Q&A Interview with Robert Evans, Executive Director of the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs

I recently stopped by the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs (Alliance) to meet with executive director Robert Evans. I’ve been a longtime admirer of the work the Alliance does to help families of color navigate the competitive independent school (also commonly called private school) admissions process. In person, Robert is a wealth of information about school admissions. As a former independent school educator and current parent at a top school, Robert is a true insider who understands how school admissions really work. He also happens to be a very smart, friendly and outgoing guy who welcomes families to his office where, along with his staff, they roll up their sleeves and tackle all aspects of admissions. The goal? Acceptance to schools like Buckley, Brentwood, Campbell Hall, The Center For Early Education, Crossroads, Harvard-Westlake, John Thomas Dye, Polytechnic, Viewpoint, Walden and Westland to name a few. The admissions success rate for Alliance families speaks for itself: 84 percent of families are accepted to schools where they apply (the average acceptance rate for non-Alliance families is around 20 percent). The deadline to apply to work with the Alliance is August 1, 2019. Thank you Robert for your time and the work you do! –Christina

Robert Evans (Photo by Vince Bucci)

Q: How does the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs (Alliance) help families get into the most competitive private schools in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley?

A: We understand that choosing the right school is by far one of the most important decisions that parents can make for their child. For 35 years, we have worked with our families to demystify the complexity of applying to independent schools. Our program takes a holistic approach to school admissions by providing general education about the various schooling options offered at our 50+ member schools; leading families through the application process; providing testing preparation services for students; matching families to schools that best meet their needs; and providing ongoing support for students in families throughout their educational career.

We offer workshops and resources on educational philosophies so that our parents understand the mission and vision of our 50+ unique member schools. Through our program, parents learn about progressive, developmental, project-based, constructivist, and traditional approaches to education. As parents consider the various schooling options, we perform an initial vetting in order to understand the best fit for their child’s strengths, personality, and learning style. When our member schools receive an application from the Alliance, they know and trust that we have worked hard to ensure a good match for all parties involved. Additionally, we take the stress out of the paperwork of applying as Alliance families complete ONE common application, which is honored by all of our member schools. We also offer fee waivers for the ISEE, FAST, and SSS, which make the cost of applying to independent school substantially lower than families who apply without the support of the Alliance.

Q: Do families have to demonstrate financial need to work with the Alliance? Also, do you assist families with the financial process at private schools?

A: The Alliance brokers substantial financial aid for an average of 80% of its students annually. We provide information regarding budgeting and financial planning for independent school education, and we work with our families to identify schools that are within the financial range of what they are able and willing to contribute. We are very proud to work with families of varying degrees of socioeconomic status as many of our families are considered low-to-moderate income while others are able to pay 50% to 90% of their tuition fees.

Tuition and fees vary according to the type of school (day school, boarding, etc.) and other factors. Although independent schools rely on tuition income as their major source of revenue, financial aid may be available to families who qualify. Details about financial aid policies and how to apply for financial assistance can be obtained from the individual schools.

Q: What percentage of Alliance families are accepted to schools where they apply?

A: Approximately 84% of the students who apply through the Independent School Alliance are accepted at one or more of our 50+ member schools. Such a high percentage rate of acceptance can be credited to personal counseling, appropriate recommendations, and solid matches between families and schools by the Independent School Alliance staff.

Q: How does your experience as an educator help the Alliance’s families find the right school?

A: I am fortunate to come into the role of Executive Director of the Alliance having previously taught in one of our member schools and having two of my children in another. As a parent, I understand the importance of community and believe in the culture of academic excellence that is supported at independent schools. I empathize with other parents with wanting my children to have educational success in an environment that nurtures their abilities, grows their interest, and helps to define their talents. As an educator, I also understand that students thrive in an environment that is built upon the foundation of relationships, respect, and rigor; and it is therefore important for a school to employ teachers who are committed to educating the whole child with love, care, and respect. As such, I have chosen to educate my children in the independent school environment and speak from firsthand knowledge about our experience in this community as a family. 

Additionally, I am on the board of an organization that focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in Southern California independent schools. This organization works in tandem with the support prong of the Alliance’s mission to provide resources, professional development, and opportunities for conversations, programming, and institutional changes to make our schools more equitable. My experiences as both a parent of children in independent schools and as an independent school educator has definitely informed my understanding of how best to serve Alliance families as they prepare to join the independent school community. 

Q: The Alliance’s board of directors includes administrators from Archer, Crossroads, Harvard-Westlake and Wildwood. The board members serve terms, but you have a direct line to officials at highly selective schools every year. How do you use this access on behalf of ISA families? 

A: We were fortunate to have independent school educators involved at the inception of the founding of our organization. Our governance committee of the board has determined that a quarter of our board must be comprised of senior administrators from our member schools at all times. This intentionality allows us to keep our fingers on the pulse of issues that affect independent schools. Additionally, each year we meet with our partners about their specific needs as a school and ensure that we are in communication about the changing landscape of admissions in independent schools. We engage in ongoing work with our member schools throughout each school year to increase diversity on their campuses while simultaneously working to eliminate inequitable barriers to educational access.

In thinking about how to best utilize our unique access to member schools, we have adopted a philosophy of family and student advocacy. Through mutual respect, communication, and understanding, we gain a commitment from our school partners to help our students and families gain access to a great education. Throughout the admissions process, we have frequent touchpoints with our member schools to ensure that our students and families have the most opportune chance of being considered for admission. Our strategic advocacy, intentional programming, and well-designed and organized support systems influence school decision makers about all the important issues that will affect the student, family, and school community.

Q: Is there a student who stands out in your mind as a great example of the partnership between the Alliance and a family? 

A: Partnerships ensure that students are active participants in the learning process and parents are well- informed about their child’s educational experiences. Strong partnerships are built on regular, open communication about educational goals, as well as student academic achievement and personal development. These relationships are an integral part of quality education.

Parents play an essential and positive role in the life of an independent school and in the life of the Alliance as an organization. Not only are parents advocates for their children, but they also support the school and the Alliance through extensive volunteer activities and events. 

There are a number of students that stand out as great examples of the partnership between families and the Alliance. One such example is found in the partnership between the Alliance and Kelsey and her mom, Roberta (both pseudonyms). Kelsey and her mom used our program twice for middle and again for high school. Kelsey was a reserved and soft-spoken student when she initially applied to our program; however, today, Kelsey is one of the Alliance’s biggest cheerleaders and she also serves as a Youth Ambassador. Kelsey supports us by attending our information sessions for outreach in the community and providing prospective Alliance families with anecdotes about her personal independent school experience. Her mom, Roberta, routinely volunteers to support the Alliance. She was most recently a greeter at our annual family end-of-school-year gathering. Whenever we ask, Roberta is there to offer the support and feedback that we need to improve our ability to meet the needs of our families and students. We truly appreciate the commitment and dedication of families such as Kelsey and Roberta and we are grateful for their ongoing support and family advocacy. We look forward to seeing how Kelsey continues to learn and grow during her educational career.

One success story that comes to mind is of Kalief (also a pseudonym), a young man who entered our program in the 6th grade. After graduating from a member school and an Ivy League college, Kalief returned to the Los Angeles area to serve as a teacher in one of our partner schools. In addition, Kalief also made his way back to the Alliance to support our mission as a teacher in our Student Orientation Program, which is designed as a transition program for new students. Last summer, when I walked into Kalief’s classroom, his students were reading the Declaration of Independence, the Ten-Point Plan of the Black Panther Party, and the Brown Beret Ten-Point Program. Kalief not only challenged his students to think through primary source documents for contextual understanding but to also extract information from these documents to make informed judgments related to decisions of the time. It was amazing to watch 6th graders grapple with issues of justice while simultaneously strengthening their reading and comprehension skills. Kalief used narrative comments, report cards, and test scores of our students to create personalized, needs-based, skills-based, and culturally competent class lessons. I sincerely appreciated the care and energy that he put into this learning experience and believe that his personal connection to the Alliance made the experience much more fruitful for our students.

For more information, contact the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs. The deadline to work with the Alliance is August 1, 2019! Information sessions will be held July 20 and August 1. 2019.

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Independent School Alliance For Minority Affairs: Interview With Keishia Gu, Exec. Director

Keishia Gu

The Independent School Alliance For Minority Affairs (ISA) recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. What an accomplishment! The organization started with just a small group of committed school administrators, led by Margo Long, the head of Oakwood Elementary School. I like to think of the ISA as a full service educational consulting organization for minority families. The 30th anniversary gala event was held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. In addition to 54 heads of school who were recognized for their contributions to the organization, it was a star-studded event that raised $650K to fund ISA programs. In the spirit of the event, Beyond The Brochure contributed $500 to help fund admissions fees for ISA families. Jessica Alba presented an award to Brian Lee (The Honest Company, LegalZoom), who bid generously on live auction items. Lisa Loeb sang and I spotted John Legend too!  Jeffery Campbell, an ISA board member and his wife, Jennifer Fox, were gracious hosts who invited me to join them at the event. The kids who have benefitted from ISA admissions services were incredibly poised and articulate. They are students at Archer, Harvard-Westlake, Viewpoint and many more schools. I met Keishia Gu, ISA’s Executive Director, an articulate and accomplished leader who I know we can count on to ensure there is a steady growth of diverse families in L.A. independent (private) schools. Here’s my interview with Keishia:


1. You have a very impressive resume! Can you talk a bit about your background and what brought you to ISA?

Thank you!!!! I grew up as a nomad, and therefore I have a unique perspective on education and schools. My father is a retired Colonel in the US Air Force, and as a result of being a military brat, I attended 16 schools from K-12. From my personal experience, I learned that not all schools, curriculum, or teachers were created equally. I attended some great schools, and I attended my share of “poor performing” schools, but didn’t have the sophistication to understand educational inequity. But I always knew that I would go into education because of the impact “school” had on my life. I started my career at my alma mater, Georgetown University–and served as the Assistant Director of Admissions with a particular emphasis on multicultural recruitment. I moved on to graduate school at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education where I focused on education reform and policy. Bob Riddle, the Head of Crossroads for Arts & Sciences, gave me my first job in California at Crossroads where I did a seven year stint as an Academic Dean, English teacher, and college counselor. In 2010, in order to reach back to the communities who I felt needed my college planning expertise the most, I joined the award-winning KIPP LA Schools, and worked as the Director of the KIPP Through College program. I’m grateful to Lee Miller at Cal West Educators, who personally called me about the opportunity at the Independent School Alliance. I believe I was ultimately selected because of my experience in recruitment and admissions, working with families of color, knowledge of independent schools, and business acumen. I had the right background and new vision to lead this organization into its next incredible phase of growth. Personally, it is my life’s work to provide children with the opportunity to attend a school that best matches their passions and personality, so I feel like I’m helping all of the “little Keishia’s” of the world.


2. Who are the families ISA serves?

The Independent School Alliance (ISA) works to inform families of color across Los Angeles about the option of independent school education. Our families self-identify as African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American, and Multiracial/Multiethnic.

ISA Gala

3. How do you help families find the right independent school in L.A. given the extremely competitive admissions process at many of the top schools.

At ISA, we understand that choosing the right school is by far one of the most important decisions that one can make for their child. We work with our families to help demystify the complexity of applying to independent school. We offer workshops and resources on educational philosophies, so that our parents understand the mission and vision of our 54 unique member schools. With our program, parents learn the differences between progressive, developmental, project-based, constructivist, and traditional approaches to education. Additionally, as parents consider their options, we perform an initial vetting of the children in order to understand the best fit for the child’s strengths, personality, and learning style. When our member schools receive an application from ISA, they can know and trust that we have worked hard to ensure that it’s a good match for all parties involved. Finally, we take the stress out of the paperwork because ISA families complete ONE common application and one financial assistance application, which is honored by all of our member schools. We also offer fee waivers for the ISEE, FAST, and SSS–making the cost of applying to independent school substantially lower than if families applied without the support of ISA. To see a complete list of schools where ISA helps families get in, click here.


4. If a family wants to handle the admissions process on their own, but has a few questions, can the ISA help?

We are a small and mighty nonprofit, and have the resources and staffing to support the 150 -200 families who are a part of our program each year. We’re happy to take a call or walk-in consultation for a few people each year who are not formally a part of our program. But for the most part we reserve our program, advice, and expertise for those who are working with us directly.


5. Do ISA families have to demonstrate a need for financial aid?

No, actually, we are very proud to work with families of varying degrees of socioeconomic status. Many of our families may be considered low-to-moderate income, but a reasonable percentage of our families are able to pay 50% to 90% of their tuition fees. We provide information regarding budgeting and financial planning for independent school education, and we will work with our families to identify schools that are within the range of what they are able and willing to contribute.


For more information, visit, www.independentschoolalliance.org


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Photo collage: Candi Schreuders

Private Elementary School Buzz!

  • Manassa Tangalin has announced her retirement as the executive director of the Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs of Southern CaliforniaHer replacement has not yet been named. The Independent School Alliance was founded by its members schools for the purpose of placing underrepresented students at the elementary and secondary levels.
  • Intense dislike for a lower elementary school teacher at one Westside private school has caused several families to exit the school. Apparently the teacher’s abrasive style with kids is causing the friction, but the head of school stands behind the teacher.
  • We hear that a very unfortunate situation is brewing at a respected traditional parochial school in L.A. At the start of this school year, a serious allegation was made anonymously that a newly hired male teacher was known to have acted very inappropriately at a previous job. Phone calls to families in the grade and an anonymous email letter have circulated. The school tried unsuccessfully to find out who made the allegation.  The situation remains unresolved and it is unclear whether there is any truth to the matter. However, some staff and parents have been shaken up by the controversy.



Minority Families At Private Elementary Schools: Is Enough Being Done To Support Diverse Families?

By Porcha Dodson, Co-Author, Beyond The Brochure

Los Angeles is often described as one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the Unites States. A melting pot where people from all social and socio-economic classes can create a comfortable space for themselves and their families.  The topic of diversity and inclusion has always been a top priority for many private elementary schools in Los Angeles. Most accredited schools have a diversity mission statement that fits with the school’s educational philosophy. Diversity initiatives at private elementary schools are in place. Efforts are made to recruit and retain minority students. Why then, do some minority families feel like there are very few, if any, support services for them at their schools? Why are some diverse families feeling like they are excluded from social events both at the school and outside of school? 


A recent dinner with friends who work in some of LA’s top private schools led me to think about this subject, one which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working on when I was Director of Diversity at The Curtis School.  Over dinner, my colleagues and I pondered the question, “why are so many minority students and families still feeling isolated within their private school communities”? The name of a very well-known music industry super-star and his family were mentioned as parents who are feeling isolated at their children’s school. In this case, race, not class is the dividing issue.


I spoke with a private elementary school family who had recently fallen on hard times as a result of the recession. The woman’s husband had to take a job in another state. The woman felt totally isolated from her peer families at her child’s school and was no longer invited to many of the social gatherings, party book functions and play dates where the family was often first on the list of invited guests.


This is one example of how minority families can feel isolation due to a change in socio-economic status. Although this situation is unique in its own way, it illustrates the fact that at some schools, additional time must be spent on developing effective retention strategies for minority families and incorporating more sensitivity training into professional development workshops.


The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) encourages schools to educate their teachers and staff on how to be sensitive to all students and work to develop these practices and lessons into everyday classroom instruction and the admissions process.


Last week, a good friend shared with me that there was an amazing new family from out of state that had just joined her daughter’s third grade class. The mother was friendly and always made time in her busy work schedule to volunteer and be an active member of the classroom community. The family lives in a gated community in Inglewood because the father had accepted a job at the last minute at a huge law firm in LA and this was the first house they found. The mother tried hard to set up play date after play date, but seemed to continuously have no luck. Finally, one day she called a mom that she was friendly with and asked if they could get together. The other mother’s response was, “Sure, but I heard that you live in Inglewood and we DON’T DO Inglewood”. Needless to say, these same patterns continued throughout the course of the next year and finally the family ended up leaving the school.  In my experience, this is not uncommon. Minority families an be isolated due to socio-economic status, geographic differences, race or other factors. Let’s face it, race still matters.


If you are a minority family applying to schools, there are a few things you should look for during your tours, interviews and visits to the school. Do you see diverse students, teachers and staff at the school? Does the school have a diversity committee that allows parents to join? Once your child is at the school, if it does not have a diversity committee, talk to your head master about setting up one. In addition, help organize a parent-driven committee that is responsible for acknowledging and creating campus-wide programs that celebrate each cultural holiday (Chinese New Year, Black History Month, Cinco De Mayo and more). A guest speaker series that focuses on social justice and inclusivity is also a format that is used successfully by many private elementary schools in Los Angeles. All of these practices will help ensure that diversity is welcome and celebrated throughout the school community, making the campus more inclusive to every family.


If you are a minority family applying to private schools, The Alliance, as it’s known among private schools, can help with all aspects of the admissions process.

Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs of So. Cal
 www.thealliance-la.org or 213-484-2411