The LA Times coined the term “Black Friday” in 2008, referring to the annual Friday in L.A. when private elementary school admissions letters are mailed.
This is when parents will find out if their kindergartener is admitted to John Thomas Dye, Brentwood, Crossroads, Oakwood, The Center, The Willows, or any other top-tier private elementary schools.
Truffle Notes: This year high school letters were sent a week earlier on March 8th.
Forget earthquakes or traffic on the 405; March 15 is much worse …
Come Friday, parents all over L.A. will be chasing down the mail trucks, obsessively checking email, calling friends with same year kids to re-asses their own odds …. Fights with spouses will sky-rocket, panic attacks will be rampant, moms will lock themselves in closets, others will skip work, shrinks will phone emergency Xanax prescriptions to Mickey Fines across LA, and worse. Expect sheer and total panic.
Acceptance and rejection letters are a game changer. After all, is an Ivy League college that far away? No, and the right elementary school is essential to get on the fast track to the Harvard, Princeton or Yale.
I know because I’ve been there. We applied to 4 schools for my daughter for kindergarten. It was a stressful, uncertain and an almost surreal process. My emotional health became shaky as Black Friday neared. All my friends were having rumbles of panic attacks, calling each other every half hour trying unsuccessfully to anticipate the outcome … Educational consultants were on standby to counsel existing clients and accept new ones who just figured out they need help.
|Elementary Schools Tuition (from Most to Least Expensive)
* Source: Individual School Websites
Once price is settled, the competition is fierce.
I remember chatting “casually” with other moms about the admissions process. On more than one occasion, a mom would say something like, “The chairman of the board at school x-y-z rents our summer house in the Hamptons so I’m sure we’ll get in.”
Jennifer Lopez is currently trying to get her twins, Emme and Max, into Buckley in Sherman Oaks. Another friend saw Gabriel Aubry (Halle Berry’s baby daddy) on a tour for Oakwood School.
Once Black Friday has come and gone, there is the dreaded wait-list issue … Being wait-listed merely prolongs the process. Wait-listed at JTD? Is that good news or bad news? At some schools, kids get accepted from the wait-list almost immediately (one family’s garbage is another one’s gold). At other schools, wait-list status drags on into the summer months, potentially distracting from otherwise spectacular Cote D’azur vacations because families are waiting for “the call.”
If and when the call comes, recipients gladly accept the spot, forfeiting the non-refundable deposit of about $2000 at the other school that wasn’t their first choice – but will certainly be another family’s best news ever.
We were lucky; my daughter was accepted to 3 of the schools where we applied (my daughter end up at The Willows, a wonderful private school) and I ended up co-authoring a book and blog from the lessons I learned about navigating the admissions process and surviving Black Friday.
One friend of mine who is currently waiting to hear from 3 top schools says she’s taking it “minute by minute” and is upset with herself for getting so caught up in the frenzy. After all, she says, “It’s only elementary school.” Then, she adds, “but what if we don’t get in anyplace?”
Another mom will be “doubling down on Xanax” in anticipation of the big day. “It could be good or it could be really bad. We only applied to 2 schools.”
“If he’s the only preschooler with a mustache, so be it,” said one mom. “We’ll keep applying until we get into our top choice school!”
Christina Simon is the co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She is the mom of a 3rd grade son and a 5th grade daughter who attend The Willows Community School. Christina’s work has been published on Salon.com, Mamapedia, BlogHer, The Mother Company, Scary Mommy, ecomom, and numerous other sites. She blogs at Beyond the Brochure, or you can find her on Facebook.
Springtime in L.A. is the season when private grade schools host auctions, gala events, and swank soirees at fancy hotels, studio lots, and LA country clubs designed to raise additional funds to pad the $25,000 base fee of sending kids to John Thomas Dye, Buckley, Curtis, the Center, Campbell Hall, Brentwood, Stephen S. Wise, and all the other early educational top LA tickets.
That might sound high but the 25k tuition doesn’t even cap the operating budget of any private elementary school and additional money is always needed for teacher salaries, employee benefits, school supplies, and financial aid.
Private schools raise money through various means but auctions (usually conducted at black-tie events or an annual school fair or once in a blue moon, online) are often the #1 source of extra revenue in bulk.
From vacation homes in France or Cabo (The Willows School), to Lunch With The Ladies At Soho House (Buckley School), to wine tasting weekends in Napa Valley (Willows), to tickets to the Hunger Games premiere and after-party last year (John Thomas Dye), these tantalizing live and silent auction items can be yours … all while subsidizing the cost of better school for your kids. Some of these moneymakers rake in six figures and higher!
At each of L.A.’s most prestigious schools’ annual fundraising events; the opportunities to purchase auction items is beat only by the opportunity to donate them; and so in lies the ensuing competitive drama of who can call in what favor, lend a vacation home, call a celebrity client, or snag a free venue. A year before the event, a committee of moms (and a few dads) work tirelessly to produce the event. Everything from venue, food, auction items, invitations, and ticket sales are a part of the committee’s job.
The year I co-chaired The Willow School auction, I was very lucky to have Mindy Weiss, celebrity event planner to the stars, as one of my five co-chairs. We raised $200,000 that year. Securing big donations for the auction is key. Families at the school who own high-end vacation homes or hotels or fancy restaurants are the first to be solicited (nicely of course), which will often become part of the live auction and fetch a hefty price.
If a school gets lucky and has an A-list celebrity who is a parent or grandparent or alumni at the school, the stakes get raised. Maroon 5 front man Adam Levine (along with band mates Jesse Carmichael, Mickey Madden) are all graduates of Brentwood school and held a private benefit concert last month at Nokia Live downtown to raise money for his alma mater; it came off the heals of a Battle-of-the-Bands at Brentwood and the winner got to open for Maroon 5 on stage at the concert solely held for Brentwood alumni family and friends. Duff McKagan (former Guns N’ Roses bassist) has helped out his daughter’s school, Buckley, by performing in a benefit charity concert that was loaded with other musicians (one song preformed was covered Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan). Duff also played judge with Slash, former fellow Guns N’ Roses bandmate and Buckley dad at the school fair for yet another a battle of bands contest. No pressure there. Sidney Poitier (who had two daughters at Buckley) was known to run booths at the annual fair. Campbell Hall (the Episcopal school in the valley) dad Earvin Johnson aka Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie donated a private basketball clinic for 1 student who could then bring additional 4 friends. The Willows has benefited from the generosity of Randy Newman who once donated a chance to win your own personalized outgoing voicemail message from the singer; bidding on that priceless item went crazy. Every year, The Willows receives a painting from one of the school’s grandparents; acclaimed L.A. artist Ed Moses; these pieces routinely sell for at least $10,000 a piece.
If you’ve ever attended one of these auctions, you know how easy it is to have a few drinks and wake up the next morning to discover you’ve bid on a painting by a famous artist, those tickets for a taping of the Top Chef finale, or in my case, a pair of diamond earrings I really “needed.”
Other items we’ve seen on the block include: a vet concierge, New York Fashion Week tickets to Monique L’Hullier, Dodger dugout seats, a one week internship at Niche Media (publisher of LA Confidential), a 1986 Chateau Mouton Rothschild, a set visit to Darren Aaronosky’s newest film, a “reality casting” career day … although most impressive (and coveted) items are the Skip-the-Carpool-Line pass for a year amd VIP parking spots on the campus.
Eat! Drink! Bid! Win! (Events and auctions are generally only open to current school parents).
Party List: Fundraising Auctions and Galas at L.A.’s Elite Private Schools
Chandler School (Pasadena): “Shaken and Stirred” – black tie benefit gala and auction this March at the Annandale Golf Club. Tickets are $150 per person, with sponsorship opportunities ranging from $500 to $5,000.
Center For Early Education: “Havan-A Party” Gala Auction in March at Hollywood and Highland. Tickets are $175.00 and tables range from $1750-$7000.
The Willows School: “Dare To Become” Auction in March at the SLS Hotel. Tickets $125.00 and sponsorship opportunities range from $100-$2500.
Oakwood School: “A Night of Awesome” in March at the LA Equestrian Center. Tickets are $275. (Oakwood’s 2009 major fundraiser held at The Lot in West Hollywood featured comedy, music, an auction and had a precusor celebrity-packed YouTube video encouraging parents to attend and donate featuring school parents Danny DeVito, Jason Alexander, and Steve Carell.)
Buckley School: “Up Up & Away… Come Party and Play!” online auction. The school also has a fair each May.
John Thomas Dye: The school hosts a fall tennis tournament at the Riviera Tennis Club and golf event in February at Mountaingate Country Club; they also have a fair each May. Last year they held a silent auction online as well.
Curtis: A themed fair takes over the campus from year to year each October.
The Laurence School: An annual Spring Event will be held in April. They also host a popular shopping event every November on the lot of TV network CBS.
Stephen S. Wise: A carnival to celebrate Purim (a Jewish holiday) in February allows outside sponsors to to brand games, rides, ticket script or the whole event for $500 to $10,000.
Brentwood School: The school hosts two annual fundraisers—the Party Book and the spring Benefit. The lower school hosts a Harvest Festival each year.
Beverly Hills Public School System: Not to left out is the public school system …. they are reliant on city funds for the school but recently developed a group called the Beverly Hills Education Foundation (BHEF) that raises additional funds. Their hallmark event is the Apple Ball held in May at the Beverly Hilton. The group receives donations from area retailers who want to get in the good graces of Beverly Hills parents; last year Fletcher Jones gave them $100,000 when he opened an Audi dealership in BH.
This piece was written by our Truffle Hunter, Christina Simon: Co-author of Beyond The Brochure: An Insider’s Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She writes the blog, www.beyondthebrochurela.com.
Christina’s work has been published on Salon.com, The Mother Company and numerous other publications. Beyond The Brochure has been featured in The Hollywood Reporter, Elizabeth Street, The Pasadena Sun and on KOST 103.5 FM and many local and national mom blogs.