Seattle School Tour Season

I just participated on a panel for a group of parents at a local private elementary school looking to learn more about public and independent middle school options for their children.  One parent asked me how many schools had I toured and I was stumped!  The number that came to me was around 40, but to be honest, I had never counted.  So, when I got home, I dug through paper files, computer files, school brochures and my calendar to find an accurate answer – drum roll, please – over the past 3 years, I have toured 53 Seattle area schools including preschools, daycare, public and private elementary, middle and high schools. 

One school is in a Seattle park and teaches all classes outside, so I toured that one in my rainboots and parka, three other schools have pet chickens and two other schools have on-site therapy dogs and many other schools have professional rehearsal spaces, 3D printers within their Maker Space and others have classes in portable building to accommodate construction and growth. We are very fortunate in this area to have such a broad range of schools with something for every student and family.  I will keep on touring over the next few months and plan to revisit some schools to learn about their program changes and tour a few programs for the first time. 

I attend either Educator Tours (attended by school administrators, teachers and education consultants) or I join on the public tour along with interested families.  This year I have toured:  *Eastside Prep, The Downtown School by Lakeside that will welcome their first class Fall 2018, Seattle Waldorf High School, Westside School and Explorer West both in West Seattle, *The Overlake High School program, Lake Washington Girls School, The Valley School, University Co-op School, *LEAD Prep and The International Friends School (opens Fall 2018).

I will also be attending events at many public schools and I am waiting for confirmation for their family nights.  These nights usually take place in the late January – mid-March and are designed for families that currently live in the school district and want to learn more about their child’s next step school – ie: going from elementary to middle school to high school. 

Now that I looked up my school tour number, I will be better prepared to answer that question and it won’t be long before I can say I have toured close to 70 different Seattle area schools! I look forward to seeing new programs and revisiting programs to see what has changed, stayed the same and touch base with the teachers and administrators. 


The ISEE and the SSAT - Independent School Admission Tests

Back to school just got checked off the list and now it is time for families interested in exploring private/independent school for the 2018-19 school year to start thinking ahead to next school year.

The Fall is the time of year all the Seattle area independent (private) schools host their open houses for prospective families for the 2018-19 school year. 

Independent school review tends to occur for the main entry years (the year the school starts with a new class) which are: Pre-K, Kindergarten, 5th, 6th, and 9th grade.  Applications are accepted for all grades, but the open house and classroom visits tend to focus on the entry years.  

Independent school application deadlines vary by school, but most preliminary applications are due by late fall with completed applications including essays and testing submitted by early January.  Decisions are made in late February to early March and waitlists are kept until the new school year. 

Exceptions may be made for families just moving to area and I remain in contact with admission directors all year.  Some schools “save” a spot for a qualified new to the Seattle area family vs going to their waitlist over the summer months. 

One part of the application process is admission testing and the Seattle area schools require students to sit for one of the two nationally recognized tests for students in grade 2 and higher:  Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT). Seattle area independent schools seem to be split 50/50 with schools preferring the SSAT and others affiliated with the ISEE.  Some of the schools are flexible and will accept either test, but you must get approval from the admissions director to submit the non-preferred test.  Both tests have testing dates across almost all 50 states and you do not have to sit for the test in the same state as your application school (s).

The ISEE and SSAT share several similarities, but they are different tests and have different grading systems. Both tests are roughly the same length and feature five comparable sections in verbal skills, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, math achievement and writing. Each verbal section contains out-of-context vocabulary questions; the other half of the ISEE is in-context vocabulary, while the SSAT instead tests analogies.

The SSAT is known for utilizing unconventional word problems, analogies, and various types of passages from nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. The ISEE is viewed as the straighter forward test, focusing more on the depth of its content (especially in mathematics) than on the creative presentation of its questions and tends to stick to more contemporary language. 

Another big difference, and one that is very important for your child to understand, is the ISEE has no penalty for an incorrect answer. The SSAT assesses a ¼ point penalty for an incorrect answer verses receiving no penalty for a skipped question. 

The SSAT and the ISEE also include a non-graded essay section.  The completed essay is provided to the school for evaluation and, at times, comparison to the student’s application essays.  The purpose of the essay allows schools to see the quality of writing in a timed format and without parent/tutor editing that may occur in the student’s application essays.    

Both tests have three levels depending on the age of the student with an elementary, middle and upper division test.  SSAT scores range from 470-770 for middle school and 500-800 for the high school level exam.  It is my understanding the SSAT Board provides subscribing schools with an applicant student’s rank vs the past 3 years of applicants’ scores.  The ISEE scores use a percentage and a stanine score of 1-9.  For both tests, you will also be provided a percentile based on your child’s score and it is important to keep in mind, this percentage only represents students who take the test – not the entire student population.

The score is one metric to measure a student, but it is also a metric that can improve with additional study and practice.  Online practice tests are available for both the ISEE and the SSAT and there are many private tutors and tutoring centers to assist with test preparation

My client families have found that some tutoring paid off when tackling new subjects in math by providing familiarity with the concepts and easing the anxiety of sitting for a standardized test.

Both tests may be taken numerous times and you do not have to submit the score for each sitting.  SSAT testing is available monthly during admission season and the ISEE may only be taken 1 x during each test period – one time in Fall (Aug-Nov), Winter (Dec-March) and Spring/Summer (April-July) with the parent deciding which score to submit with the application. 

Accommodations are offered for learning differences and must be requested in advance.  Accommodations include additional time, use of a keyboard vs hand writing for the essay piece and use of a calculator for the math portions of the exam.

Schools are looking to build a community and a cohesive class.  The application will include student essays, interest surveys, current and former teacher recommendations and several values based questions to be answered by the parents.  It is important to remember; this test is only a part of the admissions process.

If you have questions about Seattle area independent schools, please reach out and I would be happy to speak with you about the broad range of independent schools available in our area and review the application process in more detail. 


Housing in Seattle - Seattle Times Price Map

The Seattle Times just published another article about housing costs in the Seattle market.

I have attached the link and especially found the interactive pricing map informative. With the average home price in Seattle and the suburbs continuing to grow at a record pace, this article points out neighborhood by neighborhood where the AVERAGE price of a home or in some neighborhoods a building lot is $1 million dollars and more.

Seattle housing is in the news a lot lately due to having one of the highest increases in housing costs in the country with record yearly growth and limited inventory. In certain areas, a  large number of homes are also sold to foreign investors placing all cash offers to purchase.  Currently, 40% of all homes in the Seattle area are listed for $1 million dollars or more.  The median time a home is on the market is 7 day with 62% of all listed homes exceeding the asking price.

Housing continues to be the number one concern of my client families especially when pairing with their desired public school district and specific school.  I partner with several realtors to assist their clients with school information to help the family not only find the right fit school, but right fit house within their budget.  Unfortunately, more and more I see families having to give a bit on their desired commute time to meet their school and housing goals.




Summer = Strawberries

Nothing says summer is starting in Seattle as fresh, locally grown strawberries.  These are not your ordinary grocery store strawberries. 

These berries don't even seem to be related to California berries which are bred for size, long truck rides and locked in plastic clamshells containers. The berries of Washington are juicy, fragile, flavor-packed fruit and red all the way through - no white centers.

Eat them now, freeze them, or make jam out of them. The season is short and lasts only two to four weeks.  They are easy to find with many of the larger grocery stores bringing in fresh berries every morning and you see rows ands rows of them at local farmer's markets.

U Pick Farms are also within an easy driving distance from Seattle and make for a great outing with your familyI think every parent is grateful that the farms don't charge you for all the berries your kids eat - as they pick!  It is always a bit sad when the strawberry season is done (usually around July 4th) - but up next will be locally grown raspberries, blackberries and blueberries - making every summer a berry good one :) 




Growing with a Professional Community

I love meeting new families and providing them information to assist with their school choice for their children.  To ensure I stay up-to-date on area schools, I am constantly visiting schools and investigating school programs year round, which includes attending many formal open house events. For example, this past weekend I visited the Seattle Public School systems newest school – Cedar Park Elementary and met with their Enrollment Policy Analyst for the district. I also learn about schools by going to school performances, book fairs, sporting events and by talking to current PTA members.

As much as I have enjoyed owning my own business, one thing I missed  was the opportunity to engage with peers and made it a goal this year to reach out to other school professionals both locally (in Seattle) and also across the U.S.  I am one, big step closer in reaching this goal, as I applied and was accepted to be an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association – an independent, nonprofit, professional association for school consultants.  IECA is a national organization with over 1500 members across nearly all U.S. states and 27 nations. They offer peer support and educational opportunities, including conferences, white papers and webinars.  I just recently watched an IECA sponsored webinar on Student Study Skills.  It was filled with great information and will make its way into its own blog soon.

A second big step will occur later this month when I participate on a panel with several other local Seattle school consultants to discuss education and the family decision process.  I was invited by the Puget Sound Independent Schools to speak at their spring luncheon attended by admission teams from the area’s independent schools. PSIS is an organization that promotes the value of local independent school education, and works collaboratively to make the admission process more accessible for prospective families.  I will speaking with a former colleague from School Choice International, along with several other school consultants with specialties ranging from preschool to high school. 

The right school will provide academic and extracurricular opportunities for your child and also introduce them to new interests, skills and lasting friendships.  Through my new associations, I hope to be exposed to new opportunities, grow and make new friends as well.



Charter Schools 101


I will admit that I do not know a lot about Charter Schools and there are currently only eight charter schools operating across Washington State. With Charter Schools and Vouchers in the news both nationally and locally,  I hope you find this information of value. 

"Most Americans misunderstand charter schools," was the finding of the 2014 PDK/Gallup poll on public attitudes toward education. The survey found broad support for charters, but also revealed that 48 percent of Americans didn't know charter schools were public. Fifty-seven percent thought they charged tuition. And nearly half thought charters were allowed to teach religion.

The term "charter" refers to the decision by states to turn public education into a two-sector system. One is a traditional school district, centrally managed. The other, charter schools, are independent, not owned by a central school board. Both are public, but they're organized in very different ways. A local school district does not tell charters what kind of curriculum to use, what company to contract for supplies and they may hire and fire teachers without a contract. It also leaves the charters and their oversight committee responsible to make sure all student's needs are met including ESL and special services.

There are currently 6.900 charter schools across the U.S. They are publicly-funded, privately-run schools with the first one opening in St. Paul, Minn., in 1992. Today, they enroll about 3.1 million students in 43 states.

Fifteen percent of the nation's 6,900 charters are for-profit.  Depending on the state laws, a charter school can hire a for-profit company to manage its school. In Michigan, 80 percent are for profit, more than any other state.

Funding for Charter Schools - I had a hard time finding information on the funding of Charter Schools.  The funding appears to vary by state -  with a potential mix of local, state and federal dollars. Each state has its own laws and regulations for distributing that money to districts and individual schools. A major concern is that charter schools will take money away from the already underfunded public schools. 

Evaluating Charter Schools - In general, they're evaluated based on test scores, graduation rates, finances — the same as traditional public schools. There is a big inconsistency state-to-state in how well that's done. One of the debates is the need for better oversight of charters. Charter supporters don't want a lot of oversight.. When a charter school is not doing well, the state has to step in with most closures occurring due to financial reasons and poor management.  There are numerous incidents of charter schools closing suddenly and disrupting the student's learning. When this occurs, it requires the public schools to admit an entire school and classrooms of students mid-term.  

Charter Schools and Washington State:

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled last year that charter schools were unconstitutional in our State.  In Aprli 2016, the state’s charter schools were allowed to continue by a legislative bill that Gov. Jay Inslee allowed to become law without requiring his signature. 

Currently, eight charter schools serve 1600 students across the state.  With the opening of three more charter schools planned to open the Fall of 2017 - one in South Seattle, one in West Seattle and one in Walla Walla.   A majority of Washington State charter schools serve students of color with reduced-free breakfast and lunch programs.






KidsQuest Children's Museum - Now Open!

The newly expanded interactive children's museum reopened this week.  The completely new KidsQuest museum is now located in downtown Bellevue by the Bellevue Public Library.  It is geared for infants to age 8 with plenty of exhibits to suit all personalities and interests. I stopped by for a quick tour and wish my teens weren't aged out of all this fun! 

There are many STEM related exhibits plus great art space too.  There is still the very popular and busy play area for kids age 3 and under. Bigger kids can spend a lot of time on the 2 story climbing structure, exploring the outdoor play space appropriately named "Sticks and Stones" and getting wet - as the museum brings some of our Pacific Northwest rain inside with a Water and Splash Zone.

I love the new Bellevue Mercantile themed store and barnyard play space. Set in the year 1915  - the space brings us back to when the Bellevue area was populated with farms. Try your hand at washing a cow complete with blow dryer, check out what is happening at the chicken coop and gather eggs to sell at the country store. So fun - with lots of make believe opportunities.
Here is their website link for more information and to confirm hours and pricing. The museum also has party rooms, class room space and an art studio. KidsQuest is also now offering several Early Childhood classes with parent & child classes and drop off options. 

Remember there are other great Children's Museums in and around the Seattle area too:

Seattle Children's Museum
Imagine Children's Museum in Everett (North of Seattle)
Hands On Children's Museum in Olympia (South of Seattle - near the State Capitol)

Seattle Mama Doc Podcast

I love podcasts and now enjoy getting stuck in Seattle traffic as it allows me more time to stay current on all my subscriptions.  I just recently discovered the Mama Doc Podcast - a parenting and health podcast hosted by a local Seattle mom and doctor.  Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson is also the Executive Director of Digital Health for Seattle Children’s Hospital and a news reporter for NBC KING5 in Seattle.  You can find this free podcast on ITunes and subscribe to its bimonthly feed. 

Great topics from teens and e-cigarettes to information about the recent mumps outbreak around several communities to advice on screen time for kids of all ages.  These podcasts vary in time from 5-15 minutes with two of her longer and highly rated episodes on ADHD - offering parenting tips and how to recognize ADHD signs in children. 

Do you have a favorite podcast?  What about one about Seattle? I'd love to hear about it and add to my podcast list.   


Happy 2017!

Thank you to all my client families for a great 2016!  I appreciate the opportunity to work with your family and see all of you happily settling in to the Seattle area. I am now in my third year of business and continue to grow adding new corporate clients and meeting new families.  Most of my growth comes from word of mouth referrals and happy families - thank you! 

Looking back on the past year, I found that most of my client families were relocating from within the U.S vs moving from another country. For 2015 - it was just the opposite!  Also, more of my families want to live in Seattle proper and were looking at rental homes verses home purchases. More of my corporate clients provided families with preschool age children my service- when in previous years it seemed to be a relocation benefit for school age kids only. With this new trend,, I have spent quite a bit of time this past year touring preschools and enjoying classroom observations for the toddler set.  With two teen daughters of my own, it was nice to get back into a preschool classroom where I am not called upon to help with algebra homework. :)  

Wishing you and your family a healthy, happy 2017!

Holiday Fun Around Seattle

There are so many - almost too many - holiday fun activities around Seattle during the month of December.  I am dedicating this blog to free or low cost activities and sights to celebrate the season.

Winterfest at the Seattle Center

Winterfest at Seattle Center is the perfect spot to get into the festive spirit.  A favorite of families with toddlers and young children - enjoy the elaborate train set with village scenes, stay for a performance of local student groups and even catch an ice sculpting demonstration - all free.  All of this takes place inside the warm and dry Amory building and you can make it a real adventure and take a roundtrip ride on the monorail.  A seasonal ice rink is on site and offers ice walkers for new skaters - with skate rentals and a fee for each skating sessions. 

Downtown Seattle Delights

Downtown Seattle offers so many choices for you family to celebrate the season besides shopping. 

A long time tradition for many families is a visit to the Fairmont Hotel's Teddy Bear Suite. Step into this hotel suite (donations encouraged for Seattle Children's Hospital) to find the suite taken over by teddy bears of all shapes and sizes.  Plenty of bears available to hug and even spots to curl up and read one of their teddy bear themed books. The hotel is beautifully decorated and has a giant Christmas tree in the lobby - perfect for a family photo.  

Stop by the atrium of Pacific Place where it snows nightly along with a laser - Light up the Night - 3D laser show. 

The Holiday Carousel is ready for riders and is located in Westlake Park. Proceeds benefit Treehouse, a local charity providing foster children school supplies, birthday presents and other important childhood resources.

Gingerbread and Harry Potter delight at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel. The 24th annual holiday gingerbread display is Harry Potter themed and will make even your teens get into the holiday spirit.  Local architecture firms partner with the hotel bakers to create this over the top tribute to the wizarding world. 

Bellevue - Shines and Snows

Not to be outdone by Seattle, Bellevue has become a fun family holiday destination too.  Bundle up and enjoy the nightly Snowflake Lane family show along Bellevue Way.  Be entertained by dancers, drummers, polar bears and reindeer characters along with holiday music, light show and snow! 

Another part of Bellevue's Magic Season is Family Ice Skating  at  Ashwood Park by the main library. This temporary ice rink hosts "Learn How to Skate" nights and offers skating for the entire family - all with paid admission.

Holiday Garden Delights

Swanson's Nursery - Seattle - Not only does this nursery have beautiful pre-cut Christmas trees, garland and plenty of decorations for the tree, they also host two of Santa's reindeer. Stop by an visit and pose for pictures with one of Santa's reindeer resting up for the big night.  See the How the Grinch Stole Christmas themed model train village and you might even get a glimpse at another special visitor - Curley the camel !  Free

Bellevue Botanical Garden - Garden d'Lights features over half a million tiny colorful lights that transform the Bellevue Botanical Garden into a blossoming nighttime winter wonderland.  Dress warm and wander along the garden paths enjoying this amazing light display and appreciate the 1000's of volunteer hours it takes each year to plan and design.  Pick up a treasure map at the front booth and help your child spot the slug, spider and other light critters hidden throughout the garden. Admittance Fee - Free on select evenings

Molbaks Poinsettia Festival - Woodinville - For our family, a holiday tradition is a walk through this Woodinville nursery to enjoy everything holiday - trees, decorations, carolers strolling the aisles, Danish kringle samples and, of course, the huge display of poinsettias.  This year there are 22 different varieties of poinsettias from jingle bell rock, classic Christmas beauty to princettia pink and premium ice crystals -plus a 10' tall Christmas tree made entirely of poinsettias - a classic spot for family photo.  Free