Tuesday, August 3, 2010

SFGate: Taking the stress out of San Francisco kindergarten admissions

This from SFGate:
San Francisco residents Rich Peterson and wife Tanya Peterson visited a dozen elementary schools - a mix of public and private - in search of just the right place for their daughter, Avery. None of the schools seemed right.

The Petersons wanted a mainstream school, but also one that would be attentive to Avery, who had a history of seizures. That's when they turned to Betsy Little and Paula Molligan to help them navigate the Bay Area's daunting kindergarten admissions process.

"We met with them, they listened to us talk about our daughter, and as we were talking, they looked at each other and said at the exact same time, 'Marin Primary,' " recalled Rich Peterson. "It was a school we hadn't even considered. It is a mainstream school, but one that turned out to be just perfect for her."

These days, coaches like Little and Molligan are gaining in popularity, part of a cottage industry that has sprung up around getting kids ready for kindergarten placement. It's an industry that includes tutoring, boot camps, assessment programs, checklists and guides.

Based in San Rafael, Little and Molligan specialize in providing admission counseling for families trying to find the right preschool, primary or secondary school. Both women have master's degrees in education, and both have worked in private schools - Little as an admissions director and Molligan as teacher and head of a school. And they are the authors of "Private K-8 Schools of San Francisco & Marin," a book that is often heavily earmarked and riddled with sticky notes by parents. (A new edition of the book is due out early this month.)

Their services range from hourly consultations (at $400 an hour) to a year's contract, offering unlimited time to families during "admissions season," which runs from March through March. (Letters of acceptance are sent out the second or third Thursday in March.)

With too many applicants vying for too few spots, the process of getting into a private kindergarten is generally considered torturous. There are school tours and parent interviews, coffees and cocktails. There is the dreaded drop-off of children to be assessed by admission directors for things such as writing of one's first and last name (correct capitalization required), shaking hands and making eye contact, and drawing a three-dimensional self-portrait.

"We actually try to dispel the anxiety around assessment," said Little. "We also try to get people to think outside the box, and to apply to between five and seven schools."

They also urge parents to think carefully about the costs of going private, noting that there are high-quality public and parochial schools. Tuition at private primary schools runs as much as $24,750 a year, and it can cost more than $33,000 at private secondary schools, bringing the total of a kindergarten through 12th-grade private school education to around $400,000.

"This is after-tax, nondeductible money," said Molligan. "If it's going to be a huge sacrifice to send the child to private school, we say, 'Don't feel compelled. There are lots of options.' "


  1. $400 an hour for consulting services? Nice work if you can get it.

  2. Snore, rich people spending money on worthless things is so boring.

  3. I find it sort of hilarious that they live in SF and the right fit is a school which is mostly kids from Marin.

  4. Wow $400 that's steep. But seriously, I can't believe that there isn't a single school in the city of SF that isn't a good "fit" for any given child. If you can get into the school of your dreams that's another question... kids are just so adjustable... I think it's the parents who are not a good fit. Between private preschool, private pre-K and now public elementary, my twins (now going into 1st grade) have experienced 3 vastly different schools in their young lives. And guess what? They were happy at all 3 and they thrived at all 3.

  5. Paying that kind of money per hour would increase my stress, not decrease it. But I kinda doubt I'm this pair's target audience.

  6. 10:14. I so agree with schools not needing to be absolutely perfect for your child (or what you happen to think is perfect at one age or another). Schools change (administrations, teachers, student bodies, parents); kids change and develop, often in ways that one wouldn't predict; economic climates change; family situations and capacities change. It's just not static at all. And adaptability is a marvelous trait.

  7. That 'private school in Marin' is not unusual at all. Marin Country Day School strives for half the student population to be Marin and the other half San Francisco. They are trying to follow that model. Marin Primary is an awesome school especially their pre-school program.