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

Q & A With Sandy Eiges, Educational Consultant: Experience and Results When You Need It Most!

1. Your company, LA School Scout, has a terrific reputation. Do you have an area of expertise that you specialize in?

Thanks so much! I think my reputation stems from the quality of what I offer my families, in terms of my in-depth knowledge of schools, preschool through 12th grade, public and private. I meet with the schools individually, I get to know them, I re-visit them over and over again, so that I can make a great match between schools and families.

And of course from the family’s perspective, my background in social work gives me an added advantage. I have the ability to elicit enough from a family interview, and the child observation or Kindergarten readiness assessment, to give me a real intuitive sense of what schools might work for a particular family – even if it’s not on their radar. So I suppose you can say that my real expertise is in being a very successful matchmaker!

2. The economy hasn’t recovered from the recession and this has impacted private elementary schools in various ways. What can parents who are applying for fall 2011 expect?

The economy hasn’t recovered from the recession, and yet people are still applying to private schools – this hasn’t changed, and this won’t change for fall 2011 applicants. While public schools, including charters and magnets, are accepting higher numbers of applicants and increasing their class size, private schools are still very committed to small class size.

What we are seeing, however, are more open spots in the higher grades, from 4th grade and up. I get quite a few families who are relocating to L.A., and I’ve got to say, I’ve had no problem placing those families in great schools this past year, even if they were mid-year placements. And some of these placements were tough! A third-grader with no previous formal schooling or English; a fourth-grader with a learning disability, an under-achieving 7th grader, 8th and 10th grade siblings requiring placement at the same school…the list goes on.

4. This is the “million dollar question”: why do you think so many wonderful families get rejected from LA private elementary schools?

If families are not getting into their school of choice – did they apply to the right school? Did they apply to more than one school? I encourage people to consider more than one or two options. Is there a match between what the school is looking for and your child? Is there a match between what you want – the kind of school that appeals to you – and what school would suit your child? These are not always one and the same.

If all of the answers are yes, then other factors might be at work. Some years there are too many applicants of one sex, and schools generally try to put together a gender-balanced classroom. Some years there are too many children born in the same month – schools try to have a range of ages within the same classroom.

Some years there are so many siblings that there just aren’t enough spaces for all of the qualified applicants. This is sad, but it happens.

5. In general, how are your fees structured?

I work with families in a variety of ways, based on their particular need and budget, whether it’s for a one-time phone consultation or throughout the process of applying to private schools. So, for example, I can offer a one-time consultation as a sounding board about current school problems, or to help a family develop a school list. I can also help the family manage the entire school application process, including Kindergarten readiness assessments, application review and interview preparation. A rush/relocation placement might include developing a list of after-school activities and summer camps, as well as placement of international students.

6. What are some of the private elementary schools your clients have attended?

My families have been accepted in schools all over the greater Los Angeles area:

Archer, Berkeley Hall, Brawerman, Brentwood, Buckley, Calvary Christian, Campbell Hall, Carlthorp, Chaminade, Children’s Community School, Claiborn, Crespi, Crossroads, Curtis, Delphi, Echo Horizon, Good Shepherd, Harvard-Westlake, High Point Academy, Hollywood School House, John Thomas Dye, Laurence, Le Lycee Francais de Los Angeles, Loyola, Marlborough, Mirman, New Roads, Oakwood, Pacific Hills, Park Century, Pasadena Waldorf, Pilgrim, PS#1, Seven Arrows, Sierra Canyon, Stephen S. Wise, St. James, St. Matthews, St. Timothy’s, Turning Point, UCLA Lab School, Viewpoint, Waverly, Wesley, Westland,Westmark, Westside Neighborhood School, Wildwood, Willows and Windward

7. Is it possible for a family to rehabilitate a parent interview or other part of the application process that they think has gone wrong?

That’s a difficult question. A parent interview gone wrong – that depends on what actually happened at the interview. For better or worse, there are plenty of applicants to choose from out there, and I would always recommend that parents put their best foot forward. Manners are always in order.

So if you felt so comfortable in the interview that you used inappropriate language, no, you are probably not going to be able to fix that. As to what else might have gone wrong, you would have no idea what that is. There are some great tips on how to manage the application process in Beyond the Brochure.

Should you need more direct help, though, and a partner in the process of finding the right school, contact Sandy at, or through her website at

Interview With Jaime Nissenbaum, Educational Consultant Extraordinaire

We’ve received questions from several of our readers recently about the role educational consultants can play in helping families get into top LA private elementary schools.

I thought it might be useful to interview one of LA’s top educational consultants, Jamie Bakal of Jamie Bakal Consulting. Jamie is the co-founder of LA School Mates, an educator and a graduate of Oakwood School. For fall 2010, 26/27 of Jamie’s clients have been accepted at their top choice schools!

Here is my interview with Jamie:

1. Who are your typical clients?

I have a wide variety of clients. Some of my clients are families with two working parents who just struggle to find the time to sort through the private school maze. Some of my clients are families who just aren’t familiar with all of the independent schools in Los Angeles and want to know what their options are. Some of my clients are families who want more individualized attention than their preschools can offer and want some hand-holding through the process.

2. What services to you provide to your clients?

My services are completely individualized to meet each clients needs. Just like the independent schools in Los Angeles, my services are not one size fits all. I usually start with a general consultation with the parents to find out who they think their child is and what they are looking for in an education for their child. Based on that consultation, I come up with a list of schools that I think would be a good fit for the child and the family and create an individualized tour chart. Some families feel that the consultation was enough information to get them started and proceed on their own. Other families would like help through the whole process in which case I manage their schedules of tours, applications, and interviews, I help them with their applications, I prepare parents for their interviews, and I spend time with the child to make sure the chosen schools for each family are the best fit for the child. In the best case scenario, come March when letters go out, families have options and I help them choose the best fit for the child and for the family.

3. What are your fees?

There are two different fee structures. If families work with me hourly (meaning they only need an initial consultation or they want to call me for questions as needed), I charge $350/hour. If I am managing the entire process for a family, I charge a flat rate of $5000 (regardless of how early a client hires me).

4. What do private elementary schools look for in a family and how can you help schools get to know your clients?

While each school may be looking for something a little different, overall, they are all looking for good, inclusive families who make their children’s education a priority. They want families who are going to be involved and they are looking for children who are going to be successful at their school. I think many families get caught up in wanting to send their child to a “popular” school but lose sight of finding a school where their child will thrive. I provide additional insight to admissions directors for the families with whom I work.

5. What do you think are the biggest mistakes parents make during the application process?

There are many mistakes parents make during this process. Many families apply to schools that are not a good fit for their child. Just because parents like a school, doesn’t mean it is the best environment for their child. Parents also like to tell every school that they are their first choice hoping that they will increase their odds of getting in. The admissions directors do talk. And if they find out you have made every school your “first choice,” it will likely result in the family not getting in anywhere. Parents also apply to too many schools. I tell all of my clients to think of each school this way…if this were the only school you got in to, would you and your child be happy there? If the answer is no, then don’t apply. Lastly, make sure that the schools to which you apply are at least similar philosophically. Schools want to know that you believe in what they have to offer and if you are applying to very progressive schools as well as very traditional schools, the admissions directors might think that you either don’t understand what their school is all about or you are just applying to increase your odds as you don’t know what it is you want.

6. Have any of your clients been accepted from wait-lists?

Generally speaking, most of my clients get in to their top choice. That being said, I do have some clients that get wait-listed. It depends on the year and the school, but I would say about 75% of my clients that are wait-listed at a top choice end up getting in.

7.Can you tell us a few of the schools where you have helped place your clients?

I have placed clients at Archer, Berkeley Hall, Brawerman, Brentwood, Buckley, Campbell Hall, Carlthorp, The Center for Early Education, Crossroads, Curtis, Echo Horizon, Harvard Westlake, Hollywood School House, John Thomas Dye, Laurence, Los Encinos, New Roads, The Oaks, Oakwood, PS#1, Temple Israel, UCLA Lab School, Village, Westland, Wildwood, and The Willows.

8. Does hiring an educational consultant “guarantee” acceptance to a private elementary school?

Absolutely not. In fact, I have clients sign a contract that explicitly states that I cannot guarantee placement at a school. That being said, my clients do very well because I set them on a path towards schools that are a good fit and I help them present themselves in the best way possible.

For more information, please visit Jamie Bakal Consulting