Enjoy the Ride – One Mom’s Journey to Finding the Perfect NYC School

By Renee Sullivan, parent coach and Founder of The Moms Groups


Ask any mom in New York City about the process of finding a school for their child, and I’m sure you’ll get some visceral reaction ranging from a giant enunciated sigh to a heated debate, to some crazy story about “the process” – charter school lotteries, being closed out of their zoned schools, and lengthy private school applications, essays, and interviews – the war stories.

The good news is it will all work out – Just hold on for the ride…

We started with charter school lotteries, where five hundred and thirty names were meticulously placed into an enormous bingo drum large enough to roast a small pig. We sat quietly in a room, along with over a hundred other parents to await our name for one of the coveted eighty-four spots. Each name had to be selected in order to have the complete list in case someone turned down the seat. We were number four hundred thirty…awesome. As we walked out, defeated, Logan leaned over and said, “That was the best class EVER.” Having a keen sense of humor and optimism through the process is essential. I followed my son’s lead.

We decided to try our local zoned school, even though the nuns back in elementary school tried to instill that “public school” children were Lucifer’s henchmen. We got the last seat in the Kindergarten class and were overjoyed. We were shocked to discover that there were TEN kindergarten classes. Each morning at drop-off was like an airborne ranger parachuting out of an aircraft – Take the leap, and hope for the best. We would each give a loving nudge to send our child through one unmarked periwinkle door, into the abyss – hoping our little ones found their classroom and teacher. They were “tagged” in case they got lost. My son came home that day with a Capri Sun and some grapes. We sent him to school with a banana and cranberry juice. Know what you value – skydiving was not on the list.

A natural and normal desire is to want a wonderful school experience for your child – one filled with all the positive experiences from your childhood, and omitting all of the negative experiences that we went through. A wonderful place to begin, though unrealistic to think we will find this perfect utopia. By taking a look at what you and your family value, sprinkling in some compromises, and having an open mind will make the search much more focused, more enjoyable, and will guide you through the process.

After we looked at what our family valued – community, collaborative learning, appreciation of the arts, and open communication – we were able to narrow down our search tremendously. Choosing a school is not only about choosing an education; it is about choosing an environment. Your family will be part of the chosen school community for a while – six years (public), nine years (K-8), or thirteen years (K-12). If you get the creepy crawlies on the tour on day one – what feelings will it bring up on day forty-three? Even more important with a focused list, we were able to enjoy the process – much needed when you visit Oz and enter “The Land of the NYC Private School Process.”

We were organized. We were focused. We were scheduled. We were busy. Logan had a blast, and we did too. Our search was focused because we knew what we wanted. It was enjoyable because we were open and committed to the process, not the results. Anything great – in business, in sports, in life comes from committing to doing, and not attaching to the outcome. Its an enigma and one of life’s oddest things – we get a wonderful outcome when we focus on the doing, not on the getting.

After four months we were done. Enter “The Wait.” – a radio silent lull in the process where admission committees come together to make their choices. Tom Petty murmured, “The waiting is the hardest part, you take it on faith, you take it to the heart.” Tom had it spot on – believing it would work out, the emotions that crept up. Even the way he whined waiting echoed the length of the wait. We were done with the process, and the only thing we could do is clear our thoughts – surrender and wait.

“Notification Week” finally came, and we received some really great news! A Survivor song immediately popped into my head – their positive crooning in ‘85 – “The search is over, you were with me all the while.” After all the focus, research, commitment and energy – we found the school, the school found us. Sometimes… you just gotta have faith, a faith, a faith.

Our ten mantras for navigating “the process” (and life really)

  • Be open
  • Be flexible
  • Gather your resources
  • Know your child
  • Know your family’s values
  • Leave your judgments at the door
  • Be realistic
  • Trust your child
  • Trust yourself
  • Believe that it will work out

Know that in the end, everything will be okay…really. Harvard, Princeton and Yale are not the end all, and your child is perfect – just the way they are.

It’s the commitment through the journey that delivers you to the destination. Enjoy the ride.


Renee Sullivan, parent and lifestyle coach to moms in New York City and founder of The Moms Groups, works with parents to create their own personal parenting plan that is right for them. As a certified parent coach, and drawing from her experience as an educator, she guides moms through the never – ending array of decisions that come with having a child. She lives in New York City with her husband, and very happy 3rd grader after going through the private school admissions process successfully in 2010.










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