Getting in to a private elementary school

One of the advantageous of a private school is the alignment of values, approach and focus with that of the family’s interest and needs.

This is a two way street

Many prospective parents are surprised to find this go both ways. Quickly dispel the notion that you paying gobs of money means you are a customer. Incorrect. You are paying for part of the expenses for a community you are joining (and ideally, have been long part of). And this means it goes both ways.

Many private schools often don’t have enough openings. Others have certain entrance criteria (this doesn’t mean academic) and will not diverge from that criteria, even if it means leaving seats empty or shutting down. That is what makes them special – the ability to focus on their particular mission.

In short, this means your family must earn and keep a spot in a private school. That means not only selecting a school that is a fit for you but the school selecting you.

Where does your family fit in compared to other applicants?

To do this we will examine existing models constructed from the research at (where else) a private education institution – in this case Harvard University  – where Michael Porter describes the five competitive forces that should be considered in shaping strategy[1]. These forces include rivalry, threat of new entrants, threat of substitutes, bargaining power of buyers and suppliers.

In your own situation what is your value to the school community?  If you were the school would you select your family as compared to others? Why? And why not?

Remember financial aide is often managed through a blind trust so the ‘I can pay the tuition’ might not be a factor. Or it might be. Depends on the school. And for grade schools, academic excellence doesn’t exist. And for college it might be one of those necessary but not sufficient items.

In our own situation we are members of the religious community where our child goes to school so we offer continuity and shared values.

Our differentiation

Additionally, we enrolled during the last large economic downturn when interest in private education waned because of financial challenges for many families. For us the religious framework was more important than the bank account.

What about you?

What about you? Is a new school forming that needs students and aligns with your vision of a school? Or is the school almost entirely families from one part of town/culture/group and you family can introduce much needed diversity in the classroom?

Investigate and understand. We have seen a class with 85% boys in the class turn away more boys because they wanted a higher mix of girls. Your value proposition can be as simple as having a daughter who is interested in the school.

Lay aside your tendency to fighting for what you think is the right school for your child – you might be wrong

You might be thinking that school ‘over there’ would be perfect for your child. And that might be the case but more than likely the school ‘right here’ is the ideal fit and will seem all to familiar. It might even be your local public school.

The point here is to find out instead of blindly applying to what you think is the ideal or best private school. And consider your families relative position in the five forces competitive model.

And finally, do your research

Do your research. I assure you that is it much better to find out your situation is not a match before your child joins the school rather than focusing on getting in no matter what.

[1]“The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy.” Harvard Business Review. August 13, 2008.

Adjusting your Amazon Echo’s Time for daylight savings March 12, 2017

We are fan(atics) for Amazon’s Echo technology. It is a low cost way to replace radios, clocks and ipods with a single device.

However, this morning (March 12th 2017), our Echo dot did not automatically adjust to daylight savings. Alarms went off an hour late and there was a stern set of inquiries asked of Alexa, including the all  important “Alexa, what are the laws of robotics? ”

After much searching for a solution we started  fidgeting  with the thing and found that going to the Alexa application and switching the time zone to Amazon time adjusted the device time to match  the correct Eastern Standard Time. This shouldn’t work (as Amazon Time should be Pacific Time since they are based in Seattle) but it did. Until the bug is fixed on the server side this is a work around for our fellow east coast folks.

To try this on your Amazon Echo dot,follow these steps:

  1. Start the Alexa Application on your tablet or computer
  2. Navigate to the Home->Settings area.
  3. Find the list devices of devices section.
  4. Select the device you want to modify and click on it or tap it.
  5. Find the section under General called Device Time Zone area.
  6. Use the menus to select US  and Eastern Standard Time for the time zone combinations.
  7. Wait 30 seconds
  8. Test it buying  ask the device the time.  Confirm the time is correct and matches the day light savings time.

The America and Eastern Standard Time zone combination is the one that doesn’t work. If that fails for you the American and Amazon zone also gave me the correct time.

Perhaps a bug fix will come out in a few days. Recommendations on better ways to do this are encouraged and welcomed in the comments.

 

When to send your child to private school (now)

As I have mentioned before, public school is wonderful and we need it. However, for some of us, a private school education is a good match for our children.

This leads to the next questions – when should they go?

The answer is simple: now.

Many people wait as long as possible to send their children to private school. The idea is that you save money in the meantime and then make the switch at “right time”. Others wait to see if the child really needs the benefits of such a school. Is this worth the investment? And is the child worth sending?

Marble column pediments . New York City 2005
Marble column pediments . New York City 2005 Wiki Commons

There are three problems with that line of thinking.

The first, is that the private schools have students at all grade levels and you might not be the only one thinking of this approach. There may not be a seat at the table and there is no obligation for the school to make room for your child.

Second, this isn’t how education works. Would you wait until the end of the summer to “catch up” your garden by watering it a bunch at the end after a long hot summer? What kinds of results would you expect? Every child deserves the best education we can provide them, no exceptions.

As a private school attendee from an early age I witnessed many students coming in to help redirect their behaviors and academic approach. And it helped, somewhat, but having seen them grow up and become adults I can assure you it didn’t “fix them”. Some of my friends who fall in this category also have criminal records and a confused identity.

Third, and most important, is the idea that you are being clever to save money. Don’t approach this like a consumer. This isn’t a dishwasher purchase. It is the two way involvement in a community with shared values. It goes both ways. You have a moral obligation to participate, improve and sustain the community. Not just show up at the last possible minute when you are in need for the private school service. Many teachers and administrators dedicate their lives and make huge personal financial sacrifices to educate the children of the community – including yours. Stop treating them like a business. It is insulting to them and reveals you as a consumer and not a contributor.

If you believe in private education as a concept step up and support the community before, during and after your child attends. And if you don’t want to that is fine and there is a great option available for you: public school.

“Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

― AristotleThe Philosophy of Aristotle

The simple life

One advantage of sending your child to private school is that much of your income goes along with them. As a result it limits the other available choices because you have much less discretionary income.

Fretting over a grand tour of Europe? Fret no more! You aren’t going!

This extreme financial constraints limit your choices and the resulting simplification actually leads to longer term happiness. It is known as the paradox of choice.

Have you always wanted to simplify your life? Now you can! And what better way than the assurance of a monthly tuition bill.  To be clear this isn’t about poverty – this is about voluntary simplicity. It is an interesting side effect we have noticed over years of sending the kiddo to a private school.

Read more about it in this outstanding book The Paradox of Choice (you are going to have a lot of time on your hands).

Oh, and for the trip? Easy, you are either staying home or going camping. Pick one.

 

Mountains in Italia
By Marco Bonomo – https://unsplash.com/photos/Sa7787z58VQ/, CC0, Link

A new education secretary

In November of 2016, the incoming administration appointed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary and today she started her nomination hearings. What does her nomination mean for the education system?

Betsy is chair of Amercian Federation for Children, a group advocating for school choice for parents and students through the use of charter schools.

They claim the following:

  • Every 26 seconds a child drops out of a public school in America
  • In many of our nation’s largest cities dropout rates exceed 50%
  • America is lagging behind more than a dozen other nations in math and literacy.[1]

These are astounding numbers.

Old School House Sign - Source: Wiki Commons
Old School House Sign – Source: Wiki Commons

Their proposed solution is to introduce choice via charter schools and her appointment is a clear support of that philosophy in the public education system.

I have no idea if a voucher approach will work but I suspect (acknowledging I am the least qualified person in the world to talk about this) that a sudden switch to a voucher approach will leave areas where no education options are available.

The result would be similar to food deserts. These have occurred in cities with big box grocers understandably focusing on higher income areas. The under served areas are left with few if little options and lose access to fresh produce.

Source: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts
Source: American Nutrition Association 

I hope a new national approach results in improved academic achievement for all students but urge caution.

Slow and careful changes with an exploratory approach  may make sense here. For example, can the power of the internet remove geographic barriers to educational access? How can they assure that there isn’t a generational gap for specialty programs such as special needs programs, programs focused on the arts, STEM and vocational studies while they experiment approaches?

We will watch this closely from the lens that every child deserves to use their time in school to have the opportunity to grow to their full potential and be an active part of the broader community.

[1] http://afcgrowthfund.org/school-choice-facts/

The Granny Smith cash multiplier method

There is a very subtle multiplier effect which is essentially a tax free income booster that can help you pay for a private school tuition. Here is how it works.

In November my wife was looking for a tree to plant on our very (very) small yard as a screen for a nearby street. The tree had to be fairly small given the constraints of said small yard.

She happened upon one that was ascetically pleasing with a maximum height and width of 30 feet by 30 feet. Measured from the location of where we would place it with a yard stick (it’s a small yard) at full size the tree will expand 15 feet each way. Perfect!

Method Tip 1: Avoid having to earn as much income on the purchase by purchasing a lower cost item.

The ten foot tall tree, while ideal in form and habit, was half bereft of leaves with a bit of a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree look going on. The tree was originally $120 but was marked down to $30. A sale!

Enter step one of the multiplier effect. She saved $90 dollars on the original purchase.

US Currency - Source Wiki Commons
US Currency – Source Wiki Commons

That saved amount removed the need to earn that extra $90. Let’s assume a 40% cumulative, federal, state, sales taxes and mystery fees on the income. That extra $90 would have cost $126 in earned income to cover. Whew!

To restate- that is $126 in earnings we didn’t have to make to actually end up with the $90 extra we would have needed for the full price of the tree.

Method Tip 2: When making a purchase, have it solve multiple problems at once.

My mother told me that her grandmother had a purpose for every plant around the farmhouse, in addition to looking nice.

In our case we were looking for a small tree that provides a summer screen from the nearby street but still looks good and drops leaves in the winter for additional sunlight in the colder months. This works for both screening and sound attenuation in the winter as it is quite dense with branches.

What else could it do for us?

In our case the tree selected is a Granny Smith apple tree! It should produce about $20 bucks of

caption2
By No machine-readable author provided. Fievet assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., Public Domain, Link

organic apples every year (ok, more like $50 but I want to be conservative here to make a point).

And we placed it on the west side of the house to shade (and cool the air) going into the AC and near the house.

What about having to pick the extra apples that we won’t eat, giving bags of them to neighbors, family, coworkers and the local food pantry and then still having to pick busted ones off the ground? What a hassle right? Sure, but we have arranged our lives such that we get regular physical activity with this sort of money saving effort all year long. Annual gym memberships were cancelled long ago but we will only count the month of apple picking and leaf raking mayhem here for another $50 saved.

And for the grand finale, our nearby park has crab apple trees. These can be used to cross pollinate Granny Smith apple trees (they self-pollinate but word in the fields is that a nearby pollinator will help with yields). That is a second $30 tree we didn’t have to buy (nor had space for) because we selected a compatible tree for our neighborhood.

Total economic impact

The first year we saved $90 on the tree and $30 on a second tree we didn’t need to purchase. The tree (fairly big already) should produce apples about three years hence and provide the shade to assist with house cooling.

Lets look at the numbers using the Granny Smith multiplier method.

Year 1: $120 saved

Year 3 on: $50 saved on gym membership, $20 on apple costs and $5 on AC costs for an annual savings of $75.

Ten year economic output: $645

And remember this is all tax free after the initial $30 we spent. That is a money tree that offers $60+ annually in savings, builds community as we gift organic apples, screens the street and provides a beautiful tree to look at. Plus it is pretty cool to have an apple tree.

Let’s assume my conservative numbers are *still* too high and it only saves us half that, or $30 a month.

Fine. An investment with a yield will take a hit of 15% on the income so I would need $34.5 in monthly income ($414 annually) to produce that same value.

A typical safe stocks yield 3%. We would need a stock portfolio with a market value of $13,800 to produce that same income. And to purchase that stock we would have had to earn $20,010 in gross income to purchase that investment.

Oh, and the yield on the Granny Smith Apple Tree is $30 a year or 100% of its original purchase price, annually.

We just trounced the stock market and avoided having to earn an additional $20,000. Thanks Granny Smith!

Don’t overdo it

The multi-purpose mindset does have its limits. Spending an extra $10,000 on a fancy pick-em-up-truck because you might need to haul a jumbo pack of toilet paper someday is just a slow way to lose money. Just think about it first and run the numbers is all I am saying.

Get into the multi-purpose mindset. You can do this.

Breaking news – the faucet is fixed!

Breaking news in our house – the 25 year old leaking bathroom faucet has been replaced!

I know, huge!

Why is this breaking news? I am glad you asked!  The news is that we saved money in two places – the $5 on the Amazon Prime movie rental we were going to watch instead of fixing the sink as well as on the labor to install the replacement faucet.

To get this double benefit we followed the instructions (repeatedly) and after extreme highs (it works!) and equally bad lows (nope, the new connections leak) we got stuff disconnected and the new stuff reconnected. There are only three connection points – hot water, cold water and the drain but I assure you for a novice like me it was a slow and laborious process.   Let talk benefits in order to convince you to consider in sourcing  before hiring someone.

First, we changed from passive consumers to active producers (and I use that term loosely). From observers to doers. This mind shift is more important that the actual money saved.

Though we did save a chunk of change. According to HomeWyse.com, this would have normally cost us $331 in labor for an expert. And to earn that we would have had to earn $479 in income to pay for it (not to mention asking someone to work a holiday weekend).

$300 bucks might not seem like a lot but ten of these $300 do-it-yourself gigs adds up to $3000. Combined with other habits this can help out with the tuition bills.

Of course safety is paramount and we double and triple checked to make sure the circuit breaker was off and that the dishwasher was off before we did anything else. Start small with something simple that you are comfortable with but would normally hire out to someone else.

Black Friday! Act now! Don’t miss the holidays!

 

Today is Black Friday. One can save thousands by acting fast!  One day sales only! Act now! Quick! Save hundreds by spending thousands. Sure, your cash balance

caption2
By Powhusku from Laramie, WY, USA – Black Friday, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

will drop and credit card balance will rise but hey, look at all the new fancy stuff you didn’t even know you needed!

Resist.

Slow down.

Get out of line. Empty your online cart.

That stuff will still be there next week. And the week after that. And without time pressure you can buy fewer items and spend less money overall.

How about this instead? Consider just 4 items for each child for the holidays.

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

Give them the benefits of a frugal Christmas. This in turn may allow for higher quality items to be purchased while creating less waste.

Expect complaints. And comparisons to what other kids received. Be ok with that. Instead, you are giving your kids a great education and the tools, later in life, to buy stacks of material goods if they so choose.

 

The Informed Electorate

On Tuesday November 8th, Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States by winning the required electoral college votes with a separation of only 112,000 votes.

It was a contentious election cycle with harsh words and harsher accusations flung by all parties.

Despite which side you were in favor of it is clear that the election was close, complex and nuanced.

Thomas Jefferson once said that “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.

An educated citizen starts with the education of children where a diversity of thought and training only enriches the discourse. Your job, with the help of others, to educate your children.

If you are considering, or already sending, your children to private school – great job! On paying for private school we discuss motivations, financial approaches and the down sides of electing to send your child to a private school.

By Ali Zifan, via Wikimedia Commons