Guest Blogger Sharie: Six Things I Learned in a Hurry When Starting My School Search

Portrait Of Boy Looking Excited

As the mother of a preschooler, I’ve been a faithful reader of this blog and the Beyond The Brochure book for a while now, so when it finally came time to start finding a Kindergarten for our son for next fall I felt pretty prepared. A month into the process, though, it was obvious I still had some lessons to learn!


1. Time flies

Wow, I feel like we just got into preschool and *bam* it’s already time to look for a Kindergarten. And I quickly discovered that the time between the fall Kindergarten fair and “tour season” is pretty short. I had to quickly finish my research in order to come up with our list of prospectives in time to rsvp for tours. Tours fill up fast so RSVP early!


2. Your preschool administrator really is your greatest resource

I think our son is perfect, of course, and would do well at any school but I was very overwhelmed trying to decide what school style would be the best fit for us. Traditional? Progressive? Big? Small? Our preschool director was a tremendous help here, and we really worked closely with her to come up with a list of prospective schools where our son could really thrive.


3. Tour early, tour often

This is one of the biggies that I wish I’d taken more to heart. If I’d toured even a few schools last year (ie: two years before our Kindergarten entry) like Beyond the Brochure recommends, that’s a few more schools I could’ve either seen again or crossed off the list and saved some hurried pavement pounding.


4. Take notes

This seems like a no-brainer, but I was surprised at how few parents at fairs or on tours actually take notes. Through fairs, tours, events, etc. we probably met easily 4-6 people associated with each school on our list. That’s a lot of names to mix up. When it’s application time I definitely want to be able to reference some of the administrators and teachers we met along the way.


5. Drive the route. During rush-hour.

There were some schools on our list that we really loved but after doing some test runs during the morning and afternoon commutes it became painfully obvious that it just wasn’t feasible to make it to school in one direction and then head all the way across town to work in the opposite direction. What seems like a blow-off at 10am for a tour is a completely different story at 8am, so unfortunately we had to cross an entire area of goods schools off our list. Because remember, however far away the school is, you’re in the car for four times that duration, going there and back and there and back!


6.  Do your research and keep an open mind

The first school we toured I didn’t know much about and had considered it more as a backup but ended up loving it. Conversely, a couple of schools we really had high hopes for seemed great on the surface, but going, well, beyond the brochure and asking friends and fellow parents about the schools turned up some unpleasant surprises about their academics. And one popular school everyone raves about seemed perfect for us from the website but 30 seconds into the tour we could tell it wasn’t right for our family at all. School websites and brochures can tell you a lot about the place but don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper. And please, don’t be that parent on the tour who asks questions that are obviously answered on the school’s website!


The fall tour season seems a little frantic, but thanks to great tips from the Beyond The Brochure blog and book I actually feel somewhat prepared. Now that we’ve narrowed our list down to schools we like, I can’t wait for the next phase of the process: applications!


Sharie Piper (not her real name) is on pins and needles to see where her son ends up going to school next year and can’t wait to do it all again in a few years for her daughter.

Touring, But Not Finding The Right Schools?

Beautiful art studio at Polytechnic School, Pasadena. Photo:
Beautiful art studio at Polytechnic School, Pasadena. Photo:

Recently a mom posted in an online Facebook Group that she wasn’t finding the type of L.A. private schools she was looking for. If this is happening to you (or happens once you start looking at schools), here are a few ways to find the private schools you will like:


  • Tour schools with a different educational philosophy than you’ve previously seen. It’s possible you thought you wanted a traditional school or perhaps a religious school, but maybe you’d be more in sync with a school that is a blend of educational philosophies. Finding the right philosophical fit for your family is important says Dr. Fay Van Der Kar-Levinson on Kids In The House
  • Ignore the hype! Instead, ask a few trusted parents whose advice you value which schools they recommend
  • Expand your geographic area (within reason). This worked for me!
  • Talk to your preschool director; ask his/her opinion about schools that might be a good fit for your family. This also worked for me.
  • Think carefully about the school you think will best fit your child. Try to think ahead a few years to what your child’s learning style and interests might be. Selecting a structured or unstructured classroom learning approach is a key element to observe, as Dr. Fay Van Der Kar-Levinson points out on Kids In The House.
  • Tour the school a second time if your first tour left you with questions.
  • Gather your thoughts and examine or re-examine your priorities. If finding a school close to your spouse’s office isn’t happening, think about other options.

Touring Schools: Ideal Conditions for Growth and Learning by Anne Simon

Los Angeles private elementary schools have begun their school year.  For parents who are sending their children off to school for the first time (or to a new school) it is a time of hope combined with anxiety. Moms and dads hope that their children will grow and learn as they become happy, well adjusted members of their school community. But, as parents can also be afraid of all the things that come along with the ride. Private school families (and public school parents too) have great expectations and great hopes, and therefore great stress.


It’s a time of year when parents of 3 and 4 year olds who are planning to go the private (independent) school route start to think about where they want their children to be a year from now. There are many questions to address and decisions to make. Tours, coffees, applications, interviews, testing… These are all part of the process that will consume their lives for the next eight months.


I want to take a step back from all the logistics of applying to private schools for a minute and offer some ideas about what parents need to think about as they seek out the best school for their child and family. It is very important to consider these issues in the context of your own family values and circumstances. There is no best answer, best school, or best situation. Each child is unique and each family must decide which school(s) will give that child the best education for him/her and for their family.


I call these ideas Conditions for Growth and Learning. I have tried to distill them from my decades of experience in private/independent schools with different styles and philosophies. This is a rubric to be filled in by parents as they look at the schools. It is hopefully a tool to help determine the best fit for their child and/or family.


They are:

  • Physical and Emotional Safety
  • The Foundation; Challenge and Expectations
  • Setting the Bar Just Right
  • Encouraging Risk Taking
  • Appreciation for the Value of Mistakes and Course Corrections
  • Limit Setting –Padded Walls; and Engagement
  • Being Known and Encouraged to Participate


Look for further embellishment on each of these ideas in the future!



The most basic need that we all have is to feel safe – safe physically and emotionally. This is something that some of us, especially those of us who have lived our lives in relative comfort, take for granted, or at least assume comes with the package of being able to offer opportunities to our children. It is not necessarily so! Sometimes we don’t even recognize that this essential need is absent until we experience some kind of threatening situation. Every child has her/his own unique personality and will grow optimally in an environment that compliments her/him within a foundation of safety. As parents, we spend those first precious years discovering who our children really are and trying to figure out what they need. In choosing a school, it is important to make sure that the environment you are thinking of placing your child into is one that will enfold him/her and offer the security that will allow your child to feel safe enough to attend, explore, and flourish.


There is no “one size fits all” school! Everything about a private elementary school is thought out – its philosophy, mission, structure, and style. These institutions are very intentional. The values of each school flow into the environment and influence every aspect of the school culture. This plays itself out in many ways.


A school that focuses on traditional academic rigor can be intimidating to a student who is has a unique learning style. Intimidation does not allow a child to feel safe to explore and take risks, even ask the questions he/she might need to ask in order to learn. Similarly, a school that focuses on allowing children to choose their own learning experiences all the time might find a student paralyzed by too many choices and not know where to start. This can have an equally damaging result.  There are numerous other examples within this spectrum.


You should assess each school you tour in the context of what you know about your child and your family values. First look at all the written material you can – brochures, websites, reviews, etc. Talk to people you know who have attended the school. When you visit, take a good look at the way the school lives out its mission and philosophy – the tone and style of the school.  Ask yourself if it is an environment that will support and challenge and encourage the development of your child’s best self. If you sense a hint of toxicity for your child, pay attention to it.


The more we know about learning, the more we understand that the first order of business is attention. What makes it possible for a child to attend deeply and engage in the curriculum and the culture of the school? The elements that comprise this ability to attend, and therefore grow and learn, are wrapped up in the nuances of the style, tone and culture of the school as much as it is in the school’s program and curriculum. A sense of safety – security, being known, being cared about – is the basis for any learning that is to take place. Once that benchmark is met, you can look forward to assessing the next condition for growth and learning.


Coming soon:



Anne Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles. She is the former head of Wildwood Elementary School and the former dean of the Crossroads Middle School. Her daughter, a veterinarian, is a graduate of Crossroads. 

Thank you to everyone who voted for Beyond The Brochure in the Circle of Moms Top 25 Mompreneurs! We are one of the proud winners!  

Thank you! xo Christina, Anne and Porcha

What If You Don’t LOVE The Schools You’ve Toured So Far?

I’ve talked to a few moms recently who’ve said they haven’t seen any schools they’ve really loved. They like them, but don’t really understand what the big deal is. That said, they’re applying to these schools that they don’t really love. So far, they haven’t had that “ah-ha” moment.

I must have looked surprised during these conversations because when I toured schools I had trouble narrowing down the list. It seemed like each school I looked at was more amazing then the next. But, geography limited our choices.

If you haven’t seen any private elementary schools you’ve fallen in love with, keep looking! More likely than not, you’ll find a school or two that will find you making a mental note, “must get our kid into this school” category.  If that doesn’t happen, tour more schools. Expand your options. Then, if you still don’t find at least one or two schools you absolutely must get your kid into, tour your local public school to see if it would be a good fit for your family. Private schools are expensive, especially if you think they’re just ok. And, try to find something about each school you are enthusiastic about before your parent interview. A lack of interest in the school will definitely be obvious to the admissions directors.

Tour, tour, tour. Tour some more! You gotta love it!

Guest Blogger Gina: Finding The Perfect Fit School

My neurotic tendency toward organization and over-preparation, while sometimes annoying to my husband, has served me well on many occasions. Most recently, I put this “skill” into use when it came time to think about elementary schools for our twin son and daughter.


I grew up in New York and, although my husband grew up in Los Angeles, he really wasn’t much help in figuring out the complex school system in L.A., so I was left to my own devices. My default operating system is to get rather methodical when I am dealing with something I am unfamiliar with, and figuring out the best school for our family was no different.


Once we realized that our local public school wasn’t a viable option, we knew we were looking at private elementary schools for our children. Although I would much rather have the “free” education that public school offers, I am not comfortable pinning my hopes on a charter school lottery system that might leave us with no school to attend when the time comes.


Thus I began, as many people do, by asking friends about the private schools they knew about, using books like Beyond The Brochure and researching online, using various sites like and This allowed me to at least get a list together of names and locations. We narrowed the list down by crossing off schools that didn’t present themselves as Progressive or Developmental and weren’t in a comfortable radius to where we lived. Simple enough.


And then the worries set in. Should we consider schools that are on the West Side even though we live an hour East? Should we look at a school where we have good connections even if the school doesn’t really appeal to us? Will our connections be insulted if we don’t apply there? How many schools should we look at? How many should we apply to? What about those schools that make you apply before you tour? Do we bother applying to schools that are so popular you need to be married to Brad Pitt in order to be accepted? And the list went on and on. I knew I just had to start or my over-thinking would get the best of me.


We began touring when our children were a little more than 3 years old, a year and a half before we would actually apply to any of these schools. Our first tour was at The Willows Community School and we were really excited about it. From the inspired artwork on the walls, to the enthusiastic teachers to the way the director thoughtfully answered every question the parents had; we could picture our family being a part of this school. A few months later we took our children to the Fall Book Fair on their campus and were again impressed by community spirit and genuine friendliness of all the families we met. Our kids were equally enchanted and, a few weeks later when I told them I was touring another school, cried out “No! But we want to go to The Willows!” It seems we were all in agreement.


Well, if the first school we looked at was such a hit, we were excited to see what else LA private elementary schools had in store for us. This fall we toured 4 other schools and only at one, Oakwood, did we feel as enthusiastic as we did at The Willows. Oakwood isn’t as close to where we live, but there are enough great things about it that will make us consider applying there.


We still have 4 schools on our list to tour this spring and we will then have our “short list” of schools to re-tour in the fall of 2011, which is the year we will submit applications for the class of 2012. I am glad we decided to begin our touring early. I wanted to be able to see as many schools as I could so I could get a sense of what I really liked and what I definitely didn’t like. My sense is that the Fall before your child starts Kindergarten many parents are stressed about interviews and applications; I didn’t want to compound that with having to research and tour 10 or 15 schools. I feel good knowing that my husband and I can focus in on the 4 or 5 schools we really love and feel are the best fit for our family.


I’m feeling calm now. Check in with me again come September when interviews begin!

Gina Osher is a former Holistic Healer turned SAHM to boy/girl twins, a twin parenting coach and the author of the popular blog, The Twin Coach. There she writes on topics ranging from how Halloween candy helped her discover the meaning of life, to how to handle bed rest and premature babies. Gina describes herself and her blog as “one part friend who’s been through it all, one part mom of twins trying to figure it out, one part mentor willing to share”. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.