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Why I Chose Private Elementary School Instead Of L.A. Public School

This is a guest post, first published in 2011.

Since I’m the co-author of a book for parents applying to private schools in L.A., and I blog about the same topic, it’s natural for parents to be curious as to why I chose private school for my kids. I’m a graduate of LAUSD public schools. Both my parents were LAUSD teachers and I’ve never attended private school. So why didn’t I continue with our strong family tradition of public school education and advocacy for public schools with my two kids?

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When it came time to look for kindergarten for my daughter, I kept an open mind. We lived in a Los Angeles neighborhood with a top public elementary school three blocks from our house. This school has very high student test scores and seemed like a real possibility for my daughter. Our preschool director spoke highly of the school and parents I knew who lived outside the district were vying for permits to send their kids there. Still, I had some reservations based on my own public school experience that include bullying and overcrowding.

Another mom at our preschool and I set up an appointment to meet with the principal and tour the school. The day of our appointment we arrived on time just to learn that the principal was “unavailable.” So, we waited, politely sitting in the front waiting area. Finally, after about 20 minutes the receptionist told us the principal wouldn’t be able to meet with us. We asked if a teacher could show us the school. A very nice kindergarten teacher gave us a quick tour and told us the principal was now available to see us in her office. We sat down and introduced ourselves. The principal seemed uninterested in us and bored with the conversation. We asked about class size, hot lunch and homework. Waving her hands and practically shouting us down, the principal didn’t answer our questions. Instead, she aimed a pointed question at me, “is your daughter smart?” she demanded to know. She didn’t ask the other mom the same question. My response was, “I live in your district.” In other words, you have to enroll my kid, whether or not she’s smart. I refused to answer her question. I found it offensive. We asked to see a 1st grade class. The principal said no. As we were leaving, the kindergarten teacher told us, “just be quiet, I’ll show you the 1st grade class.” We peeked into the 1st grade class and I instantly knew why the principal didn’t want us to see it. It was a Korean-language immersion class. None of the kids in the class spoke English in a school that is predominately Korean and Korean-American. The principal was also Korean. Could she have been subtly trying to discourage me from enrolling my daughter in the school?


A few months later, I went back to the public school again during a school community fair. I tried to like it, but with nearly 1000 elementary students, I felt my shy daughter might be lost in the crowd. And, I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with the principal’s abrasive personality. The mom from our preschool who toured with me decided to enroll her child. Her perception of the school was vastly different than mine. Then again, the principal never asked if her white daughter was “smart.” That question was reserved for me, the African American mom.

Despite living in a “good” public school district, my husband and I decided private school would be the best option for our kids. And so began the hellish, ultra-competitive process to get our daughter into a top private elementary school in L.A.

Ultimately, the decision to send your child to public or private school is a very personal family decision driven by your own educational experience, finances, and geography. I believe I made the right choice for my kids. That said, private schools aren’t perfect. They have their share of bullies and elitism. Authentic diversity is difficult to find in many of LA’s private schools. These aren’t your neighborhood schools, so driving time can be tedious. But, what our school offers my kids is a small community where everyone knows their names. They are inspired by the progressive educational philosophy, taught by excellent teachers, on a wonderful urban campus that sparks creativity and imagination. The technology program is state-of-the-art and is integrated into other aspects of the curriculum.

Ironically, one of my longtime friends is a board member of LAUSD. My husband and I were proud to contribute to her first campaign and her subsequent re-election effort. I commend her for working incredibly hard on behalf of the kids in LAUSD. She respects my work helping parents navigate the competitive private elementary school admissions process. We each know that as moms our only goal is to find the best education possible for our kids, whether that is at public or private school.

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Wendy Ayala

Sunday 5th of August 2018

Upon reading this blog I knew that she might have chosen a school in Culver City . My son was in the preschool program in a public school within the Culver City unified school district but got terminated from the program because I no longer qualified. BUT in other words what she is saying is that she advocates for public schools but would never personally put HER kids in public schools within lausd! People your best bet with LAUsD is their magnet schools with really good programs if you can’t afford private schools.


Monday 28th of November 2011

Great post, Christina. You really touched on so many of the issues my husband and I are thinking about before our daughter starts kindergarten next year.

Carpool Goddess

Tuesday 22nd of November 2011

I went to public school as a child and always thought my kids would too. But the schools in our neighborhood were struggling as well, so we decided to put them in private school. The academics were great, but their friends were scattered from one end of the city to the other making it tough to have playdates.


Monday 21st of November 2011

Thanks for sharing this! As a public-school graduate myself asking many of the same questions, it's great to 'see' the thought process of a fellow parent going through these kinds of tough decisions.


Monday 21st of November 2011

I think Christina captures the struggle many of us face re: whether to send our children to public or private school. Since my children have attended both public and private schools, I can honestly say that private school has been a better fit for both of my children for a variety of reasons. While they are both very different, private school has stimulated them and challenged them in ways that public school did not. But sending kids to private school is a difficult choice both socially, financially and geographically. Many of my closest friends send their children to the public school down the street from me and often I find myself defending my choices and justifying my decisions. However, my children have had amazing experiences at their private school and have developed a love of learning that was definitely absent when they were in public school. Their educational instruction is also individualized for them as they both learn in different ways, something that was missing in public school. But finding the right school - whether public or private - takes a lot of research, time, visits and tours. We visited many public schools as well as private schools to find the right fit and were actually surprised at some of the schools we liked or didn't like. None of the schools are perfect. But both you and your child will be part of this community for many years, so it is important that both the parents and the kids feel comfortable with the values, philosophy and approach of the school so you can decide if it is right for you.

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