Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Attending school events

By now many of us have visited a handful of schools. Maybe you already know which ones are your top choices, or maybe, like me, you're still confused.

To help sort through my confusion, over the weekend our family made the trip to Corte Madera to attend a book fair at Marin Country Day School. As my husband pulled the car out of our garage, I looked at the time. En route, we passed by Alice Fong Yu; we had been in the car for 12 minutes at that point. We then inched through some traffic on 19th Avenue, and zipped across the Golden Gate. After 40 minutes, we arrived at MCDS.

The drive was actually pleasant. Free to Be You and Me was blaring on the stereo; the kids were relaxed and quiet; my husband and I actually got to talk. What concerned me more was the CO2 our Volkswagen Jetta, which was supposed to get good mileage but doesn't due to SF's hilly terrain, was spewing into the air. Ever since I saw an Inconvenient Truth and read Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker series, "The Climate of Man," I get a guilty feeling every time I'm in the car.

Once we pulled into the parking lot, my guilt subsided. My children hopped out of the car and ran around on an expansive soccer field that sits right on San Francisco Bay. The day was glorious and it felt good to be out of the city. We walked over to the book fair, where a wide selection of new and used books were for sale. I found a load of used Boxcar Children books for Alice and my husband bought me a beautiful new cookbook, Chocolate & Zucchini, by my favorite blogger, Clotilde Dusoulier.

We spent most of our time playing at the kindergartener's playground. Alice and Sam ran in and out of a little red barn, climbed a tree, and walked along a dry creek bed. No doubt, they enjoyed themselves. My husband and I talked to some other parents. All very nice, down-to-earth people.

The point of this post is to say that if you're seriously considering a school, you ought to go to more than a tour. Many of the independent schools offer events specifically designed for prospective parents. With the public schools, it's a little harder. You have to dig and make some phone calls—as they don't send out fliers alerting you of events. To help you out, I've tracked down some upcoming events at independent and public schools (be sure to call ahead to confirm dates and times). And if you know of others, post them in the comments section and I'll add them to my list. Thanks!

School choir performance, Thursday, November, 1–1:45 p.m.
Silent auction in March

Winter Fair, Wednesday, December 5, 6 p.m.
Winter Peace Assembly, December 14, morning

Buena Vista
Posadas, Friday, December 14, 6 p.m.; singalong, potluck

Winter Celebration, Thursday, December 6, evening

George Peabody
Winter Singalong, Thursday, December 13, evening (tentative; check back first week in December)

Leonard Flynn
Kinder Info Night, Thursday, November 29, 6–7 p.m.

Open House, Saturday, November 17, 10 a.m.–noon; Informal setting in the
library with talks from the Principal, PTA officers, on-going school tours and Q&As

International Potluck and Talent Show, Friday, November 16, 5:00 p.m.

Starr King
Movie Night, Thursday, November 8, 5:30 p.m.; movie and dinner for $2

Live Oak
Open House, Tuesday, November 13, 7–9 p.m. (adults only)
All school open house, Saturday, December 8, 1–3 p.m. (adults and children)

Open House, Saturday, December 1, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.


  1. Kate, the Alvarado Winter Fair on Wednesday, December 5 will be at 6pm (when most evening events start at our school). It's a all-school event with families so it will be crowded and noisy, but fun! Also note the kids will be putting on a Winter Peace Assembly on December 14th. I'm not sure of the time but likely in the morning; I'll post back when I hear. More calendar items can be found at

  2. I'm the Alvarado poster again. Just wanted to say that I really agree with you that it is good to rely on more than the school tours. I think it is especially important with the public schools, which are relying on parent volunteers to conduct the tours with crowds of parents in tow. If you have a created a short list of schools, it may be time to attend a few real events at each of them (real in the sense of, it's the community doing its thing, not marketing itself to you), or show up for a morning assembly before school starts. Many parents would be quite happy to talk with you if you introduced yourself. At least, I know I would! At Alvarado, more than a handful of moms and dads are usually hanging around our schoolyard chatting after morning assembly when the kids have gone off to class. On Thursdays and Fridays our ELAC committee sells coffee to raise money and that keeps even more parents on the yard.

  3. Kate, does it worry you that you would be so far away from your kids if they attended MCDS (unless I'm missing something and you actually work in Marin County)? I mean, if they get sick and need to be picked up, or for volunteering and midday school events and such?

    I'm not looking at MCDS, but I am considering a public middle school across town and am weighing location as a factor--school I like, school my kid likes, good academics but at least 45 minutes away by crosstown MUNI bus and at least 30 minutes (and over hills and through traffic) by car. I can see it would limit my involvement and ability to attend events, and I'm not sure my kid fully understands what it would mean to make that trip day in, day out, since right now our school commute is 5 minutes max.

  4. Grattan is having a book fair and Literacy Night tomorrow -- 11/8 from 5-7 pm -- there will be a book making workshop and story telling for the kids and a great selection of children's books for sale, and some adult books too.

  5. There were a lot of fall events at the enf of October/Beginning of November.

    I have the following down for McKinley

    Saturday, November 17 McKinley Open House, 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon.
    Come by McKinley and spend some time meeting with current school parents. Informal setting in the
    library with talks from the Principal, PTA officers, on-going school tours and Q&As.

    Keep an eye on the lists PPS-SF & SFSchools, and for other events.

  6. For those looking for middle schools, James Lick (proud alma mater of Santana!) is hosting an open house this coming Friday, November 9th, from 5:30-6:30pm. JLMS is located in the heart of Noe Valley and has a general ed program as well as a growing Spanish Immersion program.

  7. I've been to five tours to date, and still have yet to get a real sense of the teachers---they're background, experience, passion. I feel like they are the missing link in my ability to truly evaluate these schools. Any tips or insights into who are the teachers in SF public schools and how to spot a stellar educator and a mediocre instructor would be helpful (I've had many of both, and it had quite an impact).

  8. It would be pretty hard to get a sense of a teacher on a tour. Maybe you would catch a glimpse of a wonderful moment, or a warm atmosphere in the classroom (or the opposite), but it seems to me the only way to really get a sense is to find a family or families that will talk with you.

    It would be good to find families that have many years at that school and to ask specifically about the teachers on each grade level. Heck, ask the kids too what they have liked and disliked. Understand that teachers do come and go--some go on maternity leave, or they move on to a different school, and new teachers arrive; but if you hear good things about teachers at multiple grade levels that is a good sign of leadership overall.

    Remember to ask why the parents/kids like the teachers. What is their style of teaching, can they teach to multiple skill levels, what is the classroom like, can they teach multiple subjects well (e.g., science, arts, and are they incorporated into the core subjects of language arts and math).

    I just also want to say that having just found this blog, and reading all the *very interesting* comments, and even having said myself about finding families to talk with etc., that all of your kids will be fine. Really! I remember stressing a lot too during the K search, but once you are safely there I can pretty much guarantee that you will take a breath and realize that your kids would have done well in almost any of the schools that have been mentioned here--and many others too. These are all fine schools and you and your kids are poised to take advantage of all that is offered.

    It probably won't stop you from stressing, but try repeating this mantra to yourselves when you are lying awake at night!: "[Name] is gonna be fine." I know it sounds crazy, and I swear I'm not a slacker mom, but there is no exact right choice, but many really good ones, the truth is that you could throw darts at the list offered on this blog and your kids will do well at whatever choice that yields.

  9. Kate, I just wanted to thank you for posting all this info about the schools. I know you must be as crazy-busy as the rest of us, and the fact that you take the time to pass along information like this really speaks to your generosity of spirit.

    Also, in response to the person who wanted to talk more with the teachers, if you're interested in Flynn, I would definitely come to the kindergarten information night. I've spoken with a couple of parents with children there, and they said that experience is what really sold them on the school. I toured there this morning, and while Flynn was far from perfect (but i mean, really, what school is?), the teachers seemed wonderful, as did the principal, and the children seemed really engaged in the classroom. It felt like a warm, caring place, especially the teachers. I'd be interested in it for the immersion program, but this one teacher in the English-language strand was just amazing to watch.

  10. Kate, I received a postcard that there is a MCDS "coffee" on Thursday night, if I remember correctly, at the Bay School (?), at, I think, 6.30? I'd call the school if interested, as I can't find the postcard.

  11. Marshall Elementary School

    Casa Abierta
    Venga a conocer a los maestros, Obtener mas información del programa inmersión en dos idiomas, participar en actividades, y asegurar que sus preguntas sean contestadas.
    Sábado el 17 de noviembre del 2007
    10 am – 12 pm

    Open House
    Come meet Teachers, learn about the Immersion Program, participate in activities, and have some of your questions answered.
    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    10 am – 12 pm