Deciding Which Private School

Questions & Responses:
Archived Responses: 

Private elementary schools -- constructive negative feedback?

Sept 2014

Hello, We are looking for a private kindergarten in Oakland for our son for the 2015-2016 school year and just starting the touring/application process now. We have had no trouble finding parents with glowing reviews of just about any private school in Oakland and Berkeley. However, I am curious whether there are parents who would be willing to share constructive criticism of their schools or parents who have left certain private schools and would be willing to share reasons why. We are particularly interested in Park Day, Redwood Day, Head Royce and Bentley. I'd really appreciate your insight! Thanks in advance, Potential private school parent

I know you are looking for negatives for the various private elementary schools, but I think that you will need to figure out the negatives for yourself. I don't mean that to be unhelpful, I truly mean that the negatives I found at each school are likely positives for other people. For example: a couple of schools we visited emphasized social-emotional development over academics while others valued academic rigor over social-emotional development. A couple of schools have mixed-age classes while others do not. Depending on what you are looking for and what your child needs, you'll find a good fit. When we were looking for a private kindergarten, we looked at Aurora, Bentley, Head-Royce, Redwood Day, and St. Paul's. I think that they are all excellent schools but we only felt drawn to two of them. I recommend starting at the EBISA fair- i felt like you get a snapshot of each school there. I will say that one admissions director was completely uninterested in talking to me at that event or making me feel welcome, and that feeling continued with other people (teachers, etc) at our school visit. Bottom line, it was just not a fit and we did not apply to that school. I'm sure other people love it there. To each their own, but I think you'll get a good sense of each school on the visits. It all sort of seems whitewashed, but the true character of the schools actually shines through, in my experience. Good luck, former searcher


How did you narrow down your choices?

Feb 2013


Having finally completed the Kindergarten application process, we, like many families, are in the waiting stage. Our family applied to four private schools, all of which seem very strong. I'm wondering how we will choose between them if we are lucky enough to get into more than one. Can you share how you narrowed your choices down, especially if you were unsure before getting your acceptances? Or, should I even be worried about this - do most people only get into one school? It's hard to know how much to think about it now before hearing from admissions, though I also don't want to scramble once we get our letters. Thank you! anonymous

When selecting a school, keep in mind that the school's administration probably wants you to talk to families who are happy with the school. To find out if you yourself are likely to be happy with the school, ask how many people (i.e. children and teachers) have left in recent years. A few families leave because they are moving out of town or because they are unusually hard to satisfy. But if more than a few families and/or teachers leave, that could be a red flag.

The school's administration knows how many families are applying elsewhere. So, ask directly: Are the children I saw during my visit going to be there next year? Has the school's size been stable? Have there been changes in staffing? Do you anticipate changes in staffing?

Also keep in mind that unsolicited reviews on BPN can only be positive, as a matter of BPN policy. If you have a question about a particular school, the only way you can find out not-so-positive information is in response to a posted question. And even then, the information isn't going to be free of bias: At my child''s school, parents earn parent participation credit for posting on BPN and for monitoring BPN and responding to any criticism.

Perhaps all the schools where you applied are great and people are happy there. In that case, you can't go wrong and might simply decide on the basis of location or convenience. Cautious

First off, try not to worry. I know that is much easier said than done-- but the likelihood is that everything will work out well. ( Full disclosure, I have a daughter in the midst of the high school application process- and I find myself thinking about it all the time. So do as I say, not as I do! ) For now, relax and enjoy spending a little extra time with your child. Once you know what your choices are, then arrange to take one more look.

It is not unusual to get acceptances to more than one school, so you may find yourself in the happy position of having to choose. From the time the acceptances are mailed until you need to respond is called ''quiet week'' because the schools are not supposed to reach out to you to try and sway your decision. However, you can and should reach out to them, and you should find that they are happy to answer any lingering questions you might have. You might even be able to arrange a time to have one more visit to the school.

Then, I would encourage you listen to your gut. When you close your eyes and picture your child in that school, or with that kindergarten teacher, how do you feel? Comfortable? Safe? Excited? Happy? Anxious? Nervous? Stressed? You know your child better than anyone, and (s)he is most likely to thrive in an environment that has the right mix of nurturing and challenge, stimulation and safety. What is the right mix? The answer varies with every child- and that's where listening to your gut will serve you well. Don't focus on the literature, watch the teachers interacting with the kids. Pay attention to how the Head of School interacts with parents and teachers. I'm sure you will make a great choice. Happy at The Berkeley School


Which private school?

August 2005


Hi, We are going to start the private school process in September. Our daughter is very smart in a science, math sort of way but socially is very shy and observes rather than joins. She tends to have one or 2 friends but for the most part enjoys being on her own doing things like reading etc... We have heard about all the schools but would love parents opinions. I do believe she needs some structure and fairly strong academics but I don't want a child in 4th grade with 3 hours of homework , but also don't want her to be bored. Please advise if you know anything and share your thoughts. Another alternative is just moving to Piedmont.

I have a daughter who's entering 2nd grade at Park Day ... read this review ...

Why not consider Redwood Day School? read this review ...

Our daughter is going into 2nd grade at Park Day and pretty much fits the description of your soon-to-be kindergartner. read this review ...

As a parent who has had a child in Bentley and in Piedmont (and examined several of the other alternatives you mention), I would emphatically recommend against Piedmont for a gifted child ... (see Moving to Piedmont for the schools and Bentley School

Dear School-Searcher: My advice to you is to visit the schools especially when class is in session. See if you like the energy level and interaction of the classroom. Also look into schools which may not be on your short list. We ended up at a school we didn't even know existed (at the beginning of the process). You'll have a gut-feel about it and you will make a good decision. tli


How to decide on a school

October 2002


I have looked at the archives about these three privarte schools but the posts are from 97-99. We are considering these three schools for Kindergarten for 2003. Their websites are vague about tuition costs, scholorship availability, interview process, etc. Most of all we just want to know what worked for you in the decision making process (visiting the school, interviewing the teachers,??) and how you are enjoying your decision. Thanks much for your time. Nilou

Actually, you can find quite detailed information about the Windrush application process on their website. Just click on ''Admissions'' at the top, and then you'll see a sidebar that has lots of links to information about the application process and other FAQs. You won't find information about tuition or scholarships on websites because they usually don't know what the tuition will be until it's decided in the spring. However, Windrush lower (elementary) school tuition is currently around $10,000 and Prospect-Sierra is $12,500. You can expect increases of from 4 to 10% from year to year. To find out more about scholarship availability, you just have to call the admissions office.

As for advice on the decision-making process, you might find helpful two articles that I wrote for the Neighborhood Parents Network, which have been reproduced on their website. One is called ''Sorting Through the Choices'' and the other is called ''Raise Your Hand: Questions to Ask''. You'll find them both at this site:

I have friends at a dozen different schools, public and private, and everyone has things they love about their school and things they don't. We ended up at Windrush, which felt like the right fit for our family in terms of its educational philosophy, but also because we instantly felt at home there. We liked the teachers, administration and community members, loved the campus, liked the smaller class size, werer impressed by the afterschool program, and liked the relationship between the middle and lower school kids. But we probably would have been happy at Prospect- Sierra, Park Day, Head Royce, Redwood Day, Black Pine Circle, Cragmont or Oxford. There are so many choices. But we chose Windrush, which turned out to be the right place for us (so far)!

Good luck on figuring out what feels right for your family. Natasha B.

Feb 2009

Re gathering info about schools: For private schools, write or call the admissions office. Beginning in the fall, there are two types of programs - "tours" and "open houses." The open houses are large meetings for all parents who might be interested in the school. There's a presentation, some opportunity for questions. It's held at the school. "Tours" are daytime tours of the school, while kids are in class. You go with small groups of other parents. You can ask lots of questions and pick up any literature you don't already have, plus the application packet. You see the premises, the teachers, and the kids in action. After a while, I skipped all the open houses and saved a lot of time. I learned all I needed at tours. I also checked out a few schools I knew I wouldn't commute to, just because they were reputedly "good" or had a certain philosophy and I wanted to have a basis for comparison. Most schools also have lists of parents you can call. One piece of advice: when looking for kindergarten, think of the type of school best for YOUR child, and think of the years beyond K. How far does the school go gradewise, will this be a good third-grade place for your child, etc. Linda