Sunday, April 4, 2010

Hot topic: Preschool directors and the private school enrollment process

This from a reader:
I wonder if this is worth a discussion?
I have heard several friends at different preschools express frustration over the following: Preschool Directors who insist on parents applying to at least 5 schools, who then turn around and fight for the families who only applied to 3 schools and were not accepted at any of them, to the detriment of families who did follow the rules and got in to a second choice school. (We did not have this issue, but two close friends and several acquaintances have all shared their stories and I am disappointed/ upset for them.)
Here's an example: Family A, at XYZ preschool applies to 5 schools at the direction of their ED, Plum School is their top choice and really the only school they care about. Family B at XYZ preschool ignors the repeated urging of the ED and applies to only their top two or three schools, Apple School is their top choice. When the letters come out, A gets into Banana School - a fine school, but low on their list, they immediately contact Plum to indicate that Plum is their first choice, and to please keep them in the Waitpool; A is told by the AD that they are at the top of the list. A calls the ED of the preschool to indicate that Plum is still their first choice and they would like help advancing their case at Plum. The ED hears that A got in to a school and mentally crosses A off her list of things to worry about.
Family B gets in nowhere - they took their chances against the advice of the ED and it seriously backfired. Now they are scrambling. Apple is still their number one choice, but there is no movement on that WL. Family B calls the preschool ED very upset and demands help in getting into ANY school. The ED does not want an unplaced child - that reflects poorly on the school. So what does the ED do? Goes to bat for the kid who has no spot because their parents refused to follow the ED's rules.
Ultimately B gets into Plum - their second choice, and A loses the spot because the ED went to bat for B instead of A (who had Plum as their first choice).
Assuming they were both basically "qualified" is it fair for B to get the spot over A just because B didn't have any acceptances (by their own doing)?
The EDs obviously need to help all families get in to schools - but I have heard repeatedly this year how unfair the system has been to those families who did everything they were told to do. I wonder what others think and what the solution might be. I heard that one preschool is requiring parents to sign a contract with the ED that commits the parents to applying to a minimum of 5 schools, and if they don't apply to 5, they explicitly agree that the ED will have no obligation to help them if they do not get in anywhere. This seems more ethical to me. I understand that the EDs want everyone to get in, but it does seem extremely unfair to families that did everything that the ED asked to be penalized for doing so, while families who (some arrogantly) believed that they did not need to follow the rules are then rewarded for their flouting of the rules.

32 comments:

  1. I think this is a really interesting question. It happened to a few of our friends.

    On the flip side, if I have going to pay $30k all in, I will not go to a school that we don't really like.

    I think it is wrong to settle.

    I also think that the private school should be a little more forthcoming about what they are looking for.

    I think it is wrong that a school accept 160 apps for 20 spots. It sounds like a fund raiser to me.

    The private schools should figure out what their sibs look like and then "accept" applications if you "fit" what they are looking for - ie birthdays, etc.

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  2. Is this seriously how it works? Can someone, like a preschool director, answer this please. We applied last year from a CDC, and foolishly believed the private school admissions departments where we applied who suggested that diversity (or at least, taking kids from a variety of schools) was of value to them. In the end, based on overall admissions, it didn't really appear that way. But I was reluctant to really acknowledge the disproportionate rates of acceptance from certain schools, or that lobbying from preschool directors would have that much sway. I figured the admissions groups from the secondary privates wouldn't want to look that obvious. Fool I was. But I'd love to be convinced I wasn't that deluded...that is, that the secondary admissions folks really do look more widely that a certain band of preschools...

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  3. if this is the kind of problems that keep people up at night, we really have lost even the tiniest spec of grounding into reality and what REAL problems are for REAL families.

    This thread should be terminated out of shame for the entitlement that its very own topic represents

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  4. 8:55 -- then why are you looking? why not just ignore it?

    I think it's interesting, even though it's not particularly relevant to our family.

    Signed,

    public school parent

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  5. Reality is ...

    The schools need kids who will stay and their parents will pay $30k for 8 years. The schools also need kids who are going to perform academically.

    My feeling is that the schools want diversity but not at the cost of "behavioral" or academic problems.

    It is the way private schools have been for years. Nothing new.

    The odd thing in this city is "mystery" behind how they choose the non diverse people.

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  6. People! "Non diverse people"? Caucasion families are part of diversity. Schools are not going to choose just families of color.

    As to this particular thread, I don't believe preschool directors have that much sway unless they have a personal relationship with admissions directors. But they can hurt a family's chances: Do you have a good relationship with your preschool? Are you considered a "difficult" parent?

    The previous poster is correct. Schools are looking for families that really want to be there; totally embrace the school's philosophy. And yes, they want a child that will be successful. They're also looking to balance their classes in terms of gender, ethnicity (whites and non-whites), kids with different strengths, etc. And they want parents who are going to be active members in the community; not parents who are demanding or difficult.

    The truth is.... is that there are simply too few spots for the demand and so decisions are going to be somewhat arbitrary. At least this is my observation.

    A long time private school parent.

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  7. Here's what I think: the situation you describe is very likely only the very tiniest part of the truth. Maybe there's a legitimate reason for a family to only apply to a few schools. Maybe the child from family B is a better fit for Plum, or fills the need that Plum has based on the space that opened up. Maybe family A is upset that their child didn't get into their first choice school and is looking for someone to blame. Maybe child A was never going to get into Plum, and that's why they weren't accepted in the first place.

    I don't think a family should have to apply to 5 schools in order to get help from the preschool director, either. It doesn't serve anyone's purposes for people to apply to many schools, increase the amount of time and expense that the process takes, and ultimately create a situation where kids have 3 or 4 acceptances. PSDs shouldn't approach this process as a one-size-fits-all situation. Yes, there will be some families who don't listen to their PSD's advice - but honestly, that's part of the job, and having a blanket 5+ schools for all rule isn't going to change that, nor will it solve any problems.

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  8. I would say that sounds like one effin' weird preschool. The directors of our awesome preschool give no guidance whatsoever on -which- schools to choose, public or private.

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  9. And people complain about the public lotto, oye. . .

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  10. I think the question should be rephrased. Instead of asking how fairly help from preschool directors should be allotted between families, the question should be how much help is it realistic to expect?

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  11. Our preschool director did not agree with our choices for our kid, so was not much help at all. She wanted Live Oak or Town and we could not afford either.

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  12. Ok-ee-doke, this is what I would say to Family A:

    I know this has been a difficult process and you have definitely done your very best and followed all the rules the private schools and your ED laid out. I also realize the stakes are high and this is a vital, vital situation.

    Having said that, I am amazed that someone would reach adulthood without realizing there are some situations where you can follow all the rules and do your very best and still not reach your goal. And in any situation, there is always someone who will game the system or get away with something and often do better than the virtuous do-bees. People cut in line and get served; people board the back door on Muni, people take credit for others' ideas and get a promotion. I could go on.

    So I'm a little surprised that the successful adults of Family A have not learned this lesson. Yes, Family B did wrong and the parents should be flogged and escorted to the city borders immediately. But heavens, what they did is what they did and is really none of Family A's business and the preschool director can really do whatever she wants and may have reasons that Family A either doesn't know or doesn't want to face.

    To sum up, yes it would be nice if preschool directors helped their families with the private school process and followed the rules they themselves set. But there isn't a law or anything. So I would recommend to Family A, do your best, accept the result and when you miss out on a great summer camp the following year even though you signed the three forms and buried them in peat moss as instructed, remember that you can't control everything.

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  13. No one should ever apply to a school that they wouldn't be happy attending. What would be the point? If there are not 5 schools you would be happy at then don't apply to 5 schools. If you would be happy at any of them, be happy you got one.... Also, I don't think the preschool directors have anywhere near the pull that you suggest in your question.

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  14. The reason preschool directors are advising families to apply to 5 or more schools is because the competition is FIERCE and the PD wants to maximize a family's chances of getting in to at least one school. The family who only applies to one or two schools is taking a big risk and has no right to get angry at the preschool director! But, it happens. Preschool directors absolutely "horse trade" with admissions directors. They also advise or steer preschool families toward certain schools where a family has been accepted to ensure a spot for one of the other preschool families. It's all the way the game is played. People who really want their kids to get into private school are willing to play the game. Once your child is in, the game won't matter one bit.

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  15. Our daughter goes to a preschool with no director at the moment and it's not a feeder school, despite it having quality programs. We didn't get in to any of the highly competitive schools. We took an inordinate amount of time to write essays, attend the coffees and give it our all to the interviews just as you did. I know other families who ended up in the same boat and who also got 0/7 in the public school lottery. So I'd say you should be grateful you have an preschool director with some pull, that you got in to a good school, and you should try to be happy. No one should be required to apply to a school they don't love and want to commit to. Tuition will run 300K with inflation by high school, so it should be a school the family feels very good about.

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  16. I think preschool directors do fine when it comes to the private schools. I think they should make an effort to learn more about the public schools and do a better job helping and supporting families going through the SFUSD process, and encouraging families to fully explore that side of the equation whether they think they'll end up in public school or not.

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  17. Wow... this is just life. There are always people who don't play by the rules who are getting bailed out at the expense of people who do. Always. Wait until you apply for financial aid or pay for people who do. But cautious people don't bank on being bailed out, and people who mess up don't always get saved. But sometimes they do and sometimes it will be at your expense, and you just need to accept it and move on.

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  18. Sounds like sour grapes to me. Be lucky you got in to a school you like and that your kid's classmate also got in to a school.

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  19. i think amazingly enough it's hard to decide in the middle of the process. we found out a lot at the end (things like the "gap," about fundraising, etc) that changed our opinion about what our "first choice" was. I could definitely see being upset by your situation, but on the other hand, it all depends about what you told your director beforehand. AND - i think the schools have a lot to do with who they let in off the waitlist. the waitlists this year didn't move that much at all and i think the schools, while being influenced by preschool directors, were also influenced by what other families said yes, etc. it's not clear at all that what your director might have said about you would've resulted in an acceptance for you - there are a lot of other variables (screenings, interviews, applications, their sense of you as a family, what sort of diversity you do or don't add - racial, family structure, socioeconomic, even geographic, etc.) It isn't like the children are just interchangable, which your letter sort of implies they are, to some extent! That said, the disappointment you are feeling is certainly understandable - for many, the first choice was far, far higher than all other choices, although that wasn't the case for us.

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  20. Does anybody know of a good book that will help us get through the private school process next year? My son is at a preschool where most of the kids go to public school. I'm worried about the applications and the possibility of not getting in anyplace we like. We don't want to move, but we also are concerned about how competitive the private schools are.

    Also, has anybody used an education consultant with successful outcome?

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  21. the k files is better than any other book! there is a book but it's basically informational only (called something like "private school K in the SF Bay Area). digging deep into the k files taught us SO much - though it is time consuming to do this.

    i heard at the end of the process that educational consultants both help families (not sure how much, etc - would love to know) AND run some of the screenings! I had no idea there was this conflict of interest but if there is i would strongly consider using one. It's probably expensive (unsure) but with the kind of advantage they can give you, it might be worth it. I heard they run the "joint" screenings for the girls schools and MCDS - no idea if this is true. (Seems unbelievable that it would be but a friend did tell me this who knows some consultants.)

    There is a good thread already begun last month on "what to do to be prepared" and I think that goes a long way. We estimate we spent about 200 hours on the process, having applied to six schools, got into four though not our top pick. Even though people told us it was incredibly time consuming, we had no idea the extent to which this would be true! We also really found it time well spent as it is such a big decision - and even given all that time, we found we learned FAR more about some schools than others. Make use of other parents who can help you, even from the playground if not from your school.

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  22. Anyone know why Linda Talton is leaving SF Day as admissions director?

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  23. That's interesting. She was also at Live Oak for only a year or two. She seemed very nice when we met her. Is there typically a lot of turnover for admissions directors?

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  24. couple of thoughts: the admissions directors want minimal rejections with the initial letters (that's why first choice letters can be to your advantage); the preschool directors do want parents to apply to many schools so their acceptance numbers look good; the educational consultants are $5k plus for unlimited services and $300+/hr for very limited services. Not sure if the educational consultants help as there have been conflicting stories.

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  25. I know everyone wants their children to attend a good grammar school, but shouldn't preschool directors be focused on the task immediately at hand? Nurturing and guiding the preschool students rather than getting bogged down by the K application process? I mean, isn't it enough that the parents are obessesed over it?

    Isn't also it possible that some of these families, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, "Don't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member?"

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  26. Another relevant concern: private schools typically don't want to admit too many kids from the same preschool (though for all I know this may not be the case for the "elite privates"). IMO, this can be a particular problem for white, middle-class kids from mom-dad families who attend a diverse preschool. At my daughter's small, diverse, progressive, bilingual preschool one child (Spanish and from a well-off family) was accepted at all 5 private schools to which her family applied, whereas none of the other kids were accepted at these same schools except for 1 Hispanic girl from a single-mom family (who was accepted at 2 of the schools w/o financial aid and needed to decline both offers). This is also something to consider at the next stage for students attending diverse, progressive MSs or HSs.

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  27. I guess you have to be in a private school to even unscramble what this post is saying.

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  28. Anyone know why Linda Talton is leaving SF Day as admissions director?

    That's interesting. She was also at Live Oak for only a year or two. She seemed very nice when we met her. Is there typically a lot of turnover for admissions directors?

    How did SF Day admissions go? Did they overaccept? Anybody know?

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  29. It'd be interesting to understand the services offered by the consultants. Who are the best?

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  30. 9:22 i would start ask Kate to begin a new thread for that....many are probably interested but won't have seen the q.

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  31. Anyone know why Linda Talton is leaving SF Day as admissions director?

    Linda Talton loved her experience at San Francisco Day School. She is ready to return home, so she accepted an offer from an independent school in New York City.

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  32. I appreciated the statistics that the SFUSD published showing how many people received their first choice, any choice or no choice. I would very much appreciate an open exchange of information from private schools. I want to know how many spots were available, how many children applied per spot, and what preschools schools the children were selected from. Is there any way to request such information. Without transparency one is left wondering why we should apply to so many pricy schools.

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