Applying to Private Kindergarten
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Applying to Private Kindergarten
I'm a mom of a soon-to-be Kindergartener and I'm starting the tours and research
for East Bay Private Schools. We're looking at many schools, but are most
interested in The Berkeley School, Black Pine Circle, and Walden (so far).
My question, to be blunt, is ''How difficult is it to gain admission into these
schools?'' We have a son, bright, sweet, enjoys preschool, and no behavioral
problems - probably like most kids applying to these schools. The question of
admission is on my mind because the SF Private Schools are very competitive and I
wonder about the admission situation for these schools - particularly as we get
excited and invested in what they are offering.
We are moving from the City, to become members of the East Bay community, and are
excited about the transition ahead - but also feel clueless about some aspects of
Any insights and words of wisdom are welcome.
Well, my son is already in 8th grade at Black Pine Circle - a school that has been
beyond wonderful in every aspect - so I am talking about 2004-2005, but here is my
experience: We looked at several schools two years before we were to start K,
because we were planning to spend the year right before K living abroad. After
attending an open house at BPC we fell in love with the school. We decided that this
was the only school we really wanted to apply for. Logistically it was complicated,
because we would be leaving the country during the in August 2003 and not returning
until Sept 2004, a week before our son was to start K. So we were facing flying our
5 yr. old back for an interview in Jan or Feb. We called the school, we told them
that we thought BPC was the best for us and we would not be applying to any other
school, that we really liked it, and to our surprise they agreed to see our son for
an interview before we left for Europe. In March 2004, along with the rest of his
class, we received - by fax - the letter of acceptance. Black Pine Circle was
incredibly accommodating, and I think it really helped that we were able to let them
know without hesitation that if they would take us we would say YES! So if there is
a particular school that is your clear favorite, and you think it is the perfect
match for you and your family, do let them know. Nobody has ever confirmed this for
me, but I do believe that if they know that if they offer you a spot you will say
yes - everything else being equal -, it helps them decide who to offer the spot to.
Very happy at BPC
Like you, I was concerned at how competitive admission to independent schools would
be. So I chose 4 that I would be perfectly happy to have my child attend, and we
received offers from 3 of them. Even if a school does not have a space for your
child, most applicants are put on wait lists, and quite often a space opens up. Most
schools are not looking for brainiacs or kids with some kind of extraordinary
talent. Just happy kids who can take direction and enjoy learning. The only
''competitive'' aspect I have found is that a school will try to have a gender
balance in a class, so if they have too many of one sex or the other, your child
might not get an offer while they try to balance things out.
Totally depends on which private school you are talking about, but in general, I'd
guess that private school admission here in the East Bay is far less competitive
than in SF. There are a few private schools that get many more applications than
they have openings. You can usually spot these because they have a higher octane
''screening'' process for prospective students - they are looking for 4 year olds
who can already read and write a little, sit quietly at circle time, and
participate in an interactive session. But the majority of local private schools are
not difficult to get in to. If you want your child to go to private school, there
are private schools here that want your child!
The reason is that public schools have steadily gained in popularity over the last
10-15 years in Berkeley and Oakland, and that fact, coupled with the recession, has
resulted in declining enrollment at most local private schools. Many of them were
established in the 1970's when more parents had lost confidence in the public
schools, and they continued to thrive during the tech boom even though public
schools were improving, because so many families had the money to not even consider
public school as an option. But things are different now. The recession has reduced
the number of families that can afford private school tuition. These families have
improved their local public schools via more parent participation and higher
expectations, which in turn has attracted more families away from private school.
Another reason is Oakland's charter schools, the best of which now have a more
competitive application process than a lot of the private schools.
Most East Bay families that can afford private school now live in a neighborhood
that has a pretty good public school. Many public schools even exceed nearby
private schools in quality. So the private schools have to work a little harder
now to keep their enrollment at the levels they need to sustain salaries and infrastructure.
I think this is a trend, because of the cycle of families improving public schools
and thereby attracting more families to public school. I suspect we will see more
private school closures in the coming years.
This is just my opinion, as someone whose kids have attended a variety of public and
private schools over the years. I have chosen private over public when I had a kid
who needed something different than what he could get in public school. Everybody
has their reasons. You should definitely check out
the public school for your new neighborhood, because there's a chance it might
be quite a bit better than some of the local provate schools.
But there is certainly no reason to fret about getting into an East Bay
private school if that's what you want.
Our child will enter kindergarten next fall and we are considering
several private schools. Some of the K-5 programs appeal to us, but
we're somewhat concerned about transferring to another private school
for grade 6. Does anyone have experience with this situation or
advice about choosing a K-8 program versus a K-5 program? Is the 6th
grade transfer process so competitive that many applicants aren't
accepted? For a variety of reasons we don't think our public school
would be a good fit, so we don't want to be stuck without options
come 6th grade.
We know each school varies, but how competitive have parents found
the kindergarten application process in recent years? Can we apply
just to our to our top choices or is it best to also apply to
''safety schools''? It seems ridiculous to ask these questions about
K instead of college, but we'd appreciate any feedback. Thanks!
-Anxious Kindergarten Applicants
I think the competition varies a lot year to year. I have 2 children at Redwood Day
School. One in K and one older. When our older son was going to in to K a couple
of years ago, we applied to Head Royce, Bentley, St. Paul's, Corpus Christi, and
Beacon Day School. We got in to half of them and wait listed for the other half.
Luckily for us, Redwood Day was always our first choice.
I love that it is K-8 and that we don't have to make any more decisions until high
school...but then again, it is a GREAT FIT for both of our children and for our
family and I think that that should be your driving motivation in finding the RIGHT
SCHOOL FOR YOU.
I do understand that people are starting to apply in 4th grade now so that they will
be able to be in a private middle school. I don't know how common this is across
schools; it is a good question to ask when you go on the tours.
Good luck, it is a tough process
You're basically asking a question regarding something that won't happen for another
SO many things could happen that could change the scenario: money, health,
environment. Anything from your child being tired of the same kids for 6 years and
wanting a change for middle school to any number of more drastic changes (job
loss/change, school closure, other far more serious issues).
If you are fortunate enough to afford private, go with where you want to be now,
where you want to spend your time and money NOW.
Kids will change as they get older and what looked like a perfect fit for
kindergarten may turn out to not fit by middle school, or even earlier. Also
schools change administration and teachers over time. Having seen 2 kids through
private schools, I'd pick the school that fits now and not worry about middle school
or high school. One kid had an excellent experience at Montessori Family which was
k-6 at the time. He had no problems getting into a middle school program at
another school and no problems transitioning. As far as k-12 goes, a lot of kids
are ready to move on by high school and ready to move on from their elementary and
middle schools. Getting into K programs is much more difficult than moving later
My son has been at a K-5 and we've really liked feeling part of a smaller community,
where the focus is all on elementary school. I think it's kept even the ''big'' kids
seeming younger, gentler. And at the same time, at a K-5, the 5th graders get a
chance to be the biggest kids on campus, which is a nice leadership opportunity. Now
we're looking at middle schools for the next phase, and yes, it would be nice not to
have to look, but from what I hear from others at K-8s, often kids feel like they've
outgrown their school by 6th grade and want a new experience. I feel like I really
know who my son is at this stage and have a much better sense of what kind of middle
school will work for him, something I would not have known when he was in
Kindergarten. And even though it will mean doing the search all over again in three
years for high school, I'm really only looking at 6-8 or K-8 schools for middle
school, rather than 6-12s or K-12s. Again, I want him to have more leadership
opportunities in 8th grade, rather than having to compete with older kids for
student council and the school play. I think smaller schools can focus on getting
things right for kids at their own unique developmental stage, rather than trying to
cover a really wide age span.
To answer your first question about the 6th grade application process being
competitive, I would say that if you have a strong student, you probably won't have
any problems. Two years ago my daughter applied to 5 independent schools for 6th
grade (she came from a private Christian school) and got accepted to 3 and
waitlisted to 2. Only 2 were financially feasible so we chose from those.
There are a LOT of private schools in the East Bay, especially if you are willing to
commute a bit. Also, some of the schools have bus transportation. If you don't
limit yourself to one or two schools, you should be fine.
As for the K process, I went through that last year. We applied to 3 schools. My
daughter was accepted to 2 and didn't get into 1. I could have applied to more, but
I wanted to right ''fit'' for her and we definitely found it.
Again, there are a LOT of great private schools in the East Bay. I think you will
be fine if you don't limit yourself.
I have a 5th grader and also two older children who've done a variety of
public and private schools. My advice is: don't worry about this. There
are so many more important things that affect your and your child's school
experience than what happens in the 5th grade. In fact, you may find,
like we did, that the K-8 school that was so perfect for our 4 year old
was not a good fit for our 9 year old, so you just change schools. There
are a lot of openings in private schools at the middle school level. Yes,
some schools are harder to get in to, but others
are not, just like kindergarten. And you also may find that your child
is ready for and wants to go to public middle school with the other kids
in the neighborhood! Go with your instincts for kindergarten
and then be flexible about what happens after that!
In reference to the discussion a few months ago about elementary
school choice ...
I just completed a school search for my elementary school kid,
and did an extensive search for kindergarten just a couple years ago. My
three children have attended a total of 6 different public schools and
3 different private schools (!!), so I thought
I would write up a few things I've learned. Some of these apply only to
private school, like tuition, but most of them apply to any type of school.
It's really important to consider factors beyond academics
that will affect your long-term happiness at a school, so I am mostly
addressing these non-academic factors:
1. Think beyond kindergarten!
When you are looking for a kindergarten, you have a 4-year-old child
in preschool, and you are probably not thinking about how this school
will work for your 3rd grader. You are thinking more about how your tot will adjust to
"real" school. Moreover, it is very hard to tell what sort of
school will best suit your child when he/she is only 4.
But you have to force yourself to take a good look at the upper grades at
every school you visit.
Your child will most likely have a good experience in kindergarten regardless
of which school you choose. But you really don't want to be looking for another
school in three years when it turns out the school was not such a great
fit after all once your child hits 8 or 9.
2. Do your homework ahead of time
- School Website: Read the school's website and get as much info ahead
of time as you can. For private schools, the websites are
mainly intended to promote the school, and the really useful bits may
only be accessible to school staff & parents. But you can still
tell lots about the school - see the following suggestions.
Public school websites are usually
run by the PTA or parents at the school. You can tell a lot
about parent involvement from a parent-run website - is it up to date?
Is there useful information about staff, hours, after school, etc.?
- Location & logistics: How hard will it be to get
your child to and from this school every day for 6 or 8 years? Is there
a bus? Can you walk? Is it on your way to work? Do most of the families at
the school live near you, or do they mostly live farther away, making
it harder to set up a carpool?
- Tuition & fees: If this is not posted on the website, that's a bad sign.
Are there fees and charges for additional items
that boost the tuition substantially? Are payment options and
financial aid described?
- After-school program: If you know you'll be using before or after
school care, check the website to see what the program looks like. Are
there current announcements about interesting classes? Does the school
have more of a babysitting service or a structured afterschool program
with classes and activities? How flexible is the program? Can you drop in,
or do you need to sign up for a regular schedule?
Will you need to pay extra fees for classes?
Is there homework help for older kids?
- Philosophy: Unless you are looking for the two extremes
of "academically rigorous" vs. "anything goes", most schools
in our area have very similar approaches. Don't get too
wrapped up in philosophy. Instead try to determine
if the school fits your family!
- Teachers: many schools have staff bios on their website and
you can often determine useful info. Does this school have a higher than average staff turnover?
One indication is a large number of very young looking teachers, say more
than half of the staff. What is the average number of years of teachers
at the school? You may be able to find out on the school's website. If not, ask.
If most of the teachers have been there fewer than 3 years, and it's
a school that has been around for a while, this could be an
indication that teachers are not compensated adequately. Or worse, there
may be a lot of conflict between teachers and administration, which may point to
trouble ahead for you, too.
3. Go to the open house or informational meeting
- The director or principal: Does he/she come across as a leader
who inspires confidence, but still seems accessible? Most good directors
are more politician/marketing rep than educator, but you should look for
straight talk on the important issues.
- The "pitch" at the open house:
Does it seem intended to please anyone and everyone?
Is there a lot of educational terminology and jargon that is not
explained? Are you given specific-enough info to determine if the school is a
good fit for your family?
It's a good sign if the director mentions some aspect of the school that
may not appeal to every parent.
- Are subtle "scare tactics" used in the pitch? For example,
is it implied that only this school sends kids off to the best
high schools and colleges? Is there a lot of verbage about
keeping children "safe"?
It's not a good sign if the school has to use this kind
of tactic to attract families to the school, and it also tells you
that the administration is willing to exploit common fears
among preschoolers' parents in order to bring in new students.
- Read between the lines: If there is a Q&A session, pay attention to how the director
responds to questions from other parents that are naive, awkward, or
confrontational. Answers that are
too vague, or defensive, or that are brushed aside, can give you a
lot of insight into problems at the school.
4. What to Look for on a Visit
5. Important things you should know about a school
- Visit as late in the year as you can. If you visit in September,
you are going to see kids still adjusting to a new class, new teacher,
and new material. Mid-December or mid-January is good.
- In addition to a scheduled tour, try to visit the school as
parents are picking up or dropping off. Are there opportunities
for parents to chat and hang out? Is there cameraderie? Do the
kids look happy in the morning? Or resigned? For schools that
you are particularly interested in, visit a school-wide event,
carnival, or assembly so you can observe how the school works
in a big gathering.
- Try not to pay too much attention to the physical plant. It's
nice to be in a shiny new building with the latest technology and
beautiful grounds, but
a nice building won't make you feel better about so-so teachers or
difficult administrators or an unhappy child!
- Imagine yourself at this school. is it comfortable to you?
Do you feel like you would fit in?
Would you like to spend time here, over the long run?
- Visit a kindergarten class:
- Can you picture your child in this class?
- Is the teacher sweet and mommy/daddy-like?
- How much of the day are children expected to sit still?
- How often is recess? What is recess like?
- Is there a bathroom in the class or nearby?
- Is there a comfy "chill" area, where a kid can have alone-time?
- Are there interesting and age-appropriate activity areas?
- Do the kids seem happy and engaged?
- If you are lucky, you'll see a disruption: how does the teacher handle difficulties?
- Visit a 3rd or 4th grade class:
- Look at the books in the class. Are there a lot of books or only a few?
Do they address a variety of interests?
Or are they mostly serving academic requirements?
- Look at students' current math work. Is it on par with what
you are seeing at other schools? For example, are students at this
school still doing addition and subtraction, while other schools are
- What kinds of projects are on the walls? Are they interesting to
you? Does it seem like a kid would have fun doing a project like that?
- Observe the students. Do they seem engaged? Are they listening
to the teacher? Do you see collaboration among students? Are all the kids
working at the same level? Is the classroom
atmosphere conducive to thinking and learning, or is it too chaotic or
noisy? (But keep in mind that the 5 minutes you are there may not
represent the usual classroom atmosphere!)
- Observe the teacher. Does he or she seem interested in the topic?
Does he hold the attention of the students? How much time is she
spending on classroom management as opposed to teaching?
- What is the homework policy? Does the school provide specific information about
homework expectations for specific grades? If not, and it matters to you,
You could run into trouble in 2nd or 3rd grade with unexpected demands.
If possible, ask kids at the school about homework when you visit classrooms.
- Behavior and discipline: Are there clear rules and policies, or is discipline
left intentionally vague to give staff more flexibility? If the latter,
then you should ask how the school makes sure that rules are applied fairly
Ask for examples of how the school handles various
situations such as namecalling, exclusion, repeated teasing, bullying,
What is recess like in higher grades? Is it
structured, so that there are fewer opportunities for teasing and
bullying? How does the school handle excess physical energy, especially
in boys? Is there a school psychologist? If not, how
are behavior problems identified and addressed?
- Communication: How does the school
communicate with parents?
Is communication mostly oral, or on paper, or by email?
Is there a weekly newsletter? If so, look
at a few issues. Is it mostly promoting the school? Or is it more directed to
families at the school?
Do the teachers send weekly updates to parents? Is there a discussion board for parents?
What kind of information is available to parents on the school website? Grades?
Rosters? Calendar? News about projects, field trips, presentations,
- Collaboration: Does the principal or
director regularly meet with parents? What about with teachers? How often
does this happen, and what kinds of things are discussed?
How does the administration get input from parents? To what degree do parents
participate in major decisions such as building projects,
staffing, and policy changes?
- Family support: What kinds of structures does the school have in place
to support single parents? What about parents who both work fulltime? Are
siblings automatically admitted? If not, what is the typical acceptance
rate for siblings? Are there events at the school for the entire family,
such as carnivals, BBQ, field day, etc.?
Are there opportunities for parents to socialize with each other?
Is there a school directory?
I am not asking for specific information about schools in this
question. Rather, I am curious to know how people (who are a few
years into their children's elementary school) feels it fits into
their families and their lives. For example, did you choose a
school that was more academically rigorous, but now wish you had
chosen something more ''progressive''? Or vice versa? Did you
chose something far away logistically and wish you had picked a
school closer to home? Is your child not in his/her neighborhood
home and now you feel like that affects your participation in the
community? Etc., etc. Basically, what do you wish you had done
differently or evaluated differently during the process? Are
there things that were really important to you and factored into
your decision that now seem less important? It's feeling hard to
weight all of these different things, so I'm wondering if people
can share their hindsight/insight about it. Thanks!
My spouse and I chose our neighborhood OUSD school a few years ago. Because we
thought it had talented teachers, a wonderful principal, and nice families, we did not
consider going anywhere else. It is not a ''hills'' school and was not generally
considered one of the ''best'' schools, but we had a good feeling about it. We are
extremely happy with our decision. Walking to school is awesome (and does not
contribute to global warming the way a car commute does). It is great to be so close
to school and friends. We know that we are improving our neighborhood and our
city by actively participating in our local public school. Many of our child's friends'
parents agonized over their elementary school choice and ended up at costly
schools with long commutes. While many are generally happy I have also heard
complaints about the expense, teacher quality (there is no teaching credential
requirement in private school), and having to drive long distances for playdates and
birthday parties. While there are things I would change about my child's school I
definitely feel the good outweighs the bad. She is happy, making lots of great
friends, learning a lot, and has had wonderful, caring teachers so far. I have tried to
understand why people won't even consider our local public school and can only
surmise that it is based on having an entirely different value system than my
family's. My child feels like this school is home, and it is. It's a really nice feeling.
We chose our school based on its small size, good reputation, and proximity to our
home (pretty close, but the kids still get bused.) Our kids are in 4th and 2nd grades.
In retrospect, we're very happy with our choice, and those details all figure into our
satisfaction. The #1 thing we are glad of is the closeness to our house. I'm very active
at the school, and if we were far from our school, I would not be nearly as involved.
There are many families who don't come to any or many events, and I believe a main
reason is that they live across town. This is a big problem, as we need those families
to make a cohesive community for all the kids, and this limitation makes it tough for
them to get involved. I'd go for a school close to you, if that's an option.
In hindsight (my daughter is now in the 4th grade), I am so
glad I chose a public school one mile from our house. The
geographic proximity is very imporant. School events and
playdates are convenient; and she is never late, nor am I late
picking her up because of traffic. We feel very connected to
the community, we frequently run into schoolmates at local
stores, parks, and sports teams.
Further, the public school curriculum is well-paced for most
kids, not too slow or too fast. Even if a student is advanced
in one or two subjects, there is still hands-on science and
social studies projects that are new and exciting for all. With
the money I saved with public school, I don't feel restrained
in paying for enrichment classes outside of school.
-- no stress mom
Wow, what a great question.
My son is at a private K-8 school in Oakland. Although in
general, I'm OK with how this is going, here are things I wish
I had done differently:
Not been so intimidated by public school. I wish I had looked
into it more thoroughly, instead of relying on what I thought I
knew about it. Part of the problem is that when you start
looking at schools, your child is 4 years old, and you just
can't picture sending your kid off to a big urban public
Similarly, I wish I had not focused so much on kindergarten.
When you are touring, you hear from kindergarten and first
grade parents the most, who are all still in the honeymoon
stage with the school. I wish I had talked to more parents of
older kids - fourth grade and up - particularly since one of
the reasons I chose the school was so that I would not have to
deal with applying to a new school for 6th grade (i.e., I was
planning to stay). And I would have made sure to find out what
people DIDN'T like about the school. Don't believe anyone who
says their school is perfect. The key is to find the things
that are wrong with it that will bother you the least.
Really drill down on teacher turnover. Some schools will
outright lie to you.
My son's school is very progressive. All the p-c stuff and the
helicoptering on social issues consumes a LOT of time and
energy that I think could be better spent on academics.
Thanks for asking!
This is a really good question. We chose one of the better (but
not best) Oakland public schools, mostly for financial reasons.
I, like many parents, focused on whether the academics would be
good enough. What I have found is that the academics aren't bad.
Yes, the assignments seem a little less creative than the ones
in private schools, and yes there are worksheet homework pages.
But basically, I think the academics are pretty good. What I
didn't concentrate on was how the children are treated during the
day. How does the school deal with misbehavior? How do they
keep order? At the school my son attends there is a lot of
''benching'' and heads down and even some yelling and belittling.
I don't know that the private schools we looked at would not do
this, but it seems they don't. I have heard that some private
school classes spend the first few weeks getting the kids to
decide on rules and consequences. That doesn't seem to happen
much in the public school my child attends. The adults decide
and then enforce. My son is obsessed now about whether he is
doing things right, whether he is going to get into trouble that
day, and whether the teacher will get mad at him.
That said, we are staying with the school and the principal has
taken my concerns about this seriously. Just take this aspect of
school into consideration when you look around. Ask the school
how the adults deal with behavior problems. I know that private
schools can get rid of troublemaker kids and public schools
can't, but I don't think the kids are entirely to blame. I think
a culture of working with the kids to establish rules and
expectations can work in any setting.
We didn't make the right choice the first time around. For varing reasons we
were seduced by the private schools and felt that if we could swing the tuition
it was completely worth it. In the end, we had two so-so years at a private
school and decided to switch to public this year. We don't love that we had to
switch our child, but we do love the school. We love it in a much more
passionate way than we did with the private school. Part of the problem with
private school was that we constantly wanted to know what we were getting for
our money. At public school our mind set is extremely different -- we are
amazed they can do so much on so little -- and the teachers have to navigate
the achievement gap -- which is considerable. We also never felt fully at ease
with the homogenity of a private school -- mostly from a class/cultural
I'm sure somebody could write the exact same post - switched from public to
private and am loving it! Obviously it is a very personal decision (if you are
so blessed to be able to choose between the two) and there is a lot of
difference in terms of quality of school within the general category of public
or private. But my advice having gone through it is to give the public schools
a chance. It has been somewhat difficult for our child to socially navigate
the change and I wish we could have avoided the switch. But looking back we
didn't see the journey very well and couldn't quite imagine our 4 year old in a
large, boisterous public school. I wish I had the hindsite I have now or wished
somebody shook me and said ''what are you so afraid of?''
Good question. We looked at a bunch of private schools as well as our local
public schools and settled on the private school that looked (superficially) the
best to us - organized, progressive, proven track record academically. It talked
the talk we wanted to hear: differentiated instruction, diversity, community
service, blah blah blah. After a few years at the school we realized it was not
actually walking the walk that we thought it was walking. We have moved to a
public school now, for a tenth of the cost (joke). There are pluses and minuses.
We may end up back in private school.
I have asked myself: how could we have known? I don't know. We wanted the best,
the very best, for our kid, just like everybody else. But it's impossible to
tell what a 4-year-old will need when he is 9 or 12. And you really cannot
see what a school is like in one or two visits. So you are attracted to the
superficial aspects. Private schools put on a good show because they need to get
a certain number of new kids every year to meet the payroll, preferably smart, easy-to-deal-with
kids who ''have a diversity'' and don't need financial aid. Public schools do not
have this motivation. The picture at a public school may be less appealing
you are seeing a more realistic picture of what the school actually will be
like. On the other hand, public schools accept all comers, so your kid
may be spending all day every day with kids who are disruptive, verbally abusive,
developmentally delayed, and all round bad influences. Also, really important:
not all the public schools in your district are equal. In Berkeley, there
are public schools that are more like local private schools in terms of
quality of instruction, classroom environment, and parent participation.
And then there are the schools that no one puts down as their first choice.
Sit in on classrooms in the upper grades at these schools. Talk to other
parents. Figure out if the worst school in your zone is acceptable to you.
You cannot really know a school, public or private, until you have been there a few years.
I believe it is safe to assume that with very few exceptions, your child
will be academically prepared regardless of the school.
So in retrospect, things that matter to me are mainly non-academic: #1 is
proximity to where we live. Very important. You are talking about every day, for
6 or 8 years. Do you really want to be driving, carpooling, etc, day after day
for the next decade or so?
And think about ease of making playdates. #2 consideration is also not academic.
For working parents: how is the after-school program and lunch? Visit the after
school program if you are going to be using it, and take a good look.
Teachers - there are good ones everywhere, and bad ones everywhere. Would you
prefer to pay out the wazoo for a bad teacher or would you like to get him/her
for free? Do teachers stay at the school? If more than half of the grades have a
teacher who's only been there for a yearr or two, this probably indicates a
problem with administration that is causing teachers to leave.
Peer group - some people say that what private school tuition is really paying
for is the peer group. Are you OK putting your kids in a school with kids who
have vastly different backgrounds or values from yours? For some kids, peer approval
is so important that they will absorb values and outlooks that you may prefer they
didn't. If you are looking at a school that goes to the 6th or 8th grade: by this
age, kids start to choose friends based on compatibility. Are
there enough students so your child will be able to find kindred spirits?
What about the other parents? Would you feel comfortable hanging out with them for
an hour or two? How hard or how easy is it to communicate with other
parents at the school? Is there a directory? Are there get-togethers for
parents and families? Is there an active parent association?
Academics - for all the bad karma around No Child Left Behind, there are
actually standards now that your child's public school teacher will be trying to
teach. These standards are often higher than in private school (in our case this
was true, despite PR to the contrary.)
Extra-curricular activities - ask about art, music, PE, field trips, etc.
Be sure to look at the grades above kindergarten.
Don't sweat this too much: you can always move to a different school if it doesn't work
Happy in school
I'll echo the positives of a great public school near home. We started at a
great private school. The main reason that we switched schools had to do with
my son's learning disability (which wasn't identified until first grade.) The
private school just wasn't set up to meet his needs but the public school is.
The other thing that I didn't fully anticipate was that tuition seems to go up
every year as did the cost of the school bus. Lunch at private school cost
more than double the cost at public school (and was probably much, much
better...). After school classes cost money at private school, and are free
at our public school. Good luck with your decision. I wanted to choose
the ''right'' school so that we wouldn't have to change, but it turned out that
making a change worked out well in the end.
Happy OUSD mom
I couldn't resist chiming in on this topic that I was (and
still am!) a parent who only wanted the very best for my
children. That said, we chose private over public for the
first two years, until we saw the light and now LOVE our
local Oakland public school. Our children are thriving
socially and academically, and it's so much better in so
many ways. Of course, the private school was quite
prestigous and is well-regarded for their academics and
community feel, but our local public is actually more
challenging and offers much more in the way of enrichment,
social/emotional education, differentiation in subjects
like math/science/language arts, etc. Who woulda
thought??? It is also life-changing (in a good way!) to
have our children's social network all within a couple
miles of our house, unlike the 20+ mile spread we
experienced at the private school... My biggest regret is
not having the courage to try the public school in the
first place-- we would have saved a lot of money and
yet another happy OUSD parent
Our oldest child will be entering Kindergarten next fall and I've
started to obsess about schools for her. I'm just not sure about
our local public school--test scores are not that high (although
improving) and from what I can tell, parent involvement is strong
only among a small number of families. I'll probably end up
applying for an intra-district transfer (WCCUSD), but the chances
seem slim of getting one from what I understand. So, I'm going
to research private schools, but I'm worried about long-term
affordability--we could probably swing one kid, but not two,
unless I go back to work full-time at a stressful job with a
commute. Realistically, what kind of financial aid do private
schools offer--would we get a better package with only my
husband's salary? Sibling discounts? Also, is it terribly
competitive to get into most decent private schools? Any
insights would be much appreciated.
I was in your shoes several years ago. I did panic, and I decided to go the private
school route. I was very impressed with the private school tours, the sense of
community, the lovely environment. After three years in what is one of the best
private schools in the area, I realized I had made a big mistake!
Turns out, the public schools in WCCUSD are more advanced academically, have a
multitude of resources that the private schools do not have, have wonderful,
supportive, well-educated, involved parents, excellent teachers (who are more
educated, often, than their private school peers), and amazing kids! Four years
later, I am still kicking myself that we ever went the private school route.
I would suggest you send your child to your neighborhood school. Give it a try. If it
does not work out, private schools are so under-enrolled these days that you can
transfer the next year. Had I known what I know now, I would never, ever start at a
private school without first trying the public school.
Four kids later, we are thrilled with WCCUSD. Yes, it has been a bumpy ride, but our
kids loved elementary school (and no, they did not attend Madera, Kensington, or
Harding), one is thriving at Portola, and two are at El Cerrito High.
Support your local neighborhood school
I just wanted to mention here that my impression year before last
(my twins are now in first grade) is that schools may reject
applicants on the basis of financial need. We have friends from
preschool who also have twins--who applied to the exactly the
same schools we did--but they applied for financial aid while we
didn't. Our families are both white, and our kids perform (as far
as we can tell) at the same level. However, our friends' kids
were flat-out rejected at every school they applied to, while our
twins were accepted at one and wait-listed for the other two.
There was no explanation for their rejections (just a ''not a good
fit'' type letter). I had thought that the admissions claim to be
''need blind'' but... well, I'm just sayin'... You might want to
avoid the financial aid request, at least for the first year.
Hated The Process
I too went through the anxiety of Kindergartenarama two years
ago and am happily on the other side -which turned out for us to
be in a private school in Oakland. First, I recommend creating
a chart with a list down the one side of what your criteria for
school are and dream so you're not just in lizard-brain trying
to weigh practicalities. Keep filling it in with a score card
(A-F?) for each school. Then I think the very best thing you can
do with the first question about navigating your public school
options is to go find out what your options really are -the
rules, the school, probabilities of transfers, etc. Visit -it's
not all about scores!! Second, regarding private schools, its
important for you to thoroughly review what is said in print and
online so you can narrow it down to where you'd want to visit.
And then visit for your self and ask alot of questions,
including about financial aid, sense the vibe of each place so
you have your own gut reaction. Each school's answer about
percentages and probabilities of getting in will be distinct. I
haven't ever heard of sibling discounts:( Finally, apply for all
of the ones you like -NONE you don't- say 4. With the money...
you may end up being motivated to go back to work and there may
just be the perfect -not as stressful position for you. So start
with the ideal, see for yourself and gauge what you can really
sacrafice -one way or another- to get as close to your initial
dream as you can.
If you are able to work but choose not to, why would you be
eligible for the limited supply of financial aid over families
with working parents who still can't afford tuition? Financial
aid committees will ask the same question. You can always apply,
but the purpose of financial aid is not to save you from a
stressful job and a commute. Sorry to be harsh, but as a full
time working parent with a commute and a stressful job paying
full tuition, I found the notion offensive. Perhaps you should
reconsider your public school options if tuition isn't comfortable.
It is important to take time to think about your child and the
kind of environment in which they function best (and your needs
as a parent), and to look at schools with this in mind. It will
be helpful if you know the size, style and spirit of the school
you seek. Visit the schools you are considering -- public or
private -- and see how YOU are treated as a prospective parent --
you will learn a lot by being there in person. I made a decision
not to consider schools where I did not feel welcomed at the visit.
Most private schools offer financial aid and if you feel that
private school is something you may want to pursue, it is worth
applying and seeing what assistance you are offered. There are
also very good public schools out there and even those in the
same district can be quite different so keep an open mind.
Although difficult, it is not impossible to transfer out of WCCSD
-- I know several families who have successfully done so.
However, they generally found out that their child was accepted
to the other school district after the school-year started.
Depending on your child, a school transfer at that point could be
stressful (for example, my child was shy and therefore I did not
want to consider a mid-year transfer). It is free to apply for an
intra-distict transfer, so if you think it may work for you, file
the paperwork and decide about it IF your child happens to get
In my experience, becoming aware of the right learning
environment for our child was something that evolved through the
elementary years. We were able to find a mid-size public school
that worked well for our child initially, and after moving to
El Cerrito, we found a small community-oriented cooperative
elementary, Crestmont, where my child thrived. if you work
through the process, and don't put ''all your eggs in one basket''
it will get sorted out and you will find the right school for
Most of all, don't get discouraged -- the months before
kindergarten can be an anxious time for parents, but if you know
the type of learning environment you are seeking for your child,
you will find it.
-- Been There
Deciding on school is a very stressful experience. A couple of
things about private schools. It is not as much competitive as it
is about finding the right match for you and your family. In
your area there a lot of private schools to consider. I would
recommend exploring those and, if you find any that you feel are
a match, applying for financial aid. Many schools including ours
offer significant financial aid for those who need it.
My kids are at Windrush School in El Cerrito. It has been an
excellent match for our family. A great community of families, a
very strong academic program and an extremely caring and
nurturing environment for the kids - they put a lot of emphasis
on the social and emotional needs of the kids to enable them to
succeed academically and in the world as citizens. It is on the
small size which makes the transition to kindergarten very smooth
for the kids. They say that the two most challenging transitions
for people are to kindergarten and to college. I felt that having
that level of attention in that first year was really important.
Private schools are offering tours, I encourage you to sign up
for those and the information days/nights to see what is out there.
Good luck with your search. I know it is not an easy time.
Basing your decision on whether or not to attend a school because
of test scores is very short sighted.
My children got a fantastic education at a W. County elementary
school with average test scores because they had caring teachers
and the school staff were very compassionate and committed to
helping each child.
All that money that we saved by doing public school went into a
college savings fund, paid for family vacations, and enrichment
during the school year and summers.
Plus our kids had the experience of meeting children from all
walks of life--rich and poor, regular ed and special ed. These
are invaluable ''real world'' experiences that will serve them well
later in life.
Also, some schools with very high test scores can be difficult to
handle because helicopter parents gravitate toward them and
generally drive themselves and the school staff nuts with their
worries and anxieties.
There are some very good reasons to attend private schools but
why not try the ''free'' option first, see if it works for you, and
if it's not a good fit, you can apply to a private school later.
Dear Perplexed Parent,
I was super stressed also about the big kindergarten decision.
We decided not to go to our public school although we really
couldn't afford much else. We applied to three private schools.
Our number one choice St. Paul's not only let us in but also
gave us the best financial aid package out of the three
schools. Last year our second child started at the same school
and much to our relief we received enough financial aid for
both children to make it work for our family. St. Paul's really
seems to do everything it can to keep families together. I
think about 30% of the school is on some sort of financial aid.
We LOVE the school and really couldn't be happier!!!! I would
recommend that you look at all the schools you are interested
in and go through the financial aid process.
Good luck with everything,
Mom of three
Well, at the risk of sounding glib, the best way to alleviate
anxiety about affording school is just to choose public school!
You didn't mention which school you are zoned to. There seems to
be a fair amount of fear in the West County area about public
schools that are not Kensington or Madera. I say that without an
ounce of judgment because last year I definitely shared that fear.
This year, that fear is gone because my son and a bunch of his
friends from the neighborhood are very happy at Mira Vista. We
know families that are happy at Riverside, Harding, Washington,
Olinda, Stewart and Ellerhorst. I don't know any families at
Fairmont right now but from what I've heard it's a small,
close-knit community with some great teachers. There are some
great things happening at schools with so-so test scores.
WCCUSD kindy is still just a half day. Before school began I saw
this as a drawback but now I see it as a plus. Kids get all
afternoon, at home or at aftercare, to unwind and play. And when
you do public school you're more likely to be able to afford fun
Best of luck to you.
public school mom
I would like to hear from other parents who just went through
that harrowing experience of private Kindergarten applications.
We applied to 5 (5!) schools, got into only one (not our first
choice by far), and waitlisted on the rest. 2 other parents from
the same preschool got in nowhere at all--and most of their
letters were not just waitlists, but outright rejections. These
are children of parents who are generally well-educated (a couple
of graduate degrees amongst us) and care about education. Are our
kids just duds? Was the preschool (a new one) maybe not
preparing the kids for these assessments? Are other schools
specifically prepping the kids? Is this normal? Or was it a
particularly grueling year out there with unusually fierce
competition? What happened to other people out there?
No More Fingernails
I think I can really understand your feelings, at least in
part. Our end results were different, but the whole independent
school application process (and even more the financial aid
process) left me feeling so yucky in so many ways. My heart
broke to think that going through that process would make you
question whether your child is a ''dud.''
We applied to four private schools in Oakland and Berkeley,
focusing on those that consider themselves progressive and
developmental. My son was offered spots at all four. I know
that one of them is considered difficult to get into, but I have
no idea about the others. He goes to a very small, play-based
preschool, and there was no specific preparation for the
assessments at all. I called them ''playdates'' and explained
that he would get to check out the schools, and I tried to ease
any anxiety he would have. I also tried to schedule the
assessments on the same day as his best friend so that he would
feel more comfortable. As far as I could tell, they were
looking for basic kindergarten readiness at the assessments
(ability to follow instructions, sit and focus on a task, relate
to peers, communicate and so forth).
I have no idea what the experience has been like for those
applying to the schools that are considered more college prep
(Head Royce, Bentley, etc.) since we did not go that route.
Perhaps there was more competition at those?
Even having been accepted at the schools we were interested in,
I still found MANY aspects of the process distasteful and off-
putting. It has been incredibly draining.
Thank you for your post, our outcome was somewhat worse, but I
appreciate your naming of the process. We applied to our two
favorite local developmental schools. We received a wait-list
letter from one and an outright rejection from the other, which
is especially painful as I see the latter now posting on BPN with
two K openings. The process felt more emotional than my graduate
school application, perhaps because this was for our son. Even
just the requirement to negotiate so much time off work with my
boss, for the pre-tours and the parent tours and then kid visits,
was no small feat. I have to admire your endurance for making it
through the process with even more schools!
I realize that it must be a difficult balancing act for the
schools too, but some of the late stage event / open house
invitations that we received from the school that rejected us may
more considerately have been reserved for families they were
planning to accept/consider. Painful process for me.
My daughter will be entering kindergarten next fall. With all
of the different choices out there, I feel overwhelmed. Does
anyone have any good suggestions of how I can find out more
about my options and find the school that's the right fit for my
daughter? I've done some research on my own and will do
observations etc., but I'd like to know if there's a place or
publication that will give me more information about finding the
right match. We live in Albany, I teach in Berkeley so I have
both public and private school options. Help??
Our family is also going through the agonizing process of
choosing a kindergarten for our daughter. We still aren't sure
what we will do, but we got some good direction from attending
a workshop by Anne Bauer which covered public vs. private,
educational approaches, temperamental factors, and gave a lot
of specific info about the application process. It really
helped with our anxiety!
She will be offering more workshops as part of Grassroots
Support for Growing Families. I don't know the dates, but the
number to call for more info is 510-395-4221. The other women
who make up Grassroots are also really terrific.
Good luck in your search,
I know this is kind of a crass question but in facing the
private school application process for kindergarten in Fall
of '07, I can't help but wonder how many schools people
typically apply to and/or recommend applying to? How
competitive is this process anyway?? My husband and I are
already a bit aghast at the prospect of private school (We
seriously cannot figure out how anybody pays for it! How would
we? Who knows?)and truly hope to get a decent Oakland public
school in the lottery (not necessarily one of the
supposed ''best''). But we feel like we need to have a back-up in
case that doesn't come through. At the same time, we don't want
to spend a small fortune on application fees, nor get totally
caught up in the school crazies. Any advice on how to approach
the private school application process from more of a ''only as
a back-up'' approach? Is such a thing possible? Also, everyone
says that financial aid is available, even for more ''affluent''
people, but what does that really mean? We certainly are not
affluent by Bay Area standards, but we could never claim to be
poor either (thank goodness). Lastly, has anyone elected to
have their child sit out kindergarten in lieu of attending
either a poor public school or unaffordable private school?
Thanks so much
Feeling quite flummoxed
I have a son in private school and a daughter in public school--
feel pretty experienced in both sides of the equation.
Regarding the application process--my advice is to only apply
to those schools you would really consider. If that's only two
schools--as it was in our case--only apply to two. Remember
that your child will be ''assessed'' at each school you apply to--
and while this is made as non-stressful as possible it's
certainly not easy for any 4 or 5 year old to do repeatedly. I
think there is a great myth about how competitive it all is.
While there are certainly a few schools that are VERY hard to
get into without legacy or sibling advantage, there are also
lots of schools thathave lots of spaces! And they are often the
I would also strongly encourage you to consider the public
school option. You can always change your mind down the line
if it doesn't work out! We love our daughter's school and in
some ways regret not sending our son in the beginning. Good
Both public and private
I don't know specifically about OUSD but most school districts
typically tell you of your school assignment late in the summer,
possibly even days or a few weeks before the first day of
school. Whereas with private schools you are notified of
acceptance in March, and then have just one week to accept and
put in a deposit to hold that space. So ask yourself whether it
would be worth losing your deposit to hold a space at a private
school you like. There will likely be openings at a few private
schools once you know your public school, but I think that would
be too late to get financial aid for the year. Our daughter goes
to Walden in Berkeley which is a teacher collective where the
costs are kept down by being a collective and by parents doing
work hours at the school for tuition reduction- still it's
expensive but less than most of the others. The larger schools
do offer more aid to middle income families. BTW our family
loves Walden; and yet it has been very hard to pay for, we have
accumulated a lot of credit card debt and not taken major
vacations for years to do it, mostly it has been worth it, but
not easy. We only applied to 2 and got in both; I think the # of
apps. to do would depend on the perceived prestigiousness of the
schools you are applying to.
Like you, my husband and I considered private school as a
backup only. Frankly, the financial aspect was daunting (who
wants a second mortgage to pay for 9 months of school for a
My advice is to visit as many private AND public schools as you
can before deciding which one to apply to. Each school has
very distinct personalities and philosophies and it's true that
you need to find the one or ones that fit your child's needs.
After visiting only 3, I discovered that nothing can compare to
an actual visit. Seeing the classrooms and playgrounds,
viewing the resources and even at times experiencing the
teachers with their students gives a parent a strong feeling
for whether or not the school is a good fit.
While I can't speak for all private schools, it was explained
to me at one that we visited, that all applications are first
reviewed and students accepted or waitlisted. Only after the
students have been identified does the school then look at
financial aid applications. Anything from $1000 and up was
available according to need and fund availability.
The application process for both public and private schools is
crazy. Assessments and questionnaires, self-portraits and
educational backgrounds -- it's like I was entering college
again -- and for a 5 year old? It seemed insane.
In the end, the lottery treated us unkindly and we did not get
placed into any of the 7 Oakland public schools we had listed.
We were accepted to and are now attending Redwood Day School.
While the cost is high and believe me, it's a stretch each
month, my daughter is ecstatic. The resources available to
parents, students, and faculty is tremendous and the philosophy
is echoed with every teacher at the school. It's like having a
first child -- the process is painful, but in the end, after
the decision is made, you make the best of the situation.
Public or private is not the issue. Finding the right school
for your little one is the priority and there are plenty of
options to choose from. No doubt, it will be school crazies
(particularly for the first time parents) -- but whatever you
and your husband decide will be the right decision for you.
Been There, Done That
I know it is kind of early but I cannot not worrying--our child
is going to go to kindergarten next year and it seems we have a
big project coming to research the school. I would like to ask a
couple beginner's questions:
1. how many schools do people usually apply (I assume he may have
to go to a private school as local public school is not of the
2. any idea the ratio of applicant vs admitees for the private
schools around east bay? what are the standards for schools to
admit their students? what if a child is rejected by all the
I know these may be silly but it seems a highly stressful
procedure--so many what-ifs.
Any response would be deeply appreciated. Thank you.
The whole process of applying to private schools for
kindergarten is surprisingly stressful. The ratios of
applicants to those admitted varies by school -- some are just
more sought after than others. I looked at 8 schools within a
certain geographic area -- I was simply not willing to drive too
far or on certain traffic filled highways. I ended up applying
to 4 of the 8 schools I toured. I had one clear first choice
school, but felt like the others were all good choices for our
family should we not get the first choice. I felt reasonably
sure we'd get into at least one of the four. I tried to keep an
open mind throughout the process and I also took it pretty
seriously. The competition is fierce at certain schools. As it
turned out, we did get our first choice. Frankly, I've never
heard of a child not getting in anyhere -- if you only apply to
one or two you risk that, I suppose, though I also know people
who only applied to one and got in. We felt like our public
school was not an option and did not want September to roll
around without a school and that caused us to apply to more
rather than fewer.
My advice would be tour as many as you have time for -- they are
very different from each other and your preconceived ideas my
turn out to be inaccurate. The good news is that we have some
truly wonderful private schools in the east bay. Good luck
From what I recall and have seen since we went through this process 7 years ago-
people usually apply to 3-5 schools, and there are usually 3-5 times as many
applicants as there are slots. It makes it feel competitive, but if you look at the math
there are really enough spots to go around. Don't freak out- most likely there will be a
good match at one school- they'll pick you and you'll pick them
I don't know how many private schools you should apply to, but I
recommend that you talk to parents in your community who have
children at a variety of public schools and get their views on
those schools. There may actually be public schools in your
city that do meet your and your child's needs. Get direct
information; not heresay from families that don't have kids
there. Get phone numbers for friends of your friends with
public school kids and call and ask the parents for the
strengths and challenges of their kid's school. Then pick a
couple of public schools in your city and do the enrollment
paperwok for those (It's free!). If nothing else, these can be
your fallback schools, and you will have educated yourself with
first-hand information in the mean time. Also, one never knows
when they may no longer be able to afford private school and
need transfer their children to a public school. It is good to
have the information, just in case
Hi! I have a 4 year old son who will start Kindergarten in Fall
2007, was wondering if anyone knew about any open-houses (both
private and public) that will be happening anytime soon? Any help
or direction is appreciated. THANKS!
Google search for your district - Oakland or Berkeley or whatever -
then go on the site,
jot down numbers and start making calls. Some of the schools announce
Houses on the BPN, some don't. You'll need to do the research to find
out for sure.
It's a journey and you're just starting out. Unfortunately, you've got
to start by calling
and keeping a list..
For BUSD they usually have opprotunities for day time visits and
scheduled evening open houses early in the calendar year.
However, to be sure of the dates and times, you should call the
BUSD Enrollment Office (I think). They are at (510) 644-6504
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