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L.A. school applications

{Must for Matisse’s future school: 1 hour of dance a day}

Actor//writer//Mom of the Century//my bestie Barbara King-Wilson is back with her latest on the (hilarious) perils of motherhood in Los Angeles. This week, crawl with her down the maddening rabbit hole that is the L.A. school system… This is Part I of her series on getting into the most exclusive, expensive, desirable club: No, not Soho House. YOUR KID’S SCHOOL. (FYI Barb, this makes me even more terrified to have kids. But, it also made me laugh a lot. And want to bring you a strong cocktail in a to-go coffee mug, because I think you need some liquid courage for these school tours…)

How I (Almost) Lost My Mind Applying to My Kid’s Elementary Schools

Last year I made a crucial newbie-L.A. mom mistake: I toured a private elementary school.

Private school was never really on the table for our kids.

A) It’s expensive.

B) My husband and I both happily attended our local public elementary schools.

C) It’s really expensive.

D) I want to support the public school system. After all, if dedicated, well-educated parents like us aren’t sending our kids to public schools, then how are we expected to fix this broken system?

E) It’s pull-your-hair-extensions-out STUPID expensive.

However, I had heard from several people that this private school had a price tag that was HALF that of most L.A. private schools. So my husband and I naively showed-up to the private school on a sunny Friday morning.

School. Not museum.

{This is a school, not a museum.}

We toured the bright, inspiring classrooms and walked the crisp expansive grounds. Then we took a pit stop to question the fifth graders about their recent class trip…to Paris. And I’m not talking about Paris, Texas. Real actual Paris. My fifth grade class trip was to an ice cream store.

As the tour ended, we gathered around a small garden for Q&A. A mom with a too-perfect blow-out and a forehead that didn’t move casually asked what the annual tuition was and the admissions director just as casually replied that tuition was an “extremely reasonable NINETEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR.” I had the internal equivalent of a car crash and am pretty sure I audibly whispered, “fuck” because the woman next to me grasped her orange Dior purse a little tighter.

NINETEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. A YEAR. $19,000 to learn how to write your name, count to 10, and draw straight lines with the kids of L.A.’s finest.

yoga class

{My son, participating in yoga class. Because in L.A., kids do yoga at school.}

I cried the whole way home. “But did you see how straight their lines were drawn???” I bawled, “Public school kids DO NOT draw lines that straight!

Here is a list of things I came up with of how to get $19,000 really quickly:

  1. 1. Sell organs. Who needs two kidneys? (To do: Google “how to survive with one kidney”)
  2. 2. Kickstarter/Gofundme campaign – Offer free t-shirts for donating $1,000. Everyone wants to help educational causes!
  3. 3. Sell car!!! Use bike and/or rollerblades to navigate L.A. (Google bike timeline to get from the valley to Santa Monica.) This also helps environment. Score!
  4. 4. Ebay – pretty sure my old ’98 Dell laptop is ready to be sold at top dollar.

In my heart, I knew that private school was just not going to happen for us, Paris be damned. Plus, I am not the type of mom to flaunt Manolos to the kindergarten bake sale.

But the private school tour had seriously upped the stakes. Now I knew what was out there.

So in a way, when I visited our local assigned elementary school, I knew I was going to be let down. I had already done my research and wasn’t impressed with the below-average test scores. After the tour I couldn’t shake the depressing images of the menacing chain link fence surrounding a bleak concrete playground. But this is what scared me the most: a clear decrease in attendance in the upper years.  In kindergarten there were five classes full of bright-eyed kids. By 5th grade, there was one. Kids were leaving the school at a scarily high rate.

Here’s the thing about LAUSD: it’s a very broken system. As the second largest school district in the USA it’s become impossible to manage. This is essentially why the charter school system sprouted. It’s a way for parents and teachers to have more influence over where the district money is spent. It is still publicly funded education, but there is just more freedom. As one charter school I toured put it, “basically, we choose not to spend a quarter million dollars on lawyers on retainer like most LAUSD schools have to. Instead, we are spending that on things other public schools have cut, like art and music.” But the “popular” charter schools are virtually impossible to get into. They are either located in the most expensive neighborhoods in L.A. or have so many applications you have a better probability of finding a four-leaf-clover on the Sunset Strip than getting in.

wait list

{2 things are of note in this email: We are #244 on the wait list for an extremely desirable charter school. And this purportedly “amazing” school can’t even spell “wait list” correctly.}

So I began to spiral down the LAUSD rabbit hole. It started with some informal phone calls and internet searches but within a short period of time turned into a whirlwind of weekly charter and magnet school tours, countless hours spent researching schools online, coffee meetings with moms who had survived the public school trenches, and a school folder that brimmed over with colorful pamphlets. I BECAME OBSESSED. I had calculated the probability of getting into each school. My excel file was updated daily. I was determined to unearth THE BEST PUBLIC SCHOOL IN THE UNIVERSE. I was Howard Hughes except instead of peeing into little cups I was creating color coded graphs that ranked the test scores of dozens of LA schools. I was the mom on the tour taking copious notes, furtively judging the handwriting of book reports that hung on the walls, and scoffing when a parent asked what, “common core” was.

L.A. school applications

{One of many color-coded charts I created to compare all the schools.}

Dinnertime conversations with my husband turned into one-sided comparisons and assessments. Each charter school seemed to have a different “flavor” and I was determined to uncover the BESTEST flavor for our family. “Would you rather she start Japanese in 1st grade or Mandarin in Kindergarten? Do you think kids should ‘live in their imagination’? Sign language or sewing? Gardening or yoga? Is Singapore Math an appropriate learning technique? Do you believe in a ‘constructivist philosophy’? How important is it that she learns to grow radishes? She needs at least an hour of dance each day, right? Is 2 hours too far to drive each day to school?”

I was lost in the L.A. rat race of keeping up with the Joneses. But more importantly – I had lost myself. I was justifying my craziness with how important education is, but education doesn’t just come from school. It comes from the community a school can help create. If there is one gem I learned from my plunge into the depths of schools – it is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Some of my favorite schools had the lowest test scores. Some of the most popular schools were uninspiring. A 10/10 on greatschools.com does not mean a 10/10 for my own child.

For the record, I ended-up touring our local school twice. It was the first school I visited and then over a year later, it was the last. During the second go around I’m not sure if the sun was brighter or my coffee was stronger or just that I had spent a year driving to schools all over Los Angeles and I was simply exhausted and overwhelmed, but I realized my local school really wasn’t bad. In fact, it was actually good. And to my surprise about a third of the families on my tour were actually trying to get INTO my school via lottery and here I was inexplicably trying to get out. I suddenly noticed trees and grassy yards, gardens and artwork, a beautiful library and a professional-looking science lab. Lastly, it was the only school that I could close my eyes and imagine discussing every moment of my daughter’s first day of kindergarten while we held hands and WALKED the 5-minute walk home instead of facing LA traffic for an hour.

chicken coop

{And it has a chicken coop!}

So what does this mean? Maybe this IS the school for us after all? Did it take touring Los Angeles’ best schools for me to realize that? I wonder these things and then get a text about another lottery taking place and my heart lurches with the hopes of getting into a different charter.

feet at school

feet at school

feet at school

{I have enough photos of my feet on school tours to make a coffee table book no one would buy.}

Here are my current particulars:

As of now, I have applied to 14 public schools including charters, magnets, and inner-district transfers.

Each school chooses its students by random lottery except for the inner district transfer.

Fun fact: The “random” lottery isn’t actually random. Most schools have preferences – none of which we qualify for. So we fall into the pool of anywhere from a couple hundred applications to SEVERAL THOUSAND at the more popular schools.

I’ll find out about most of these lotteries by the end of this month and I can’t wait to keep you all updated. I want to hear from other moms out there who are going through the same thing. How many schools have you applied to? How far would you be willing to drive for a good school? If you don’t live in L.A., what is your take on this insanity? Do you just go to your local public school? Do you think I’m crazy for not just going to my local school? And can you please tell me it will all be okay?

Barbara King-Wilson is an actress and writer living with her family in Los Angeles. Follow her @TheBarbaraKing and visit her at www.barbaraking.com! For past posts by Barbara, get over here, here, here, here AND here!

  • Clare Larkins

    I’d venture “wail list” is intentional. They know what you’re doing.

    • Annie

      Hahaha TRUTH

    • Annie

      Hahaha TRUTH

    • YES!!!!

  • Chaim Steinberg

    Can dads comment too?

    • Annie

      ALWAYS!! What are your two cents, Dad?

      • Chaim Steinberg

        Firstly (and I never thought I’d ever say something like this) $19k is actually crazy reasonable for a private school. Secondly, my kids go to private school (which is only possible because I teach there) but I love it. Thirdly, in the search for a good school I would look less at test scores and more at testing time. Specifically, the less time they spend on tests the better, there is no reason at all that kindergarten kids should be taking standardized tests. Which is my opinion as a parent and a teacher. My oldest son spent 6 months in a school with a heavy focus on testing and it did really unpleasant things to him emotionally, which is just not baggage you want in kindergarten. And lastly, don’t ever underestimate the power of having that 5 minute walk to school with your daughter. I don’t have a walk, but do share the school experience with my kids because we’re all in the same building, and it’s an amazing thing to be able to do.

        • Chaim – you are SO right about the emphasis on testing rather than the scores themselves. Several of my favorite schools were adamantly against “teaching to the test”. And then – through the grapevine – I heard that many more “popular” schools that had really high scores were actually just teaching for the test and not embracing the love of learning. I hate that. I’m so jealous you teach at your kids’ school. What an awesome experience. Lastly – THANK YOU for commenting and destroying the stereotype that dads aren’t really that interested this part of their child’s life. I will definitely try to use the word “parents” more than just “moms”.

          • Annie

            Love ALL of this. And agreed! I was SO EXCITED to see a dad pop up on here! I do believe that is the first comment from a man this blog has received so double thanks, Chaim!!

        • Annie

          Chaim, this is beautiful! My mom taught briefly while I was in elementary school, and I absolutely loved having her there and being able to hang out in her classroom after school. I really love this take because (as I keep telling Barbara) there is no “one size fits all” with a school, and she will find the perfect one for her and her daughter. This is such a thoughtful response, your kids are so lucky to have a dad like you! Thank you so much for reading and chiming in. X Annie

  • Heather Lerma

    Just go to your local school.
    It will all be okay!

    • Heather, I will just keep repeating that as my mantra!! “It will all be okay. It will all be okay.”

      • Annie

        I don’t even have kids and I need to tell myself this mantra on the daily. You guys are already way ahead of me.

    • Annie

      It WILL all be okay!! Thanks so much for reading and chiming in, Heather!! X A

  • Jennie

    I am debating how far is too far at the moment. We face a move this summer and my favorite school is 40 minutes away, without a snowy winter. But I think it is worth it. I felt sick to my stomach touring the other schools. Hang in there!

    • I keep going back and forth between how wonderful a short commute would be versus the old “well when I was your age…” thinking about how kids used to ride buses for an hour to and from school!!

    • Annie

      Jennie! Annie (creator of Heels in the Hills) here! Thank you so much for reading and chiming in on my beautiful friend’s blog. I just got married and don’t have kids yet, but from my chats with Barbara (and this blog), the school system is NO JOKE. Not here in L.A., and apparently not in places all over the country. You don’t need a stranger on the internet to tell you, but you are a great mom for caring so much and touring all those schools. I have my fingers crossed that your favorite school works out!! And I hope you stay in touch! Barbara will continue with her guest series on
      motherhood in Los Angeles twice a month (usually every other Thursday),
      and I’m here every weekday with comedy, recipes, fashion and pictures
      of my dogs, if you’re into that sort of thing :) Thank you again! X A

  • Terri Schlather

    I’m in Houston, TX – HISD is the 4th largest district in the country and similarly to LAUSD has horrible schools and outstanding schools. After not being lucky with the lottery for middle school, my fingers are crossed for high school. We’ll find out on the 24th which of 10 schools we applied for my child will get a spot at, if she gets any at all. The closest school is about 6 miles away, the furtherest is about 18 miles – a good 40 minutes drive in Houston traffic – at least. I believe in public school, but I also truly believe my child will bloom wherever she is planted if our attitudes are right….or at least I’m praying that’s the case, because I may have a nervous breakdown between now and the 24th.

    • Oh my gosh – my fingers are crossed for you!!! But your sentiment is RIGHT ON – your “child will bloom wherever she is planted” – what a wonderful perspective for all parents to have. Good luck on the 24th!

    • Annie

      Terri! Annie (creator of Heels in the Hills) here! Just wanted to drop you a line and thank you so much for chiming in and reading my beautiful friend’s post. I have my fingers crossed for you on the 24th!! As a recent newlywed just thinking about having kids, the school system is daunting but advice like yours, that children will bloom wherever they’re planted if the parents’ attitudes are right, give me hope and confidence. I hope you stay in touch! Barbara will continue with her guest series on motherhood in Los Angeles twice a month (usually every other Thursday), and I’m here every weekday with comedy, recipes, fashion and pictures of my dogs. Thank you again! Good luck on the 24th!! X A

  • Laura

    This sentence made me smile, “…imagine discussing every moment of my daughter’s first day of kindergarten while we held hands and WALKED the 5-minute walk home instead of facing LA traffic for an hour.” Education is important but for me it’s moments like these that will create a happy life for our littles.

    • So true…it’s easy to get wrapped up in what we “think” is important as opposed to what actually IS important!!

    • Annie

      Laura! Annie (creator of Heels in the Hills) here! That was one of my favorite lines in this, too. It’s so easy to get caught up in the madness, but from the outside looking in, Barbara is going to create a happy, well-educated life for her daughter because she is such a passionate, caring and hilarious mom. I hope you stay in touch!! She’ll be back with more guest blogs on this topic, posting twice a month (usually every other Thursday). And I’m here every weekday if you like comedy, recipes, fashion or pictures of dogs :) Thank you so much again! X A

  • Jen S.

    Loved reading this and could identify with it all! We live in Manhattan and just went through this with Pre-K, which was a horribly overwhelming process. Thanks for sharing, and I think if your daughter has even a quarter of your determination, she’ll do fine no matter where she goes to school!

    • Oh, thank you so much, that is so sweet :) I actually used to live in Manhattan pre-kids and I just can’t imagine what it’s like there. I’ve heard it’s worse than L.A. which is really hard for me to imagine, so congrats on making it through the Pre-K process…so far!

    • Annie

      Jen! Annie (creator of Heels in the Hills) here! Just wanted to thank you so much for reading and chiming in. I’m so lucky my dear friend Barbara was willing to do a guest blogger series on the madness that is motherhood in Los Angeles. She’s writing twice a month, and her posts are generally up every other Thursday. I hope you keep in touch so you can help offer some words of wisdom on this insane process!! I can’t even IMAGINE what it is like in NYC!! (And could not agree more. Her dazzling daughter was recently our flower girl, and I love her like family. She’s going to excel wherever she goes because she is pure light.) Thank you again!! X A

      • Jen S.

        Happy to chime in! It’s so read about other people’s experiences and know that you’re not alone. Barbara is a great writer so I’m excited to read her posts as they come out and explore your site more. Thanks for creating it! 😄

        • Annie

          That has been the greatest gift of this blog, connecting with readers and knowing I’m not alone… It especially gives me hope for when my husband and I eventually decide to become parents (and not just obnoxious dog hoarders who refer to their pups as “children” :) I’m so happy you found this blog, thank you again for reading!! X A

        • Jen, you have to keep us updated on what happens after the Pre-K experience in Manhattan!

          • Jen S.

            Will do. We aren’t scheduled to receive our “offer letter” until early May. Honestly, I didn’t think we’d be dealing with applying for and receiving offer letters for another 14 years! 😉

  • Carole Folkert

    My kids are grown and I’m an older mom now reflecting back on all the crazy preconceived notions I had about how I needed to raise my magnificent seven kids… All the choices to be made on daily basis and all the guilt ridden nights dwelling on those choices. Did it really matter that I wrapped every item in their lunches in tin foil because I was out of baggies? The oldest ones were like totally embarrassed! Anyway, what I learned sweet mama, is that you care and your heart is in the right place and no matter where school IS, school and education is not defined by the walls. Life is school, your relationship is school, all the things you do together, be it on a five minute walk or that 45 minute drive, it’s all part of the school of life and your child will thrive because that’s what you want to give this precious person of yours! So be damned lottery ticket 244… Whether that number works or not, you WILL be ok and whatever happens is exactly what’s supposed to happen! Trust your instincts Luke! (Not even a Star Wars but but it works). And please keep writing! (That’s the teacher in me for YOU!)❤️

    • Wow Carole – thank you SO much! You have so much great insight and perspective on this. And when I’m not in my craziest moments, I am able to remind myself that YES, education is not defined by walls. That is so wonderful and true. Thank you for your kind words…and SEVEN kids ?!?! – you’re a superhero!

      • Carole Folkert

        And I subscribed to your blog! You are a fabulous writer! Keep us all posted with your shenanigans! It keeps life real and keeps us all connected in this crazy thing!

        • Oh great! I’m a guest writer on this blog and my posts come out about once every other week so stay tuned for updates…I’m actually heading to two of the school lotteries today – almost more out of pure curiosity than to actually find out if we got in or not!!

    • Annie

      Carole! Annie (creator of Heels in the Hills and close friend of this incredible mama Barbara) here! I just want to thank you for all of these beautiful words you have for my dear friend. Such great insight and perspective – I don’t have kids yet, but I’m going to hang onto this advice for when I do!! And thank you so much for subscribing – I post on weekdays, so I hope you like comedy, recipes, fashion and stories about my life (usually my three rescue dogs). Barbara’s posting about her adventures in motherhood in Los Angeles twice a month, and they usually come out every other Thursday. I hope you keep in touch and keep reading, because you have really wonderful advice. Thank you so much for reading and chiming in!

      • Carole Folkert

        Hi Annie!
        I have never “chimed” in before on a blog but was definitely moved to do so with Barbara’s post. So much anxiety pushed/pulled on us as parents… Heck just as women and I just felt her pain and f bombs! Geez I love a good f bomb! Usually say one before I pass out the bowls of fruit loops! As for you and your writing… Bring it on woman! I love comedy and life and being in the presence of great writers that link us together in the similarities of our days. It’s super powerful. I’m going through a divorce surrounded by my seven kids (18-26) whuch sucks but it is just good for the soul to read other people’s words of their experiences and the candid, frank honesty that Barbara and you write with is simultaneously inspiring and refreshing! Booya! You go girls! I look forward to each a decent post!

        • Annie

          This means so much to me. Thank you for opening up and sharing YOUR story! It’s a comfort to me and Barbara as we deal with our own anxieties in life. I am so sorry to hear about your divorce, but you sound like a wonderful mother so I can only imagine you are handling it with strength and grace. I really am so grateful you found this blog, and I thank you for reading it! I hope the “non-mom” posts brighten up your day, too! Thank you again!

          • Carole THANK YOU so much for your kind words. I wish you the best in everything you are going through right now. I agree that reading the writing of other people can be incredibly powerful and empowering!!


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