Friday, March 26, 2010

Hot topic: Tips for getting started with the private school process

This from a reader:
We are going thru this process next year for a boy. I would love any advice from those people who got in.

I am concerned because we are white, middle class, no connection but do go to a preschool that has been successful in the past with placement. I am sure that are many of people who look like "us".

Does the preschool matter or should I start "networking" to figure out connections to the schools?


  1. Networking isn't nearly as important at this point as figuring out where you'd like your son to apply and go.

    - Private only?
    - Public tours also?
    - Parochial?

    I would network now connections who aren't necessarily board level etc but parents you know who will spend time talking about what they like about the school and what they would change. Later, after you apply, and especially if you are on the wait list, board level contacts or people who are important to the school (financially, strategically, etc.) are great to have if they will write for you.

    Schedule tours early - start email requests in late summer. You can still download some applications and would recommend doing so so you can start thinking about essays. While they are harder to do before you tour, some you can actually start now.

    Talk to your preschool director early, to discuss your research plan (where to look) and then try to get tours done so you can plan the strategy with them (where to apply, what to focus on).

    If you are applying to more than a few schools (six seems to be a good number - there are still many families with only waitlist letters but there is likely a correlation with those who applied more broadly), this will take a lot of time to tour, go to events, talk to parents, etc.

    Re: networking, I would start to make a list of parents you know whose kids are in preschool, just to get advice. It is too early to know what your top choice(s) will be, but many people will be happy to talk to you.

    The websites are great sources of information. They won't have tour info up yet, but you can get a sense of the spirit of the school.

    Schools this year that received the most applications and were among the most competitive (all boys or coed) were Cathedral, the Friends School, MCDS, Nueva, SF Day, Stuart Hall, Town. I'm sure I'm missing some - perhaps a few others might be included here, like Live Oak (it's small so it never takes very many), CAIS (most start at pre-K so very few are taken for K), and FAIS (same thing). There is also what many say is an excellent new private school, Marin Prep (see the thread on this). I mention all, and there are more, as the "main" ones but this isn't a full list. All the girls' schools seemed equally competitive as the boys' schools for anyone reading who wants single-sex.

  2. A few more things.

    It is better to do earlier tours than later ones, because you can get applications in sooner rather than later, and then schedule your child's screenings. (At SF Day, you have to apply before touring so getting that application done early is important.) If you are late to get screening requests in, you risk having them all lumped together - if you are early scheduling, schools will have more flexibility. Our child had several screenings v close together and did fine but we would've been happier with fewer waitlists. Waitlists did not clear well this year except for for a few children. It may not have made a difference, who knows, but you want to optimize what you can.

    You should prepare for interviews and be well-rested. Sounds basic but we didn't do that and it hurt us in some cases. Think about the few things you really want to make sure you convey. We didn't prepare particularly well and although they all felt like they went decently, you can wind up chatting for 30 minutes and not saying that much OR getting your message across about why you like the school, why you can see your child fitting in, and what is different or special about your family to the extent there is anything you would like to discuss. Being genuine is very important. We liked all our interviews and had a good time because we felt we knew the schools well and from the information we had, we could really see our child at all of them.

    Keep in mind the applications take a long time, and so do all the events. We liked them all because we learned something at every single one, but it is time consuming. Tours, open houses, parent coffees, coffee with friends to learn more, applications, kid playdates/screenings, etc. We probably spent 10-20 hours per school or maybe more with some depending on how easy (Marin Prep, Sacred Heart Schools) or time consuming (SF Day, MCDS, Friends) the applications are. While it is absolutely true you don't have to do everything, for us, we did most events at about six schools because it's a big investment, a 9-year relationship (minimum!), and we wanted to make sure we were doing our homework.

    This is basic stuff, but just some thoughts having just come out of the process of things we wish we had known! One more - we wound up doing more public school research at the very end. This ran into lots of events and wasn't optimal. If we did it again, we'd do our public research earlier. Although next year the process is said to be easier, it is still listing a slew of schools you want so it could be just as much research. Very good luck to you - and I'm sure there are lots more specifics that others will fill in.

  3. Followingon 1:45, my advice is simple: unless you are a stay-at-home parent without an infant at home, tour publics 2 years ahead, and privates a year ahead. Unless you know you have an ironclad guarantee of getting your attenance area school and are happy about that, you're going to spend 20-30 hours on the publics, too.

  4. When you are touring the schools, take detailed notes on what you like about the schools, and what sets them apart from others to you. Otherwise, the schools will all become a blur. Be thoughtful about your essays and personalize to each school as much as you can - it's the best way to convey how much you like the school and how well you and your family will fit in.

    Make sure you send thank you letters after interviews etc., and talk to as many parents as you can at the school. They may or may not have any pull, but great (or bad) impressions can make their way to the ADs. It will also help you decide which schools you truly want to focus on.

    Be nice to the receptionist and don't pull out your blackberry or iPhone at open houses. Sounds basic, but it's been done and the AD will notice. And the gatekeeper (receptionist, assistant director etc.), will let the AD know if you're rude.

    Don't bring your baby/child to a school event unless the school specifically says its ok. It's a major distraction to have a crying/whining child at open houses etc., and it is frowned upon (per one AD I overheard).

    Read the application instructions/websites carefully. It annoys the ADs to get questions/calls on things that are already spelled out on the applications (e.g. process, deadlines).

    Get on the ADs radar, but don't be pushy.

    It's a long process. Be ready for an emotional roller-coaster ride. It was painful for us, but ultimately we got 3/4 privates.

  5. my 2 cents as a parent who just went through the process with some degree of success (mostly due to #4 below):

    1. Do your homework as suggested by previous posts but do not over-analyze or read into minute insignificant details trying to determine if a school is the right fit for your child. Rank the things that are important to your family but don't try to see things where there are not.

    2. Be honest at the parent interview; AD do this for a living and aren't easily fooled. Keep in mind that they are not scoring you on a scale of 1 to 10 as much as filtering the "troublesome" parents from the rest.

    3. Make sure your child is happy the day of the assessment. Bribe her if you have to, humor her on her capricious requests for one day. It's a small price to pay and for once it won't turn her into a spoiled brat.

    4. Accept the fact that regardless of how important the outcome is to you and regardless of how much effort you pour into the process, the end result is inevitably driven in large part by randomness, much more so than we (parents) and ADs are willing to admit: the gut feel the AD develops about your family, your child's behavior on the day the assessment, the inscrutable way ADs break ties among perfectly acceptable families vying for limited spots, etc.

    5. Apply to 1-2 "safety" schools. Consider these your anchor to the city.

    6. Apply for public anyway, even if you think now you'll never do public. No need to put yourself into a no-option situation if things don't work out as you were hoping. If you put trophy schools on your list of 7 don't bother touring them until you get them and you decide to go public.

    7. If you get a rejection/waitlist, don't take it personally and don't fall in the sour grapes mental trap. Maintain your dignity.

  6. Dear Prospective Parent,

    Congratulations on your decision to try to join the elite group of private parents. If you belong, you will be richly showered with offers. Here is a simple recipe for success:

    1) Try to get to know the AD's as intimately as possible. Find a proper social milieu and join them. Invite them to your country club for Ricards (with ice) or a proper gin martini. Find out what country club they attend. If you have friends at that club, get them to invite you to dinner or a round of golf. Sends glasses of pastis and mints to their table.

    2) Choose only the elite schools. One or two Mickey Mouse institutions will suffice for backup.

    3) Tour with grace and style. A colorful pashmina and a nice pair of Manolo Blahniks are always perfect for the lady. A nice seersucker and black oxfords are ideal for the man.

    4) Be sure to pepper your conversation with the ADs with plenty of obscure intellectual references. I recommend the google for finding these little gems. During the tour be sure to mention the powerful people you know in the city and the various social outings you have with them. For example, tea with Charolotte Schultz, cocktails with Wilkes Bashford, duck hunting with Newsom, etc.

    5) Always hold your chin up high. This one is self-explanatory and very important. ADs notice stuff like this.

    6) Invite your AD to the club for Ricards (with ice). This is a repeat of #1 but very important. Can't emphasize this one enough.

    7) Downplay the play date with the AD. They will know by how you conduct yourself whether or not you belong. The play date is pure bunk.

    Good luck, but as I say, if you belong, all will fall into place.

    Catherine and Kent

  7. Catherine and Kent ...

    I really wish we were you. A pair of sarcastic trustfunders who have nothing better to do than mock people who are looking for genuine input.

    You hide under a vail of anonymity and are rude to people who are honesty looking for support and input by other people in the blog.

    I do know that I don't belong with people like you so could you leave my question alone and go bother someone else.

    I would like some honest input because we don't have friends who have gone thru the process and I would like some help.

    thank you again for not hijacking this question with your mockery.

  8. As long as your boy was born before May 1 and you can afford to pay full freight, you'll get into a school you like. No worries.

  9. 7:26 p.m., not least this year.

  10. Thanks everyone for the input. It is very helpful and makes this a less daunting thought.

    Our boy was born in the end of May. I would go back to work to pay the full fledge.

    I think we would focus on the all boys school because right now the difference between him learning and a girl is night and day. This might change in a year but we are not sure.

    Does it help to have families mention you to the AD?

    I understand to go parochial we would have to get involved in the parish. Which I get. I went Catholic growing up and this is the way it worked then as well.

  11. 5:49, lighten up. Catherine and Kent are satire. It's a lost art in California.

  12. 6:58

    Thanks for the free feedback. I will rephrase my request then.

    Can you keep your satire out of my question blog.

    thanks in advance.

  13. Hey 5:49:

    First, I doubt that "Catherine and Kent" are truly as they describe themselves. Probably just someone having a little fun with the process. (Horrors!)

    Second, just because Kate posts your question on her blog doesn't mean its YOUR question, if you know what I mean. I don't think you copyrighted it or anything. Controlling behavior is not going to help you in this very difficult process.

    That said, I think it's wise to think ahead a year.

  14. 8:06 here -- I'm not Catherine and Kent, though I personally find them a hilarious stress-buster. I'm actually poster #4 who advised planning your tours for 2 years (1 public, 1 private). You are welcome for that free advice, as well as for the time and energy other people have spent advising you, and for the reviewers' time and energy posting information about schools, and for Kate's time spent managing this blog. People pay private school coaches for just that kind of thing, and you are relying on the good will of others: that's just fine if you treat us decently. Meanwhile, it is not your blog, nor your comment thread. If Kate wants to delete Catherine and Kent, that is her prerogative. Or you could start a blog, like Kate did, and control content.

  15. My advice is to really listen to what your preschool director has to say--ours was a vision of insight as to who are child was and what she needed (no Catholic schools (too large), quirky bent.

    Second, ask yourself if you can really afford it. If you can, go for it. If its going to be hard, apply for financial aid, but don't be surprised if it doesn't happen for you.

    Third, tour and go through all open houses. I did this to see the way the school operates, the way the AD operates and the way the prospective parents behave. For example, I felt way more at home at schools like Live Oak and Friends than at schools like Hamlin and Convent (my opinion only).

    People say the prospective parents are nothing like the families that actually get in, but I really do know a lot of families at many private schools, and the ones that "matter"--the ones running the fundraisers and have SAHMs and are really making things happen for the schools (not the ones too busy to work, who don't have extra funds or babysitters to attend all the mixers, fundraisers, meetings etc., or live too far away to be their to help out in the lunchrooms, the classrooms, etc)--are curiously the ones who define the information nights (not the worst in the bunch, but close).

    I also needed the extra tours and open houses to look at the students and to see if my child would "fit" at the schools we looked at. For example, ironically, when we looked at the schools we thought we liked the most, Friends and Hamlin, we realized our daughter didn't really fit at either for exactly opposite reasons. Something at Friends just didn't feel right: the location, the parents, the lack of bells and whistles for all that money, the artificial simplicity seemed weird.

    Hamlin on the other hand, felt wrong for us too: originally, we were impressed with the girls leading the tours, their fearlessness, confidence and poise. On paper, the diversity of locations the girls come from also sounded great. But when we actually saw the kids in classrooms, we realized they aren't miracle workers--some girls will always be the shy ones and otehrs will always be the confident ones. And the blazing whiteness--with a few sprinkles of "diversity" just brought us down. There is also something really "east coasty" that I can't put my hand on...

    Anyway, these personal observations are just that--personal, and I wouldn't have come to these conclusions had I not toured and had personal insight into these schools. In the end, we feel we made the right decisions with our school and feel lucky (and thats what it is--whether its because you have the money the connections what the school is looking for, its all just luck).

  16. There has been a lot of good advice posted. Do what you can without going insane and annoying the school.

    Having just gone through this process here were my unexpected takeaways:

    1. If you are not adding diversity, you are at a major, major disadvantage - be prepared. Every student in my child's preschool class who was diverse got into multiple private schools. All the children from white, heterosexual families were waitlisted. Some eventually got in. All are wonderful - but wonderful and diverse was the winning combo.

    2. Get to know the ADs without being annoying. This becomes especially critical with the waitpools - if they know and like you, they'll pick you at the last minute (since you are unlikely to get in initially since you are not diverse).

    3. Get ready for an insane, insane, insane amount of work. I knew it would be a lot of work to get my child into kindergarten, but really had no clue. The tours, the coffees, the emails, the networking, the essays. You will spend far more time on this than all job interviews and post-secondary applications combined. Try to keep a light workload.

  17. Late May birthday, will be honest with you, for a boy, ...very hard. Think about applying and then reapplying in a year.

  18. Thank you ...

    I know I don't own the blog. My thought is that this blog has turned into a forum for people involved in public and private schools in San Francisco. The forum offers a place for people to interact and gain valuable knowledge. Yes, it is for free. I never even knew there are "people for hire" in the kindergarten process.

    thank you all for the positive information.

    thanks to kate for allowing her blog to turn into a useful forum.

    I would assume that is her intent and not to provide an "avenue" for satire about people's choices.

  19. 11:48 - Please send us a hint of where you wound up or what you were choosing between. That's really interesting feedback.

  20. This is just my experience in touring Catholic and publics--didn't pursue the independents because we didn't think we could afford it.

    My advice: Tour a ton of schools and then apply to just a few you really like. I applied to 8 preschools. What a waste! For grammar, we listed 7 publics (and got our first choice) and applied to ONE Catholic school, to which our child was also accepted, though not members of the parish. (Except at the Catholic schools that get tons of apps, like St. Vincent de Paul, NDV, St. Brendan, not being a parishioner isn't a deal breaker.)

    What we did do for the Catholic was speak over the phone with the director a few times, attend an open house w/the whole fam (even grandparents!), and just generally made it known that we liked the school and community and could fit in. I think the ADs can tell when you're applying to a ton and just going through the motions vs. being serious about accepting an offer.

  21. And forgot to mention: I am not "diverse" or low income. So maybe I am just lucky getting both my pics. May it happen to you as well. :)

  22. one comment about diversity:

    you white people really do have it backwards--its not like non-white people get everything and get in at every private school, its just that there are so many white people who have everything--money, connections and great preschool spots--that the competition is fierce amongst you!!!

    There are VERY FEW MINORITIES IN MOST PRIVATE SCHOOLS!! But of course if you know ONE(1) non-white kid that's got something going on and he gets multiple offers, you fixate and harp on the unfairness of life!!! Its just so bizarre....

    Take one goddamn tour of any private school and you will see that the schools are just overwhelmingly, devastatingly white, white white--in a city that is not. But you all choose to overlook that and instead harp on and on about how Diversity is key, how disadvantaged you are because you're not diverse, blah, blah blah.

    Give me a break--you feel you're somehow discriminated against because what, there's like one black kid, 2 asians and 5 amerasians in private school? The way you guys howl at the injustice, you'd think hee privates are 96% black!!!

    and then the accusations about how that minority kid isn't so special anyway (how could he be so great as to get 5 offers!!!?!?!) really kill me.

    If you want to complain about your unjust life, focus on the 95% of white kids that kicked your kid to the waitlist, and ease up on the 5% brownies who got their pick of the privates. Geesh.

  23. 9:18, you're welcome. My experience with Kate is that she has a sense of humor and is not a controlling person. She's asked in another post if she ought to delete comments or require registration. The majority of commenters seem to think we are all adults and can skip the comments we don't like, and sort out differences in the threads. I don't know what Kate will do, but that seems to me a very healthy attitude. Live and let live, unless someone is attacked personally by name.

    Yes, there are "educational consultants" who earn big bucks coaching people through private school admissions. We're lucky to have each other. Even Catherine and Kent, who provide a kind of through-the-looking-glass insight.

  24. so going back to boys with summer birthdays, my son was born in the beg. of july, is there bsically no chance for him to enter the all-boys school when he is 5 years 2 months and we have to wait for him to turn 6 to enter k? do you guys know any summer birthday boys who who got into the all-boys when they just turned 5? we're eager to send him then as he has a younger sib 1.5 years younger and we're hoping they could be 2 grades apart in school so as to avoid too much competition with each other.

  25. Agree with 12:57. You make it sound like independent schools are full of black and latino kids. Open your eyes and LOOK; you'll see lots of white kids. I used to work in admissions. And building a class isn't random. They have a formula, which includes birthday spread, gender balance, diversity, etc. So just looking at diversity, let's say they have a goal of 40% diverse kids and 60% white. You are competing with other white kids for those 60% white spots. Of course there are WAY more white families applying than families of color. And while schools would like to have greater diversity, they aren't going to take a black kid just because he's black. There are a nunmber of other things that need to fall into place -- readiness, birthday, gender, etc. So chances are, they aren't going to get that 40% diversity ratio anyway. So for a spot at an independent school, your white child is competing with Jack, not with Jose.

  26. 9:26
    I don't know too many girls with July birthdays - never mind boys! Keep in mind your son will be applying with a group of boys that are a full year older (since many families delay in applying for boys with summer birthday.) Perhaps if you really want to apply - pick 1 or 2 schools and apply. Expect "too young" letters (which in a way are a little more painful that "waitlist" because with "too young" you can't work the waitlists.) If you get a "too young" letter at a school you love - and you don't mind waiting a year - talk to the AD about his/her advice for the next year (pre-k, public k, etc). If you take their advice and apply the next year - you'll have a very good shot and getting in the next year.

  27. If it helps, our daughter is an August bday. In the Kinder round, we got a "too young" letter from Children's Day. Synergy waitlisted us. Katherine Michiels made room for us.

    For the !st grade round, we got into The SF School, our daughter being the 3rd youngest student in class. 4 boys have May bdays or younger.

    Either it is just this year, or our school is much looser with the age requirement. Our daughter gets support, as do the other young kids, whenever they need it.

    Perhaps the more, how do I say this, casual (?) schools aren't as worried about high grades and older kids...?

  28. 9:26 AM, the boys school cutoff date is July 15th and that's a hard cutoff without wiggle room. Anything later than that is simply not getting into one of the boys schools here and even early July is pushing it.

  29. 9:26 AM here. Thanks for all the info and advice! So if we're keen on the all-boys, should we apply anyway for when my son turns 5 in July, with the expectation that we'll get a "too young" letter, then reapply the following year and expect our chances to be higher since we've been showing continued interest? I'm new to this, so pardon my ignorance - but when we reapply, do we need to write all new essays and go through all the same interviews?! Anyone been through the reapplication process and can shed some light?

  30. Why do all the independents shoot for a 60/40 ratio of white/minority kids?

    That ratio might make sense in other cities where those ratios reflect the population at large.

    But in San Francisco, where less than a third of the school-age kids are white non-Hispanic, that ratio ASSURES that white kids are over-represented vis-a-vis their percentage of the city's kid population. That's pathetic and perhaps even racist.

    When a private school in a city that is 60 percent white brags about having 40 percent families of "color", those bragging rights are well earned.

    When a San Francisco school brags about the same ratio, it just goes to show that they don't *really* know the city in which they live, such is their ivory-tower induced delusion.

  31. Frankly, I think one of the main reasons private school kids do better than public school kids (though I haven't actually seen any data proving this) is that they tend to be a whole year older.

    There are LOTS of kids turning 5 in public school kindergarten classrooms and NONE in privates. The public school cut off isn't until December!

  32. I bet most SF admissions directors don't know what percentage of the kid population of SF is white, let alone that white kids are the MINORITY in this town.

    Pathetic, but it all comes down to money, doesn't it?

  33. 9:27 are you really so naive or are you trying to stoke the racial fire here?
    independent schools could not survive financially if they forced themselves to have the same racial mix in the classes as the one in the SF general population. Is that a racist policy? Only if you see the world through the lens of victimism.

    In fact, I bet that all things being equal (including a child's performance at the evaluation) being of color gives the child a leg up in the admission process. And that's the way it should be given the mix of applicants (as long as the school does not take state or federal money).

  34. "When a San Francisco school brags about the same ratio, it just goes to show that they don't *really* know the city in which they live, such is their ivory-tower induced delusion."

    You could ask just about *anyone* here -- public/independent/parochial -- what the ideal racial mix for a classroom would be and they would answer 20% each white, black, asian, hispanic, and other/mixed. Ask them what the ideal mix for a city's population would be and you would get the same answer.

  35. SF Day is comparitively diverse, with close 50% of the last few classes having some sort of diversity factor (racial, lingual otherwise).

    It doesn't seem that diversity is a proxy for financial need either; those that need financial aid seem to be different from those that present diversity.

    I wouldn't even consider another private school to be in that league.

  36. 9:27, regarding the 60/40 -- I just used those numbers to give an example. I don't know what the actual ratio is that they are shooting for, but my point is that there IS a target ratio, and that white kids are competing with white kids.

  37. Tips for getting started and criteria to use in the private school process?

    Start early and go to the open houses of about 8-10 private schools that you think may be of interest. Some of them will quickly turn you off or leave you with too many doubts to be worth pursuing. You can drop these from further consideration, while arranging to go on tours of all the others. It's a bit like dating--if you have to think TOO TOO hard about whether the other person is right for a second date, they are not right for that second date.

    We looked for 4 things in our tours and later visits with the schools:

    How well does the school demonstrate academic excellence or "depth" in all the basic and other subject areas that are important (English, Math, Science, Social Studies, International Languages, Technologyy, Music/Arts, Recreation/Physical Education). Is there a well thought-out, carefully sequenced, agreed-upon curriulum in each of the subject areas over the K-8 years? School is, after all, a place geared for the transmission of academic skills and knowledge to children, in addition to all the social and emotional learning that takes place.
    To what extent does the school seem nurturing, encouraging, confidence-building in its philosophy and in actions? This is perhaps best assessed by whether the students seem genuinely happy, confident, and comfortable in their own skins rather than stressed, anxious, afraid of or driven by adult evaluations of their performance. In co-ed schools, we looked for whether teachers called on girls and boys equally in the classroom or otherwise seemed to give more attention to one sex over the other. Is the school equally supportive of girls and boys learning and emotional development?
    (c) MISSION:
    Does the school have a consistent philosophy or set of values that inspires and guides the mission and action of almost everyone at school such that the parents, teaching staff, and administration seem like a close-knit, happy, well functioning unit that has excitement about their school? Can you identify with that mission, and are the school's values and ways of ooperating consistent with your family's values and ways of operating?
    Does the school have great teachers in terms of their ability to stimulate and engage the entire class in exciting discussions and activities that touch the students' imaginations? Does the teaching activate students' internal motivation to learn rather than only to perform well on evaluative tests or assignments? Do many of the teachers seem tired, at odds with the administration, or otherwise not really happy in their work? The teacher-student connection is where the rubber ultimately hits the road in education, and the ability to hire, support, and retain great teachers is a key ingredient.
    After all of the above criteria are met, consider the specific fit of each particular school with your own child's strengths and weaknesses. Which school will best help your child develop in the areas in which she or he struggles emotionally, socially, intellectually, or behaviorally? Certain schools seem like they would be better for extroverted children, gifted children, children with learning difficulties, shy children, children who have problems accepting limits, perfectionistic children, and so on. You can best assess what environment will help your particular child grow in specific areas.

  38. There were things about the schools that others thought were important but which we did not feel were important. For example, we were less impressed by the speaking charisma (or lack of it) among the various heads of the schools and more impressed by whether the administration and teaching staff seemed to work well together as a team.

    Charisma does not always translate into effective leadership, and your child and family is not likely to have that much contact with the head of school anyway unless you are on the board.

  39. Biggest surprise was that at the end of the process, we felt that the schools' admission decisions were based a LOT more on the schools' views of our child's characteristics than on anything about us. It's like they're trying to feel sure that your child is the best possible fit for their school.

    Sure, they want to connect with the parents, but they are admitting your child (not you) to the school for 9 years :)

  40. 3:35 AM, that's actually a relief to hear. I'd been under the impression that the kid could be merely OK (i.e, not a problem kid) but the family needed to bring full fare tuition plus donations, a powerhouse stay-at-home parent volunteer, and/or significant diversity to have a chance. Whereas we have a gregarious, curious, funny child who connects well with others, but are in need of aid, have two working parents, and don't bring a lot of diversity. It's not that we have nothing to bring a school, but it seems paltry in comparison to people who are well-off. Do we have a prayer?

  41. re 6:44 AM

    I think what really happens is that first the schools decide which children they would like to admit based on the children's characteristics(assuming the child's parents are not going to be obnoxious pains in the neck). Then the schools have to make a separate decision about offering a spot to each child depending how much financial aid they have available to disburse to the families that need it.

    In that sense, the families with the good-fit children that need financial aid are competing with each other for admission, and the families with the good-fit children that do not need financial aid are competing with each other for admission. However, the schools are not going to take any child who is not a good fit even if the family can pay full tuition.

    If a school can't give financial aid for enough of the children they would like to admit and who need it, the school would have no choice but to admit children who fit the school less well but whose parents can pay the full fare without aid. But there are so many applicants to the schools whose families can pay full tuition that the schools can still find many such children who are a good enough fit.

    Whether that makes it less or more competitive for the children whose families need tuition assistance is a matter of how many families apply for the aid relative to how much aid a school has available that year.

    At least the above is my understanding of what happens regarding financial aid in admissions, but I'd like to hear what other believe about the process.

  42. I think 6:44's concerns about being a powerhouse stay-at-home parent volunteer, connections, and being wealthy actually don't matter as much as some people believe. Many of the families at a private school with greater then $20K tuition are going to be well-off enough that they will be able to continue the school's expected level of overall fundraising.

    As for racial and family diversity, if all else is equal (which it rarely is), then I think the schools will admit the children of color and children of LGBT parents over the children of white heterosexual parents because they want all children to become comfortable with and to value social diversity.

    But the reality is that there are relatively few children of color and children of LGBT parents applying to the private nonsectarian schools. With the exception of Chinese American International School, you only need to look at the children in classes to see that more than 70-80% of the children at almost all of the private nonsectarian schools are white Anglo children. These schools are far from representative of the actual diversity that exists in the school-age population of San Francisco (which is majority children of color and has been for many years). And typically there would be 0-3 children in an entering class (including sibling admissions) who have LGBT parents (and the mode is probably more like 0-1 such child per entering class).

    But even so, the schools do not seem to be bending over backwards or changing their standards for students of such minority families, and many such families are also ending up with 1 or no acceptances at the end of the process.

    The thing that matters most is still the school's assessment of your child's ability to do well at that school academically and socially.

  43. I wonder how well the schools are actually able to assess the children's academic and social potential at age 4 using the methods they employ. How much reliability and predictive validity do the screenings and classroom play observations have?

    I think the bottom line is that for children who do well on these measures, the tests are valid because a child can't "fake" a good performance when it comes to things like vocabulary, drawing skills, pattern recognition, fine and gross motor skills, etc.

    But for children who do poorly on the measures, their performance could have been temporarily impaired by the emotional and physical vagaries of preschoolers' functioning in general (such as uncooperativeness). Thus a poor score at age 4 based on a screening or visit may not be predictive of the child's future functioning at the school whereas a good score at age 4 is likely to have more predictive validity to future performance.

    Unfortunately, the schools will fill all of their slots with students whose potential they were able to assess as being high and are willing to reject some excellent applicants whose potential they were unable to assess correctly.

    What does this imply for parents' stategies? If your child's performance is highly variable depending on her or his emotional state (moodiness) or physical state (such as tiredness), you should apply to more schools in the hopes that at least some of the screenings and visits will go well.

  44. So the schools get to pick the kids most likely to succeed, and then they get to claim credit for the kids' success?


    And that's what makes those schools different from the publics.

    Nicer facilities and the ability to choose kids who would do well regardless of school/teacher quality.

  45. I'm 6:44, and thanks for the thoughtful advice. I will say that even though I think my kid will probably screen well, there's a lot of research out there showing that what looks precocious or gifted at 4 isn't a predictor of future "specialness." If they retested "gifted" kids every 3 years or so, lots would not re-qualify.

    So I am hoping for a school where my kid is met at her level, whatever it is, with no fuss made about whether she is special or gifted or slow or different. Don't know if that is more likely at public or private, or differs among private schools. I would love to, though, if anyone knows.

  46. Most privates (Nueva excepted) don't want truly gifted kids. They want above average, socially adept kids who are easy to teach. Gifted kids are not ;-)

  47. 6:44/7:38
    In the Kindergarten admissions process, the publics will definitely meet your kid at her level in the sense that they do not even meet or assess your child's level in anything (unless your child speaks a primary language other than English and/or if bilingual or language immersion class placement is being considered). The public schools make no such distinctions in admissions.

    I believe most of the private schools, however, prefer to take the students whom they view as having the most academic potential and being the best functioning socially. They don't see themselves as serving every child but as serving children that are above average in academic potential, the kinds of children who will go to the most competitive colleges and universities in the U.S.--not necessarily the Ivy Leagues only but the most competitive 100-300 colleges and universities in the country. On many of their websites, they even list the colleges their graduates attend after high school. Without doubt, this is a sign that very high academic achievment is one of their main educational objectives.

  48. 9:26--I wouldn't say that the private schools other than Nueva do not want gifted children in their entering classes (as giftedness is usually defined by an IQ score > 130). However, these schools may not be able to accomodate the more rare child prodigies in music, math, chess, and other specialized fields, who require very specialized instruction.

    In fact, the Kindergarten screening tests that many of the private schools use probably correlate significantly with IQ test scores. I would guess that the private schools have a preference for children with stonger scores on their screening tests, and although they call this "school readiness" in Kindergarten, gifted children would probably have among the highest "school readiness" scores.

    Also, you seem to be buying into the whole mythology about gifted children being emotionally more vulnerable than other children, more eccentric, and more difficult to educate or manage in regular educational settings. But in fact the best research studies of gifted children actually show they are better adjusted emotionally; have better relations with their parents, other adults, and peers; and even have more marital satisfaction in adulthood and longer-lasting marriages than non-gifted people, as well as more career success.

    Really, I think the private schools very much want gifted children even though they may not be thinking of children in such categorical, dichotomous terms (gifted versus non-gifted).

    I also imagine the private schools DON'T want egocentric parents who demand extraordinary TLC for their children using "giftedness" as the rationale for their excessive demands.

  49. We know a lot of parents with high IQ kids who are bored/not challenged at even the most academically demanding private schools (Hamlin, FAIS, Friends).

    Most schools are just not set up to differentiate well and the teachers are used to teaching to the middle (albeit a higher "middle" at the privates).

  50. Without doubt, this is a sign that very high academic achievment is one of their main educational objectives.

    Well, duh. Shouldn't that be any educational institution's main objective?

  51. 12:50, you've totally misread me with this: "Also, you seem to be buying into the whole mythology about gifted children being emotionally more vulnerable than other children, more eccentric, and more difficult to educate or manage in regular educational settings."

    All I said was "gifted" (and especially IQ) often don't translate over time, because precocity can be just earliness, not continuing betterness. I don't even know if my kid is "gifted," nor do I care. I don't think she's some special flower at all and I don't want her to think she is, either. I just want her to feel she is part of the human race, whatever level she's at in whatever she is doing. I was a precocious kid (not a genius, just an early-arriver) often denied that opportunity by teachers, in ways I won't bore you with, with damage resulting. I think it's reasonable to want something different for my kid while still offering her what she needs, and all I asked is whether it's a better bet she'll get that at public or private. I don't intend to micro-manage the process, either.

  52. In response to this:

    "We know a lot of parents with high IQ kids who are bored/not challenged at even the most academically demanding private schools (Hamlin, FAIS, Friends). "

    It has been fairly well proven that being "bored" in school is more the result of something other than being too smart for the teaching. E.g. a child is bored because s/he cannot focus (maybe has ADD), or doesn't understand what is going on (opposite of being "too bright") or for other social or emotional reasons not correlated with intelligence. Studies show that the most bright kids enjoy learning and are able to challenge themselves in any environment by finding additional work to do (when they are finished with their desk work, they write stories or draw pictures, for example, or read a book they have kept in their desk).

    (This is in addition to the fact that I don't know who would consider Friends and FAIS among the 'most academically challenging' ... although Hamlin perhaps. My guess is that the FAIS child may not be tracking in the language - something that happens with language immersion in private _and_ public.)

  53. This is starting to remind of MIT vs. Harvard comparisons...

  54. 4:46 - interesting comment, care to elaborate if it is going to add to this discussion?

  55. 4:46 p.m., this whole idea that a school is "better" than another boils down to the individual and their learning style and personal biases as well as strengths/weaknesses. MIT and Harvard both provide top notch educations mere miles apart. Arguably, MIT's reputation for math and science exceeds Harvards and frankly, Yale probably has a better rep for humanities than either, but Harvard keeps up its general allure and likely offers a broader education. Harvard and MIT students definitely think their own schools are the respective "best", it all comes down to your point of view.

  56. There won't be the same "best" school for every child, but there are more and less prestigous schools, just like there are more or less prestigous colleges. (Even though no college is best for all students.)

    I think it does a disservice to parents just starting the search to say that all schools are equal. It keeps new parents in the dark.

    So someone please throw out names of the schools that have the good reputations.

  57. Co-ed: SFDS, Friends, Live Oak
    Girls: Hamlin, Burkes, Convent
    Boys: Cathedral, Town, Stuart Hall

    Obviously there are more, but those are the biggies.

  58. Marin Country Day School should also be on the list. If endowment is any indicator Live Oak wouldn't be in the same tier, it would be the next tier (Presidio Hill, SF School, Brandeis, Children's Day School, etc.) A separate tier is language immersion schools - FAIS and CAIS. This is obviously all more art than science - it's where you tour and could see your child fitting in. If you consider reputation as a proxy for desirable, it would be great to just know how many applications each school received and to know what the acceptance rate was. These numbers will never likely be known except here and there. Should also note that some schools are very hard to get into but it's more because of the small class size (Live Oak, CDS) rather than overall demand (CDS, Live Oak). Cathedral is one that is both very small class size (one class) and very high demand from across every part of the city.

  59. What about Synergy? Any thoughts?

  60. To the list above, I would also add the Nueva School (for "gifted" children), which has a school bus from SF to the campus in Hillsborough.

  61. Agree. Here it is:

    Co-ed: SFDS, Friends, MCDS
    Girls: Hamlin, Burkes, Convent
    Boys: Cathedral, Town, Stuart Hall

    Additional: Live Oak, Synergy, Presidio Hill, Children's Day School, Brandeis

    Language: FAIS, CAIS, Lycee

  62. Right - for sure I agree about Nueva. This is another one where the K class is small - mainly because they take a lot of kids at pre-K.

  63. Cathedral, Stuart Hall, Convent, Brandeis, and Friends come with religion.

  64. Where do the other Marin Schools with busses - Ring Mountain, Marin Primary and Marin Horizons and Kitteredge fall in line?

  65. Mt. Tam School has busses to SF also. It is co-ed, in Mill Valley and more "traditional" than Marin Primary and other Marin schools. I loved it, thought the curriculum was amazing.

  66. Logistics play in a lot too in any family's assessment of their own dream schools. MCDS and Presidio Hill were not going to make our list of schools to apply to because we are in the south of the city, and we weren't looking for single-sex so those were out too -- Friends, CDS, and Live Oak were much more appealing and were our favorites of the schools to which we applied, so for us those were the "top tier" as compared to, say, SF Day which was awkwardly located for us. For south side families, those three schools I mentioned plus SF School, Synergy, Brandeis SF campus, Nueva, St. Paul's and others tend to appeal as much, or more than, the "elite" listed upthread here, which are understandably preferred by many Pac Heights/Marina/Cow Hollow families for both logistics and mood.

  67. Anyone know why Linda Talton is leaving SF Day? They are actively looking for a new admissions director.

  68. Anyone know what exactly the screenings consist of? Do they ask your child to write his/her name? address? phone number?

  69. screenings are things like:

    - write name
    -draw pick
    -show you can get along with other kids
    -some basic word games at some
    -just seeing what the kids are like. i think they are more to pull out kids who aren't "ready" than they are to try to figure out who will be top of class - that isn't possible and they don't want all very overperforming kids anyway

    i would ask your preschool. ours helped get the kids ready in a very relaxed way, basically told them the above. if your school doesn't help you could get a consultant but it's big bucks. i think the best thing is to be ready to wait through the summer if you have something you really want - things open up - and don't get your heart set on just one school. there are probably lots where your family could be happy

  70. Honestly, I would skip the consultant. I have friends that have used them (Mulligan and Little, I think is the firm) and friends that have not. The ones who used consultants didn't necessarily get better results. I looked into it but didn't think it was worth my time at all.

  71. Can anyone speak to how frequently private school spots open up over the summer? I assumed that once waitlist week was over, the game was done.

  72. @3:44p: the game is not necessarily done. There is some, not a lot, of movement over the summer months as I've known several over the years to get into a private during these months. There are some schools, like Burkes, who have stated they over-enrolled for this upcoming year because they know they'll have 1 - 2 leave over the summer... not sure if all schools went this route. But if you are still interested in a school, stay on top of the admissions director regardless. Something may shore up, something may not.