Interview with Ashley R. Jackson, ​Middle School ​Director of Admission at Milken Community​ ​Schools

  • September 14, 2017

There are few obstacles more difficult for Los Angeles parents to navigate in the private middle and high school application process than the misconceptions: the rumors whispered at school pick-up, the whispers of Dos and Don’ts which ultimately have no basis or foundation in truth. Parents often would prefer to ask each other questions than speak directly to a school admission counselor since there is no recourse if they ask the “wrong” question. This week, we are speaking with Ashley R. Jackson, ​Middle School ​Director of Admission at Milken CommunitySchools​​ ​for the past few years.

Without hesitation, Mrs. Jackson explains that the common parent misconceptions typically deal with financial aid. Whether a school calls itself Need Blind, Need Aware, or Need Sensitive, the key word is “need” and if there is a need, parents should apply for financial aid. “​This shouldn’t be a fearful process for families. We’re fortunate enough in Southern California to have dynamic, diverse private school options that offer extensive aid programs. For most schools in CCSAD (Consortium of Secondary School Admission Directors), it’s our job to not only help but to partner with families and guide them through this process. ​​Milken Community Schools is committed to providing financial aid to families ​who demonstrate need. ​As such, ​​that need ​will never be the determining factor in our admission decisions.​”​

With the changes in the test-taking windows in 2016, parents have new concerns about ISEE test scores and how many times their ​child should take the test. “There may be​ added​ confusion ​​about what ​schools expect [regarding ​admissible ​scores​]​ and also how many times kids should sit for the exam​​.​ ​Families ​often question us about our preference,” ​Mrs. Jackson explains. ​”​Should students take it once or twice?​” ​She continues, “Students test differently, so i​t’s ​ultimately up to the ​family to decide​ the best course of action​.​”​ Consider ​your child’s academic patterns, their preparation, and his or her own temperament.” Milken’s official stance is that “One set of ISEE scores is required for admission although students may take the ISEE multiple times. All ISEE scores should be submitted to Milken. Applicants are not penalized during the admission process for choosing to take the ISEE more than one time.”

As all parents know, there are so many different elements that make up an application: ISEE test scores, school application, letters of recommendation, the school interview, and more!  Mrs. Jackson explains, “Milken has a comprehensive​ application review process​. We are looking for ​mission appropriate ​students who want to academically challenge themselves, who are community minded, and who are passionate about learning both in and out of the classroom.”

When we ask about the school interview, she replies: “I ​am fortunate to ​interview majority of ​the ​​middle school ​students that apply to Milken. ​During our time together, I am able to truly get to know each family. ​They should​, at the same time, get​ ​to know us​ as well​, ask questions​, inquire about programs. It should be a conversation.”  Her interest in getting to know each applicant is genuine. She continues, “Often kids think about interview​s​ like adult ​interviews. They think ​that they are either good or bad​, that they answered right or wrong,​ [but] in reality, there are no ‘right’ answers. We don’t even have a set list of questions. And, I promise you, the world is not going to end if you’re nervous. You’re a kid, you’re allowed to be a kid. Our goal is simply to go beyond ​a paper application and engage with the real person. ​Interviews ​should not be a source of anxiety. We want to hear about your passions, learn about your family, see if we can add to your amazing academic journey.” Students are expected to talk about a subject where they are experts, themselves!!

One of the biggest questions that parents ask us here at Davidson Tutoring is whether or not different schools talk to each other about a particular student. For example, if a family is applying to both Harvard Westlake and Brentwood, does someone from either school pick up the phone and call the other to see if they are planning on accepting that student or not. “I can’t speak for other admission ​professionals,” Mrs. Jackson said, “But I don’t pick up the phone to see if another school is taking a student that is also applying to Milken. I ​may reach out to schools where our families are ​applying from to ask [follow up] questions​ or seek missing application materials​.” ​Most ​admission offices look ​to the application, the ​family interview and supplemental documents to ​guide ​their decisions.

Some of our families who are planning to have their student take the ISEE with accommodations ask us if a school admission department knows or not if the test was taken with accommodations? When I posed this question to Mrs. Jackson she said, “If families tell us, we will know that they had [accommodations] on their ISEE test. We will not ask. If they were admissible and we had the resources on campus to support them, we would never turn a child away because of a learning difference. This is something that we tell our families all the time.” The more open and honest you can be with a school, the better. You want to make sure it is the right place for your child, just as much as they want to make sure they can meet your child’s needs.

Before we ended our conversation, we asked Mrs. Jackson what initially drew her to Milken and she said immediately one word: community. “I was drawn to Milken because ​the focus is ​on​ community, on academic/emotional balance, on happy children. You can be a top athlete, a scholarly student, a skillful musician​, all three or none of the above. ​​We simply want students to graduate ​and think well, belong to something bigger than themselves and take positive action in their community. That-–those things, make our students scholars, but also, just truly amazing individuals.”

Many thanks to Ashley R. Jackson for her insights about Milken and the admissions process. She encourages all families to tour multiples schools, interact with faculty and students and ask questions. A great starting point to explore private school opportunities within our city is:

We look forward to speaking with her in the future to keep our Davidson families informed about independent middle and high school admission.

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