closing the budget gap between tuition and operating expenses such as financial aid, professional development and school art, sports and music programs. These high-end events can bring in anywhere from $100,000 to $1,000,000+ depending on the school. Corporate sponsors can underwrite events by purchasing tables and ads in the program guide. The cost to attend can range from about $50 to $300 per ticket.

Schools put out “wish-lists” of items they are hoping parents can provide– either themselves or through their contacts–for auctions. Schools know from experience which items will generate high-dollar bidding. Here’s what’s on Viewpoint’s “wish-list” for the Denim and Diamonds auction:

At Windward School, the auction committee is looking for:

Luxury Hotel Stays ● Vacation Packages ● Vacation Homes ● Airline Tickets ● Private Jet Use ● In-Home Private Chef Experiences ● Cruises ● Private Yacht Excursions ● Restaurant Gift Certificates ● Spa Treatments​ ● VIP Sporting Tickets for Los Angeles Teams ● Box Seats to Sporting Events ● VIP Concert Tickets ● Signed Athletic Memorabilia ● Rounds of Golf ● Jewelry ● Wine and Champagne ● Hollywood Bowl Box Seats\


Campbell Hall continues the school’s annual Bagpiper Ball tradition:

Buckley School hosts a gala every other year:

In L.A. it’s never to early to start fundraising! Here’s the Early Childhood Center at Wilshire Blvd. Temple’s event:

We’ll have more to come as the gala season is in full swing. There are party books upcoming and all kinds of mind-blowing events that we’ll be sure to report back on.

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

Q and A with Jay Guidetti, Principal of Laurel Hall School

Jay Guidetti

I stopped by Laurel Hall School in North Hollywood recently for a tour. After seeing the school, I spent time talking with Principal Jay Guidetti, an experienced educator and a dad of five. I’ve been to the school several times for my son’s sports games over the years and I’ve always been truly impressed by the sportsmanship shown by Laurel Hall’s athletes, coaches and parents–win or lose they are always courteous and kind. This is a traditional school, TK-8, but one which implements ideas from developmental and even a few progressive educational philosophies. –Christina

Q: Laurel Hall School is more than 70 years old! You became school principal two years ago but you bring decades of experience to the job. In your time at the school, what impresses you the most about Laurel Hall?

A: This year is my thirty-second year in education. I have spent time as a classroom teacher, counselor and administrator in elementary, middle and high school. I have served in both high achieving schools and those that were in school improvement mode, in communities of wealth and those in poverty.

In all my years, I have never been in such a wonderful educational setting as Laurel Hall School. What impresses me most is that we truly are family. We ensure that our children are the responsibility of the collective educational community. There is a genuine interdependent school-family partnership.

When I arrived, two things struck me the most – the mission of kindness, and the organizational philosophy of “serving all”. A Laurel Hall graduate is one who has learned self-advocacy and one who is exceptionally well-prepared to successfully navigate the future academic and social emotional challenges faced upon matriculation to high school and beyond.

Q:How would you describe the educational philosophy of Laurel Hall? Do you mix ideas and pull from various teaching styles?

A: Laurel Hall employs active learning strategies. From the onset, students are expected to be participants in the learning process and to take ownership of their education. Collaboration, participation, project driven, experiential learning ensures that students internalize the subject matter. In a sense, Laurel Hall operates mostly in a constructivist manner – “learners are actively involved in a process of meaning and knowledge construction as opposed to passively receiving information.” We employ Responsive Classroom techniques and focus on both the academic, as well as the social-emotional well-being of each student.

Q: Laurel Hall is knowing for having a strong sense of community. How does the school foster community and build a sense of true belonging for students, parents and staff?

A: We cannot succeed without our partnerships. My door is literally always open, which is not a symbolic gesture; it is an invitation for welcomed, regular and honest dialogue. The staff is a big part of the decision-making process. This year, prior to the arrival of students, we engaged in team-building as a collective staff. The experience set the tone for the school year. I learned early in my career that the successful leader is one who has the ability to pull good people together, foster collaboration, and has the wherewithal to know when to get out of the way to enable the magic to unfold!

Parent partnership is such a huge part of Laurel Hall life. Their attendance at the multitude of events and activities throughout the school year is robust. The Parent-Teacher Organization spearheads so many events – more than some high schools – throughout the year to raise school spirit, pride and to foster unity. Their willingness to donate time and resources and their commitment to be solution-oriented have enabled the school to sustain the rich programs and services that we offer. 

Our students enjoy experiences that include, but are not limited to STEMscope technology, performing and fine arts, competitive athletics, festivals, foreign language, field trips, overnight excursions, extended-day care. They are academically and socially prepared for the challenges they face after Laurel Hall. None of this could be possible without the collaboration of all stakeholders. It is essential as the school leader, that I welcome this collaborative spirit. 

Q: Do you have any big changes planned for the school? Anything you’ve already accomplished that you’d like to share?

A: Many changes have occurred since I arrived in 2017. First, having spent much time in the world of public education, I am fully aware of the importance of accountability in teaching and learning. I also have strong knowledge of Professional Learning Communities, sound assessment and grading practices and instructional pedagogy. All of this has allowed me to direct a more focused professional development pathway for the teaching staff at Laurel Hall School. Teachers, immersed in a cycle of improvement, build the base to move schools from good, to great, to outstanding. I am constantly traveling from classroom to classroom and have established a culture of peer observations and collaboration. I have begun our journey in becoming a Responsive Classroom school, and one in which restorative discipline is employed to ensure that students behave in a manner consistent with our Kindness mission.

Staff and curricular changes have also been made. Teachers in elementary school have been re-teamed to allow for a more cohesive teaching continuum to unfold within grades and between grade levels. Since my arrival, we also now have a scaffolded comprehensive, math and English curriculum that spans all grades. We have added an interactive on-line foreign language program available for all middle school students, and we also now employ a science specialist for elementary school. We have a peer mediation training program and now have middle school peer mediators who assist with behavior intervention, especially with elementary school students. Thanks to the assistance of our PTO, we also have installed hydration stations, a newly surfaced track and a brand new football field. Over the next two years, we will enclose our basketball court and replace all play equipment. Finally, we also have established a partnership with DiscoveryOnstage who is producing and directing our spring musical and will be developing a drama program for Laurel Hall elementary and middle school students beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

A: Being a former high school principal, I have connections with so many of my former high school colleagues. And, I know what is needed at our middle school in order for our students to be successful in that transition to high school.

Q: Laurel Hall’s 8th graders matriculate to schools like Notre Dame, Crespi, Campbell Hall, Loyola, Marymount and public schools too. How do you help with the outplacement of 8th graders to ensure they end up attending their top choice schools?

A: Each fall, we hold a high school recruitment fair on campus. Each year, Assistant Principal, Mrs. Barbara Hitchcock and I travel to all of the desired private high schools in the area for articulation meetings. Mrs. Hitchcock also assumes duties of the high school liaison and academic advisor for the 8th grade students. She ensures that the high school application process is done properly, working with students and parents, alike. We offer a class for 8th grade students that prepares them for the high school placement tests. Additionally, former LHS Middle School Director, Mrs. Pati Evans, holds mock entrance interviews for all 8th grade students. Finally, our 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Suzanne Bergstrom, and Algebra teacher, Mrs. Sarah Johnson, are highly gifted educators who ensure that Laurel Hall students are advanced proficient in those two critical subject areas and are well prepared for high school.  

Jay Guidetti is in his second year as principal of Laurel Hall School after having spent three decades in public education. Sixteen of those years were served as a high school principal. He began his career as an elementary school teacher before spending five years as a middle school counselor. He started his tenure as a secondary school administrator in 1996.

Jay was born and raised in New England and earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communication Studies from the University of Massachusetts. After relocating to California, he obtained a Multiple-Subject Teaching Credential from California State University, Northridge. Jay also earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Counseling, a Pupil Services Credential, and an Administrative Services Credential from Loyola Marymount University.

For more information, visit Laurel Hall School

Stay up to date on the latest L.A. private schools news and events! Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook. Buy the book on Amazon.

Photos: Laurel Hall and Christina Simon

L.A. Private School Magazines: What These Glossy Publications Can Tell You About School Culture

Some private schools, like Wildwood, publish it’s quarterly magazine, Our Wildwood, on the website. Social justice, student achievements and alumni updates are just a few of the Winter 2018 Magazine features.

You may have seen these magazines prominently displayed in L.A. private school admissions offices. They’re showpieces, displays of the school’s best programs, faculty, students alumni and facilities. If you look closely, they are also a great way to get a feel for the school’s culture.

Crossroads School also publishes Cross/Sections online. The Summer 2018 issue profiles a Crossroads family and highlights the school’s spring fundraiser, its dance program and interviews with alumni.

If you’re tempted to do little more than quickly glance at these publications, take some time to give them a more in-depth read. Do the programs featured prominently in the magazine fit with your kid’s interests? These programs aren’t being featured by accident. They’re in the magazine because they are the school’s signature programs like art or dance, basketball or volunteerism. The school is spending big money on these programs and they want parents and prospective families to know about them. If what’s being featured doesn’t appeal to you or isn’t aligned with your kid’s interests, do more research to see if what the school offers will fit your kid’s interests and personality. Are you seeing a lot of art and music, but what you really want is STEM programs? Are you looking for a big sports school, but you don’t see any mention of sports? Those are indicators the school’s emphasis might not be what you’re looking for. Perhaps it’s exactly what you want in a school. It may also be that the issue you are reading has a specific theme so you need to investigate further.

Private schools use their magazines to highlight diversity in students and faculty. If you don’t see it in on the pages, it’s probably because the school is lacking diversity.

You might also be able to distinguish between progressive and traditional schools as you thumb through these magazines.

Overall, these magazines offer you a glimpse into the school’s culture. In the John Thomas Dye’s The Greyhound Summer 2018 Magazine (not online) legacy is important. “In 2018, over 30 JTD alumni had a child or children enrolled at JTD.” A cute picture display of the parents when they were children is side-by-side photos of their children (the legacies). Readers are asked to match parent pics with their kids.

Village School’s magazine, Village, (not online), is a K-6th that congratulates its 2012 alumni on their college acceptances, from Barnard and Cornell to USC and Washington University in St. Louis.

The Center For Early Education’s Annual Report/Magazine highlights an art program that pushes student beyond their comfort zone. CEE families are profiled and pictures from numerous school events fill the pages.

Windmill, the magazine of St. Matthew’s Parish School Winter 2018 (not online) contains a welcome from the outgoing head of school, Stu Work, to the head of school-elect, Edward Kim, snapshots of parent life at the school and a graphic of the community service and in-class activities performed by the St. Matthew’s community (15,414 lbs. of food gathered and loaded for the Westside Food Bank, 300 lbs. of plastic and aluminum cans recycled by the 1st grade class.) St. Matthew’s alumni class of 2012 (it’s a K-8 school) are headed to colleges from Brown and Columbia to Dartmouth, Tulane and Vanderbuilt.

In Pasadena, Polytechnic School’s Oaktree Times Spring/Summer 2018 Magazine shines the spotlight on service learning and a new high school honor code.

Viewpoint School publishes Viewpoint Magazine which is amazing–and I’m only slightly biased because my kids go there!

During your parent interview, you might want to mention something that captured your attention–or your heart– in one of the school’s magazines!

Follow Beyond The Brochure on Facebook for the latest Los Angeles private school news and events! You can get a copy of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles on Amazon.