The ads, displayed on inside pages of a half-dozen community newspapers, are small and low-key. They give little hint of the sharp departure from tradition they represent.
"Concerned About Choosing the Right School for Your Child?" they begin. After some tantalizing references to "small classes, superior teaching and multiple opportunities" in the arts and athletics, the paid notices urge parents to "Take a Look at Chadwick School, the only K-12 College Prep School in the South Bay."
The Chadwick School, an elite private school that draws at least three applicants for every space at its Palos Verdes Peninsula campus, is advertising for the first time in its 63-year history.
"We get a lot of questions about why we started advertising," said Director of Admissions Patricia Gedney Boig. Applications were up 33% last year, well before the ad campaign began.
"We don't need to, but we want to let more people know we're here. We want to encourage diversity and get the best students we can," Boig said.
By the end of February--the time admissions officials prefer to have received applications for the next school year--Boig expects to have run a dozen open house sessions. A session for parents of seventh- through 12th-graders one Sunday afternoon last month drew about 250 people to the wooded, 55-acre campus.
Although such an aggressive outreach is new to Chadwick, similar techniques are commonly used at other elite private schools, despite a surfeit of applicants.
"Many of our member schools have been doing this," said Mimi Baer, executive director of the California Assn. of Independent Schools.
"The purpose is to get the word out, to introduce the school to the larger community. If you don't, only those people who already know about it are going to apply, and that is not necessarily a good thing," Baer said.
The association's 170 members, including Chadwick, represent a small but academically distinguished segment of private schools. They have small classes, a college-preparatory curriculum heavily laced with arts and athletics, an emphasis on social consciousness and community service--and high tuitions.
Chadwick charges $13,260 a year, plus $300 to $600 for books, for its ninth- through 12th-grade students--similar to tuition charged at its counterparts statewide.
The school's decision to raise its visibility affords a wider look at what one board member called "the best-kept secret in L.A."
About half of Chadwick's 725 students live in Palos Verdes. The others come from Long Beach, Gardena, Compton, Torrance and the South Bay beach cities.
Although many of the students are from wealthy families, 12% to 15% have full or partial scholarships. A number of families make financial sacrifices to send their children to Chadwick, Boig said. About a third of the students are ethnic minorities.
Although the student attire is largely jeans, sweats and T-shirts, the curriculum is anything but casual. Students get a full day of academics, sports and the arts.
Chadwick students excel academically. Last year's senior class averaged 1341 on the SAT, well above the national average of 1013. Every member of the class of 1998 enrolled in a four-year college.
"The beauty of this school is that the B student also gets attention and lots of chances to excel," said board member Judith Wolstan. "The kids motivate each other and cheer each other on. . . . It's actually cool to be smart here."
It is also apparently cool to be smart at the area's public schools. The Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District is considered one of the best public school districts in California.
"We moved here from the [San Fernando] Valley because of the Palos Verdes public schools . . . but then we really felt this offered even more," Chadwick parent Melissa Alvarado said.
Another Chadwick parent, Bill Elder, said he liked his local Palos Verdes district school, Lunada Bay Elementary, but transferred his sons because at Chadwick "they all go that extra mile for the children."
An enthusiastic volunteer, Elder accompanied visiting parents on a recent tour.
The group saw the science labs where fifth-graders were showing off the space stations they had designed, visited the computer center and ogled the laptops on the desk of each sixth-grader. They saw the regulation pool and the state-of-the-art gymnasium with the rock climbing wall to help train students for rigorous wilderness trips.
Among those on the tour were Jan and Scott Kajiya, who are looking at schools for their 4-year-old son, who will enter kindergarten in the fall.
Scott Kajiya said he was attracted by the "extras" and the level of "interaction" between students and staff at Chadwick.
"They get the whole family involved," he said.