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Applying to Private Kindergarten

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > School & Preschool > Applying to Private Kindergarten


Questions More about Applying to Schools

Private school's confusing application process

April 2014

Have had a rather bewildering experience at a local private elementary school and wondering if anyone might be able to shed some light on our situation.

Hearing this school still had slots open after the deadlines for other East Bay independent schools, I called the school to find if this was so. I spoke to their admissions director who told me to fill out the application ASAP. I did, and a few days later, I got a call and was told that we had been accepted to the school. When I expressed surprise that we hadn't even been interviewed yet, the director realized she'd made a mistake and said she was actually calling to confirm our interview the next morning. This was the first I had heard of the interview time, but I said okay. We arrived at the school the next day at the appointed time only to discover that the interview was actually the following day. The Admissions Director wasn't in the office that day so it took the staff several minutes to figure out what was going on. The next day, we took our kid out of preschool again and went back. At the end of the interview we were told to expect an answer within 24 hours. A full week later, the school called to ask for additional information and to ask if they could talk to our kid's preschool teacher, and that we could expect an answer in another two days. We provided the information and alerted the teacher she'd be getting a call. Well, that was almost two weeks ago; the teacher never got a call, we haven't heard a word from the school, and they are on Spring Break now.

So I'm totally bewildered about what's going on and not sure if I should contact the school again to try find out the status of our application or just let it hang. Needless to say, I'm not feeling very confident about the school now anyway, plus now I am really wondering why they still had slots when everyone else had already filled classes and had waiting lists. If anyone has any insight, I'd be grateful. Also, the school did ask if we'd applied to any other schools--we'd applied to another private school and didn't get in--so I wonder if when they realized that, it downgraded our application?


Ask your child's preschool teacher for a meeting or phone call and ask whether there is anything you should know about your child that might be affecting the decisions of schools you applied to. Most likely, that conversation won't turn up any cause for concern, but the teacher may well have advice on other schools that might be a good fit for your child. There are some schools that still have open slots.

What you are describing sounds a lot like something that happened to us at a local private elementary school. We ended up going with that school anyway - and I wish we hadn't, or had at least asked many more questions to understand what happened. In our case, the inefficiency and rudeness was symptomatic of problems with the school's administration (which has since gotten even more unprofessional). We have since left that school and are happy with our decision.

That said, it's possible that there is an innocent explanation. The school we're at now is good, but very recently had to hire a new front office person, who is still learning the ropes. I don't know what effect that may be having on new families.

The fact that your child didn't get into another school wouldn't count against the application -- not unless there was some reason (e.g. if your child had caused problems at preschool, which the teacher should tell you). First impressions can be accurate!


We had a somewhat similar experience (but without the administrative mistakes of yours, which in and of themselves raise red flags). We toured a school that was clearly under-enrolled, went through the application process, and were told that we'd hear back in a day or two. We simply never heard from them, and found out through a circuitous process that our child had an off day during the school visit and was not accepted. And of course I was disgusted by then and had no interest in enrolling him anyway.

A friend tried to find a different school for her child, also outside of the traditional admissions season, and had a similar experience. Admissions directors simply didn't call her back.

I'm sorry you had that experience--it sounds very demoralizing. But be happy that your child won't be going to a school that doesn't seem to have it's act together! Happy for public school


You'll have to ask a few questions, if you want to understand what's going on.

Next time you talk to the admissions person, mention the delays and the confusion. Let her know that you're curious: Was the delay about you or your application, or just circumstance? Is the school struggling with organization? These are fair questions, and if you ask in a friendly and relaxed way, you might gain some insight.

I doubt it's about you or your child or the other school's decision. Different schools pick different kids. They want a good fit, whatever that means to them and to you.

Did you feel like the teacher and the philosophy of the school will serve your child well? Those are the more important questions. If the answers are yes, then stick out this process, and don't take the confusion personally. I bet they are just busy, or changing their systems or something. Who knows. Don't Take Things Personally


It seems to me that you know the answer already. There are still places available at that school because it sucks. There is no follow through, no consideration given to anyone else's time, and chaos reigns. It's hard to believe that your child would have a better experience as a student than you are having as the parent of an applicant. It's not you, it's them. And every red flag is present- ignore them at your peril. You want to pay for this?

How to choose the right school

Jan 2014

Hello all, I am feeling really overwhelmed about choosing the right elementary school for my 6 year old son. he currently goes to a private school (as he did not meet cut off for public). Any guidance from experienced parents here on how you went about choosing the right school for your kids would be greatly appreciated. Our son is more on the creative side and also thinks out of the box, but is not too inclined towards studies (complains that he does not like math and studying in general), so I am torn as to what kind of school setting will bring out the best in him while also teaching him the required curriculum in a fun learning environment . Any feedback on private or public schools would be greatly appreciated. Concerned Parent


I related to your post. My husband and I are both artists, and although our son is more of a science guy, he is a very out-of-the-box fellow, a square peg. After several years in public school, he was clinically depressed. He loves knowledge, but was suffocating in his elementary school, where everyone had to do the same thing at the same time, the same way. For him, we needed a place that allowed for and even supported different approaches, differing pace, and creative, innovative solutions to the same challenge.

I had worked at a Montessori afterschool program as a young person, and knew that Montessori was about ''following the child.'' Meaning, the child approaches integrating the curriculum independently, based on his strengths and interests, and at his own pace.

Our son is now at Montessori Family School. He is thriving socially, emotionally, and academically. In all of his years, it has literally never once happened that he *wanted* to go to school. He now asks to stay in afterschool because he loves it there so much. It is certainly a place for creative, innovative kids. Instead of saying ''I'm weird,'' our son now feels he is bright and an original thinker. We know these are strengths, but they did not fly at his particular public school where ''sameness'' and test scores were the message.

My suggestions in general: - What does the school put out there most prominently? ''Academic rigor'' ''individuality'' ''the arts''? Many independent schools sound the same until you read between the lines. Are they about your kid's emotional health and happiness, or about scores? (And by the way, these are *not* mutually exclusive. In some subject areas, our kid is learning what I would consider to be high school level material in 4th grade— and loving it.)

- Ask if the school practices ''differentiated education'' in some form. I.e. does each child learn material at his level, which could be 5th grade math, 8th grade language arts, and immersive, sophisticated visual art. No two kids are the same.

- Crucial: ask how much homework there is at each grade level. Believe me when I tell you that the amount of homework will be an essential factor in your family life, and the joie de vivre of your child, for the next several years. Also ask whether the homework is tailored to skills your particular child needs to learn, or whether the same assignment will be given to the whole class.

- Ask how much of the classwork and homework is comprised of worksheets, and how much is comprised of kids making things -- writing stories, building models, making presentations, etc.

- Ask if there are parents who would be willing to talk to you. If public school, ask neighbors and friends who they know who might know someone whose kids go there. Interview as many as you can. This may be the best way to get a good sense.

- Finally, don't over-stress. You can change schools if it feels like the wrong fit! Kids really are resilient. Good luck! Jasmine


I have 3 kids, the youngest now in middle school, who have attended a variety of public and private schools over the years. At least twice I have put a kid into a school that was terribly wrong, where we had to make a change after a year or two. Here is my advice about how to avoid some of the mistakes I made:

  1. Pay no attention to the buzzwords you hear on school tours, for example "whole child" and "differentiated instruction" and "progressive." The schools know that some parents want to hear these buzzwords, so they say them. Just because a school SAYS they use this or that approach doesn't mean they really do, as I learned the hard way. It's a bad sign if most of what you hear is buzzwords and abstract phlisophical discussions.

  2. Pay a lot of attention to student and teacher turnover. Big turnover means the director or principal is making a lot of people unhappy. This could be YOU in a year or two. The best schools, both public and private, have happy teachers and happy parents. And I don't mean just the teachers and parents that the school trots out on visit days. How can you tell if the school has a lot of turnover? Ask, when you visit the school: what percentage of kids who start kindergarten stay through 6th or 8th grade? What percentage of teachers have been at the school longer than 5 years? Look at the school's website - does it say how long teachers have been at the school? If not, that could be a bad sign. Does the school have very small classes in upper grades compared to lower grades? Are there lots of openings in upper grades? This can mean families leave after kindy or 1st grade.

  3. Don't let the physical buildings and grounds influence your decision disproportionately. I made this mistake. Beauty's only skin deep. If your child is unhappy, he/she is still going to be unhappy in a beautiful setting.

  4. Don't base your decision on a family or friend who goes to the school. Another mistake I've made. If they leave, will you be just as happy with the school?

  5. Location and convenience count for a lot. If you have to choose between 2 or 3 schools that mostly have what you want, choose the one that makes it easiest for your family in terms of commuting, kid friendships, cost, childcare, etc.

  6. There are no schools that are perfect, and there is no school that is "best" for every kid.

  7. Don't worry too much about making a mistake! You can change schools if you need to. Kids are very resilient and adaptable.
Hope that helps!

How Competitive is Admission into Private Schools?

Oct 2012

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 this process. Any insights and words of wisdom are welcome. Thank you!


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. local mom


K - 5th grade vs. K - 8th grade schools

Nov 2011

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 7 years. 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. Elena
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 on. been there
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. K-5 mom
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. Good luck! Been There


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! anon

What to look for in a school

Jan 2010

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!

2. Do your homework ahead of time

3. Go to the open house or informational meeting

4. What to Look for on a Visit

5. Important things you should know about a school


Your hindsight about your elementary school choice

Nov 2009

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! Searchin'


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. anon
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. heidi
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 school.

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 standpoint.

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?'' anon


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 superficially, but 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.

Other considerations:
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 out! 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 stress! yet another happy OUSD parent

Anxiety about affording the ''right'' Kindergarten

Oct 2009

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. perplexed parent


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. Heather
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. good luck
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 accepted.

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 your child.

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. Anon


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 enrichment classes!

Best of luck to you. public school mom


The Private Kindergarten Mishigas

March 2008

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. Anon


Choosing the right kindergarten

Nov 2007

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?? Anon.


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, also searching

How many kindergartens should we apply to?

Sept 2006

Hello,
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 best schools!

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 luck! 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. anon
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 gulp kindergartner?).

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
abigail


June 2006

Hi, there, 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 satisfactory quality)?
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 schools?
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. anon


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 anon


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 Good luck!
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 - Mom

When are kindergarten open houses?

Aug 2006

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! Lorena


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 their Open 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.. Been there.
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 anon
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