Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Grattan Elementary

Reviewed by Kate

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:
teachers who are truly engaging the students; intimate, cheerful environment; awesome computer teacher (he actually helps the students make films); pre-K program; early start time; parent involvement; diversity.

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: Tuesdays, 8:30–9:30 a.m., no appointments necessary
Location: 165 Grattan St., Cole Valley
Grades: K–5 (also pre-K program run by CDC)
Start time: 7:50 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 60 students, three classes of 20 children
Playground: Separate area for kindergarteners
Before- and after-school program: Grattan After-School Program and Exel; other nearby off-campus options
Language: After-school Spanish club
Highlights: Computer science multimedia program, composting and recycling programs, gardening, choral music, mural projects, library studies, film festival fund-raiser.

Kate's impressions
Grattan's two-story building encloses a courtyard that's filled with flowers and greenery, colorful murals, and children's art. It's cheery and cozy—and honestly, when I walked into that courtyard, I felt like I was transported to Europe. This was all too charming for San Francisco!

I was greeted by a parent—a sweet lady with a European accent—who handed me some information on the school and started asking about my child and my school search. She was thoughtful and kind and seemed truly interested in my situation. More and more parents started to show up—our group reached nearly fifty. And then the principal, Jean Robertson, a lively woman wearing glasses with purple frames and an Obama button, stepped out. She greeted us all, and started to tell us about Grattan's huge improvement in test scores. Last year, their scores went up 50 points, apparently a significant jump. Jean actually led the tour—all 50 of us—and walked us through the classrooms. I was impressed.

We started with kindergarten. There are three classes, 20 kids each. When Jean walked into the room, the kids all cheered and she gave some high-fives. They obviously adore this woman. In one classroom, they were sitting at various tables set up with activities: rubber-stamping, mixing food coloring in cups of water, observing tadpoles with magnifying glasses. The teacher wore a voice amplification device around her neck so her voice was slightly amplified when she spoke. Jean explained that they use these in classrooms where a child might have mild hearing loss and studies have show that all children benefit from them because they help kids listen. I think it must have been working because these kids were amazingly engaged in the activities at their tables.

The kindergarten rooms are spacious and airy. They all have separate little play areas with kiddie houses and kitchens, puppet theaters, and lots of dress-up clothes. Parents were helping out in the classrooms and Jean encourages their participation, but she definitely made clear that the classroom positions are serious. Parents can't goof off! They need to follow the teachers' instructions and focus on the kids.

Two of the kindergarten rooms are joined by a clean little bathroom. The rooms open out to a kindergarten-only playground with a structure and huge sandbox. The third kindergarten is on the other side of the building. Kindergarteners get a 20-minute recess in the morning; 25 minutes at lunch; and another 10 minutes at the end of the day.

The kindergarteners go to motor perception twice a week, and I observed one of those classes. This was actually one of those tour moments when I was emotionally moved. The kids were hopping around in a big gym and instrumental music was playing. Kids were shaking their hips in hula-hoops, doing log rolls across a mat, walking on stilts, skipping rope. They were being kids and having a great time.

It's important to know that there's a pre-K program on site that's run by Children's Development Center. For info, you can call 759-2850. Pre-K kids have to go through the same application process to get in to Grattan. Generally, pre-K CDC kids who want to attend Grattan's kindergarten can, but this school is a rising star, so it might become more difficult to get in.

We walked by a classroom for the school's program for autistic children. All of the kids are at recess together, and Jean says this is a great opportunity for teaching the kids in the regular program how to be accepting, sensitive human beings.

Next, we headed upstairs to the tech lab, which is best described with one word—awesome. Planets and rocket ships hang from the ceiling. Robots and astronauts stand behind the rows of computers. I felt like I was walking into a movie set—and actually the computer teacher teaches the kids movie making. One of the school's fund-raisers is a film festival.

We walked through a second grade classroom where the kids were creating pictures with geometric shapes and a fifth grade where the kids were sitting quietly in a circle reading a novel titled The Westing Game. Honestly, the kids in these classrooms were engaged. It was truly apparent.

The older kids share two additional connected play areas outside. There are two bungalows in the corner of the playground and these are used by after-school care. It sounds like this school has myriad after-school options on campus and off. And actually the on-campus Excel program for third through fifth graders is free. There's Jubilee Montessori right across the street. A bus to the JCC. They're all outlined online.

The tour ended in the library that's on the second floor and overlooks the courtyard with picture windows—very nice. Jean opened it up to questions. A parent asked, "How's Grattan different?" and "What are you doing to improve?" Not sure why, but Jean's responses were fuzzy and I left without a clear view of Grattan's direction forward. Surprising because her heart is obviously in it and she's turned Grattan into a great little school.

That said, this is a lovely school and it's one that everyone should check out. I would call it a hidden gem.


  1. can't wait to read this and MCDS review!

  2. Just some clarification: the pre-school at Grattan is a CDC (child development center) run by the SFUSD. It's run separate from Grattan Elementary School. Pre-K kids have to go through the same application process to get in to Grattan. In general, pre-K CDC kids who wanted to get in would get in, but Grattan's star is rising, so the past isn't an indication of the future.

    There are two big events for Grattan. The Film Festival in the fall and the Fun Festival in the Spring. The Fun Festival in the spring is the big ticket fundraiser.

  3. Thanks for the clarifications. I've incorporated them into the post.

  4. I notice that the information on this website does not match what is on the SFUSD websites. Tours at Grattan moved to Fridays a few years ago.