When hopeful parents began contacting Ad Astra vice principal Dan Lakis in droves after the launch of Tesla co-founder Elon Musk’s by-invitation-only school in 2014, Lakis removed his LinkedIn. (It’s now back up again.) With Ad Astra (the name means “to the stars”), there’s no website, phone number, application or tour, but, surmise school experts, there are confidentiality agreements.
“This is by far the most secretive private school,” says Christina Simon, co-author of Beyond the Brochure: An Insider’s Guide to Private Elementary Schools in Los Angeles, of the institution that initially was composed of Musk’s five sons and, as of September 2015, some 15 other children; the head of school, Joshua Dahn, was poached from Mirman School for Highly Gifted Children. The site has moved from SpaceX in Hawthorne to Bel Air and back again. While the school is touted as a perk during SpaceX interviews, Simon knows employees whose kids were not admitted; the process is rumored to require an IQ test (like Mirman’s). Connections help, says psychologist Fay Van Der Kar-Levinson: A client of hers was discussing admissions with an Ad Astra parent, who responded, ” ‘We’re looking for kids like your son,’ and facilitated the invite,” she reports. About the teaching methods, Musk has said, “All the children go through the same grade at the same time, like an assembly line,” regardless of age. “It makes more sense to cater the education to match aptitudes and abilities.”
One consultant says of a client whose son attends, “They’ve had a very decent experience, and no place is perfect.” When asked about its legitimacy, a head of school who recently visited sniffs: “It depends on what you consider a real school.” Still, Simon keeps hearing, ” ‘I would do anything to have my kid go there’ — and that’s before they’ve seen it.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.