Thursday, August 5, 2010

Private Elementary Schools: An Interview with Christina Simon



As I began my preparation for the next stage in school searches (Kindergarten and beyond), I came across an excellent book called "Beyond The Brochure: An Insider's Guide To Private Elementary Schools in LA". The book is authored by three very interesting women with a deep connection to the private school system here in Los Angeles: Christina Simon is a highly educated former PR exec and parent with two children at The Willows Community School in Culver City; Anne Simon is a veteran private school educator, former head of Wildwood Elementary School, former dean of the Middle School at Crossroads School in Santa Monica and current head of the Hunter McGuire Lower School at Stuart Hall in Verona, VA.; Porcha Dodson spent five years as a teaching partner and director of diversity at the Curtis School in Bel Air and is currently working on a Master's Degree in Education with a multiple subject teaching credential at California State University Northridge. You can read more about these women and the book at FatEnvelopePublishing.com.

After the great success of this book, they began a blog of the same name which I have written about previously. The blog continues the conversation the book begins and is a wonderful resource in navigating the often confusing world of private school admissions. Christina Simon graciously took some time out of her schedule to answer a few questions for us:

The Twin Coach: To begin with, I'd love to know why you felt compelled to write "Beyond The Brochure" and why the three of you wrote it together.

Christina Simon: The idea for "Beyond The Brochure" came about after I applied to kindergarten for my daughter (now entering 4th grade at The Willows Community School). The process was very competitive and stressful. I underestimated how much time and energy it would take. Luckily, she was accepted to all the schools where we applied. Still, I found the process to be very intimidating. Virtually all of my mom friends also found the admissions process to be stressful, uncertain and lengthy. Personally, I felt caught off guard several times during the process, such as when things happened that were either out of my control or I learned about tactics that other parents were using, but I wasn’t informed about. 

Once my kids were old enough, I asked Anne and Porcha to co-author the book with me.  Together we are parents and educators with insider experience at top Los Angeles private elementary schools. Our goal is to share our experience and information with any parent who wants a private elementary school education for their child. We go beyond the brochure in our book to help parents understand the process from the inside out. 

TTC: I know that after writing the book, you began a blog of the same title; what was the reasoning behind that and what kind of feedback have you gotten? 

CS: We love writing the blog! It’s an opportunity for us to talk about aspects of the private elementary school application process that we couldn’t cover in the book. I also write about my life as a private elementary school mom. We try to use humor, when possible, to diffuse our readers’ stress. We’ve been there…we know what this process is like…it can be a nightmare. It’s very personal. Schools want to know a lot about your child and your family. The blog is also a great resource for to find out about upcoming private school events and other timely information. And, one of the best parts is when we answer reader comments! The feedback has been very positive. We’ve even heard from a few heads of schools who like our book! 

TTC: Many people feel that there is so much information on schools out there, such as "The Whitney Guide" or GreatSchools.org, what makes "Beyond The Brochure" different? 

CS: There is definitely information about private elementary schools out there. However, unlike The Whitney Guide, we do not review individual schools. Beyond The Brochure is a road map for parents who want to learn more about how to navigate the admissions process, from start to finish. We include sample applications from real families, sample letters of recommendation and strategies for helping your child get accepted to your top choice school(s). There is simply no other book on LA private elementary schools co-authored by the former head of Wildwood Lower School, a former teacher at Curtis School and a current Willows School parent. It’s our experience and our willingness to offer an honest insider perspective that makes our book unique.

TTC: What areas of the search for a private school does "Beyond The Brochure" cover?

CS: "Beyond The Brochure" is all the information I wish I’d had when we were applying to schools. In the book, we provide our readers with information to learn about the various types of private elementary schools in LA, to the tours, applications, test questions, parent interview, waiting period, what to do if your child is wait-listed, applying for financial aid and more. We also include a list of 45 schools and discuss what to expect your first year at private elementary school. We even include tips for staying calm during the time you’re waiting for your letters to arrive in March. 

TTC: The search for a school for our children is so competitive and so overwhelming at times, how can this book help? 

CS: The main premise of our book is that the private school application process is an insider’s game, but any parent can play the game if they know its unwritten rules. The private school application process is extremely competitive. There are simply too many applications for too few spots at the top schools. We’re talking about hundreds of applications for 40 or 50 spots (sometimes even fewer) at each school. Wonderful families get rejection letters all the time. Many parents think that if they apply to one or two schools, their child will get in. This is seriously underestimating the competition. Our book helps parents avoid common mistakes like these that can be easily avoided and therefore potentially change the outcome in a positive direction for a family. But, more than avoiding mistakes, our book also advises parents on what to do right. We strongly believe schools look at the parents and the child, not just the child, as many people assume, during the process. 

TTC: Getting one child into private school is tough, when you have twins it seems at least twice as hard.  What tips would you give parents of twins who are beginning the application process?

CS: Applying for twins is more complicated because you’re doing one school search for two children of the same age, at the same time. You may also be applying for financial aid too. If you’re applying for twins, we suggest you tour at least some schools that have two classes per grade, in case your twins will need to be in separate classes. Some schools want twins in separate classes. And, make sure you don’t give the impression that you are trying to get two spots for the price of one. In other words, it is very important that the school know you’re aware you will be filling two spots at their school and contributing to the school for two children, not just one. Sometimes, twins need to be at two different schools. But, many times even if the twins are very different, private elementary schools can accommodate both. 

TTC: The cost of private school these days is extremely high, when you have twins it can seem overwhelming; what can you tell us about the financial aid process and how it may or may not affect admissions?

CS: Until the economy collapsed, a family’s financial status didn’t generally impact their ability to get in. After the economic collapse, this changed. Last year, a family’s ability to pay tuition did factor into whether they got in, in a lot of cases. The bleak reality is that schools were reluctant to admit families who could not pay tuition and who would not be receiving financial aid. Schools strive to ensure families are admitted whether or not they need financial aid. However, during this lingering recession, the application process and financial aid process are still separate, but some schools have been forced to consider a family’s financial status as part of admissions, due to the overwhelming demand for financial aid from existing and new families. For 2010-11, we hear from good sources that the financial aid picture may be improving, making more money available for applicant families. 

TTC: What advice do you have for finding the right school for your family, especially if you are applying for two children who may have very different learning styles and temperaments? 

CS: When you tour a school, look to see if they have twins in the school. Are they in the same class? Different classes? At my kids’ school, there are twins in the same class and twins who are put in separate classes. There are also twins who are very different in terms of their personality. We have at least one set of twins where one of the twins has special needs and a shadow/aide and the other twin does not. Private elementary schools understand the importance of having kids at the same school, whenever possible. Sometimes, that just won’t work. If it is very clear that one child thrives on structure and competitive challenge and the other is a free spirit, then the parents might need to make the difficult choice of looking at different sets of schools. 

TTC: What's next for the three of you? Will there be another book? 

CS: We are planning several speaking events for Fall and Spring 2010-11 for parents to learn more about the application and financial aid process. We plan to continue our blog. As for another book…definitely not this year!

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You can read a lot more of Christina's advice on the private elementary school process on her blog and I highly recommend picking up a copy of the book "Beyond The Brochure" to get all of her insider information before you start on your school search.


Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach


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2 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Anonymous said...

I saw your blog on Jens List. Great information, great blog!

Brian said...

This is seriously underestimating the competition with Private Schools. Our book helps parents avoid common mistakes like these that can be easily avoided and therefore potentially change the outcome in a positive direction for a family. But, more than avoiding mistakes, our book also advises parents on what to do right. We strongly believe schools look at the parents and the child, not just the child, as many people assume, during the process.

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