Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Open Seats in Available School Assignment Process (ASAP) become available June 17

According to a commenter:  Open seats in the Available School Assignment Process (ASAP) become available on June 17. You must show up at EPC in person to select a school from the ASAP list, first-come first-served. Lines have formed early in the past. The ASAP list might not be published in advance, but you can get a reasonable idea of what schools are available by studying the wait pool list that was published yesterday. Sometimes an industrious reader creates a list and publishes their guesses on this blog.

SFUSD Round June 15 Wait Pool List Now Online

SFUSD Recently posted the latest wait pool list, as of June 15.
Looks like Sunset tops the list with 26 families waiting..  Sunnyside has a waitlist of 19, much higher than Mirloma and Alvarado GE.  Where are you waiting?  Any surprises when you look a this list?

It's here:  http://www.sfusd.edu/en/assets/sfusd-staff/enroll/files/2015-16/2015-16_wait_pool_list_061515.pdf
And here:  http://www.sfusd.edu/en/enroll-in-sfusd-schools/placement-periods/waiting-pool-process.html


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chronicle articles: Living Together, Learning Together

The Chronicle has a big series on racial integration and racial isolation in San Francisco public schools. The articles are all online here at:

http://www.sfchronicle.com/schools-desegregation-snapshots/

There are a number of articles: One, titled "Can Separate Ever Be Equal?" focuses on two racially isolated schools: Jean Parker (mostly Asian) and Charles Drew (mostly African-American); there's also an article about one of the district's most diverse schools (Lakeshore).  Another article compares Cleveland Elementary (a racially isolated school, mostly Latino working-class students) and Clarendon Elementary (33% Asian, 31% White, 11% Latino and 6% African-American students, which roughly mirrors the ethnic demographics of the city). An article titled "Turning Around a Struggling School" focuses on Peabody Elementary in the Richmond, which went from underenrolled ten years ago to a highly sought after school today (50% White, 50% mix of other ethnicities). And another piece looks at efforts other cities have made towards desegregation.

There's also a graphic showing every elementary school's racial/ethnic mix:
http://goo.gl/xbNBBf

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Links: Parents for Public Schools, Support for Families, and a news article about iPads for SFUSD Families

We noticed a few comments from families that are confused by the SFUSD lottery process, including some folks who may have just moved to the area. It's not easy coming into this system at this stage! We definitely feel for you. A few reminders:

You are probably already familiar with the Enrollment Placement Center (EPC). If you go down there and ask to speak to a counselor, they can explain the whole process to you.
http://www.sfusd.edu/en/enroll-in-sfusd-schools/getting-started.html

If you haven't already gotten to know Parents for Public Schools, please do check them out (their website is http://www.ppssf.org/). They can be a wonderful resource for families. They seem especially helpful with regards to the assignment system, but we've heard they can be helpful with other issues as well. Call or send them an email -- in our experience, they are very responsive.

Another great resource if you have children with disabilities is Support for Families http://www.supportforfamilies.org/
They should be able to answer questions about medical appeals and IEPS.

Finally, we noticed an interesting article in the Chronicle about a new digital technology pilot program in SFUSD:
http://www.sfchronicle.com/education/article/S-F-schools-iPad-handout-pivots-from-L-A-s-6256788.php?t=bac62aacb9d787db7a&cmpid=twitter-premium

Best of luck to everyone out there...

Monday, May 11, 2015

SFUSD Round 2 Results?

Have parents out there received Round 2 results? If you got a letter in the mail and want to share the outcome or ask a question, please respond in the comments.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Tour Notes - San Francisco Schoolhouse

I realized it might be worthwhile (to at least a couple people) to post my tour notes from San Francisco Schoolhouse, especially as some families are still exploring kindergarten options for this fall. I toured before joining the blog so I did not post my notes earlier, but even though we ended up not applying, we really liked the school. The school still has open spots for 2015-16 and upcoming tours (http://www.sfschoolhouse.org/admissions/).

Among the reasons we did not apply were that the location was would have been very difficult for us and we felt we did not have the bandwidth for a parent participation elementary school at this time. And, honestly, we liked it so much that we did not want it to be a back-up and knew that if we were accepted, we wanted to be able to attend.

San Francisco Schoolhouse

Website: http://www.sfschoolhouse.org/

Location: 301 14th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94118 (at the Beth Sholom Synagogue), Inner Richmond

Grades: Currently K-4, expanding to K-8 by adding one grade per year

Total Enrollment: 44

Kindergarten Size: One class of 11 (12 maximum)

Time: 9:00am-2:00pm (I believe that next year it will be 9:00am-3:00pm for grades 4-5)

Aftercare: 2-4pm After School Enrichment Program

Tuition: $9,350 for 2014-15, $10,350 for 2015-16

San Francisco Schoolhouse is one of San Francisco's many new independent schools, having opened its doors in 2011 with two students.  It is a bit of an outlier for us as it is not near our home or on my husband's commute path downtown, but I was intrigued by the unique parent participation model, low student-teach ratios, the personalized "project-based, hands on curriculum" touted on its website, relatively low cost, and the very good things I have heard from a few friends involved in the school. My son currently attends a co-op preschool that we love, so the idea of an elementary school inspired by those types of schools was something I was curious about, although I knew that the classroom obligation would be much less and different.

It took about half an hour to get to the school for the 9:30 a.m. tour, which was not bad, but I had to consider whether we could do it every day. I found street parking easily about a block away, though it was may have been easy because street cleaning had just ended and the tour began about half an hour after school started. The school currently leases its space from the Beth Sholom Synagogue.

We were greeted by two women who were among the first to enroll their children in the school. They chatted with us as we waited for the remaining tour attendees, another current parent, and the head of the school. The parents were quite personable and clearly excited about and happy with the school.

The third parent and the head of school, Daniel Popplewell, arrived and chatted with us briefly before the actual tour began. We were then split into three groups, each of which visited 3 classrooms. Daniel passed out clipboards and pens and asked us to write down things that we considered "progressive" education as we walked around. My group was led by one of the parents.

Tour 

Outdoor Space

We first walked through the outdoor space, which was a very large concrete area on the second floor with two basketball hoops and several riding toys and tricycles. The area is also used by the synagogue's preschool, though not at the same time. We were told that this is also where the kindergartners have lunch and that the 1st through 4th graders walk to nearby Argonne Playground for lunch.

School Building 

When we entered the building that housed the classrooms, the walls were covered in lots of cheery art, which was nice given that school had only been in session since the day after Labor Day, just a few weeks before my tour. I'm guilty of not remembering much about the content of the stuff on the walls - my brain basically processed it all as "letters, numbers, colorful art and projects, yep, looks like classroom and school hallway walls to me" - although there was a very cute series where the kindergartners had drawn pictures and alongside was text with a "what you don't know about me" blurb for each child.

Classrooms

My group visited kindergarten, first grade, and the combined third/fourth grade.

The kindergarten was delightfully boisterous. Some kids were happily and messily painting, one table showed the aftermath of some very messy play with clay/play-dough, other kids were building with blocks, and some were working with paper, scissors, and glue. The teacher – Miss Bridget – explained that it was "work time," which was basically a free choice time, and that later in the day for "table time" another teacher would come and they would work in smaller groups.

The first grade also had no desks, but a couple tables and a couch. Four or so children were working on reading with an assistant teacher just outside the classroom at a table. Inside the classroom, the teacher, Rebecca - one of the founding teachers, was working with a couple children at a table. A couple kids were working with manipulatives on a table. And two kids were sitting on the floor listening to books on tape, which I thought was pretty neat. The classroom was small, but it had room for books in a small "library." The kids looked engaged, even working semi-independently, and I liked that they still had a bit of freedom to move around.

The combined third/fourth grade classroom had eight third graders and four fourth graders, and was led by the school's newest teacher, Susan. Still no desks as the kids were all seated at tables with about four kids to a table. The kids were learning how to actively read a text, i.e., mark up the text with notes about things they found interesting or confusing. It was an interesting process to watch, especially as the kids were at the very early stages of learning how to do this and needed lots of support from the teacher.

I was encouraged by the fact that all of the teachers seemed like the kind that my kids (most kids?) would enjoy spending time with. I'm a little bummed my group did not get to see the second grade class, as they were apparently working on a neat math lesson using coins.

Q&A

We ended with a Q&A with the parents leading the tour and the head of school. Daniel was recently hired and is the school's first head of school. Daniel came from Odyssey, an independent middle school in San Mateo for gifted students. The parents explained that Daniel was hired in part to help the school develop a unified curriculum as the school does not yet have one. I found Daniel to be very likeable and he seemed to both have some clear ideas for the school on some issues as well as appearing receptive to being flexible as to what would work best for the community on others as the school moves forward.

Future K-8 Expansion

The school plans to expand to K-8, and while their current space definitely works for K-5, it is too small for K-8. They may end up in two locations though they would be near each other.

Learning by Doing

Daniel reflected that he believed kids learned best by doing, and talked about the school’s project-based learning emphasis.

One of the examples of project-based learning that was mentioned at the Q&A was that Jack, who is currently the second grade teacher, and was one of the founding teachers, once had a project for the kids to build a house. They had to figure out how to put it together and make it work, including making working plumbing.

One tour attendee noted that there were "values" on the walls of the 3rd/4th class that seemed written by the students themselves. Daniel noted that the idea of self-generated expectations was something that existed at all levels - students, parents, staff.

Differentiation

One of the parents described the school as being able to "meet students where they are," which is the lure of small class sizes for me - presumably more opportunities for differentiation within the same class. An example was given of multiplication being taught to different students in different grades because kids were ready at different times. In addition, one parent also noted her daughter and classmates had struggled to learn multiplication at a different independent school, but when she came to SF Schoolhouse, her teacher understood that the students needed a stronger foundation before moving on to multiplication, and all the kids got it.

Technology in the Classroom

One of the more thoughtful and interesting answers from Daniel came when he was asked about technology in the classroom. He noted that the students do not currently have computers in the school, and pointed out that a lot of them are going to have that access once they get home anyway and so do not necessarily need it at Schoolhouse. In addition, at his prior school, where every child had a laptop, he noticed that sometimes everyone was engaged in their technology rather than interacting, which was a negative.

Library

The school does not have a library, although the classrooms have books, some of which are brought in by the teachers from the Richmond branch library. They have also made regular public library field trips for the older students.

Snacks and Lunch 

The school is nut-free, but, because it is in the synagogue, it is also meat-free so parents have to be creative about the lunches packed for the students. There is no cafeteria or on-site food service. There are apples in every classroom for morning snack so kids have apples every day.

Parent Participation

The parent participation obligation is a family job, requiring approximately 10 hours per month of work, and a classroom obligation to chaperone 5 Adventure Days per year, if you have one child at the school. Some of the Adventure Days are on site, some are not. Other than this, there is not much expectation of parents being in the classroom.

Diversity

To be honest, the school did not appear very racially diverse, although I did not see all four classrooms. Obviously, that does not mean that the school lacks other kinds of diversity - LGBT families, socioeconomic diversity (which feels possible with a sub-$10K tuition), etc. That said, there were a lot of visibly racially diverse parents on the tour, which leads me to believe the school will be more diverse as it grows. That factor was not a deal-breaker for us, especially as my family has, as a result of all our school tours, had to reflect on how racial diversity plays out across San Francisco schools, and given all the other things SF Schoolhouse had to offer.

Open House

About a month after the tour, I attended an evening Open House at SF Schoolhouse where we prospective parents had a great opportunity to meet with the teachers in small groups, sit in their classrooms and hear their perspectives, and ask them questions. It concluded with a Q&A with the teachers and Daniel, the head of school. I did not take extensive notes, but a few things stood out to me.

All of the teachers were enthusiastic and passionate about the school and progressive education. They discussed that with the smaller class sizes, they can keep narrative records of the children’s progress and that is how they can report and discuss with parents where there kids are and how they are doing.

Jack showed us one of his students’ projects – they were learning about maps and created their own 3-D map of a neighborhood with streets and buildings. It was still in progress, but a great example of hands-on learning.

Rebecca also told us about a project where the students made (and ate) raisins. She also explained that one of the things she really liked about the school was that they had the freedom to stay with a project or a concept for longer than initially planned. If the kids need more time to get a concept, she does not have pressure to move on and can work on it longer.

Ultimately, I left with both an even more positive impression of the school and the unfortunate certainty that the daily drive would probably be too much for our family.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Report on Student Assignment and Meeting Tonight

Over on her blog, Rachel Norton has helpfully linked to the new report from SFUSD about student assignments. Read the report here:

https://rpnorton.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/4th-annual-report_april-8-2015.pdf

and check out comments here:
http://rachelnorton.com/2015/04/10/4th-annual-student-assignment-report-is-out/#comments

There's also a meeting TONIGHT, Monday, April 13, about student assignment -- it's the Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment, 6 pm on 4/13 in the Board Room at 555 Franklin St. Open to parents and community members. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Event: SF Bike & Roll to School Week April 20-24

San Francisco’s annual Bike & Roll to School Week is coming up soon: April 20-24th. Thousands of children and parents from all manner of San Francisco schools, from preschools to high schools, public and private, have participated in the annual event in past years. Check out the list of 66 schools signed up to participate to see if your school is registered. You are invited to participate in the event even if your school isn't registered. Below are some resources to help you get rolling.

Get Rolling Resources

  1. Figure out your bike set up. Not yet setup for riding with your children? Check out this Family Biking Guide for tips on different setups for different ages.
  2. Brush up on skills. Do you or your child(ren) need more practice before you hit the streets? Check out these all ages, free learn to ride and traffic skills events. And review the Rules of the Road with your child.
  3. Figure out a route. Use this Family Biking Routes map and sample routes to help figure out the best routes to and from school and/or aftercare.

Please note that though the above resources are oriented towards people who will be rolling on bike wheels, children and families who roll on scooter, wheelchairs and other types of small wheels are welcome and encouraged to participate! For families whose children who have a physical disability, BORP is an excellent resource for opportunities to try biking (and many other fun things!) and get information on specific bike configuration recommendations.

Extra incentive: Any participating San Francisco parent can sign up to be eligible to win some very cool raffle prizes, including an electric assist Family bike from Xtracycle plus both one month and one week free test rides of your choice of one of three amazing electric assist family bikes courtesy of Vie Bikes.

Happy Bike & Roll to School Week to everyone!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Event: Today's Adolescents and How to Navigate School

A helpful reader wrote in to tell us about this interesting event coming up. 

Overloaded & Underprepared: Today's Adolescents and How to Navigate School

How do I raise a healthy adolescent amidst all the pressure to perform?
How do I choose a middle or high school where my child will be healthy and successful?
What's MY role as a parent to support them through these critical years?

Millennium School, a new independent middle school opening in 2016 in the southern part of San Francisco, and the Bay School, an independent high school, are delighted to announce an event featuring Denise Pope of the Stanford School of Education. Denise's well-known research and previous books have helped parents and educators find a better balance for their kids, enabling academic success without creating "pressure cooker" environments. In this event, designed for parents whose kids are entering or in middle or high school, Denise will share the most recent research on raising healthy, successful adolescents in today's high-pressure environment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015
7:00pm -8:30pm
Hosted by the Bay School 
35 Keyes Avenue, San Francisco

FREE and open to the public. Seating is limited and will sell out. Please reserve your seats early at http://millenniumschool.eventbrite.com 
Doors open at 6:30pm

For more on Millennium School: http://www.millenniumschool.org 
For more on the Bay School: http://www.bayschoolsf.org

Thursday, March 19, 2015

SFUSD School Assignments: Welcome Events and Additional Tours

It sounds like there are lots of additional tours and welcome events planned! Here are a few we've heard about:


Alvarado

PTA–sponsored TK/Kindergarten Ice Cream Social
Date: Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Time: 5:30-6:30 PM
Location: Enter the front door at Alvarado School, 625 Douglass Street @ Alvarado Street


Daniel Webster
Please join us for a casual welcome event at Jackson Park this Sunday at 3 pm. Bring the whole family. Meet fellow incoming DW families as well as current DW families and learn more about the exciting programs and events taking place at DW. We’ll have snacks and drinks
What: Daniel Webster Welcome Event
Where: Jackson Playground, 1500 Mariposa St between Arkansas and Carolina
When: Sunday March 22nd 3 pm


Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy
If you missed our school tours, it’s not too late. We have tours scheduled as follows:
● Thursday March 19, 2015 10am
● Thursday March 26, 2015 10am
● Thursday April 9, 2015 10am
Tours are Drop-In. No reservation required. Tours start promptly at 10am and last around 45 minutes. Please meet in front of the school office at 9:50am to sign in.

We also have a few fun events that we’d love you to participate in (see list below). The Spring Carnival is an especially great way to meet other families and school staff, and have some fun, too. Please make sure to introduce yourself when you arrive - we’ll have a small welcome gift for your child. There will also be an organized Ice Cream Social for new families in May and an informal play date for kinders during the summer - details to come!

● Roller Skating Party: Saturday March 21, 2015 at Church of 8 Wheels 3-5:30pm
● School Carnival: Saturday April 25, 2015 11am-4pm
● Ice Cream Social for New Families: Saturday May 9, 2015 1-3pm
● Talent Show FUN-raiser: Saturday May 16, 2015 Time TBD
● Civil Rights Assembly: Thursday May 21, 2015 6-8pm


Jean Parker Elementary
Tours (starting this week): Interested in taking another look at our school? Come to one of our spring tours and meet our amazing Jean Parker staff, students and parents. All tours run from 8:35-10:00am:

Wednesday, March, 25, 2015
Thursday, April, 9, 2015
Thursday, April, 16, 2015
Tours begin at the yard (morning intake) and meet in our Community Room #200 immediately after intake. (Parking – Visitors may park in our garage on 840 Broadway and will need to get a temporary parking permit from the main office.)
Welcome K Event! - May, 16

Incoming kindergarten families are invited to our Welcome K Event before our Honeybee Jamboree Spring Fair on Saturday, May 16 @ 9:15am.

Honeybee Jamboree: Join us for food, games, bounce houses and more! Bid on Silent Auction items for amazing prizes. On May 16 @ 10am. Learn more about this fun event by visiting our school website here: http://www.jeanparkerelementary.com/

To contact us, call our Parent Liaison, Judy Zhang or speak to our Office Staff by calling: (415) 291-7990. Or, email Principal Tang at TangW1@sfusd.edu


Jose Ortega Elementary School (JOES)
New Family Welcome Night, March 25th 6-8pm in the school library. Come meet new and current families, talk to our principal, learn about the after school program and enjoy some snacks! If you were assigned JOES and have never visited, come tour JOES April 7th, 8am


Lakeshore Elementary
Please join us for a New Families Welcome on Friday, March 27th from 10-11:30. Come learn what Lakeshore is all about, meet our principal, see the campus and get acquainted with incoming families! Check out www.lakeshoreelementary.org for more info about our programs and upcoming community events, summer playdates and more.


Paul Revere
Tours (starting this week): Take another look at our school—and meet current parents and Revere staff—on an upcoming tour. Join us at 9 a.m. on Wednesday 3/18, 3/25, or 4/8. Tours start in our Community Room (in our Annex Building at 610 Tompkins Ave.).


Rosa Parks
For those who were accepted to Rosa Parks Elementary School--either the General Education or the Japanese Bilingual program--we have a final school tour on Wednesday, March 25.

Then we have a welcome breakfast for all new families on Friday, April 10. Congratulations to all, and we look forward to seeing you there.

Waitlisted families are welcome at both events as well. More information here: Rosa Parks JBBP - School Tour Schedule


Sutro
We are hosting a new family brunch and open house, where you can meet our principal, current families, and get to see our beautiful campus.

Saturday, May 2nd
10:00-11:30am
235 12th Avenue (Between Clement and California)

Please RSVP to sutropta at gmail dot com

If you can't make it please email us anyway so we can add you to our email distribution list.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Reader request: What about parochial schools?

A reader wrote in and asked us to start a thread about Catholic/parochial schools. Have folks received the news? Any surprises?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Public School Placements

Did you get your letter from SFUSD? Are you happy? Surprised? Plan to try for something different in Round 2?

What about the charter schools? Comment below and let us know what you're thinking (or ask for advice).

Monday, March 9, 2015

Acceptance Letters?

Are folks starting to get acceptance letters from the independent schools? Comment below on your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Henrietta's List: A Little from Column A, A Little from Column B

Sorry this took so long to post - once tours were done and our application in, there was a lot of life to catch up on!

Our final list is a little bit . . . nuts, so I thought I would make a post just so I could explain the less than obvious reasoning behind our final order. We submitted our application over winter break, though I toured a couple more schools afterward. Thankfully, none of the tours changed how I would have ranked them.

As is clear from my reviews, my impressions of the schools I have toured have been generally positive. To me, it was not a huge surprise as, given my limited touring time, we picked schools that we thought would be a good fit. I also believed (and continue to believe) that there are an awful lot of great schools in the district, and that our family would be happy and successful at lots of different schools.

Our final list reflects conflicting tensions and issues, but I believe it does reflect schools we like in our true order of preference.

The competing issues:

1) All of the concerns listed in my first post still apply, including proximity, diversity (but tempered), math, arts, etc.

2) While we are still leaning toward sending our late summer birthday boy to kindergarten this year, our preschool director suggested we consider a third year of preschool to give him more time to develop socially and emotionally. So we will wait a little longer to decide about kindergarten. That, I think, took some urgency out of the application process.

3) Our preschool director also recommended considering immersion programs for our son. Unfortunately, the only immersion school we had time to tour was Fairmount (which I really liked, and hope to post a review for eventually). We have some friends at a few other immersion schools and mined them for information and advice.

I wish I could mash up all my favorite things from each school into one super-school, but, alas, that is not an option.

So with all that, here is our list (sort of broken into tranches):

1. Miraloma 
2. Sunnyside

Going into this, we expected that Miraloma would be the top school as it is our neighborhood school, and Sunnyside was a likely second. Miraloma has a great community, and it is so close to our house. We hope the fundraising can be sustained to keep smaller class sizes in 4th and 5th grade, as that is important to us. (I wish every school in the district could do at least this, not just those who can “afford” it, but that is a discussion for another time and place). Sunnyside was actually a very close second place. It is nearby, with a great community, and is also doing a lot of really exciting things. We had a pretty serious debate about whether it should be number one, especially given the better (for us) start time, but Miraloma squeaked ahead.

3. Rooftop
4. Clarendon JBBP
5. Clarendon GE

Okay, so we did not tour either of these schools. Also with a less foggy brain than when I submitted our application, I later realized listing Clarendon GE makes no sense no matter how much I like it – last year, unsurprisingly, no one living outside the AA (and with no tiebreakers) who listed it below first place got a spot (http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/S-F-school-assignments-have-predictable-odds-6018732.php). But that realization was not worth going back to the EPC!  We have several friends with children in each of these three programs and have talked with them about the schools in addition to researching them. We knew both schools would be high on the list, so we chose to skip touring them in favor of schools we were less familiar with (other than Miraloma, of course). Proximity, diversity, strong academics and enrichment, great communities, etc. are what landed them here. And, yes, I am well aware these programs appeal greatly to many, many, many families!

6. Fairmount 
7. Alvarado Spanish Immersion
8. West Portal Cantonese Immersion

So this is where the list really goes sideways. Initially, we did not anticipate that any immersion programs would make the top 10 because we are still a bit ambivalent about going that route. But we decided to place them higher after researching the programs and talking with a few friends at immersion schools. Proximity influenced their ranking and all are about equidistant (though as I mentioned, I did tour and was impressed by Fairmount, which is the most convenient of the three). My husband and I are a little more comfortable with Spanish immersion, having both taken Spanish (though not since high school!), but we did not think that disqualified Cantonese immersion programs for us.

9. SF Community – Great school and I am excited by the project-based learning focus. I liked that the community is small without being too small. Smaller class sizes in 4th-8th is also a plus.

10. Chinese Immersion School (CIS) – Part of the immersion bump up, but less convenient. I love the approach of balancing immersion with enrichment.

11. Glen Park
12. New Traditions
13. Lakeshore
14. Sloat

But for immersion, these would have rounded out the top 10. Glen Park is by far the most convenient, but the rest are not bad. I did not tour Sloat, but I had a very long and encouraging conversation with a Sloat parent at the enrollment fair, and she had a child very much like mine in a lot of ways. I also compared notes with a friend who toured Sloat and is looking for similar things in a school.

15. Peabody – I actually toured Peabody (though I have not had a chance to blog about it), and it was one of the schools I liked most, but it is so very inconvenient. If it was half as far, it would have been in our top 5.

16. Grattan
17. Sunset
18. West Portal GE
19. Sherman
20. Feinstein 

Though we did not tour these schools, we believe they could be good fits based on our research and discussions with and recommendations from other touring friends or attending families. But these schools are generally not as convenient as our higher ranked schools either due to location or start time or both, which is also why they did not make the tour list.

And at the bottom of the list, we had 15 more schools, primarily for swap value. Honestly though, we tried to only put down schools we believe are very solid to great for our kids and technically doable for our family, except for one or two where start time and distance make attendance completely impractical.

Charters

We did apply to TECA (actually on the first date so before even touring any SFUSD publics) and Creative Arts Charter, but I would probably rank them toward the end of our top 15, partly due to proximity and feeling a bit stronger about the fit of some of the other schools.

Independents

We decided not to apply to any independent schools, including Synergy, for a variety of reasons that were mostly about us and not the schools. If we do a third year of preschool, we probably will apply to a couple of independents. I really liked San Francisco Schoolhouse (which I toured before signing up to do these notes), which is a wonderful progressive school in the Inner Richmond. Sunset Progressive School is also a very interesting progressive school starting in Fall 2015 – the school actually has a few more information sessions (http://sunsetprogressiveschool.org/information-session-and-tour-sign-ups/) coming up so families looking for more progressive education options should check them out.

And now we wait . . .

Thursday, January 15, 2015

School Tour: New Traditions Elementary School

New Traditions Elementary School

Website: http://www.newtraditionssf.com/

Location: 2049 Grove Street, San Francisco, CA 94117, NoPa

Grades: K-5

Total Enrollment: Approximately 253

Kindergarten Size: 44 – two classes of 22

Time: 9:30am-3:30pm

Before care: YMCA (fee based, scholarships available)

Aftercare: YMCA (fee based, scholarships available); PTA-coordinated enrichment

New Traditions was a last minute addition to the touring calendar, and a bit outside the radius of some the other SFUSD schools we toured. I decided to tour because a couple of friends independently suggested it might be a good fit, and, consulting the map, we realized it was pretty familiar and not too a bad drive.

The reminder e-mails advised that street parking would be tough and parking in Golden Gate Park was a good option. It took longer to find a spot and I underestimated the length of the walk so I was a few minutes late and missed the beginning of the Q&A. So travel time is a serious consideration.

The Q&A was held in their cafeteria, which had a stage and looked like it could also be used as an auditorium? The school building and grounds are small (as it has a small population), but it is a great-looking building in a nice location.

Q&A

The opening presentation and tour were led by several current New Traditions parents.

Garden Education

As I walked in, the parents leading the presentation were explaining that students get outdoor class one time per week all year long in their garden as opposed to only for a semester. The garden teacher is from Education Outside. As with other schools, in their garden classroom, the kids explore math and science concepts and the lessons are integrated into the curriculum.

Aftercare and Enrichment

There are two after school options. First, there is PTA-coordinated after school enrichment which includes things like Spanish, chess, engineering for kids, ceramics, yoga, soccer, Tree Frog Treks, etc. There are three different sessions each year. It is fee based but scholarships are available.

The other aftercare option is the YMCA, which does before care and aftercare. It is also fee-based and there are scholarships available. It sounded like everyone who wants a spot in the YMCA program can get in. I believe kids in the YMCA aftercare can also participate in the PTA-coordinated enrichment.

Arts Focus

The school has always had an arts focus and so they do many art projects that are meant to supplement the curriculum. As an example, a few years ago, when the fifth grade was a learning the U.S. states and capitals, they made a quilt of the United States, and each child was responsible for a state.

4th and 5th Grade Classes Breakdown

The tour leaders noted that because they only have 2 kindergarten classes of 22 (and classes 2 each for grades 1-3), those numbers do not work out neatly into 4th grade classes of 33 students as class sizes are bumped up at that point. Normally, the 4th and 5th graders would break down into one 4th grade class, one 5th grade class, and one split 4th/5th grade class. However, because of attrition, it does not always work out that way. For example, this year there are two 4th grade classes and one 5th grade class. They are not sure what will happen next year because they do not know yet how many 4th and 5th graders they will have.

Fundraisers

New Traditions has four big fundraisers. There is the Dragon Walk (a walk-a-thon) in the fall, a community fund drive which starts in the fall and continues for a few months, a winter auction, and a spring carnival.

Tour

We then broke into smaller groups for the tour of the school. They noted in particular that we should pay attention in the classrooms to how the children were broken out into centers, which are utilized for differentiated learning. The centers allow kids to work on different things at different levels at the same time. I thought it was interesting (in a good way!) that they noted this, as effective differentiation seems like it should be important to everyone and all schools should be touting their efforts.

Garden

We started in the nice-sized garden. The garden teacher described some of the work the students do, including that the fourth graders are currently learning about decomposition and first graders are about to start learning about the garden animals, including worms. She noted that the science in the garden is aligned to the standards in the curriculum. Students who help tend the garden get cooking lessons and eat the food produced by the garden. The school also has two additional green spaces – habitat gardens – in the school as well.

Second Grade Bungalows

We next walked by the second grade bungalows. They were painted the same color as the rest of the school and I would not have realized they were bungalows if that was not pointed out.We did not actually enter the bungalows, but we were told that they are bright rooms as they have a wall of windows on the far side that we could not see from the path.

Just outside the bungalows we walked by the butterfly garden, which was one of the other green spaces.

Outdoor Play Space

We then saw the main play yard which is L-shaped, and actually seemed rather large given the school’s small footprint. There is a small play structure for climbing and with slides. There are also the usual yard markings, foursquare, etc. The recesses are staggered K/1, 2/3, and 4/5, as with the other schools I have seen. K-3 students have three recesses – a morning recess, lunch recess, and an afternoon recess. Kids in 4-5 only have one recess in addition to their lunch recess.

Students primarily play on the main yard for recess. There is a lower PE yard, although that is rarely used for recess. The main yard is large enough to accommodate the 88 kids who would be out at recess at any given time. There is a PTA funded recess monitor.

There is also very small upper yard, but it is not used for recess. It is the site of the staffed drop-off that starts at 9:15 AM and where morning circle is held.

Classrooms

We only visited two classrooms – a first grade and a kindergarten.

In the first grade class, students had small desks put together as tables. Most of the students appeared to be doing math and were going through Everyday Math workbooks. However, some students were working on reading, while others appeared to be writing. The teacher was helping some kids individually. The kids all seemed pretty on task.

We then went into a kindergarten class where students were working again in different groups on different things. There was a small group of students who had headphones on and were presumably listening to audiobook versions of the physical books they were each flipping through. A few kids were actually working on the computers that were at one end of the classroom. The teacher was going between a group of students working together on the rug – they seemed to be doing something related to English Language Arts as they had small cards with one word on each – and another group who were sitting at a table.

Given that New Traditions is now over 50% white, I was a little surprised (though pleasantly so) at how diverse the kids in both classrooms appeared.

Computers

We were told there are computers in the classrooms, as we observed. There are also computers in the library as well as a laptop cart.

Art Room

We then visited their dedicated art room. They do have one art teacher supplied by the district and then they fund a ceramics teacher. We were able to view the neat United States quilt referenced during the parent presentation before the tour.

Library

The last stop was the library. It seemed small and did not appear to have a lot of books, as they only filled half the room. There were indeed several computers at one end of the library. I did see books in the classrooms, so perhaps the total number of volumes is much higher than it looked.

Q&A

The Q&A itself was fairly brief. The parents leading the tour answered some questions, brought in some 4th graders to answer questions, and then the principal, Maria Luz Agudelo, spoke with us.

We were told that there are a lot of long term teachers and the principal has been at the school for about 10 years.

Mini Q&A with Fourth Graders

Four fourth-graders came and answered questions about the school, similar to what happened at Miraloma. As with Miraloma, obviously kids who could make a great impression were selected, but again it was a nice twist because these kids were awesome and unfailingly honest. All the kids were overall satisfied with the school. The one funny moment was when someone asked if bullying was a problem and the two girls said “not really” and the boys were like “uh, yeah, sometimes.” However, all the students felt their teachers help them work through conflicts, including with bullying.

The parents on the tour mentioned that the school is starting to use Response to Intervention as part of conflict resolution.

At this point, the kids left and the principal came and fielded a few questions.

Differentiation

The principal again emphasized that they are really focused on doing differentiation, particularly using centers. Because a class does not work on the same subject at the same time every day, given that there is enrichment on certain days (e.g., garden, art, etc.), the teachers are able to be flexible and have students working on different things at different levels at the same time. She really hammered home their efforts at differentiation.

Common Core & Balanced Literacy

The principal noted that they are implementing Common Core as is the rest of the district. She added that they are also using Reader’s Workshop, Writer’s Workshop, and Balanced Literacy.

How Can the School Improve

The one thing principal said the school wants to work on is to have even more integration of art into the curriculum.

Grade Promotion/Skipping

Asked about grade promotion (meaning grade skipping, not end of the year promotion), the principal noted that it was something that could be considered, but was obviously always decided on a case-by-case basis. She noted that it is not only about the academics, but it was important that it was appropriate weighing social and emotional issues. She said the same considerations would go into an assessment for grade retention.

Final Thoughts

New Traditions seems like a great school, and the arts focus is unique and appealing. I appreciated that they really emphasized that effective differentiation was important to them as it is important to me too! While it will be on the list, I think there will be schools listed higher that we like just as much that are a little bit closer or more convenient.