Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Local Houstonians know it as simply "Duchesne", where generations of their daughters were educated from pre-school through high school, graduating in white dresses, well-prepared for college. Tucked away among tall trees in Memorial, even at a busy intersection, the gracious campus is an ideal location for a school. As a Sacred Heart School, Duchesne, is among the finest of Catholic schools in this region for offering an all-girls education that is balance with arts, athletics, technology, service and faith. 

Thanks to a delightful tour and a visit with newly appointed Tony Houle, Director of Admission and Strategic Imperatives, I had a rich update on Duchesne. The school profile of today's Duchesne reflects the changing demographics of Houston over the 30+ years since my daughter's contemporaries graduated from Duchesne. Current statistics include diversity of religion at 40% and color at 42%. 100% of graduates are admitted to a 4-year college or university, and 1-on-1 laptops in middle and upper school - plus the girls run The Cave where laptops are serviced (DASH was the first all local school to institute a laptop program). Duchesne academics offers 23 Advanced Placement courses, and now has one of only 3 All Girls Texas Robotics Teams - fittingly called Iron Plaid. In their first competition they took 4th place in the State. Today's Duchesne student is also a servant in our community, beginning with her school's Social Awareness Program in pre-K. A huge change in the School is the involvement of girls in athletics. The swim team is among the best in the City and volleyball ranks high. Field sports are soon to have their home games actually at "home" when the newly expanded, regulation size playing field is completed. 

Of course, one can quickly notice a change in the school with faculty. A few of the beloved Sisters who founded the school still live on campus, but the faculty and administration are lay people, not members of a religious society. New faculty and new instructional strategies in the hands of talented teachers engage the female brain - yes, according to Michael Gurian, the brain is either male or female and there are educational applications, accordingly. For example, the new "modeling" curriculum in Aimee Modie's chemistry class, the Lucy Calkins reading and writing program in elementary grades, flexible seating in classrooms and halls, and walls for girls to write math problems or messages find a particular expression in an all-girls school. Duchesne librarians are special ladies who make the libraries vibrant hubs of activity. There are still stacks of books - hooray, but a also audio books, advanced technology and spaces for group work and conversation. 

The goals of a Duchesne's Sacred Heart Education have not changed, nor has the fact that an all-girls education offers enormous values to girls not found in a coed school. Duchesne graduates are confident, competent, powerful young women who are allowed to be themselves, think critically, be curious, intellectual, and independent and to assume leadership roles in an school environment free of male approval or disapproval. For families with girls from three years through high school, Duchesne offers a unique opportunity for her education among Houston's private schools. 

A Tour of St. Francis Episcopal Upper School Campus

Carolyn Means - Thursday, August 02, 2018

Twenty-two trail-blazing students are about to embark on their freshman year at Houston's newest high school, the Upper School at St. Francis Episcopal School. Yesterday, I had a tour of the large campus with Director of College Counseling and Interim Head of Admissions, Steven Scales. While preserving the elegant finishes and furnishings of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Cooper who owned this property, spaces have been re-purposed as administrative offices and student-centered environments. Ranging from the student center in the historic Richmond House, dining, study and meeting spaces in the Andrews House, six modern classrooms in a separate academic building, science labs upstairs in the Crum Athletic Center, to large playing fields, the facilities have been designed with today's students in mind. I enjoyed a brief chat with Kara Henderson, Upper School Head, who will be teaching all levels of Spanish and Freshman Seminar. Before her most recent position at Emery/Weiner School, Kara was at St. John's School. Angie Flowers, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, also came to St. Francis from St. John's. She has been working for the past two years on translating the high school vision into a road map for the talented faculty assembled for the Upper School. With the addition of a grade each year and the development of the remaining acres of the South Campus, St. Francis Episcopal School will be a strong preschool to high school option for Houston families.  

Why Do Executive Functioning Skills Matter for Admissions

Carolyn Means - Friday, April 06, 2018

When I was making a presentation to parents at ConocoPhillips recently, I asked for a show of hands of those parents who knew about "Executive Functioning Skills". One hand went up. Definitely, this is a topic that I thought was widely understood by parents but it must be just in my world of private school education. We need to change that because developing executive functioning skills - or EF skills - in children is an essential responsibility for parents today. Many EF skills are most evident when they are missing - like the space where a front tooth used to be. Just as every one can tell when a child has lost a front tooth, everyone can tell when a child has lost self-control in the grocery store, at a birthday party or in the classroom. 

Educational research shows that the number one executive functioning skill a child must have in order to learn is Emotional Regulation. This skill begins in the baby's crib and is fostered by loving parents who know that unless their child is hungry, wet or in pain, it is best to let the child cry when she is put down at bedtime. The child learns the power of soothing herself to sleep and not relying on a caregiver to do it for her. Likewise, when a child begins to melt down over a small disappointment, parents need to let the child experience sadness and move on or go to his room until he can calm himself. 

One of my favorite books about teaching executive functioning skills to your children is Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky. 

How to Manage a Wait List Decision

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Admission Decision: "Wait list" "Wait pool" How Should Parents Respond?

After all the months of going through the admission season, it's frustrating when your child ends up on a waiting list at your top school. Hopefully, your child has at least one acceptance at a second choice school, but is there is a chance you child could get off the waiting list?  In my experience as an admission director and 14 years as an independent educational consultant, I have seen many students get off the waiting list at their first or second choice schools. 

Who gets on the waiting list? Are wait lists ranked?

Some schools wait list all the qualified applicants they cannot take, while other schools keep a small  "wait pool". In either case, there is a small, unranked group identified as priority candidates to choose from. Schools often choose a student from the wait pool who closely resembles a student they did not get in order to keep balance and diversity in the class.

How should parents respond to a wait list letter? How long do schools keep a waiting list?

When students are wait listed, the school will request a reply in the form of a return post card, phone call or email to state if the student wishes to remain on the list or not. Parents should notify the school as soon as possible so the school can begin to assess who will remain in their wait pool.

After a week or so, call the admission directors for an update on how the list is looking. Admission directors try to give parents an accurate assessment of their child's chances of getting off the waiting list. Sometimes a "wait list" decision is a "soft no"; sometimes the school really wants a student and tells a parent they think they will go to the waiting list soon. Sometimes a school gets more acceptances than they expected, so that class will be "over-full" and the school will not go to their wait list.

My experience is that some students get off the wait list within two weeks, but others are still waiting on the Common Reply Date. A few days after contracts are due, schools assess their numbers and then contact their wait-listed students. For some students, this is too late because they have already enrolled at another school. As long as the school shows interest in keeping your child on the waiting list, and you would be able to accept a place if offered, you should stay on the list.

Need help getting off the wait list or making the right school choice?

Managing wait lists and deciding on which school to accept is a service provided by School Solutions even for students who did not go through the admission season as our client.  If you want proven, effective strategies to make sure you are accepting the right school offer, a Consultation could be the best way to end your admission season with the right school choice.

Houston Private School Admission Myths #3

Carolyn Means - Thursday, February 01, 2018


Real Information Parents Can Use by  

Carolyn Means, M.Ed., CEP, Houston’s Day School Consultant

Myth #3: To make sure your child gets accepted to a school, make a big donation.

Parent: “I hear that if we want our daughter in our first choice school, we need to make a big donation. Should we give $10,000 or $50,000?”

Myth #3: The Truth: The truth is that parents should not make donations to schools they apply to. This can put the school in the embarrassing position of returning the donation, accepting it and not accepting your child, or being talked about as the school “where money gets your kid in”. The only exception to this rule is if the parents already have a relationship with the school as alumni or as parents of a current or former student. It would be appropriate for these parents to donate at their typical level to the annual fund, for example. Many Houston schools have an abundant supply of wealthy parents in their applicant pools, and money is not going to influence the admission committee. Schools have learned hard lessons from admitting unqualified students based on the parents’ potential to generously support a capital campaign. Always remember, the focus of the admission process is the student, not the parent’s bank account. There are many ways that a school can discover the potential financial support of an applicant’s parents, so save your donations until your child is enrolled.  

Private School Admission Myth #2

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Real Information Parents Can Use  

Carolyn Means, M.Ed., CEP

Houston’s Day School Consultant

Myth #2: Parents should not be truthful on applications.

Questions on School Applications:

Has your child had educational testing in the past?

Is there anything you would like to tell us that would help us know your child better?

Has your child been diagnosed with a learning disability?

Is your child currently taking medication?

Has your child been asked to leave a previous school?

What other schools did you apply to in the past?


“Oh, no!! This is an application to the school of our dreams and I have to answer these questions? If they find out the truth, my child will never be accepted.”

I get this reaction often, but my experience with schools has always proven that being truthful is the right choice. Of course, sometimes my client and I discuss a situation and determine that the answer is, “No”. Other times when it is clear that the answer is, “Yes”, I explain why schools need this information and why being truthful will benefit the child.

Myth #2: The Truth The truth is that schools want to partner with parents. Partnerships begin with a truthful application.

When parents are not truthful on applications, they begin a network of fibs that can come back to haunt them. Admission directors are not expecting to find perfect applicants. When they learn that a child has a learning differences or an unfortunate past experience, they want to know what support the student is getting and if it is sufficient for the student’s success.

If you have concerns about how to answer these types of questions, come see me for a SCHOOL SOLUTIONS Consultation to talk about how being truthful can benefit your chances of admission to a school. Often I can help parents with application responses by talking through the issue and helping them understand how the school might view it in a positive light.

Private School Admission Myth #1

Carolyn Means - Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Real Information Parents Can Use  

Carolyn Means, M.Ed., CEP, Houston’s Day School Consultant

Myth #1: Top Houston private schools select students with the highest grades and test scores.

Parent: “Our son Jack just earned a perfect ISEE score of four 9’s! His OLSAT score was 140!!  He has dedicated his school years to becoming a perfect student. Test prep and tutors have taken up all his time, but with his high honor roll grades Jack should get into all the best high schools. What more could the schools want?”

Myth #1: The Truth: The truth is that low test scores may keep a student out of a school, but it takes more than high test scores to get a student in.  Without a doubt, admission committees will take notice of ISEE scores of 8 and 9 stanines. However, schools know high test scores are not predictive of success in school. High test scores could be the result of test prep, but not an inquisitive, creative mind. That is why teacher recommendations, class visits, and interviews are highly valuable parts of the admission process.

When choosing candidates for a new 9th grade, schools today want to make a diverse class of students who will add richness to the educational and social experience of their peers during their years together as a class. Schools look for students with a variety of academic strengths, athletes for every sport, actors and stage crew, musicians, artists and dancers, filmmakers and journalists. Applicants with much to offer outside the classroom may not have top entrance scores and grades, but they may be curious and gifted and role models for leadership. 

If you want to know more about entrance tests and the range of test scores that Houston private schools typically like to see, make an appointment for a SCHOOL SOLUTIONS Consultation. We can discuss test prep resources and a reasonable approach to helping your student become sufficiently prepared for the next admission season. If you want some ideas for helping your child develop the talents and strengths schools are looking for, that is also a good topic for a Consultation with SCHOOL SOLUTIONS Consultant, Carolyn Means.

Repeating a Grade or The Gift of Time

Carolyn Means - Friday, September 08, 2017

Why does Harvard University's acceptance letter ask student's to take a gap year before entering college? It turns out they know that "redshirting" has some big benefits. Most Houston families are familiar with "redshirting", a practice used to give athletes time to mature and extend eligibility. When kindergarten became the "new first grade" academically, some children were developmentally ready to master the tougher curriculum, but the younger children in the class often struggled. Eventually, we saw fewer children turning 5 in the summer being ready for kindergarten. When I have a conversation with parents about whether to consider giving their summer birthday child the "gift of time", I refer to "S-P-I-C-E". Thanks to former Houston school principal Shayne Horan for this handy acronym, we know that a child needs to be strong in these developmental areas: Social, Physical, Intellectual, Cognitive, and Emotional. When a child is one of the youngest in the class, and social and emotional development lag behind, classmates may not be kind. Cognitive delays can cause anxiety. If you want to talk about when your child should start school, this is a perfect conversation for a Consultation. Complete a Contact form and you will hear from SCHOOL SOLUTIONS the next business day. 

How to Prepare for the ISEE

Carolyn Means - Wednesday, September 06, 2017

It's nearly ISEE time. Will your student be ready? Houston private school applicants to grades 5-12 must take a rigorous entrance test covering vocabulary, reading and math. The Education Record Bureau publishes the Independent School Entrance Exam, better known as the ISEE - sounds like "icy". Here is the web address for ISEE information and registration: 

Students can take the pretest in the free, downloadable publication, "What to Expect on the ISEE", find a free online pretest, or use a testing company. Students who want to compete for the best schools must prepare for the ISEE.  If you think you need help having a successful admission season, fill out the form on our Contact page and we will get in touch with you by the next business day. 

ISEE Scores Are Coming In

Carolyn Means - Friday, January 27, 2017

Tears. Shock. Joy. Sighs of relief. What is the reaction at your house? The Independent School Entrance Exam scores are coming in. With these scores, hopes can rise or fall depending on whether the scores are in range of what the target schools generally want to see in applicants. The ISEE is one of the toughest tests a student will take. I tell my students to think of sharks in an Olympic-size pool – only the strongest and fastest are in the pool and they are all fighting to the finish line. Students don’t believe me until they take the “Practice Test”. Then reality sets in and they are ready to devote every weekend until January to test prep. Adding another layer of anxiety, new guidelines allow students to take the test more than once and choose the score set they want to submit to schools. I often say that ISEE scores will not get a student “in”, but they can keep a student “out”. Students who read good literature for pleasure and those who can quickly and accurately compute have a huge advantage over students who don’t like reading and have weak math skills. As an educational consultant, I do a lot to help my families manage all aspects of the ISEE.

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Nothing is more important than your child's education. SCHOOL SOLUTIONS in Houston, Texas, offers educational consulting services to help parents make the right choice for their child’s school. As an Educational Consultant and founder of SCHOOL SOLUTIONS in 2004, I have helped over 1000 students find the right fit at over 90 different Houston private and public schools, from preschools to high schools, including special needs schools.

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Recent Blog Posts

  1. Gateway Academy Tour Carolyn Means 27-Aug-2018
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  3. Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart Carolyn Means 21-Aug-2018
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