Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hot topic: Private school process 2010

This from an SF K Files reader:
Many applying to private school for kindergarten have been asked to read last year's messages, which were very helpful. And, some questions for 2010:

-- Any updated information on spots available for any private schools from any parents (i.e., number of girl and boy spots after siblings)?
-- Any advice on what happens when letters go out?
-- Any ideas on what to do if we get a very poor choice for public school but have younger kids who may get good "neighborhood" school - would our older child be able to switch?
-- What areas of the blog are best to look at for last year's private school experiences? I am worried we will get all wait listed at privates and go 0 for 7 and would love to read what others did in that situation.


  1. Good questions!

    I can't answer all of them, but:

    1) I believe sibling preference applies only to younger, not older, siblings (and it does apply to twins, triplets).

    2) I'm not really qualified to speak to what you do if you get wait-listed at private, although there seems to be much lore and plenty of "tricks" and ideas out there--check out last year's thread for sure.

    However, in terms of public, absolutely go through Round 2 and the waitpool process. It's free to do that, so it cannot hurt you. The real question that comes up at that point is what to shoot for. If you know you have private/parochial backup, or if you can live with your assigned school, then you can shoot for a very popular school. If you are feeling frantic because you really, really want a for-sure spot, then you might find yourself aiming for a decent but less popular option. One thing to keep in mind is that many schools will have filled up at that point, so you may have to look a little farther afield; however, with the notable exception of a few schools, many are really fine that you have not heard of.

    One last thing: if you can live with your assigned pick, do register there. Then at least you have something, even while you waitpool. That school may look really great as you head into August. I personally know many families that got assigned something they never considered or even heard of, who are happy there now. Not in every case, but it does happen (a good example is Sunnyside in 2008, which is now much more popular, or Miraloma in 2002 or 2003). So be sure to check out your assigned school even if you go 0/7.

    Good luck!

  2. 1. Available spots: Ask the admissions directors how many non-sibling boy/girl spots they anticipate having (adjusting the question if you are applying to single sex schools), and if you know any parents, see if the word of mouth matches that data more or less. There's a lot of paranoia that private schools just want your application fee and will encourage you to apply even if they have 200 applicants for 2 non-sibling spots. However, it's costly and time-consuming to read applications, interview parents, evaluate kids and host tours and informational events. I'm just not convinced private schools are encouraging people to apply to boost their bottom lines (though they might think it boosts their cache to have 20 applicants for each available seat). I've found the admissions directors to be pretty honest. One refused to take my money--she said she knew there was no way they would have any openings in the grade I was interested in. If you know your odds and love the school anyway, it doesn't hurt to go for it. Your kid might be just what they're looking for and you'll be one of the 2 out of 200 who gets a seat.

    2. When you get the letters:

    (a) Unless you or your child are obnoxious, don't take rejection letters personally. Most private schools have lots of great applicants and who knows what niches they are trying to fill with non-siblings this year.

    (b) Read your admission letters and enrollment documents carefully. You'll usually forfeit your enrollment deposit if you accept the offer but later go elsewhere, but with some privates, you sign a contract when you enroll to pay for the whole year whether you attend or not. That can be painful if you get your dream public on the 10-day count.

    (c) If you are lucky enough to have more than one option by March, think long and hard about what seems to fit your kid, your family, your worldview, your logistics, and your budget. If money is a concern, financial aid is generally not guaranteed from year to year. If you have an OK public and you really think public schools are the right thing to do, why waste your money on private? If you got a crummy public and a private you love and can afford, whose to judge you for making your decision and moving forward?

    (d) Absolutely DO NOT overlook the after-care situation if you need it. Get on the waiting list for the school you enroll in and to the program at your 10-day-count school.

    (e) Please be considerate: if you don't want a spot you get, let the people in charge know immediately. Many anxious families probably want what you've decided is not right for you.

    (f) If you get wait listed at a school you really want, call right away and tell them you're still very interested and ask if they can tell you where you are on the list.

    3. I believe the earlier poster is correct--public school sibling preference only applies to younger kids. If your 2nd grader is in an unsatisfactory school and your kindergarten kid gets a great school, you won't be able to move your 2nd grader to the same school as the K kid. Private schools probably go more case-by-case depending on space and whether the older child would be a good fit.

    4. If you get wait-listed at private and go 0/7 or 0/14:
    (a) Call around to some of the lesser-known privates and see if they have openings. Some are open-enrollment rather than competitive admission and you can get a space later in the game. You might find a nice surprise that way. We did. It's comforting to have a plan.
    (b) Ride out the 10-day count. Remember public school class sizes are increasing so there will be more spaces available this year than last year. We got a good public in the 10-day count last year.
    (c) Ride out your private wait list position too, if at all realistic--you never know, especially in a tough economy.

    Finally, stock your house with the relaxing substances of your choice--you'll need 'em.

  3. One very important point to consider about private schools is that they want to know who will accept their offer of admission. Their big nightmare is to accept a family who then declines the offer of admission. So, if you have a first choice school, let them know it's your top choice. A polite email or friendly phone call to the admissions director before the admissions letters are mailed is a good way to let the school know. Also, you can say, "if accepted we will enroll" if it's true. If you have friends writing you letters of recommendation for a particular school, let your friend know you'll enroll if accepted. This is a bit of a gamble, because you may not know at this point. So, be careful in what you say! It's just one tactic that is used with very competitive private elementary schools.

    Also, if you are wait-listed, you basically need to call the school and tell them you are disappointed your child is on the wait-list, but you are very hopeful he/she will be accepted. Keep in contact with the admissions directors! If a family doesn't stay in contact, they may assume you're not interested. Don't be shy about letting the school know you're still very interested. Wait-lists move around a lot and families are accepted off wait lists all the time. But, if the admissions director tells you that you should accept a spot elsewhere, that probably means you won't get in.

    Hope this helps! Much more of this kind of information on our blog at www.beyondthebrochure.blogspot.com

  4. The above poster's advice seems out of place compared to the ISSFBA (independent schools of the SF Bay Area) guidelines which state the following on First Choice Letters and Letters of Recommendation:

    ISSFBA schools do not encourage formal expressions of first choice. If schools do not request letters of recommendation, it is not necessary to send them.

  5. I think she's based in LA...I think I remember her posts from last year

  6. To 9:19 a.m. post. There are stated rules of the admissions game and then there are the informal rules of the game for private school admissions in every big city. Trust me, parents who understand the informal or unspoken rules of the admissions game use them to their advantage in every city where private schools are competitive and tons of families don't get in. Talk to parents who get accepted at top schools. Ask them what they did to get it. It might shock you.

  7. Just to second Chritina Simon's comment, I would say that there was a lot of movement on our private school's waitlist last year. I know of several other private schools that had a lot of movement on their waitlist.

    We were waitlisted in February, stayed in contact, and got an acceptance in June.

    I know several families that were waitlisted and got acceptances in October! One accepted and the other decided they were happy with their public school spot.

  8. If you were wait listed in February, your school must be parochial, not an indpendent school - correct? So, it makes sense that when families got public school options or independent school options in March and later, there was movement on the waitlist

  9. "If you were wait listed in February, your school must be parochial, not an indpendent school - correct?"

    No. Our private school gives out notices in late February.

    There wasn't much movement in our school's waitlist until June when the final deposits for the next year are due. When those don't come in, the school can then open up the slots for those on the waitlist.

    Even beyond this, some families last year moved over the summer or got spots at other schools in the Fall. That accounts for more movement on the waitlist in September and October.

  10. "Talk to parents who get accepted at top schools. Ask them what they did to get it. It might shock you."

    I would love to but do not know any private school parents in San Francisco. (My friends all have younger kids or no kids yet.)

    Maybe someone here can tell me what their friends did to get accepted. Did they indicate they would enroll and how did they do it discreetly?

  11. There have been some very helpful previous threads. You might want to look them up.

  12. Hey 3:24,

    11:36 here.

    We were very above table in our approach. Like I said, we were waitlisted in February. Not long after this, were got our public school Round I result, which was 0/7.

    Needless to say, this didn't put us in a very good mood.

    Anyway, we just emailed the school once a month, to let them know were were still very interested. No bribes, payments or special connections. As I said, we got a spot in June.

    I have heard some stories about people using special connections or bribes. I have heard of people making a "donation" to a particular school before they are accepted, but I don't think that is the usual case, especially in this economy.

    Definitely keep in touch with a school if you are waitlisted and you really like the school, but don't be a pain.

  13. I live in LA and have 2 kids in a top private school here. But, we have good family friends in SF who went through the process last year and the year before. They were accepted at great schools in SF, but the process was very stressful. I'd say, based on my own experience and that of friends in SF, unless a school says DO NOT send letters of recommendation, you should get them. If a board member at a school tells the head of school they want to write a letter on behalf of a family applying, do you think the head of school will say "no" to the board member? I don't think so. Also, the issue of telling a school your they are your top choice happens in NY, SF and LA. The prestigious schools want to maintain their reputations and that only happens when they have high acceptance rates. You'll also find that a few weeks before letters go out, friends are calling schools on behalf of families they wrote letters for. They are sending second follow-up recommendation letters and "checking in" with admissions directors on behalf of their friends. They are also conveying the message that their friends are accepted, they will enroll. The other issue is what to do if your favorite school puts your child on the wait-list, but he/she gets into other schools you like less. I think that's common. If people can afford it, they put a deposit on a school and stay on the wait list of their favorite school, hoping to get in. The deposit is non-refundable, usually, but give you peace of mind. It's been my experience that there is an insider game that's played with independent schools. But, parents are not always honest about the lengths they go to get their kids in. Will they tell you they hired an educational consultant to guide them through the process? Or that they got 5 letters of recommendation? Maybe or maybe not. But, it's safe to assume that they are very busy doing everything they can to work the process and get their kids into the best schools.

  14. Christina,

    I do think that different schools have different requirements.

    The school we really wanted to get wanted a statement of intent. Sure, letters of recommendation might have helped, but what would letters of recommendation really say for a five-year-old child?

    I spent days working on a statement of intent, which our school had asked for. It was great because I had to work out in my head what my long term education goals were for our family.

    However, I have to admit that I wouldn't go to the trouble of getting a letter of recommendation.

    What would a letter of recommendation be for? The child or the family?

    I have to confess that I avoided schools that seemed to require evaluations of or recommendations for three and four year old children. I'm sorry, but there does seem to be something ridiculous about that.

  15. I'd rather just be pleasant and interested, comply with admissions office requests, and hope the school takes my kid. If it's that competitive and full of games, I doubt I'd want my kids at that school anyway. (So glad I don't live in NY or LA.) Admissions directors are human. If the child of a very close friend or relative applies, or a board member pressures them to accept someone, that will probably get the kid a bit of an advantage. A lot of people also suspect the EPC staff can pull strings if they so desire. Nepotism will always be with us. Get over it.

  16. I agree totally that letters of recommendations can sound ridiculous for a 4 or 5 year old child. But, I think they really just serve to indicate to the school that the family is one that would be happy at the school and won't be "troublemakers". The letters of recommendation are more about the family than the child. I was very caught off guard when I was applying to schools and had no idea that other parents were getting letters of recommendation, hiring consultants, going to school auctions/fundraisers and bidding on items as a way of making a donation to the school before letters are sent out. Most schools prohibit it, but it happens anyways. Now, as a parent at a private school, the only way I will write a letter for a family applying is if they tell me they will enroll if accepted. It has to be their top choice school or I won't write the letter. Everyone I know does it this way. Obviously a lot of families get accepted to wonderful independent schools without connections or letters or donations. But, when we were applying, I felt that I wanted to make sure I did all I could do get my daughter in the first time. So, I got letters of recommendation- I asked everyone I knew for a letter. A good resource is your preschool alumni, if they attend a school that interests you. I really think the letters helped us. During our interviews, the families who wrote our letters were mentioned by the admissions directors and we were able to make a connection with the school. This process is very similar to getting really good jobs...connections help, but you can get a great job without any connections (from an ad in the newspaper or on the internet).

  17. The problem with the approach advocated above is that it makes me uncomfortable. Sure, it may be effective, but at the end of the day, I personally do not want to play a game in which the rules are unclear and to go to a place that admits only the well-connected.

  18. Hi Christina,

    OK about the letters of recommendation and all the other stuff. Still, I wouldn't do it.

    I have to tell you that most of the parents at our school didn't do this either. It is an excellent private school.

    A school should be able to tolerate a certain level of "trouble making." As with any capable, resilient organization, it should be able to withstand being challenged. And I'm not saying that it should be wimpy about responding to every parent request, but it should have a process in place for responding to and hearing concerns from the parent community.

    Frankly, I've done a fair amount of "trouble making" in my lifetime. Not to brag or anything, but I'm descended from a long line of trouble makers: American revolutionaries and Puritans.

    So I really don't think there is any chance that I or my offspring are going excessively reassure any private school about our NON trouble making abilities.

  19. If you are so proud of your "troublemaking" why remain anonymous?

  20. It is sad to say but it really does help if you have significant financial assets and come out and say so early in the game. I had no idea of this, and really thought it seemed kind of crass, but it's true. My well off friends do not tell tales of struggling to get into top private schools. They were clear, and their past contributions to other schools (pre) or elsewhere only confirmed the implicit understanding of their capacity to contribute.

    Admissions people are interested in your tuition, but also in finding families who will be donors to the school for years to come. These donors are critical in keeping up the endowment, which among other things, helps bring diversity (or some socioeconomic diversity at least) through scholarships. It also helps build snazzy buildings. For secondary schools, getting families to contribute significantly beyond their child(s) years in the school can be a challenge; college and universities tend to get their alumni to contribute for far more years than do secondary (private schools.)

  21. I live in SF, my child is in an independent school in SF, and I 100% agree w/ Christina Simons -- most everyone I know wrote a first choice letter and had letters of recommendation written for them. I had letters of recommendation written for me at two school of my top three schools. I didn't know anyone at my top choice school, so I wrote my own letter, very clearly stating that it was my first choice. I wrote a letter to the two other schools (those were my top three) and indicated that the school was a great fit and why I liked it, but nothing about first choice. I do not have any significant financial assets (in fact, we receive financial aid.) My child was admitted to our top choice school and we could not be more thrilled.

  22. Anon 7:09 has exactly the right approach! She did exactly what I did and what everyone I know who has been accepted in SF and LA did. I love the idea of how she wrote her own letter to a school where she didn't know anyone to write a recommendation for her. I did the same, but with a phone call at a super-competitive school that was not my first choice and where we didn't know anyone. We got in. If it's not your first choice, you can just say you love the school and think it would be great for your child. Asking for letters isn't my style...it's not always easy. But, I think it can really help!
    Good luck to everyone who is applying to private/independent and/or hoping for their choice of public schools! xo

  23. 10:35 .. what school did you get into by waiting til June.

  24. Seriously people, if you have a problem with getting and/or having someone writing you a recommendation to get into the school that you want, you will not fit into most single sex private schools in San Francisco.

    You seriously need to come to terms with how business works. The private schools are a business.

    They want good families that are not too high maintenance that can pay their bills, contribute to the school and raise money for the school. They want a well rounded class so they look at siblings for personality and age and then fill in the blanks. They can't have all leaders or followers. They want kids who will provide a "good" class room. They want kids who will do well and get into good high schools. It takes alot of money to maintain a private school and caliber of teaching, extra curricular and building. They need to be confident that the people they take in will stay all 9 years, kids will not disrupt the classroom, contribute money to the school and the parents are not so high maintenance that it distracts from the staff.

    Wake up, it is a game. If you don't want to play. No problem but there are plenty of people who understand that life is all about games. The difference is these people accept reality and deal with it. Perhaps you are not positioned to win the game and that why you don't want to play the game. That's fine.

    Most people participate with life "games" when they don't realize it.
    I am sure that you go to the shortest line in the checkout line at the supermarket.

  25. Lycee on Ashbury in the Haight.

    Of the two families I mentioned who waitlisted until October, one was applying to Synergy and the other to the Lycee.

  26. "Beauty, grandeur, impressiveness in any way . . . is not often to be found in a few prominent, distinguishable features, but in the manner . . . with which these are connected and combined."

    "Dame Nature is a gentlewoman. No guide's fee will obtain you her favour, no abrupt demand; hardly will she bear questioning, or direct, curious gazing at her beauty; . . . always we must quietly and unimpatiently wait upon it. Gradually and silently the charm comes over us; the beauty has entered out souls; we know not exactly when or how, but going away we remember it with a tender, subdued, filial-like joy."

    Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England, Frederick Law Olmsted, page 406-7.

  27. I'm confused. You got waitlisted in February? Private school letters don't go out till March and they all go out the same day for all of the schools. That started a long time ago so that parents could choose intelligently. Not coincidentally, the parochial schools wanted their deposits right before the private letters went out. What school exactly waitlisted in Feb that was a private not parochial in SF? (calling BS on that one)

  28. Lot's of strange comments here. For example, how do you avoid a school that wants an evaluation? (they all require them) Why is it such a big deal to ask someone for a letter of rec? You have one when you apply for a job, you will have one when you apply for college and you will likely have one for high school. Nobody likes to ask someone but is it really that big a deal? First choice letters aren't required and perhaps aren't that helpful. . . Send one anyway. More information admissions has the better and if they know that seat is filled it helps. Of course money helps but don't think you are going to be a jerk and get into the top schools either. I suggest you go to the topics from last year. They are nasty and mean but you can get good information from them. Just don't take any of this as gospel.

  29. Of course you expect to submit an evaluation or recommendation for your kid when you apply to a private school, typically from a current teacher. I think what seems offensive to some is the idea is that you have to submit lots of recommendations get "powerful insiders" to lobby on your behalf. If all the admissions office asks for is an evaluation from a current teacher, I'm not going to ask everyone I know who could possibly have influence to write additional letters of recommendation. I'd rather my kid get in based on the school's evaluation of him and our family and his current teacher's report than based on which of my friends and acquaintances tries to influence the admissions director on our behalf. We did not have any connections or extra references to get our daughter into a competitive single-sex high school in SF and I would not do differently with my younger kid. I can live with the fact that some private school admission decisions are based on connections more than the pure merit of the child and the family. However, if they make all their decisions based on connections, then I'd be surprised if it were much of a school, or a school where I would want my kid, because he would come to believe that it's all about politicking and who you know rather than your own character and accomplishments. In real life networking might get you in the door, but they rarely keep you if you can't do the work.

  30. But realistically, networking can help (regardless of what it has do with how your child does once he or she is in the school) because there are lots and lots of perfectly qualified kids out there, and the schools can't take all of them. And really, when you're looking at 4, maybe 5-year olds, it's not really fair to say that an evaluator can tell who can or can't "do the work" or who is sufficiently intelligent.

    They want to keep out kids with discipline problems or other "failings" that will make it harder for the teachers to teach. They want a mix of leaders and followers, girls and boys, a few kids from minority families or gay families, etc. It's a finely composed blend -- and sometimes you need some extra help to get int the mix, so to speak.

  31. By "a few minority families," do you mean these schools want a few non-white families? I think we are all "minorities" now in San Francisco, particularly kids. There is no majority racial or ethnic group anymore. In fact, there are many fewer white kids than there are Asian. I just think it's important to be accurate, as times have changed.

    Also, serious question, do you really think the schools have racial quotas, that is, intend to admit many more white children from straight families, and only a few kids of color or kids from gay/lesbian families? I think that's what ends up happening, largely, but I always assumed that was a class bias more than a racial mix question.

  32. I don't think the admission departments have racial quotas, and especially aren't interested in getting more white kids than anyone else. SF may be filled with minority kids, but the majority of white kids in the city apply in disproportionate numbers to the privates. So the pool the admissions groups have to draw from has a whole lot of white people, a percentage that differs from the percentage of white kids in the overall city population.

    Applying to preschool, the admissions director at one prestigious school said in picking a class, they often pair up families/kids. So if they admit a kid with two Dads, they look for another family with two Dads, or at least two Moms, so the kids don't feel too isolated. She said the same thing plays into other kinds of admissions. So admitting several Black families gives those kids more of a community. She described the admissions as really depending upon the specific pool of applicants.

  33. Are private schools then allowed to consider race (either as affirmative action or the opposite)? Is there a point where they could lose their non-profit status if shown to discriminate? Or is that hard to prove? The admissions are in a black box, aren't they? I guess the rules are very different than for public, where the district is not allowed to consider race (though has used other factors that correlate to race to assign students).

    Regarding the applicant pool, what you say about that mix makes sense. Do they take specific steps to improve the mix, i.e, make it look more like the city?

  34. You bring up very interesting questions about what's possible re race-based decisions for a nonprofit...but I don't know the answer. I do know the rules for private admissions are entirely different than for public.

    Making the class look like the city would just be really hard. You'd have to have a really big applicant pool that got the representation right, and you'd have to have enough people who could foot the bill of tuition. (Some people do get financial aid, but that aid depends upon a whole lot of other people who pay, and who donate quite a bit.) That's hard to do with a true representation of all the the city population..

    I don't think reflecting the real population is a true goal of the privates. It's also hard to keep diversity going through the upper grades. Some kids from very different backgrounds just don't feel comfortable or thrive in an environment populated by a majority that doesn't look like them. Others of course, do fine, but the issue exists.

  35. That is precisely why there are white flockers in the public school lottery!

  36. white flockers?

    (sorry, I can be obtuse sometimes .... but I really don't understand what you mean)

  37. Maybe the poster meant that that's why white families tend to flock to certain public schools - where they don't feel like such an obvious minority? (Where the percentages are 20% or more.) Just a guess.

  38. We white folks had better start getting used to minority status in this city, state, and nation--that's where the demographics are going.

    FWIW, my white kid is in a 10% minority at her school, and she's happy there. She has friends from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.

  39. Thanks so much for all this info. A request to current parents at privates in SF/Marin and others in the know. Does anyone know which schools are more challenging or a little easier this year in terms of number of non-sibling spots? I'd be grateful to hear if there are any updates to numbers given during touring season since I assume the siblings counts are now known and we toured early. I have heard:

    -SFDS has 12-14 spots - any update?
    -MCDS - does anyone know how many SF spots and what the male/female breakdown is?
    -Friends has 16-20 spots - is there any update on this?
    -Burkes - I have heard this is a tough year but no specifics
    -Hamlin - I have heard there are a lot of siblings and legacies this year plus now only two kindergarten classes (although the same number students and will be three classes for 1st grade) -does anyone know how many non sibling spots?
    -CAIS - they said five in touring
    -FAIS - i have heard there are more this year
    -Cathedral - 15 spots?
    -Stuart Hall?
    - Live Oak - 5 spots
    - CDS - 4 spots

    Thank you for any help! Do the schools just accept the number of spots they have and then take from the wait list?

  40. A question on the sibling process, related to privates

    -- We have two kids, an older girl and younger boy. Our son is likely to have special needs but we aren't sure yet (still under 1). We loved Hamlin and would like to say it's our first choice, but we worry about going through the private school process for our son. Do kids with special needs ever get into privates? We had assumed he could go to a good public if he did not get into a private school, but under Superintendent Garcia's new plan, that seems less likely. Would parents suggest we make a co-ed our first choice? Our director, like everyone here, says first choice letters aren't necessary but she says one could help sway the decision. I hear what people say about two schools being a lot of work, but we were blown away by Hamlin, the new head, the arguments for single sex for girls.

  41. Go for it! Depending on how special your son's needs, most private schools -- if they don't have the resources to accommodate him -- won't take him even though he's a sibling. Also, perhaps he will turn out to be not that all that special in terms of his needs, but merely better suited to a boys school.

  42. I should add that single-sex schools have "partnerships" with other single-sex schools, so he could still be considered a sibling at a boys school.

  43. My understanding is that if a private school chose to let in ONLY white kids, it would be perfectly free to do so, as long as it didn't engage in OVERT discrimination, like telling a nonwhite family they weren't welcome because of their race. People sometimes seem confused into thinking that any of the laws and policies that govern the SFUSD process have any bearing on private school admissions. They don't -- private schools are in a different world.

  44. A comment about single sex schools for girls:

    I'm an electrical engineer, a pretty good one. As many people know, there are not very many woman electrical engineers.

    Starting in high school, through university and into my career, I have been in classrooms and labs where there were very few women. I've almost never had a female professor teaching a class.

    This is still the state of affairs in many fields, not just engineering.

    I have worked with a few women engineers who attended private girl's schools. (I attended public school.) I would not say that the same sex experience of these girls helped them very much once they entered the co-od world after high school.

    I think it is a good experience to be able to utilize both a male and female style in methods of inquiry, if that exists. It is also positive for girls to learn to tune out some of the sexualized expectations that society will place upon them.

    Girls and box also do learn from each other, when given the opportunity.

    So I do question the notion that a same sex school experience is better than a co-od experience.

    With regard to a co-od school, I do think it is very important to seek a school where mutual respect of both sexes is taught and fostered. That does exist in this city.

    I would suspect that much of the research indicating that single sex schools present a "positive" learning environment are compared against co-ed schools where mutual respect is not taught.

    A little skepticism toward some of this single sex school research is appropriate.

  45. oops:

    Girls and boys also do learn from each other, when given the opportunity.

  46. "People sometimes seem confused into thinking that any of the laws and policies that govern the SFUSD process have any bearing on private school admissions. They don't -- private schools are in a different world."

    Not true; neither are legally or otherwise permitted to discriminate based on race.

  47. 5:43, you don't say what special needs your younger boy may have, or how profound they are. There are a few private schools that specialize in working with special needs kids (autism spectrum etc.) and many more that definitively do not. Depending on his needs (the what and the how much), it wouldn't be unusual for him to be turned away from even his older sister's private school. You would be told to look for "a better fit." Many private schools are looking for personalities and learning styles within a certain band--not too brilliant/quirky, not too far into learning disabilities or special needs. They select for success.

    Again, I don't know your son's needs at all, and it sounds like you are on it, but I urge you to seek early intervention and also to start now to research educational options. Public schools can very well be the best option--especially as they are willing to take--must take--special needs kids. However, you will have to fight for the right program, school, assistance in an inclusion classroom, etc.

    I wouldn't write off the possibility of getting a good public school, either (for either of your children). Yes, the new system will be different. But there will still be options for the savvy parent to pursue--lottery to citywide schools, etc. And if your younger child has an IEP that qualifies him for special services, or an inclusion spot, then you should have a lot more say as to where he ends up, per his needs. That's not always what the district wants, but it's the law. You will have to fight is the thing. But you can get him a good choice. AND he won't be turned away, which may (depending) happen at private.

    It sounds like you may need to look at your children's needs somewhat separately, given the situation.

  48. 7:22.

    Personally, if you haven't gone to a single sex school, I don't think you shouldn't comment on it.

    I went to a single sex girl high school and I am really glad I did. I feel that it helped me prepare for life alot better.

    I worked in IT consulting and was always in the minority. In fact my first boss bought me a subscription for Sports Illustrated so I could be one of the "boys".

    If I hadn't gone to a all girls school, I would have question my ability but I didn't.

    I was told that I could do anything. I was told to be proud to be a women. I was told that women can do as much or more than men. This self confidence is what was needed to survive in a predominantly male IT world.

  49. 5:30 p.m. - thanks for the stats. Through the grapevine, I hear that Friends has closer to 16 spots this year, not sure how that is divided - girls/boys. Not sure about any of the other schools.

  50. "If I hadn't gone to a all girls school, I would have question my ability but I didn't."

    I went co-ed all the way. You imply that somehow working with boys and men is inherently damaging to the confidence of girls and women. I think that it is nonsense.

    "I was told that I could do anything."

    It is not necessarily healthy to be told that you can do anything.
    Any it is very helpful for girls to be in a co-ed playing field. I still remember the first time I beat ALL the kids in my class, boys and girls, in a physics exam.

    "I was told to be proud to be a women. I was told that women can do as much or more than men. This self confidence is what was needed to survive in a predominantly male IT world."

    I'm sorry, but I don't think it is healthy to tell girls that they can do either more or less than boys.

    I don't see that the world is necessarily more or less dominated by men. There are some spheres were there are a lot of men and some where there are a lot of women.

    I think there is a kind of danger in this thinking that overemphasizes the difference between men and women.

  51. 7:22

    You said it yourself. You didn't go to a single sex school. You should keep you comments to yourself about a topic you have not experienced. How do you know if the same sex experience of these girls helped or hindered them very much once they entered the co-od world after high school.

    Below is a quote from 7:22.
    I have worked with a few women engineers who attended private girl's schools. (I attended public school.) I would not say that the same sex experience of these girls helped them very much once they entered the co-od world after high school.

  52. Read _Why Gender Matters_ by Leonard Sax. I found it fascinating. I certainly don't agree with everything he says, but it is compelling and I absolutely agree with the benefits of single sex education. I am the product of girls schools, taught at a women's college, and my daughter is at one of the all-girls schools. All-girls schools are about so much more than "tuning out some of the sexualized expectations that society will place upon girls."

  53. Hi 1:05,

    I'm not doubting that there may be some benefits of single sex education. I also suspect that girls do tend to learn some things in "girl groups." There is no reason why you can't create that in a co-ed learning environment.

    I'm not trying to discourage your valuing of single sex education. I'm just saying that my "co-ed" learning experience was tremendously valuable to me. I would have missed out on working with and being taught by many extraordinary men. And they would have missed out on having to adapt their style to girls and women.

    I could just as easily write a book about positive "co-ed" learning environments and how to foster them, than reading about single sex education for girls. And if I were to read something about teaching girls, I would probably draw from the twenty years or so of very successful work that has been done on teaching girls science at MIT.

    Many European cultures, have already worked this out. They have a much higher numbers of women in professional fields.
    Their schools and universities are co-ed.

    Marie Curie did not go to an all girls school at any time in her life.

    All girls school may have some advantages, but to me they are a strange and archaic artifact of catholicism and/or a rigid British education system.

  54. Back to 5:43's question...

    Don't underestimate how nice it is to have both children in the same school. I would think hard about putting yourself in a situation where that's not even a possibility.

    There are multiple kids with various types of special needs at our private school. Some of them do end up leaving the school to attend Armstrong (among other schools) but many do not and are very successful. My younger child is one of them!

    I also know a lot of families who have their kids in two different schools because the school that their older child attends isn't a good match for their younger child's needs, and it works out just fine for everyone involved.

    It's really not possible at this point in time to know if the school you pick for your daughter will or won't work out for your son. I guess my advice would be to find a middle ground - don't make serious compromises in any choices you make for your daughter, but see if you can end up with a situation that at least makes it possible for your son to attend school with her. That said, if you absolutely adore Hamlin - go for it!

  55. 8:59 - thanks so much. we don't know how hard things will be, but 1) all girls means we have two schools and 2) i thought some of the private schools did take siblings with learning differences. On the other hand, Hamlin did seem amazing to us. We would not have thought we would fit in, but we were blown away by the diversity of the lower school and the emphasis on character building, which we had only seen at a few other schools, and which is so important to us.

    From what we can tell, our son will have delays and learning differences - he was born many weeks early and is taking longer to reach milestones than other preemies.

    our dr says problems are less likely to be behavioral - that isn't a concern at this point, but more than he is going more slowly in reaching talking, etc. - a lot of kids have this but this might be more serious in his case and that could possibly make admissions harder for him later on though we won't know for years.

    my partner and i both work, so we are concerned about two schools although for our daughter, if we only had one child, we do think we would send Hamlin the first choice letter. all of this of course may not matter at all - it's just a very competitive year there and everywhere so we would like to optimize our chances. we have heard everything from "you need to do the right thing for your daughter" to "do what is likely to have an optimal outcome for your them both, especially your son, if things go well the next few years." of course we want what is right for both kids but it seems hard to figure that out now. our neighborhood public (west portal) might well be the best scenario, we'll just have to wait and see what happens and if we get that.

    thanks for all your perspectives, and if anyone has any other ideas, i'd love to hear them. we applied to all the co-ed privates and prioritized inclusion schools like west portal in the public lottery (also obviously very hard to get into even if it is our neighborhood school).

  56. 8:59, I'm a Hamlin parent. With Hamlin, what you see is really what you get. All the things you talk about -- diversity, character education, the community, etc -- make it an amazing place for girls to learn and thrive. I say go for it! You certainly won't regret it.

  57. Let's be honest about the private school process in SF: it is a bloodsport!

    Its ugly out there but don't get depressed--each school is looking for a mix of students in terms of the child's personality, the parent's diversity and education and the financial circumstances of the family (rich, richer, richest, middle class and some working class). If you are what they're looking for, you'll be admitted.

    No, you won't get in just because you're black or white (though all the private schools are mostly white, esp. the same sex schools(and please keep the howling to yourselves; I know several classes at all the boys and girls schools and come on--they are pretty damn white for a city as diverse as this!).

    But the competition is especially intense for the rich, white and well educated families that tend to live in the 2 "heights", the lake street district and sometimes Noe. There really are only so many spots for these kids (usually around 50%), and the parents all almost have the same background and income (upwards of 500K a year). If you are not connected, don't have letters of recommendation and fit into the above category, God help you.

    But if you are middle class, or interesting (artistic family, trilingual, interesting origins, etc), its far less important to be super rich and connected because you are offering something else like true diversity. you will be competing with families like yourself. Is it a quota? Absolutely not because there is a lot of variability based on siblings and the economic circumstances of the school, and the fact that sometimes schools just have too much of one type of family, and its easier for your type of family to get in). plus, every director tries to "build" a class with just the right mix of personalities and learning differences and personalities.

    But for the majority of admittees in most private schools (especially last year), the single most important factor definitely wasn't race because there are plenty of partially minority families the schools could say are racially "diverse" (btw., there are almost never completely black families or completely latino families at these schools and usually, there isn't more than one of those in each incoming class. There aren't many parents like this in San Francisco who would apply to private school, and interracial marriages in SF are huge and commonplace). The single most important factor was being well off. The schools balance having a good mix of families with having enough well off families to totally foot the tution bill plus give a significant amount over the true cost of educating your little progeny (everyone I know who is well off usually gives about 7grand more than what the tuition was). The school will know who has enough money for that and who doesn't.

    So, if you're one of the rich families, you know you already know whats expected of you; you already had that board member write that letter (or in one case i know of, really arm twist to get a kid off the waiting list), you already made a visible donation to the various fundraising arms of the school you were really interested in (LAST YEAR), and you have already made it totally clear that that a lifetime of charitable volunteering and fundraising makes you totally valuable to the school (and did i mentino your family is married, straight and has SAHM?).

    If your family doesn't fit that category, I would relax, try to be nice to the director and let them know your real intent to be a part of that school and just hope for the best!

  58. And also:

    And an aside for the people that think that single sex is better or not: It really depends on the kid! Don't get on a high horse either way. When we toured the girl's schools we thought Hamlin was the best of them, but still wasn't right for our daughter. we see the value of single sex education, but in our individual case, other values were more important to us. Hamlin really claims a mix of girls, but they really didn't focus on learning differences enough (both over and under "normal") for us. Say what you want, but each single sex school in our opinion (and we toured the boys too) had a "type"--i.e., a "Hamlin girl", and our kid wasn't it. She is way too quirky -and way too self-directed for such a traditional program (and we thought Lisa and Corinne were great. We also hear great things about Wanda). We also suspected that our daughter had a learning difference and after 1st grade our chosen school came to us and identified that she did. So in our case, one of the coed schools was a better fit for us (and we love it).

    good luck to everyone and if you really want a private school, just play it out to the end--don't give up because you're not super wealthy or not a private school type--we weren't and we are very pleased with our kids's educations!

  59. Why have this post when all the private school parents are skiing in Tahoe? Its a vacation and no one gets back until today.

  60. I find some of the posts to be highly offensive, particularly in regards to private schools and people of color. My black son, with black parents attends a private school, along with several of his other classmates who come from similar families. Enough with the stereotyping and otherwise offensive remarks. My experience with my son's private school is that most parents come from a range of backgrounds and enjoy what the school has to offer their child. People choose schools for different reasons, and compartmentalizing the student body and their families is not helpful for readers of this blog who seek advice on schools for their child.

  61. 2:46, of course there are exceptions to the rule, but objectively can anyone deny that private schools are significantly wealthier and also whiter than the city as a whole? And would you argue that that is not an issue at all?

    I myself wouldn't use this fact to say that private schools therefore have no value whatsoever, but it is an elephant in the room as it were. Public schools have their elephants, too. We do no favors to either system by ignoring these elephants, which is what advocates tend to do. It's especially important to talk about it in a city where 1/3 of the kids are being educated outside the public system. If it were the much lower percentage of the past or of other cities, it wouldn't matter so much that our city's kids are so segregated by class and race--with notable exceptions as you point out.

  62. Question here about previous post. It says single sex schools have admission relations with school of other sex. We are leaning to single sex for our daughter. Our son will apply if our daughter goes single sex. Does any body know of the schools that work together?

  63. 11:26 am. You are so right. smirk. Preschools had vacation week. This thread will pick up when they are all back from sugarloaf, aspen and hawaii.

  64. I think one just has to think about a vacation openly called "ski week" to realize that private schools are not as filled with a widely diverse student body as is sometimes described. Or maybe there are some diverse families there, but gee, isn't calling it "ski week" more than a little pretentious, not to say, obvious?

  65. 7:50 p.m., to respond to your question only Stuart Hall School for Boys and Convent of the Sacred Hearts (girls) have a reciprocal relationship when it comes to admissions.

  66. So annoying. Get over yourselves and let people speak positively about their experiences with independent schools without making comments about the usual suspects -- money, ethnicity and types. This thread is about the private school process. If you don't have anything to contribute on the topic, stop being so critical and instead go write your 400 word essay on why you love your public school. I promise to respect your choice, your school, the families and the children. Please do the same.

    Single mother of 2 children in 2 independent schools who yes, have the week off, and no, are not in Aspen or Sugarload or Hawaii, but in SF attending camp while their mother is working.

  67. "Do kids with special needs ever get into privates?"

    "We had assumed he could go to a good public if he did not get into a private school, but under Superintendent Garcia's new plan,"

    Details are still being worked out for the special needs kids: Rachel Norton is pushing to have the assignment process for special ed kids out of the hands of the EPC and in the hands of the special ed professionals, so those divising the program for a special ed kid can send them to the school most suited for their needs. Stay tuned.

    My prejudice would be that there's better infrastructure to support special needs kids in the publics than in the privates (in that you have teams of specialized professionals both assigned to particular schools and city-wide), but I've no direct experience.

    Amongst the privates, Live Oak seems a lot more savvy than others on this issue.

    "that seems less likely. Would parents suggest we make a co-ed our first choice?"

    Of course, if you're going to send the daughter to Hamlin,

    As there's a fair age difference between your kids, I'd say do what's best for your daughter right now and readjust 3-4 years down the line when you know more about how your son develops. Your daughter's going to have to sacrifice enough during her life because of her brother's greater needs, but you can make this decision where for at least a few years it's just about her and what's best for her.

    Also, my impression was that it was easier to get a kid into the more competitive privates in 5th or 6th grade than at the kinder level, so if another school makes more sense when your son reaches kinder age, you can readjust then.

  68. "we applied to all the co-ed privates and prioritized inclusion schools like west portal in the public lottery (also obviously very hard to get into even if it is our neighborhood school)."

    If you're close to WP, it'll be easier to get in under the proposed new more-neighborhood focused system next year. Something to consider if your daughter's on the young side for kindergarten.

  69. Regarding MCDS, I believe it was anticipated at 6-8 spots for San Francisco which means 3 or 4 of each sex. Applications are up 10% though.

  70. Convent and Stuart Hall Elementary Schools are both Schools of the Sacred Heart. Their campuses are on the same block, separated by Convent HS (girls only). Hamlin and Town are separate entities but have joint activities and are in the same neighborhood. Burkes and Cathedral are very physically separate but I believe they do some joint activities. I did both single sex and co-ed in the K-12 years and so did my daughter. We're both big single sex ed fans for K-12. For college, however, I'd say we both prefer co-ed environments.

  71. 1:41 a.m. is a brilliant post. I was on the floor laughing. Most responses just didn't get it.

    Relax, everyone! There is humor in this process.