As the director of Phoebe A. Hearst Preschool Learning Center, Irene Byrne certainly has a special perspective on the preschool landscape in San Francisco and the anxiety that parents go through each year. In her book, Preschools by the Bay (available online at, Irene spills the beans on how to start your search, what to look for on a tour, Do's and Don't's on preschool tours, and questions to ask along with detailed descriptions of over 85 schools.

Here on The School Boards, Irene has been so gracious to share a little of her insider knowledge with us:
The Preschool Search

In the time that I have spent as a preschool director the level of anxiety surrounding the preschool search has increased dramatically! Parents are now starting the application process when they have an infant or in some cases before the child is even born. My advice is to wait until you know your child a little bit. However, you can start to call schools and do your basic research quite early. Determining which schools require an early application is of utmost importance. The following list is meant to get you started and relieve some anxiety. Next time someone asks you if you have started to look for a preschool you can let him or her know that you have it completely under control!

Preschool Checklist
  • Create a list of prospective schools to investigate.
  • Browse the schools’ websites and collect basic information about each one.
  • Call to inquire about the application process. Always ask if date of application is important in the admission process. Is it first come first served?
  • Set up a tour date. Please note that if you have a partner who will be helping with the preschool decision, your partner should also take the tour.
  • Tour (take lots of notes and do not be afraid to ask questions).
  • Send thank you card (and box of chocolates, not really, but that would win me over!) to the person (usually the director) who gave the tour.
  • Submit application and fee (you wouldn’t believe how many people in their eagerness to apply that forget to include the check!) by the deadline given.
  • Call the school to confirm that they received your application (do not ask if they enjoyed the chocolates!).
  • A few weeks before decisions are made it is a good idea to send a short note indicating that you are very interested in the program for your child. Only do this to programs where you would take a spot if offered one. It is unethical to do it to every school.
  • If you are offered a spot at a school you love, please, please, accept it right away. Then contact all the schools to say that you have a spot for the fall and that they can take you off their list. This allows the wait-list to move for other families who may not have been as lucky as you.
  • Submit all the required paperwork on time.
  • Celebrate your successful navigation of this process and start researching kindergarten! (Don’t dare to do the latter without a waiting period of at least one year. I will be watching!)
If you want more of her knowledge, pick up a copy of her book on the Phoebe Hearst Preschool website.