Our Guest Blogger: The First Week At Mirman School


The Switch: From Public To Private School: The First Week

By now, I probably don’t need to reiterate that my daughter switched, at 4th grade, from 3rd St. Elementary (a public school), to Mirman School. And last week was her first week.

As with any beginning, adjustments abound. And Anna* hasn’t had the greatest track record when it comes to school switches. Take, for instance, her first month or so at Montessori Shir-Hashirim preschool. I believe she spent most of it engaged in a one-child boycott of school activities, on the floor under a desk where she would be forcibly dragged out and made to do “jobs.” She was tough; the staff there was tougher. Eventually, she was broken and became a participant. But she was always on the bench (upon graduation, my mother offered to donate a bench named in Anna’s honor).

Cut to the switch to first grade at 3rd St. As I’ve previously written, she was assigned a truly dreadful first year teacher (ironically, according to the just released LA Times teacher standardized test scores, this teacher would have been considered “good.” This teacher was proof positive that the STAR tests can’t be the sole criteria used to evaluate a teacher). Anna butted heads with this woman immediately. She flaked on the homework assignments (copious amounts of busy work for six year olds). She skipped out after going to the girl’s room during class time and played on the monkey bars. She exhibited the rebellious behavior of a bored teenager.

There were other things about public school that rankled. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I state that the social scene is a bit like Lord of the Flies. Anna, in first grade, got a romantic offer from a fifth grader (my advice to her: never go near that little cretin again). She was the victim of a truly sophisticated form of girl terror in first grade the likes of which surprised me; I had no idea six year old girls could be that socially ruthless in the pursuit of power.

It only got more bizarre in third grade, when she was the recipient of an anti-Semitic comment. I grew up in L.A., and I have NEVER experienced any sort of anti-Semitism. To the school’s credit, it handled the situation well, but I felt sort of sad that Anna had to deal with that kind of garbage at all.

So, given her track record, I was fully prepared for some trauma upon switching to Mirman. What would the week bring?

I first thought that the uniform would be an issue. Anna has a definite style. But, as it turns out, she actually finds the uniform a relief. She has almost no decisions to make in the (very early) mornings now. She likes the shorts, the polo shirts, and the utility of it all. She’s even started wearing her glasses every school day.

Next, I was worried about the social makeup. It’s a small school. And Anna is the only new fourth grade student. Talk about being the ultimate new kid, and perhaps a real target. But I’ve seen none of that. The first day, Anna did say, “Well, I already have an enemy.” She said it in such a cheerful tone of voice, though, that it didn’t seem to be a concern. Sure enough, by the end of the week, she decided the girl was “really nice.” Of course, there’s one noisy, obnoxious boy whom Anna claims to loathe, but that’s par for the course in any classroom.

Next, I was concerned about the schoolwork itself. And it’s pretty clear to me that she’s behind in math. She told me that there’s testing this week, and that it was going “badly.” I’m sure it’s hard for her to go from having it so easy in public school to feeling far behind in private, but math is something that can be taught, and she’ll just have to learn it. It’s a valuable lesson best taught at an early age.

The biggest snafu was a carpool screw up which left Anna stranded at Mirman on Thursday. No one was amused. Anna’s abandonment freaked her out a bit. And it’s hard to describe my panic, being fifteen miles away from the school with rush hour rapidly approaching. On the bright side, I highly doubt a massive carpool fail such as this will ever happen again.

But these are small problems. The big picture is overwhelmingly positive. When asked about her first week, Anna gave it a “seven out of ten,” mostly because she was left up there on Thursday. That’s not bad for a first week at a new school. The best thing she said, though, was after the first day. Every day after school since first grade began, I’ve asked her, “What did you learn today?” For years now, she’s either said, “Nothing” or “I can’t remember.” But that first day at Mirman, when I picked her up, she volunteered information.

“Guess what I learned today, Mom?” she asked.

“What?” I replied.

“About a million things,” Anna answered.

Enough said.

*name changed for privacy

Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Our Guest Blogger’s Daily News Op-Ed Re: Gifted Testing

Jenny Heitz: How to get the school GATE to open in LAUSD

By Jenny Heitz, Published in the Daily News, Sunday, August 29, 2010
Updated: 08/29/2010 08:55:34 AM PDT

My daughter, Anna*, was accepted (miraculously, in fourth grade and off the wait list) to The Mirman School. The Mirman School is a private school on the Westside that has an extra requirement for entry: an IQ score in the “highly gifted” range.


Such a score, of course, requires a test. And although it sounds simple – you just schedule the test, take it, and see the results – the process is far more serpentine. There are tests, and there are tests. And when it comes to trying to get tested through the LAUSD, the process gets sticky and drawn out.


Anna completed kindergarten at her preschool. Upon entrance into first grade at Third Street Elementary School in Hancock Park, an LAUSD school, there were signs of trouble. Anna had no difficulty with the work. But she drove her inexperienced first year teacher crazy with questions and queries, to the point where the teacher humiliated her for it. Never have I been so angry with a teacher. Her standardized STAR tests, however, were excellent.


Second grade was better. A very experienced teacher took Anna in hand, gave her extra responsibilities and she seemed to flourish. He recommended testing so that she would receive “Gifted and Talented” status, something that might not do much for her at Third Street, which has almost no extra programs for GATE, but would help her in the public system later on in terms of magnet and other specialized programs.


She was tested the weekend after school let out for summer break. And it wasn’t a true IQ test. It was something called the Raven’s Progressive Matrices, which is a non-verbal intelligence test given (at least by LAUSD) in a group setting. Anna is a very verbal kid. We found out later that she left the test early. Repeat: She blew it off. And they let her.


Timeliness is not LAUSD’s strong suit. After waiting for the results for months and calling the headquarters repeatedly, we decided to get her an independent test. Independent tests, by the way, are not recognized by LAUSD. One of its own psychologists would have to administer an IQ test to have it count. Good luck scheduling that. At this point, Anna was in third grade, finishing her homework in 10 minutes, and apparently having “listening” problems in class. She didn’t have Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder. Her grades were great. So what was up?


An IQ test is given one-on-one by a psychologist, and we found Beth Levy through a friend’s recommendation. She tests kids out of her very cozy home office. There was absolutely nothing stressful about the test process. Levy was warm and friendly, a mom herself. She told us to go on a walk, and she and Anna got down to business.


Upon completion, Anna was sent into the yard to play and Levy sat down with us to go over the results. There are two IQ tests commonly used: Stanford Binet and the WISC IV. There’s a slight difference in the scoring. Levy uses the WISC IV. The test’s total score is divided into categories like verbal, performance, working memory and processing speed, which in turn are divided into subtests. There are no math problems or anxiety-provoking scenarios. Anna enjoyed the test and the individual attention. And her score was pretty high. In fact, I was surprised. Then again, it’s nice to know exactly why she’s always been such a pain in the neck.


Of course, once the cat was out of the bag, it’s hard to jam it, hissing and clawing, back in. Levy almost immediately recommended a private school situation for Anna. She pushed Mirman, a school I always thought was for scary smart kids (not my kid, I thought), as being a good choice for her. We went from being merely curious about a test score to full on shopping for private schools.


Ironically, after getting her IQ tested, her Raven’s score came back. LAUSD decided she was not gifted or talented. I guess that’s what happens when you let the kid leave the test. We would either have to push for a second, LAUSD administered one-on-one IQ test, or scream, yell, and get her teachers to write letters attesting to her working at least two levels above her grade. We went with that option, she ended up in the GATE program. But, as there are no GATE programs at Third Street, it did her no good at all. Then came the last-minute acceptance to Mirman, and suddenly it was no longer relevant.


So, how beneficial is it to get your kid IQ tested? Even after the debacle with LAUSD, I still think, that it’s absolutely worth it for public schools. There are good magnets out there and some schools do have specific programs. If nothing else, it gives you some extra leverage with your child’s teacher and gives them some perspective on your child. For private school, in most cases, it’s really not necessary, since most private schools will work with your child on a much more individual level anyway.


Anna will start at Mirman this week. She has no idea what kind of school it is, only that it’s going to be more of a challenge. She’s about to go from academically skating to possibly flailing for a while, until she gets her bearings. But that’s OK. I’d rather have a kid who’s challenged and often surpassed by her peers than going through life thinking everything’s going to be easy.



* Name changed for privacy. Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.

Congratulations to our wonderful guest blogger, Jenny, for being published in the Daily News! Dr. Beth Levy can be reached at 310-487-2206.




Applying To John Thomas Dye: Our Guest Blogger Tells Her Story

Do Or Die For John Thomas Dye

Before I begin this tale of very civilized rejection, I should note that my daughter had an ultimately happy ending: she got into a private school for fourth grade. But it wasn’t John Thomas Dye.


When we began the search for a private school, we were very discriminating (if also naïve. Ok, that’s being kind. We were, as I’ve said in my previous post, idiots). We didn’t apply to ten schools, some of which were safety schools; we only applied to two. And one was, of course, John Thomas Dye.


Now, I’m an L.A. native. I went to Crossroads for middle and high school. I should, apparently, know something about all the private schools in the area, right? Well, maybe not. JTD is only for elementary school. When I was in elementary school (in public school, no less), I didn’t know from JTD. No one I knew went there. The only impression I had of the place was that it seemed somehow, at least in my mother’s mind, connected to old money and the L.A. Country Club. In other words, they don’t let “our kind” in there (‘our kind” being residents of Beverlywood?).


My impression of the school only changed when two different families I know from Anna’s* preschool (Montessori Shir-Hashirim), got in. The first lucky entrants were very bright identical twins for kindergarten (a tough and unenviable job, gaining twins entrance anywhere). The second entrant was another girl who got in for third grade. Seemingly, JTD entrance was a breeze, right?


We never did any research on the matter (if I had ever looked at this blog, I would have known that hardly anyone gets into JTD, but instead I was oblivious).We just went along with the admissions process.


The first time I ever saw JTD was at its prospective parents’ night. The locale, up in the Bel Air hills, has the impact of an eagle’s nest, looking down upon the rest of the city in lofty assurance. There was a fire roaring in the auditorium. I couldn’t get much of a read on the other parents, although it seemed far more diverse than I expected. Affluence level? I couldn’t really tell.It had that waspy, money is something we don’t really talk about here attitude.


It began with a short film, much in black and white, telling the story of the school’s beginnings in 1949. The site looked much the same, the demographic was decidedly Anglo (not a shocker), there were some shots of traditional Thanksgiving, during which the founder parceled out turkey sandwiches with mayo (so L.A. Country Club, I could see my mom’s vindicated grimace).


But that was the past. The present seemed refreshingly no nonsense, even mellow compared to other schools we’d toured. The headmaster even stated, “It’s just elementary school, people.” For a person like myself, with limited tolerance for panic or pretension, this was a grand approach. I was sold. And hey, it seemed so friendly! Certainly they’d let Anna in.


There was one aspect that sent alarm bells off for me. There was a huge emphasis put on families, not individual kids. But what does a “family” mean, these days? For example, I’m divorced and have a significant other. We know families with same sex parents, single parents, and intact marriages that no one would want. What kind of “family” did JTD want?It seemed so no nonsense, but so squeaky clean and straight. Polite. Even if we definitely weren’t the type of family JTD wanted, it would never say so on any level.


They introduced a panel of kids, who fielded questions from the parents. The kids seemed awfully nice, well spoken but not precocious. They answered some fairly inane questions in a patient way. They simply sounded like well-educated kids. The only false note for me was the underprivileged Latina girl from Hawthorne, who seemed to be in the position of token scholarship case. She was fabulous. Any school would have loved to have this kid. But she seemed so grateful. And that bothered me. She shouldn’t have to display that for the school’s benefit; everyone knows that every private school has highly qualified scholarship kids.


What struck me, though, was how nice the kids seemed. That was really stressed. There was a solid, long established behavior and honor code that was strictly followed. This was highly appealing.And the academics, of course, were already established as being of the highest caliber. JTD kids go to great middle and upper schools. End of story.


Next, the application. Nothing unusual there. We were fortunate enough to have the head of Montessori Shir-Hashirim, Elena Cielak, write a glowing recommendation. Elena carries a lot of weight at certain private schools, so that was a plus.


The interview itself was, in retrospect, a real mixed bag. At the time, I convinced myself that it went fine. The JTD AD is a very professional yet warm woman. She’s very to the point, yet is so welcoming that you feel like your kid’s already in. All I can say is: ignore this feeling. She started out the interview by saying that they had limited spots for 4th grade (I’ll stick with my previous theme: we were idiots), and that, judging from her scores and recommendations, Anna would be a shoo-in at Archer for 6th grade, thus solving that lost year problem.That sounded nice. And I didn’t hear the message underneath: we have no space, but she’ll be ok.


Then, there was that stress on the family thing. I’ve written regarding this aspect of the interview previously. So I’ll just reiterate that I felt we were being evaluated, as a divorced family, for any signs of discord. Now, we really don’t have any. We work well together. But I got the impression that JTD’s comfort level in this arena leans toward the traditional and intact. But, again, denial is a wonderful thing, so I shook it off.


Anna, naturally, loved the school. Who wouldn’t? It looks like a hybrid of a farm, a country club, and a camp. It has a fireplace. It has lovely white buildings. It doesn’t feel like it’s in the city. It has a comforting vibe.


Of course she didn’t get in. Although she made it onto the wait list, which I guess is an accomplishment on some level. What did we do to ingratiate ourselves? Not much beyond calling and keeping in touch with the AD. It’s not like our unconventional family could buy JTD more land or pay for its new facility.So, we never made it off the wait list. She’s going to Mirman instead.


Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about JTD. I had no idea that Los Angeles was littered with its rejection letters. I didn’t realize that the 3rd grader we know who gained entrance had parents who worked JTD for years, attending school events although their child didn’t even go to the school. Maybe they even gave money, I don’t know.


So if you’re seeking entrance to JTD (and hey, it really is a great school, so I wouldn’t blame you), you’d better seriously work it. Get the family involved early. Go to every event. Charm the AD (although even if you’re not charming her, you’d never know it).Don’t be idiots. And then, cross your fingers and pray to the deity of your choice.


* Name changed for privacy. Thank you to our guest blogger, Jenny Heitz, for sharing her story. Jenny’s daughter Anna attended preschool at Montessori Shir-Hashirim. She attended 3rd St. Elementary School and will enter Mirman School for 4th Grade this fall.


Editor’s Note: For the past few years, my son has played football at Barrington Park in Brentwood with families from JTD. They are super-nice, extremely high net-worth, live in Brentwood and Bel Air. They love JTD. Some of the moms are socialites. They all belong to country clubs like Brentwood, Bel Air and The Jonathan Club. They vacation in Europe and Martha’s Vineyard and other high-end locations.- Christina



Our Guest Blogger Tours The "Gooey & Precious" School

The Fertile Crescent

Great Expectations: When School Tours Go Awry. Everyone has expectations about the private schools they’re considering for their child. When I was researching schools for my daughter, I spent plenty of time remembering what Anna’s preschool head had said regarding different schools. I read lots of online material. I chatted with friends about their experiences. And then I dove in and took the tours.


Expectations, though, are funny things. They come back to bite you. Like the time I marched into a tour convinced of certain things about the school, and walked out of the tour clutching my vitals. How, I wondered, could I have gotten it so wrong?


I was fully prepared to like this nameless, not to be identified school. I really wanted to like it, since I’d heard great things about its academics and approach (its location didn’t hurt, either). So, I entered the tour in a very friendly state of mind, as did my ex-husband and my significant other; a veritable threesome of good vibes, we were.


It was a lovely new campus, almost an oasis in the middle of surging suburbia. We were greeted and deposited in a modern library, complete with snacks and various giveaway items emblazoned with the school’s name. Fancy. And then the AD got up to speak. And speak. And speak.


Here’s some of the things said that gave me a headache:

▪    A gushy, mushy, corny rant about how our children are so special to each of us, and what good care they take of them. Well, for the price I’d be paying, good care is the least I should expect.

▪    A constant bragging about the wonderful middle schools the kids matriculate into. One mention is enough. More than that seemed to point to some insecurity.

▪    The headmaster telling a completely phony, self-serving story about some new kindergartner wanting to go to the school on a Saturday. Maybe the kid was just confused, not enthusiastic.


And then there was the very self-congratulatory community service program. The school hosts a “sister school” type program once a year for physically challenged kids at a public school in an underprivileged neighborhood. For these kids, the AD said, the visiting day to such a beautiful campus to play games “was like going to Disneyland.” Huh? The sister school is in an underprivileged area, not the Third World. There was even a video of wealthy kids pushing the poor kids’ wheelchairs around, with one of the pushers on camera, disingenuously saying, “This is the my favorite thing I’ve done all year.” I’m all for community service, but I didn’t like the tone.


What was even more bizarre was when they brought the elderly founder out to discuss his educational philosophy. It was very interesting, but it bore almost no relationship to what was going on at the school at present. This juxtaposition, in fact, was a bit stunning.


After about an hour of that, we finally got to the tour. It was given by two 6th graders, who were perfectly adorable (if perfectly canned). There was a lot of emphasis placed on an outdoor area with a silly name (I’m going to call it “The Fertile Crescent”). Such a verdant area was nice, although given the economic make up of the student body, how big a deal was it, really? After all, I’m sure all the kids had trees and flowers at home. Is it so important to have them at school? Just wondering about the need to point out the “Crescent” constantly during the tour.


In fact, the emphasis on The Fertile Crescent seemed to encompass the whole problem I had with this school and its tour approach. The staff kept emphasizing self-esteem and feeling good, yet then would do a double take and describe it as an academically rigorous environment. And to its credit, when I saw the academics, they looked good. The math class I saw was fascinating and stimulating. But just when I was getting good and interested in the academics, they’d ruin it with mush. There also seemed to be a bit of denial about how children behave. My significant other asked the Vice Principal about whether the school had a behavior code (a relevant question, and one that’s particularly important for our child, who will manipulate a system unless there are very clear boundaries). The VP seemed a bit stuck. He did point out a somewhat haphazard code, but he seemed to dismiss the question with the attitude of “we don’t have those problems here.” Please. Every school has those problems.


The capper, though, came toward the tour’s end. We walked into the music room, and a group of 1st graders “spontaneously” burst into singing “We Are the World.” Oh no. I thought the three of us were going to double over laughing. And yes, I realize that, to a less jaded little group, this musical display might hold appeal. Just not for us.


As we limped away, we all agreed that this school was wrong for Anna. She doesn’t need more coddling and self-esteem; she needs boundaries and discipline. We couldn’t get a real handle on the academic situation. And thus, we canceled her interview and tour almost immediately. One more school crossed off the list. Expectations dashed.


What was so disappointing about this experience is that the school had really shot itself in the foot. There was nothing wrong with the academics there. The staff seemed so well meaning. But the school was caught between what it really needs to be in order to survive in a competitive private school market, and what it felt the parents “needed” to hear. I guess we were the parents who just fully rejected the message as marketing, and that made us suspicious of its motives.


About a week after the tour, I received a little envelope from the school. It was a packet of sunflower seeds, the outside of the envelope stating it was from The Fertile Crescent. Needless to say, I didn’t plant them.


Thank you to our guest blogger, Jenny Heitz, for sharing her story. Jenny’s daughter Anna attended preschool at Montessori Shir-Hashirim. She attended 3rd St. Elementary School and will enter Mirman School for 4th Grade this fall (see Jenny’s post from 7/28/10…”The Gooey and Precious School is a reference from this post). You can find Jenny blogging at www.findatoad.com a fabulous, well-edited site for adult and kids gifts under $200.

One Mom’s Story: From Public to Private Elementary School For 4th Grade

An Unlikely Private School Success Story


I guess I’ve given away any chance of a surprise ending to this blog post. Yes, unlike many private school admissions horror stories, this scenario has a happy ending.


There’s really no reason why it should. As an applicant, my nine year old daughter wasn’t any sort of shoo-in on the admissions front. Anna* was a public school kid, matriculating through the grades at 3rd St. Elementary pretty seamlessly. But the clock was ticking on the public school front. She seemed under stimulated. Funding for the school was in constant jeopardy, with programs under threat of extinction. And then, there was that dreaded “gap year” to worry about. It all finally came to a head when LAUSD was slow to test Anna for gifted status. I arranged for a private test, just to see what was what. And when the results came in, it seemed clear that private school was in her immediate future.


In retrospect, we were total idiots about the whole process. Completely naïve. Because we hadn’t reached this private school revelation until Anna was in 3rd grade, she’d missed that private school 3rd grade entrance year. Fourth grade would be harder. We are a divorced family, and while everyone is doing just fine, thanks, it’s not like anyone’s rolling in dough; there would be no school buildings with our names on it.


Nevertheless, we moved blithely onwards. Next step was picking the schools. We divided and conquered on this one, with my significant other helping as well. It was clear that Anna needed a lot of structure, since in a looser progressive environment she’d probably stage a military junta and start her own small country. We looked at St. James, which was lovely, but perhaps not academically challenging enough. We looked at Curtis, but we weren’t sure it was a good fit for a number of reasons. We also looked at a school that was well-meaning, but was so gooey and precious, we knew it wouldn’t work for Anna. That was out.


Here’s where we were idiots once again: we only ended up applying to two schools. No safety. This narrowed our chances for success even further. So Mirman and John Thomas Dye it was, based solely on what we felt was right for her: traditional, academically challenging, and small.


And then there were the interviews. It’s probably stressful for everyone, but in a divorce situation you really feel like you’re under the microscope. I think admissions directors are looking for any sort of tension between the ex-spouses, constantly checking for signs of trouble. It’s hard to blame them, really. We get along just fine, but I did feel the scrutiny bearing down on us. As far as appearances for the interviews, I went for something slightly more conservative than my usual garb (I teach Pilates and write. My style can best be described as “fashionable slob”). So my t-shirts were traded for button downs, I kept the jeans but wore flats rather than Converse, and I added a lovely scarf. We wrote the ADs very correct thank-you notes.


There were some notable differences in the interview process at each school. Mirman was primarily interested in the child. She was interviewed solo; we were interviewed with her present. She spent a half day at the school, simply participating in classroom activities. She took a test, of course. The whole process was extremely child centered, which we liked since she’s the one who would attend the place.


John Thomas Dye, on the other hand, was all about the family. We were interviewed together, which meant Anna clammed up. There was a huge stress put on the families engaging as a community, which sounded great, except that I couldn’t get a handle on what sort of families belonged there. There was a lot of stress put on the divorced status, with the AD talking about divorced couples she’d interviewed who couldn’t stand to be in the same room together. Obviously, that’s not the case here, but I got the feeling that we were being tested as a “unit” the entire time.


Both schools were great, though. There was no question that each would keep Anna engaged, involved, and out of trouble. The kids at both schools seemed very nice. Anna liked the schools, although she was apprehensive about leaving her environment. We settled in to wait for the letters.


And then she was wait listed. At both schools.


Oh, boy. Although we knew that with only two schools in the running and a 4th grade entrance Anna’s chances were slim, it was still a bummer. But, we did all the right things. Made the calls, stressed how interested we were, offered to build a science lab (kidding). And then we promptly forgot all about it.


The call from Mirman came in early July. It was a complete surprise. “There’s a spot that’s opened up in Room 4,” the admissions director said on my voicemail. “We’d like to offer it to Anna.” Needless to say, we jumped at it.


So how lucky is that? Admission for an off year, only applying to two schools, not offering millions of dollars, no reference letters from titans of business, initially wait listed, and then, finally, acceptance. Yes, we didn’t do everything right. It was stressful and, as I’ve previously mentioned, we were idiots. But, somehow, the whole thing worked out.


I really wish I’d known about this blog when we first started this process. I would have been far more prepared for the private school admissions reality. And then, perhaps, I could have relied more upon wits than luck. But, there’s always middle school admission to worry about, so I guess there’s another opportunity on the distant horizon. Bleh.


* Name changed for privacy. Thank you to our guest blogger, Jenny Heitz, for sharing her story. Jenny’s daughter attended preschool at Montessori Shir-Hashirim. You can find her blogging at www.findatoad.com a fabulous, well-edited site for adult and kids gifts under $200.

Next time we’ll post a list of some of the recent private elementary school acceptances from public schools.