Wednesday, October 22, 2014

School Tour: Presidio Hill

I am really not sure how I felt about Presidio Hill School.

I liked parts of it, felt some parts were too much, didn't like other aspects of the school ( besides tuition ;). This post is really for me to sort through these thoughts.

We made our way across to Presidio Hill, had light traffic, found parking challenges and finally made it  to the school a few minutes after the tour had officially started. Parent volunteers greeted us at the door and escorted us to the library, where the rest of the group was assembled listening carefully to the headmaster Scott Duyan.

I really liked the parent volunteers. Very friendly. Casually dressed and not snooty. In contrast there were a lot of brand name bags/shoes/watches and an air of importance in the roomful of hopeful parents. Not Chanel or Prada but designer nonetheless. It could be my insecurities but I did notice this as did my husband. It was my lesson for future private school visits - hopeful private school parents dress up!

The headmaster focused on schools philosophy of education, progressive differentiated learning, hands on projects based curriculum to help students learn the "process" and not focus on answer. He mentioned how in Maths class for instance they would talk/discuss how the solution was arrived at rather than whether the answer is right or wrong. This really impressed me.

After the Q& A, we were led by parent volunteers to tour the school. We went with the TK group as our son would be eligible for TK. The TK classroom was small but bright. The kids were working on the table doing their arts/crafts thing. A parent volunteer helped. Kids were not distracted by us but kept working. As kids were done with their work, they went about solving a big picture puzzle or reading a book.

The TK classroom has a yard right outside their classroom which I could totally see my son spending all his time on. Next we went to K classroom where the teacher was teaching phonetics in a very traditional way. She said the letter and what it sounds like and the kids repeated and went on to write it out. One parent commented on this style teaching and the parent volunteers were unsure about it. There were responses like different teachers have different styles to kids have to learn their alphabets right?

To be very honest it, it put me off- but I am not sure how else do kids learn alphabets?

The other reaction was based on what my son is doing in preschool now. He is learning phonics and alphabets. And trying to write. If we do send my son to TK then he will be doing this essentially for next 2 years. While I am all for not being too academic and be more fun in early education years; I am thinking hard about paying $$$ for things that will be repetitive/ what he already may know by then.

We saw a few upper grade classrooms ( don't recall exact grades). But the way science is taught in class rooms, the school has stewardship of mountain lake and kids pitch in to maintain/clean it, was very cool. the upper grades also go on overnight trips to Catalina island to learn Marine Biology. Which while exciting fell in a "feels live over the top" category to me.

I liked their well stocked library, use of ipad's in classroom and generally well kept facility. The classrooms are small though bright and cheerful. This coupled with small class sizes ensures that the teacher can literally stand in one place and keep an eye out on all kids.

The school has an roof top play area which is also used for recess. PE classes are in Julius Kahn which I love as a location.  Music is part of curriculum and we saw the class in action drumming and thumping along. There is after care for a fee with lot of enriching and entertaining options which are changed seasonally.

The school is less diverse than public schools - it stood out glaringly to me.

We also saw the new building that they have acquired to expand their campus. This is where the TK and K classes will be housed. Its a beautiful house and they are in the process of converting it into classrooms and will be ready for Fall 2015 class.

If we were eligible for K class, I would pursue Presidio Hill further. At TK and with the huge tuition I have second thoughts. Maybe we need to see a few other privates to compare/contrast.

Which other private schools have a TK? Or accept late summer boys? I will probably modify my school tour list to focus on those.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

School Tour: Spring Valley Science

I am trying to write up my thoughts on the few schools that we have toured so far quickly. Before it all merges together in my head.

I have driven past Spring Valley school on many occasions and so was pleasantly surprised to see it listed as Science focused school in the neighborhood. Proximity +  Science/Maths focus. Double win.
When I toured the school, I was the only parent there. The principal, Lisa Kwong led the tour and I came away impressed with the dedication she has to the school and the students. The school building looked warm and inviting. Colorful student potraits and some 3-D art on the walls. An aquarium outside the office. Large, airy and bright classrooms.

Spring Valley has a Spanish and Mandarin Language pathway along with GE classroom. In the Kindergarten Spanish classroom, I liked how the teacher used whiteboards and “fridge” magnets to teach them phonetics. The kids were energetic and engaged. They were either leaning in or standing up to respond to the question asked. Very eager little learners. I even saw a parent volunteer in the classroom.

The classroom layout with individual tables, assigned seating, buckets of pencils/crayons/other art supplies on the table looked similar to what I have now seen at other schools like Sherman and Claire Lilienthal. I suppose that is standard across all schools in SF.

The kids wear name tags with their classroom # on them and they are allowed to go out of their classroom with a buddy. Like if a girl has to use the restroom, another girl accompanies her. I suppose that way they become friends and come back together without wandering off/getting lost. There were couple of lost kids wandering in the hallway but the principal quickly pointed them to their classrooms.

The principal and the staff genuinely care about the students. She asked me not to take pictures with kids. She also made a special announcement to the kids (as they were unexpectedly testing the fire alarm due to some malfunctioning issue) not to panic and to continue what they are doing. During the announcement, one of the staff went to one of the classrooms to make sure they heard it ok. Even the principal peeped into a couple of classrooms and asked the students if they understood what she had just announced.

I think it was the GE Kindergarten class whose usual teacher was on leave that day. The principal helped the substitute teacher lead the class to the computer lab room and back. Even before recess she instructed the substitute teacher to let the kids use restroom before taking them to the yard. And while in the classroom, the kids were at their computers working/playing/learning. they were talking to each other; asking questions. It was not chaos but orderly. 

The examples lead me to believe they genuinely care about the students.

One thing the principal did mention was that the school scores had steadily improved in the last few years. She expects the scores to lower due to change to Common Core and computer based testing. To that end they have started making the kids use computers and be more comfortable with tech. But they do differentiated in class learning based on student skills and how to keep them motivated/challenged. She gave me a couple of examples of kids who were moved to a higher grade and one for whom an advanced syllabus was devised based on teacher/parent and kid input.

They also have an outdoor garden with an outdoor educator, a large well kept school yard with play structure, a computer lab. I don’t recall seeing the library or the cafeteria. But I see it listed on the handout .

They have a fairly new PTA and it’s not as active as other schools. That’s probably because most parents in this school are working full time. Maybe someone here from their PTA can chime in.

 They have after care provided by Chinatown YMCA and the district managed child managed program.
Lisa did mention that while there is variety of activity with Chinatown YMCA, the teachers quality may vary (as they are students themselves). V/s the district managed program which is consistent in teacher quality and is good. 

Before school care as such is not provided. The school yard has a supervisor from 8:15 am so they ask parents not to drop off kids before then.

 All in all I liked the passion and dedication of the Principal and its staff.Spring valley is a gem of a school close to our neighborhood. 

Before shortlisting it, I would want to learn more about their PTA and goals. After touring 4 public schools (Alvarado, Sherman, Claire Lilienthal and Spring Valley), I do think its the PTA that makes a difference. As was discussed in comments section of Alvarado school, an active PTA to me means that the parents and school care for all the kids in a way a single parent cannot. They hold each other accountable. It brings up the entire cohort/class and provides opportunities for everyone. And I don't only mean in terms of money and volunteer time at school ( which of course is great in times of underfunded schools or worse during recession).

I personally have a few friends from my own elementary/middle school who had a great positive influence on me. While they were directly influencing me; their parents were also shaping their character- which in turn had a good influence on me. I hope for my son to make some such friends at school. 

What do you all think in terms of cohort, friendships and PTA? Do kids are elementary schools form life long friendships? What about families becoming friends in schools? Would love  to read your responses!

Another Alvarado School Tour – Beautiful School, some questions about TK

As a middle school teacher I’ve had the benefit of meeting students from all over the district in my 6th grade classes.  The students from Alvarado always seemed very well prepared, socially and academically.  Alvarado was my top choice school for several years.  Last year when they opened the TK class I was very excited, and I had been looking forward to touring.

Our tour started on the yard, a beautiful sunny day.  We were broken into two groups and shown around the school.  Both tour guides love the school and their enthusiasm was infectious.  We were taken by a TK classroom first.  We did not go inside, but there was a lot of busy noise coming out of the room and the teacher was decorating a wall.  I wasn’t super impressed by the room itself, didn’t have much writing on the walls, and all the kids’ projects seems identical.  I couldn’t actually tell the difference between the room and any K classroom I’ve ever seen.  The teacher said Hi! And we were moved along, to a 1st grade immersion classroom.  As other parents have noted, the class was extremely quiet.  The teacher was actively pulling kids for a guided reading group while 30 strangers were in her room.  All the kids were on task, independently reading.  As a teacher I thought this was awesome!  Reader’s workshop is the core of the literacy block and the kids were on task even with an enormous distraction.

We also visited a GE K classroom.  It seems like a very happy, literacy rich space.  We walked into the Art room, 2 kilns! The teacher is actually employed by the district and not the PTA, she corrected the woman giving the tour about this. We also saw the “secret” garden. They have a huge after school program open to all, an active PTSA (both English speaking and Spanish speaking parents seem super involved)  and an Early start that is very convenient for our family. Overall the tour had me impressed (except maybe about TK) until the question and answer session with the principal.

In general the principal was very open about her school and her transition from being AP at Everett to principal at Alvarado.  She said it’s been a big change for her.  Two things stood out for me during the question and answer section.  First of all someone asked questions about test scores and she answered that we are currently in a “vacuum” because the state tests were cancelled last year to be replaced by the smarter balanced assessments this year.  While technically this is true, the district continues to collect data via reading assessments, an integrated writing assessment and the CLAs (Common learning assessments.)  I would have liked her to speak to this.

Secondly, someone asked about the requirements for getting into TK and she started to answer that it is based on birthday (true) then went off on a tangent about how she was so happy to start the TK program this year because adding 22 students allowed her to hire an Assistant Principal.  She was obviously thrilled to have and AP, but this didn’t technically answer the question and showed very little pedagogical knowledge about TK, other that how it is helping her do her job.  When the woman who asked the question repeated it, the PTA tour guide simply referred her to the website.  As a parent of a student attending TK it was a little off putting to be interrupted and not feel like our questions were being answered.

Overall, I think Alvarado as a community is pretty self-sustaining, I am sure my daughter would get a good education there.  It might turn out to be a first choice for me when she starts kindergarten, but I am not convinced by their TK program.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

School Tour: Alvarado

There is nothing much that I can write about Alvarado that is not already written by previous posters here.

Its a solid school with a very involved parenting community. It was one of the first public schools we toured. And I really liked the "school" like building ( compared to some "home" like buildings of private school), bright and cheerful artwork by kids peppered all over the hallways, the outdoor garden, the spacious yard to play during recess. I like the ceramics Arts kiln, the concept of yard coaches to streamline recess and reduce conflicts/bullying.

Kindergartners have separate restrooms attached to their classes and use the yard at specific times when older kids are not around. The play structure in the yard looked big and well maintained.

The principal is new to the school but has a solid record. She met us (parents) in the cafeteria / auditorium for Q & A. She was enthusiastic and enthused about the school.

But a few things that stuck out for us.

1. The PTA raises a little over 400 K /year. Its no surprise given how big the school is.They choose to spend that on money on things like science take home kits, class size reduction, math tutors, PE coaches and art & literacy programs other than school supplies. The PTA  also is heavily involved in a lot of sprucing/cleaning work at the school hand's on. Like painting the cafeteria/auditorium over the weekend; shampooing the Principal's rug etc.

It seemed a bit odd to me that parents were volunteering to do this work instead of spending money on a janitor. I overheard this feedback from couple of other parents who were discussing this as well.

Having said that, the school and the classrooms do look a bit dated and worn with use rather than the well kept interiors of not just private schools but other public schools like Claire Lilienthal or even  Spring Valley.

2. The Kindergarten classroom seemed to be in chaos. The substitute teacher was reading a story while the kindergartners seemed to do their own thing. Some were talking, others walking around yet others doing something else like scribbling. I couldn't help contrast it mentally with the kids at other schools who continued with their task on hand.

I wish we had got to see the actual school teacher in action. Maybe the class tour would have been more realistic.

3. We saw the kids in Spanish Immersion 1st grade. The kids seemed awfully quiet. Not in a way that they were focused on task but just as if they were a quiet bunch.

This coupled with the chaotic K classroom didn't leave a good impression in my mind.

4. I really loved the artists in residence and the studio. Our tour parent volunteer joked that this is where all the "junk" your kids will come home with is made. It offended the artist/teacher but resonated with all preschool parents on the parents who all laughed (probably imagining their kid at the studio and the artistic by products that will come home).

5. The library is being renovated. The kids seemed crammed in the little library and were naturally distracted when our rather large tour group made its way to the library.

Having read so much about it, I wanted to fall in love with Alvarado. When I saw the large group of parent waiting for the tour, it confirmed its popularity. I was let down. That's why I guess touring a school is so important!

 Did you tour Alvarado? How was your experience? What are your thoughts?

TK and then to K - New Blogger

Hello and ¡Hola! to all the people reading this blog and looking for Kindergarten and TK classes for next year. I am part of a bicultural (Mexico and US) family living in Bernal Heights. I have two young daughters, one eligible for TK next year. I have been reading the blog for the last 2 years, in anticipation of my daughter reaching school age.  I hope to be able to help others find the right school while sharing my own process.  I am also hoping to tour all the TKs that we are interested in this year as well as some schools that only have Kindergarten, because honestly I don’t want to have to tour again next year.

As a bilingual family we are only looking at Spanish immersion and bilingual programs for Kindergarten.  We are open to English or Spanish for TK, as there aren’t currently very many bilingual options.  In addition, we speak Spanish at home and any literacy skills she learns in TK will transfer to Spanish in Kindergarten. We are only going to be looking at public schools.  Although there are many fine private schools in the city, I am a public school teacher myself. On a teacher’s salary it is impossible to consider paying for school – we make too much to qualify for significant financial aid and too little to actually pay tuition.  My husband and I both attended public schools and I can’t realistically justify something different for my children.

My oldest child is four years old, born in October. Truth be told, I have very mixed feelings about Transitional Kindergarten.  I would honestly prefer that she start Kindergarten in the fall.  I was a young K and always felt fine with my peers.  My daughter will have already done 2 years of preschool by the time she starts and she will be ready. Since California is providing this extra year for her, I really want it to be worthwhile and different enough from Kindergarten that she won’t be bored.  I would be perfectly happy for her to attend TK at one school and switch to another for Kindergarten if that is what is best for her, but I am also going to be looking at schools that have both programs.

We are looking at schools in the South/East side of the City – mostly Bernal Heights, Glen Park, Mission, Noe Valley.

As of now the schools we will be touring for TK:
Junipero Serra
Zaida T. Rodriguez

For Kindergarten:
Paul Revere
Moscone (Bilingual Program)
Sanchez (Bilingual Program)

I will also tour any new TK programs announced on October 25th that are on this side of the city.

I already toured Alvarado and I will have my review written soon!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Parents for Public Schools workshop

As I mentioned in my first post, I went to a Parents for Public Schools workshop.  Some things I learned, besides the overwhelming number of elementary schools:

The speaker started off the evening talking about the K2C Savings Account, which I thought was odd but also nice as I had heard of it in the news but didn't know any details.  (The K2C website mentions that this is incorporated into the public school math curriculum.  Do they really do this?  Seems like a neat opportunity.)

How the lottery works - I'm sure all you attentive SF K Files readers already know the details, but I was really vague about how this process worked.  For example, I didn't realize that each K program is treated as an independent assignment/lottery process for the first step, so I really didn't understand what they meant when they said that listing more choices helped your chances of getting something that you want.  Tonight I rummaged around the SFUSD webpage and found this fact sheet.

Another fun fact that I didn't know -- elementary schools have one of 3 different start times.  (Thanks to commenters and a friend's mega-spreadsheet, now I know they are 7:50, 8:40, and 9:30 although possibly with some extra variation e.g. McCoppin.)  This information and other basics are in the Enrollment Guide and Enrollment form which are released at the Oct 25 Enrollment Fair.  I don't want to wait that long!

PPS has a mailing list, which I just signed up for, and they also have parent ambassadors at each school that they can connect you with.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Trying to avoid the dread..

PotreroHill 2

Hello everyone!  I'm DFB aka "the dread-filled bunny," a silly name that is a fair description for how I feel at the start of this adventure.

Back when I first graduated from college, I had a couple blogs with various friends.  I have fond memories from then.  Now, many years and a kid later, I don't have time for these things.. or do I?  I have been peeking at this blog off and on for years, and now it's my turn to live it.  I was intrigued by the community around this blog and excited by the prospect of getting feedback from all of you during this search.

I've purposely avoided thinking about this moment for five years.  I am by instinct an over-researcher, over-thinker, maker-of-spreadsheets.. but so far for this K search I have nothing but a short list in my head.  This week I went to a Parents for Public Schools enrollment workshop, and my heart started pounding.  SEVENTY-TWO PUBLIC ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS????  I am not a fan of having too many choices.

These are the things that I am thinking about at the start:
  • Public versus private? We both went to public schools.  I am a believer in public school, he is not.  With an only child, we can probably make a private school work financially.  
  • Mandarin immersion. We are very interested in mandarin immersion.  Our son is currently in a mandarin daycare/preschool.
  • Location, location, location. We live in Potrero Hill and both work nearby, so I really want to keep our school commute short as well.
  • Academics.  Having a strong academic program is really important to Mr. DFB.  I think I agree but I am not sure where in ranks in relation to everything else, and am not sure if it needs to be a focus in elementary school. I want an environment that will nuture our kid's intrinsic desire to learn.
We've barely started making our list of schools that we're going to tour.  Here's what it looks like so far:
  • Public: Starr King, JOES, Daniel Webster
  • Private: CAIS, PKS, Live Oak, Alta Vista, Brightworks (really excited to see that Confused toured it already!)
Time to go make a spreadsheet.

School Tour: Brightworks

Brightworks learning area
Brightworks. One of the first few schools we have toured. And boy, am I impressed or what!
I apologize in advance for a rather lengthy review. But there were way too many things that I loved about Brightworks. 

Bright, energetic space. Check!
Enthusiastic teachers. Check!
Small classroom sizes. Check!
Progressive curriculum tailored to student's interest. Check!
Project based hands on learning. Check! Check!

I absolutely loved what I saw. Reflecting back on my school years, this is a school that I would have wanted to go when I was a kid. 

K classroom
The tour itself was innovative and different. As we were let in to the facility, we ( as in adults and the kids) were allowed to wander and take in the different aspects of the school - the K class room and their little library loft, the kitchen, workshop, small spaces for kids to focus on English and grammar, learn maths, social science etc. This was followed by a small presentation on the schools charter, learning philosophy and then we had age appropriate (called "bands") breakout sessions. 

The kids learn physics, geometry, algebra, science etc through real life projects - like they are learning now about lenses and photography; they learnt about mirrors the last semester and actually built a mirror with many lenses to roast a marshmallow. The kids worked and reworked the prototype and actual device till the rays could be concentrated enough to roast the marshmallow just right. Each project is called "Arc" and has 7-10 kids from an age "band" with a staff coordinator. 

English and Grammar Learning Area

The kids learn to read and write and draw as they work thorough these projects - initially researching (called explorations phase) and prototyping , then building( called expressions phase)and lastly demonstrating and showcasing their projects via written and oral presentations (called exposition phase).

After each project, they take a week to decompress and chill out ( lay on the floor and read or just draw). Next project is then planned based on interest and what skills kids/teachers want them to learn and the entire school space is reconfigured to support that. For instance, they added a black room to help kids understand photo development process. 

Photographs exhibition wall
Few other things that are different from "regular" schools - mixed age classrooms, using real materials to build stuff, using power tools and having exercise routines to help build hand-eye co-ordination, going on field trips every week. 

But its not all free will and fun and games. As one teacher put it, he is trying to teach his middle schools maths and social science. If the kid is not interested in learning that he has to justify and explain it to Gever (Founder)  or Ellen (school director). More likely the kid returns enthused about why he needs to learn rather than be "indulged" and give a pass. The older kids also teach younger kids that help them hone empathy and deepen their understanding. 

Parents of kids and kids themselves were there at the tour to respond to questions and how they like being at school. Some of the K parents gave examples of how their kid plays with Lego's or blocks "better" since starting the school. They will quickly try to draw what they want to build before attempting to build complex Lego structures. That is impressive to me!

One parent whose kid is in middle school there did mention to me to go to public SF schools for elementary years and then come to Brightworks in middle school when kids need more motivation and closely monitored social atmosphere to gain confidence and thrive. Not to mention that would save some serious $$$ as well. 

K reading nook above their classroom

Some more background/notes on Brightworks:
  • Mixed age small school in a warehouse setting - 120 kids all in the same facility. Not sure what the plans are when the school grows in size.
  • Handful kids in High school. As the schools is pioneering in project based learning, they can't create a transcript (today) that will be accepted in a Berkley like under graduate school. But who knows in next 15 years - Berkley or a Stanford may start accepting students with such "alternate" experience and may even start evaluating them differently at the time of college admissions! 
  • Kids create a portfolio of projects over their lifetime to showcase their learning's and skills. Which personally I would value more than transcript grades. But my practical side doesn't agree with it yet.
  • Outdoor  time is on a playground 2 blocks away 
  • Everyone including K kids go on fields trips using public transportation. They learn about navigating the city, using clipper card etc. The older kids also learn about nutrition ( by buying lunch or just a packet of chips & soda for lunch and then getting hungry during the rest of day )
  • Currently backed by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as well as Paul Allen Foundation. I respect them both immensely as well as the work done by the foundations. But I worry what happens if the funding runs out? 
  • Parents volunteer in classrooms and on field trips or by sharing expertise.
  • Community lunch on Fridays by parent volunteers to learn cooking and sharing
  • School starts at 9:30. But before and after school care available.
As an adult Brightworks is a brilliant concept. Having learnt my basic skills in a regular school; Brightworks would be an excellent way to channel curiosity, learn how to create things ( prototype, re-iterate, build, test, correct till you are satisfied), tenacity and patience to ensure "real life" skills. Skills that are important when you enter workforce. 

But as a replacement to mainstream education, I am still a bit hesitant. 
I got the feeling that kids learnt in depth about projects that they worked on. They have pockets of deep information. But am not too sure if they have baseline education in all subjects all across the board.

The founders and teachers agree, Brightworks is not for everyone. 

We will probably visit once again to understand their plans on growth, future funding, how kids who leave Brightworks for public high schools or college adjust to "regular" style of learning having done things differently all their school lives. 

Or maybe start with a summer camp for my son if they offer one to test waters before making the plunge. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Save the Date: October 25th, SFUSD Enrollment Fair

Just a note to remind everyone the School Enrollment Fair is coming up!
Saturday, October 25, 2014
9:30 am to 2:30 pm
John O'Connell High School
2355 Folsom Street

SFUSD says, "See all public schools and attend workshops on the enrollment process, Transitional Kindergarten, Special Education, Language pathways, middle school feeders, afterschool programs and the Lowell application process."

There are also school enrollment workshops available before and after the fair, including ones coming up on October 11th, October 17th, and October 22nd. Here are some more details:

Readers, if you attended the school enrollment fair in years past and have tips to share, please weigh in, I'm sure parents would love to hear your thoughts. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Henrietta's Hunt Begins

Hi SF K Files friends,

I am excited to share my elementary school tour notes with this wonderful community over the next few months. I have enjoyed and appreciated this site ever since I stumbled upon it in 2011, and I have probably spent far too many hours already thinking (and over-thinking!) about schools in San Francisco. 

I live in the Miraloma Park neighborhood with my husband and two kids, the oldest of whom will be kindergarten eligible next fall. Like Confused Parents (hi, fellow new bloggers!), my son has a summer birthday. He will just barely be 5 when SFUSD starts next year. We are 95% sure we are going to send him then, but we acknowledge there is a small chance we may choose to hold him back if we feel he has not hit the maturity level needed for today's kindergarten. 

Last spring, I created a big spreadsheet filled with lots of data points about all the schools we might be interested in, but we realized that at the end of the day we are looking for a school that feels "right" - squishy, emotional decision-making, I know.

Our strong preference is for a public school and we feel the district offers so many wonderful schools, but we are nonetheless looking at a few private schools that we find intriguing. We would only apply to a private school if we deeply felt that one of those schools could be the best option for our family. Of course, given that our son has a late birthday, he misses many independent school cut-offs for next year. In addition, having a second child just two years behind makes the financial considerations of private school an issue, which further narrowed the field.

We have a number of things we would like to have, but no absolute deal breakers (and maybe some tensions between our wants?). Obviously, we want at minimum a safe school where we think our pretty easygoing kids will thrive. Here are some things we are considering:

Proximity - This is the closest to a deal breaker we have. After all, the third column in my school search spreadsheet is "Distance," coming after only "Name" and "Public or Private". We love the idea of a community close to home, and while we will be very involved wherever we end up, that is easier if we do not have to travel far. We are primarily touring schools that are an easy walk or drive from our house or at least on the commute path downtown, although we will look at a couple schools that are not close by. We would rather not drive across town every day for the next 8-11 years (factoring in the younger sibling). Start times factor into this as well, as the further away the school, the later it needs to start. Claire Lilienthal is by all accounts a wonderful school, but that 7:45 am start time that far away is just not doable for our family.

Diversity - Being a part of a school that reflects the city and world we live in is important to us. Our son currently attends a very diverse (racially, socioeconomically, same-sex parents, etc.) preschool, and it would be somewhat unfortunate if we ended up at an elementary school that is significantly less diverse. We are a multiracial family, and I do think there is value to being at a school where some kids look like my kids. The reality though is that my kids will be a minority at any school they attend. Given that, I do not want to write off any school solely because it has over 50 or 60% of one group, but those kinds of stats are a negative for us.

Arts - I have a kid who paints a picture at his free-choice, play-based preschool nearly every single day. He also loves music, especially singing, and sometimes spends all day singing - at home and at school. Sometimes made up songs, sometimes not. I feel that he may find particular enjoyment at a school where he can have lots of opportunities to express his artistic side. I know more and more schools have embraced bringing back the arts to produce more well-rounded students, so I am optimistic that we will find a reasonable amount of "arts education" at most of the schools we tour.

STEM/STEAM - I actually would not have thought this was important to us as recently as a year ago, but it turns out my kids really like math! So schools with any special programs in this area get bonus points. But, as I was the little kid who checked out 17 books at a time from the public library, I do not want a school that consequently undervalues the simple pleasures and benefits of good books and reading.

Foreign language - Immersion is interesting to us, but not something we feel strongly about. That said, it would be great if we ended up at a school where some language instruction is at least available in its before or after school program.

Obviously, we cannot tour all of the many public schools we think could be a good fit. We might be able to add one or two schools to the list below, but childcare and work constraints are unfortunately limiting factors. We plan to rely on parents we know at other schools, the October 25 SFUSD enrollment fair, and impressions from people who have toured those schools if we do not have contacts at the school, including both friends and the reviews here.

We are currently planning to tour (and I know some of these are the usual suspects around here - sorry!):

Public: Miraloma (our AA school), Sunnyside, Glen Park, Lakeshore, Fairmount, San Francisco Community

Charter: Creative Arts, TECA

Private: San Francisco Schoolhouse, Sunset Progressive School, Synergy

More soon!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hello From Confused (but hopeful) Parents From Pac Heights!

Hi there SF K File Readers!

We are excited to start our year long journey to find and get accepted in the right school for our Small Fry. It seems these days we are lurking on this site and/or attending school tours. The talk all around is about K and K search ;) 

Before sharing the journey here, we wanted to introduce ourselves. We are your typical asian couple; raised in a solid educational foundation, middle class values and strong work ethic. Our parents drilled a love for arts and sports only as a means to "round" off our personality and not to become sportsmen or artists.  To them, that would have been too risky (in terms of employment)! 

We were raised outside US and hence are unfamiliar with schools and school systems here. Having lived here in US for a decade and having attended grad school here makes us value US education system. And we hope our Small Fry will learn to value it as well. 

We recently moved to SF and are now thrown in these tricky waters of unified school system and choice. It seems we settled him into a preschool not too long ago and here we embark on K search again. We currently live in Pac Heights but are open to moving closer to the school once we get accepted to aid with day to day life with kids. Oh, and we also have a Tiny Fry who will benefit from all this research and learning when its time!

Like most parents, we love our Fry but we don't know what kind of education styles will suit him. Also he is a late summer baby so we are torn between red shirting him or not. Our Asian background dictates we should send him to school and let him be. Modern parenting sensibilities want us to give him time to mature. So we are exploring public schools, private schools, parochial schools. Alternate Schools and Traditional Schools. We are exploring Arts curriculum and Science focused schools. 

Our hope is to understand more about education options and what kind of education we want for our Fry alongside of shortlisting schools and getting accepted in a school. 

There are a few things we know for sure:
  • We don't care about immersion schools. 
  • Arts is good but we need solid science/maths foundation 
  • We don't care for a trophy school. Neither of us attended one and we turned out OK. 
  • We definitely need after care. But don't necessarily want to fills afternoons with a bunch of activities. 

We have a few schools that we plan to tour/ have toured already. I will post my thoughts on them soon. I won't be posting statistical information ( like class sizes, school hours, extended care options etc ) unless there is something that stuck with me. That is something that can be easily googled anyways. I will be posting information on PTA and participation, school leadership, how the parenting community looked like to me, whether kids were engaged in various classrooms etc. 

Here is a list of schools that we are touring. We are casting our net wide and are working our way through this process.Hopefully we will have more clarity as December approaches.

1. Public Schools: Claire Lilienthal, Peabody, Sherman, Alvarado, Spring Valley 
2. Private Schools: Presidio Hill, Bright Works, Presidio Knolls, Adda Clevenger, Alt School
3. Charter Schools: Creative Arts, Thomas Edison, New School 
4. Parochial Schools: St. Brigid, Stuart Hall for Boys, St. Vincent De Paul

Looking forward to your  feedback, advise and encouragement via comments! 

Confused Parents