Find the best K-12 education for your kid's future at one of the city's top independent institutions — from Harvard-Westlake to Laurence School — with Hollywood ties.
As private-school students are settling into the start of their academic year, showbiz parents all over Los Angeles are breathing sighs of relief. But don't rest easy for too long, says top education consultant Fay Van der Kar-Levinson. "You need to apply this fall for next fall," she says — especially if your kid is making the leap from elementary to middle or upper school, or middle to high school, both scenarios requiring Independent School Entrance Exams (ISEE) that involve signing up for testing spots that can fill up quickly. Levinson adds that completing applications in a timely fashion (they're available online now) "demonstrates your enthusiasm for that school, as well as your ability to get things done."
Good advice from one of 11 L.A.-serving education and private-schools experts with whom Hollywood consults every school year — and that make up the expert panel for THR's second annual school guide. Following the strong response to last year's survey, this year's independent-schools feature breaks down the specific factors that draw entertainment-industry families. Whether a studio executive is looking to place a child at an Ivy League feeder or a showrunner is looking for programs that obsess over what educators call the "whole child," L.A.'s independent academic offerings can fill the need. As education consultant Danny Ruderman succinctly puts it: "Each school has some serious strengths, but one size does not fit all."
Nominations stemming from conversations with our expert panel as well as scores of private-school parents from all facets of the industry resulted in the schools selected for this year's guide.
TO UP YOUR KIDS' IVY LEAGUE ODDS
TOP HONORS: Harvard-Westlake School and Polytechnic School
The numbers at both schools speak for themselves. At Harvard-Westlake (grades seven to 12; $38,400 — all figures throughout are for annual tuition), with campuses in Studio City and Holmby Hills, 49 students in the 283-person class of 2017 went to an Ivy League school or Stanford University. "If you can walk out with those school stripes, it opens lots of doors and trains you well for working hard your whole life," says HWS supporter and ICM partner Joanne Wiles of this prep school that counts Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Segel and Disney exec Ben Sherwood as alumni. Meanwhile, Pasadena's Polytechnic (grades K to 12; $28,700 to $37,500) — alma mater to Julia Child, Drew Pinsky and writer-producer Mike White — sent 17 percent of its college-bound graduates between 2014 and 2018 to those elite schools.
"The success of Polytechnic's commitment to holistic learning is evident in its college-placement track record," says Dr. Kat Cohen, founder of educational consulting firm IvyWise. Yet there is also the theory that going to a top feeder could hurt your child's chances of getting into an Ivy. "A lot of people will choose [one of these schools] thinking, 'This is going to get me in,' and it can actually work against them," says Levinson. "A Stanford or a Yale is only going to take so many students" from one school.
RUNNER-UP: Marlborough School
"I went to an all-girls school, so I know the benefits a single-sex education can bring, particularly for girls," says Dana Walden, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group, citing the "extraordinary" reputation of this grade seven-to-12 school in Hancock Park ($41,150). Nineteen of the 89 students in 2018's graduating class (21 percent) will attend an Ivy or Stanford. Actress Anne Archer, I Feel Pretty writer Abby Kohn, MSNBC's Alex Witt and The Big Sick star Zoe Kazan are alumnae of the 530-student institution that's the oldest independent girl's school in Southern California.
"With high- achieving girls choosing Marlborough, it's imbalancing some of the coeds," says Levinson, noting that many students get accepted to Marlborough and Harvard-Westlake. "For some girls, it's a tough choice." Beyond traditional offerings, Marlborough preps its graduates, including this year's Ivy League cohort, through an emphasis on life skills (e.g., how to work with a team, speak in public, use social media for personal branding and advocacy) and a standout Honors Research Program, which has experts in lab sciences, humanities and social sciences mentor students. Says Walden: "I have no doubt that our first female president will be a product of a girls' school like Marlborough. You feel like when your daughter finishes her time there, the possibilities are limitless."
RUNNER-UP: Brentwood School
Considered the go-to for the Westside's power brokers — Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver's offspring went here, as did Rick Caruso's; Jon Landau and Casey Wasserman are also alumni — the K-to-12 school with two campuses serving 1,020 students in Brentwood regularly adds to the Ivy ranks ($35,480 to $42,390). Out of 2018's 115-person class, 28 admission offers went out, with 19 students going on to attend.
"I was always impressed," says Priya Nambiar, a consultant who works with producers and directors, of her time as associate dean of admissions at Brentwood. "These students were in a rigorous academic program, but also had support in and out of school." Trustees include Calista Flockhart Ford and former 21st Century Fox exec and Mapleton Investments president David Nathanson. This fall sees the launch of the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership, with "new programming, including an entrepreneurial competition and hackathon," says head of school Mike Riera.
Plans are underway to debut a state-of-the-art Middle School building in 2019 with a 375-seat theater, full-service cafeteria and resource library, which will increase openings for new students in sixth grade.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Archer School for Girls
TO BRING OUT THE INNOVATOR IN YOUR KID
TOP HONORS: Wildwood School
With two architectural award-winning West L.A. campuses, this 750-student K- to-12 school ($34,950 to $39,950) cultivates students with a curiosity for learning, says producer Nina Jacobson, who sits on the board of trustees alongside Stranger Things exec producer Shawn Levy. "They're not just following a program, but creating their own mold," adds Jacobson.
Internships are an integral part of junior and senior years, while upper-school students involved in the two academic institutes focusing on STEM research and social good collaborate with "internationally renowned environmental, scientific, human rights and community organizations to solve real-world problems," says head of school Landis Green. "Progressive schools [like Wildwood] foster thinking out of the box with multiple perspectives," says consultant Nambiar. "They are helping to create future thinking in the world." Alumni include Amandla Stenberg, Rob Reiner's offspring, and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore's kids.
RUNNER-UP: Oakwood School
Alma mater to Chris Pine, Wonderstruck director Todd Haynes, Lily-Rose Depp, Danny DeVito's brood and HBO's Animals composer Julian Wass, this K-to-12 school ($34,360 to $40,290) with an elementary campus in Studio City and a secondary campus in North Hollywood features an in-depth two-week program in which students "grapple with real-world challenges … to become independent and moral thinkers," says headmaster James Astman. ("My son took a class that was all about roller coasters, from physics to engineering and how to come up with an idea," says a showbiz parent.) Oakwood also provides secondary students the opportunity to travel, plus state-of-the art athletic centers and a 1,400-square-foot S.T.E.A.M. lab with one-to-one 3D printers.
"I have not seen any program as focused on enabling kids to speak up and connect socially," says divorce attorney and board member Laura Wasser. Adds Grace and Frankie exec producer and former Oakwood parent Robbie Tollin, "There are many examples of how the school develops independent thinkers," from "allowing the kids to be 'inventive spellers' in kindergarten," to a regular "meeting that is at once a forum, performance, exhibition and information session." Thirty-four percent of grades K to sixth and 40 percent of grades seven to 12 in the 790-member student body report as diverse.
RUNNER-UP: New Roads School
Founded in 1995, this K-12 institution in Santa Monica counts such trailblazers as Lyft co-founder Logan Green and Amanda Gorman, the first U.S. youth poet laureate, among its graduates ($31,685 to $39,186). More than 500 students call this Santa Monica campus home, with state-of-the-art Ann and Jerry Moss Theater acoustics designed by Walt Disney Concert Hall's Yasuhisa Toyota. "New Roads is unlike other private schools in L.A.," says Steve Dolcemaschio (formerly the COO at UCP and Wilshire Studios), citing innovative programs like his startup business class.
The school boasts a world competitive robotics team and launched a Back in the Day initiative to help students develop a healthy relationship with smartphones and tech. "We are asking how we can better free students' time for other activities to promote a foundation for physical, social and emotional well-being," says head of school Luthern Williams.
HONORABLE MENTION: The Episcopal School of Los Angeles
FOR AN ALL-AROUND WELL-BALANCED CHILD
TOP HONORS: Laurence School
"It's very wholesome around here. We're really focusing on the individual child," says head of school Laurie Wolke of the Valley Glen school, which attracts 300 students from across the city thanks to its five bus lines that extend from Santa Monica to Los Feliz (K to 6th; $28,970). "The beautiful part about a small school is we know [our students] so well and they feel like this is their home." Public speaking is part of the program because "personal presentation skills are a big part of leadership," adds Wolke, who also started the Making a Difference Recognition program, which brings the school together every Friday to celebrate birthdays, holidays and ways in which students are helping others. All programs, from coding to Spanish to performing arts, start in kindergarten.
"They are very grounded in a traditional academic upbringing, but there's so much looking forward," says school supporter Julie Bowen. "Everybody is focused on kids having a really great K through sixth. It's a unique parent base: It doesn't matter who you are, you're all focused on the children." Another school supporter, Busy Philipps, says that parents "love the whole-child approach, the emphasis put on service in your community and giving back, and the global garden. It's a fantastic school and takes every kid into consideration — recognizes them as individuals with their own needs and strengths and ways of learning." Adds Nathan Kahane, president of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group: "They're doing computer programming and the arts. They're encouraging all students to participate in sports. But it's their dedication to community service that really makes it stand out. They take kids to the local food pantry to distribute; so it's really hands-on. It's unique."
RUNNER-UP: Sierra Canyon School
"Students here are taught that academic and extracurricular success fuel one another, and are encouraged to try new athletics — we have a no-cut athletic policy — and all students take an arts curriculum that includes everything from visual arts to film studies," says head of school Jim Skrumbis, who oversees this Pre-K-to-12 school, with more than 1,000 students on two adjacent campuses in Chatsworth ($27,550 to $36,250). Says actor Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie Foxx), who attended the school: "From middle school through high school, we were encouraged to seek out hobbies or studies that interested us personally."
Former students include Kendall Jenner and the world's youngest self-made billionaire, Kylie Jenner, founding board member Will Smith's offspring Trey and Willow, and 2018 No. 2 NBA draft pick Marvin Bagley III. Grindstone Entertainment Group president and CEO Barry Brooker is a board member. "Because they are strong athletically, that brings parents, kids and the community together," says Paramount Players exec and outgoing board chair Brian Robbins, who, as the father of two mixed-race graduates, was "blown away by the diversity." Forty-eight percent of students identify as students of color, and families come from 90 ZIP codes.
RUNNER-UP: Campbell Hall
"We always make sure first and foremost that our students are seen as a decent human being," says the Rev. Canon Julian P. Bull, headmaster of the K-12 Episcopal school in Studio City celebrating its 75th year ($34,770 to $40,210). "The Episcopal heritage means it's as important that our graduates are good kids as well as smart and talented," he adds, noting the school's religious diversity. Grades seven-12 have an innovative schedule of four classes a day (allowing more time, 75 minutes, to engage in each class) and a late start on Wednesdays (9:30 am) to help reduce stress for teens, while the newly expanded human development department oversees a curriculum that teaches health and wellness as well as media education and mindfulness.
Says Tom Grane, parent, board member and CEO of production company Mob Scene: "It's academics, coupled with strong sports and arts. This is a community that welcomes a wide range of kids." In 2018, the school will replace half of its 25 Advanced Placement courses with advanced inquiry classes, designed to cover similar subjects but engage students on a more qualitative level. "They are deep, rather than broad, to allow time for discussion and digging in," says Bull.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Brentwood; Curtis School; Harvard-Westlake; John Thomas Dye School; St. James Episcopal School; Windward School
TO CULTIVATE A CREATIVE FREE SPIRIT
TOP HONORS: Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences
"This school is top of the charts for kids who want to direct and act," says Beyond the Brochure author and education expert Christina Simon of this K-12 creative magnet ($34,855 to $41,063), which counts as alumni Jonah Hill, Maya Rudolph, Gwyneth Paltrow, Atlanta director Hiro Murai, TCL Chinese Theatres president-COO Alwyn Hight Kushner and producer Amy Pascal. Says graduate Michael Bay's mother, school consultant Harriett Bay: "Michael was introduced to serious photography at Crossroads and this clearly set him on a path for filmmaking. Crossroads gave him the ability to express himself totally."
Serving 1,172 students (with almost half identifying as students of color), two Santa Monica campuses feature a competition-size swimming pool; the Sam Francis Gallery, which displays works from students and nationally recognized artists; and the beloved Alley outdoor space, where students socialize and collaborate on projects. Signs dot the halls that ask, "What would you take the knee for?" as Crossroads unveils its Equity & Justice Institute this September "to find meaningful solutions to the challenges our students will inherit," says head of school Bob Riddle.
RUNNER-UP: UCLA Lab School
Alumni of this pre-K-to-sixth-grade laboratory school — part of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies — include Leonardo DiCaprio, producer Nicole Brown, rapper Earl Sweatshirt, and the offspring of both Casey Wasserman and Alejandro G. Inarritu. The institution emphasizes an inquiry-based process with an interdisciplinary approach through art, drama, engineering, music and more ($14,700 to $22,050). "It's a magical place," says advisory board member Heidi Fugeman Lindelof (wife of TV producer Damon Lindelof), referring to the 5-acre campus on the UCLA grounds — home to 449 students, a redwood forest, creek and buildings designed by Richard Neutra, Marmol Radziner and Robert Alexander.
"Teachers are learning cutting-edge best practices in education and applying them in the classroom," says consultant Simon of the curriculum, which features instruction in English and Spanish. "You have to have faith in a system that is teaching your child to go deep, as opposed to memorizing and regurgitating for a test," adds Heidi Lindelof, who applauds the school's high level of family involvement. (Last year, 100 percent of parents participated in gifts and pledges for the first time.) Georgia Ann Lazo, a former director of instruction for LAUSD, is the new principal, appointed in July.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Hollywood Schoolhouse; Oakwood; Tree Academy; Wildwood
TO LEARN AMONG THE MOST POWERFUL AND CONNECTED
TOP HONORS: The Center for Early Education
"I cried like I won a billion dollars," says ICM's Joanne Wiles of her daughter landing a coveted wait-list spot at this Hollywood haven (toddler through grade six; $21,540 to $32,910), famously attended by Beyonce and Jay-Z's daughter Blue Ivy (Mom performed at 2016's annual fundraiser; Andy Cohen hosted this year's gala), and alma mater to Jonah Hill and Jenni Konner. With a commitment to building a diverse and inclusive community (53 percent of the 540 students identify as people of color), this top-notch primary school — which counts Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and Viveca Paulin Ferrell, wife of Will Ferrell, as board members — prides itself on a developmental curriculum that encourages play and becomes more challenging over time. But a bold-face name won't necessarily get you in.
"The world who buys People magazine thinks, 'Oh you're famous, you're going to the Center,'" says consultant Brown Braun. "But it's about which children and families fit." Featuring an urban campus in the heart of West Hollywood, the school unveiled a building housing classrooms and a gymnasium in January; more campus enhancements are to come in 2020.
RUNNER-UP: John Thomas Dye School
The plum Bel-Air location alone makes this school (K to sixth grade; $31,185) an obvious choice for industry families on the Westside — and its reputation for being a feeder to Brentwood, Marlborough and Harvard-Westlake — which accepted 119 students from the class of 2017 — doesn't hurt, either. Paltrow and Chris Martin's kids went here, as did Paul Thomas Anderson and Monica Lewinsky. "If you belong to the right country club, it can definitely help your application," says expert Simon of this institution at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains that prides itself on academic excellence, character development and a history dating back to its founding in 1929.
School supporter and actress Aonika Laurent Thomas praises the emphasis on community: "Every three months, the kids are doing something for charity." Adds Superior Donuts co-executive producer Chuck Tatham, whose sons both attended, "The faculty is exceptional and the family atmosphere is unlike anything in any other L.A. elementary school."
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Brentwood; Carlthorp School; Crossroads; Sierra Canyon
PANEL OF SCHOOL EXPERTS
By Lindsay Weinberg
Practically every entertainment industry parent in Los Angeles who has ever experienced anxiety over what to wear to a private-school open house has received advice from these 11 top educational consultants, who worked with THR for this second annual list. Their insights are more valuable than the $1 million-a-week script doctor.
Educational consultant Bay has been in practice for more than 30 years and was a teacher in the L.A. area. She graduated from UCLA and got a master's from California State University, Northridge, in educational psychology.
Brown Braun, founder of Parenting Pathways Inc., is a child development and behavior specialist, school consultant and director/founder of school programs. She's taught in public and private schools, and written two best-sellers, including Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents.
Cohen is the founder of IvyWise, a consulting company staffed by former college deans and directors of admission. She received two master's degrees and a Ph.D. from Yale University, and got her start reading applications in Yale's admissions office. She's the best-selling author of The Truth About Getting In.
Eiges, founder of admissions consulting company L.A. School Scout, holds a master's degree in social work and helps families with school placement. She has created multicultural curricula for Save the Children and developed charter schools.
Fraley founded the Kinder Ready and Elementary Wise programs in 2016. Previously an early elementary school teacher, she works with children ages 3 to 12 on private-school admission and assessment; parent clients include James Corden, Adam Sandler and Tom Arnold.
Kunin taught at a private school before founding Team Tutors, whose educational therapists and behavior specialists provide at-home academic support, in 2000. She has a master's in education and also consults about school placement.
Nambiar spent 10 years in private school admissions at Brentwood and Viewpoint schools in L.A. She earned her master's in education from Harvard University and founded Nambiar Advising.
College admissions counselor Ruderman works with Brian Grazer, Kevin Huvane, Steven Levitan and Snapchat's Evan Spiegel. A Stanford University alum, he is the author of The Ultimate College Acceptance System.
Simon is the co-author of Beyond the Brochure: An Insider's Guide to Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles. She lectures on private-school admissions throughout L.A.
FAY VAN DER KAR-LEVINSON
The psychologist co-authored Choosing the Right School for Your Child. She lectures for public and private schools, serving as an adjunct professor at her alma mater, UCLA, and Pepperdine University.
The author of The Whitney Guide on L.A. schools (new editions in August) lectures and serves as a school consultant, providing entrance help and a school-readiness course for children ages 4 to 14.
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.