Monday, November 19, 2007

Hot topic: parochial schools

The comments posted by SF K Files visitors are what's making this site an interesting and engaging place. So I've decided to introduce a weekly "Discussion Topic." Every Monday, I'll post a new topic for visitors to discuss and debate. Let's start with parochial schools as I've received several emails from visitors interested in these.


  1. Some friends have recommended that I check out the following three schools:

    Star of the Sea
    Saint Monica's
    Saint Vincent DePaul
    St. Philip's
    St. Luke's
    Notre Dame des Victoires

    I have to admit that I've resisted looking at parochial schools as my husband and I aren't religious. Though I have heard that the schools in San Francisco are progressive and you don't have to be Catholic or whatever religion the school is affiliated with.

    I will probably look at St. Philip's as it's close to my home.

    Does anyone know anything on the schools I've listed above?

  2. We toured one K-8 in the inner richmond so far. It's a small school and seemed under-enrolled at all grade levels. The school seemed very sincere and open to welcoming everyone, catholic or not. I found it a bit difficult to gauge academic achievement but it appeared that the school is fairly high achieving with 8-9 graduating students getting accepted to Lowell and others getting into SH and SI. The class sizes are similar to public. Enrichment seemed lacking since the school is so small. I worry some about teacher credentials. It seems to me that
    you have more accountability with publics.

    I think we will tour two others. For us, it's a last resort - a backup plan. My heart is with public for a variety of reasons including that I honestly believe it will be the best experience for our child.

  3. I have a mixed view on Star of the Sea. I know many very lovely families whose children go there; but I've also heard that class sizes are *very* large in early elementary - 30 kids or more! You'd never see that in a public school. A few years ago the school apparently asked a number of kids with learning differences to leave. Private schools can weed out kids they think they can't serve, but these families considered themselves part of the community and many were reportedly devastated to find out they were no longer wanted.

  4. i think reading that last comment about the special needs kids needing to leave their school may have really solidified my decision to send our child to public school (though yes her dad has a say too :-)). I've been looking at just about everything. But seriously, i can't imagine how that would feel to a child or her family. i understand the schools can't address these children's needs, but it seems as if learning difficulties aren't always assessed until children are older and esconced in a school. what a sad situation that would be to have to leave your friends and community. (on a side note, my cousin is a school psychologist back East. She said 9 times out of 10 when a child is sent to her for testing -- for ADHD, etc -- they don't have a disorder, but rather - in her opinion, are being asked to do work that is beyond their developmental level. She said it's depressing as hell; she works in a public system, so I suppose that shows the faults with standardized curriculums. She also says that at least in her district, which I believe is high achieving, there is such an emphasis on excelling academically, that "average" kids -- i.e., the C students -- seem to get lost in the shuffle.

  5. Kate, I have heard that the Catholic school near the Church Street Church is also good. St. Paul's? Might be worth looking at in addition to St. Phillips. If the goal is to be walking distance to a school, that would fit the bill, probably.

  6. How much is tuition at parochial schools?

  7. I have toured quite a few parochial and the class sizes are larger than the public for the most part. However, in the early grades they have 2 teachers in the class. Also, public only has 20 children per class up to grade 3 I think. Then the class size increases to 28 plus.
    The kids break into smaller groups alot and I have heard the large class sizes work because of the expectations, structure and discipline at the parochials.

    Star of the Sea actually has smaller class sizes and the principal stated on the tour he wanted to try to keep his classes to 25. This year the kindergarten was only 17 with 2 teachers. The lower grades have 2 teachers so the ratio may actually be a bit smaller than public.
    On the tour of St. Vincent de Paul a mother of a first grader said she came over from Claire Lillenthal because her son had learning issues and was not getting the extra help she wanted. She said she thought CL was a great school but her son was doing better at SVDP because of the learning specialist there. All the parochial I saw had a learning specialist.

    I talked to 3 moms who love Star of the Sea at length. One called it "Catholic lite" because it is less than 50 % Catholic and many different religious backgrounds are represented there.

  8. Tuition-
    St. Cecilia:
    Parishoner or Catholic
    1 child-4400
    2 children-7480
    3 children-10560
    Non Catholic-5270

    Star of the Sea-
    I think 4500 or 5000

    Catholic schools range from 4500-6000 ish. You get a break for each additional child. 30 % off for #2.
    Once you get to child #4 its a free ride at some schools.

  9. A few years ago I was volunteering at the kindergarten orientation at my kids' now-former SFUSD elementary school. I was at the welcome table with another mom.

    A family came in -- parents, two elementary-age children, and a tiny girl in a wheelchair. The tiny girl was the incoming kindergartner, it turned out -- tiny, apparently, due to her disability (I don't know what the disability is).

    I asked cheerfully if they were already at the school (it's a big school, so I wouldn't know everyone). The parents said no, they were a St. Cecilia's family and the other kids go there, but the youngest was going to public school because of her disability.

    I still don't know what the disability is, but I have since heard that it's progressive and she isn't expected to live to adulthood.

    I've met many private-school families who send one sib to public because he/she has disabilities. They're matter-of-fact about it -- it's just a given that the kid with the disability has to go to public school.

  10. As a non-Catholic, I toured 3 parochial schools a few years ago (WP Lutheran, St. Gabriel's, and NDV). I liked NDV because it was smaller and felt the most diverse and inclusive. The religious posterboards in the halls featured general themes like "faith". We have friends there who are happy with the school but are disappointed that the average class size has grown recently. I know many families who like St. Gabriel's but as a non-Catholic it felt too religious and the rule about no co-ed birthday parties after 3rd grade (or something to that effect) really freaked me out. WP Lutheran is very academically focused and on the tour it was obvious that it would not have been a good fit for our kids but for the student who thrives in structure, it might be fine. They have a brand new building and very high percentage of graduates who get into Lowell. Many parochial schools separate the boys and girls on the playground, so that's a good thing to ask about.

    I have heard that St. John's in Glen Park is sweet.

    I find on this blog and on the listserves there are a lot 20K/year vs. public school discussions. I think public school advocates generally have better luck with the folks who are looking at Catholic schools even though they aren't Catholic or even religious. These are people who are only looking at these schools because they're uneasy about the public schools or want a backup in case the lottery doesn't work out. I think a fair number of people fall into that category.

  11. While I think it's true that many faith-based schools in SF are fairly progressive and broad-minded (they have to be, given who is here), it's still true that the institutions have as part of their mission a certain amount of faith formation. It may be soft-pedaled but it is in part what they are there for. There will be values taught (and many of those values may in fact line up with those of a family that is not from that tradition--the golden rule, etc.) and holidays shared. The kids will pick it up.

    Especially for families that have no faith tradition of their own, the hope would be that even if the family is not religious now, they will have a good experience at the school and will consider it for the future. I'm saying it in a simplistic way, but this consideration is part of the mix for those that run and fund the school. I say this as a faith-based person myself and someone who knows many who are involved with schools with a religious base.

    In the case of families from that faith tradition, it makes sense to me that they might want that. It would be a reason to pay to go to that school. Although my kids are in public for other reasons--we have found a good education for free, plus an education in citizenry, i.e., being part of an incredibly diverse community--I could see the faith component as an added bonus. I know folks have done Brandeis for that reason.

    Usually when people say parochial they mean Catholic or maybe Lutheran, but there is also lovely St. Paul's (Episcopalian) in Oakland. Cathedral School for Boys (fabulous, but too high society for me) is also Episcopalian, as is the fancy new Bay School in the Presidio. The Episcopalians are a particularly broad-minded bunch, so I have run into current parents who are not aware of the Bay School-Episcopalian connection, but there it is. They have a kind of chapel time with meditation from what I hear.

    Waldorf might be considered pseudo-religious by some (Rudolf Steiner), but that is a whole other think the private-public discussion gets heated!

    This is all just to say again, any school with a religious or faith base or theosophical or whatever base is going to be teaching something in addition to reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic, so if you are a secular person or from another faith, just be sure you will be comfortable about your kids swimming in those waters. Especially if you are not raising them in a faith tradition at home that is clearly theirs, or you might find them taking on the one they are given at school. Might be easier for the families that have a strong tradition of their own to swim in the waters of someone else's.

  12. I have toured a couple of parochial schools. The ones that are fully enrolled seem to have class sizes of 30. The parish schools are perennially short on funds and they do rely on their people (including the nuns) to teach for less out of a sense of mission.

    I worry about both of these things, not the mission-driven part but the quality of teaching and the lack of attention per child. Seems like most kids will do okay (as they do) but any problems could fall through the cracks, and both delayed and gifted children might not get what they need, compared to what is on offer at some of our better public elementaries for both populations.

    Not only do the public schools have credentialed and (by comparison only, since this is not a lucrative profession) better-paid teachers, but the class sizes are 20 in the lower grades and often 24 in the upper grades as so many schools seem to spend part of their site money on class size reduction for the upper grades.

    Not worth it to pay for parochial, in my opinion, unless I had a parish connection to one of the schools and wanted to raise the kids in that community.

    That said, I know folks who have been very happy at St. Philip's in particular, all the way through 8th grade. Their girls are lovely and bright kids, and they are active in that parish so they get the whole experience.

  13. I had also heard that the Catholic schools have uncredentialed teachers but I did not find that to be true. All had credentialed teachers and many with master's degrees.

  14. St. Brendan's in West Portal is supposed to be good, but I think difficult to get in if you are not a member of the parish.

    I've heard negative things about the teaching quality at Star of the Sea, though also have friends of friends who like it.

    People seem happy at NDV.

  15. Private schools in general can set their own hiring guidelines (credentials required etc.)

    The Archdiocese runs a separate school system in San Francisco, with its own school board that sets curriculum requirements, etc. and individual parochial schools are accountable to it.

    The SF Archdiocese requires all Catholic school teachers to be credentialed. About ten years ago the Archdiocese also required that schools pay their teachers in line with SF Unified teachers. I'm sure retirement benefits, are probably lower, since they are not part of the state retirement system.

  16. One comment stated that the parochial schools are underfunded. That does not seem to be the case at SVDP, NDV, and maybe some others. SVDP and NDV both had their own science lab. In early elementary years they start doing hands on science projects and experiments. SVDP uses the Foss program and NDV had a science specialist teaching who seemed passionate. I love the idea of hands on science vs. textbook learning. Do any SF public schools have a science lab? I have not heard much talk about science at any of the public tours. All the parochial I saw also have computer labs with a computer teacher. Art and music teachers too. Some had smart funds, large gymnasiums, and language teachers. They don't seem underfunded to me.

  17. I think it depends on the school. NDV is well funded. Saint Ignatius on the high school level is well funded. Not so true of St. Charles (Inner Mission) or the one in the Bayview. Class inequities apparently exist in every system as well as between systems as has been discussed. Perhaps that poster toured the wrong schools.

    There is good science in many, though probably not all, of our public schools. Lawton has an excellent science program. Alvarado has a science lab and dedicated science teacher, and each child gets a science rotation. They also have a computer lab and full-time computer and technology teacher. I know of no public elementary that is teaching science out of a textbook or kit. It is all hands on (balls and ramps, growing things, boat trips on the Bay to study aquatic life and other excursions in the field). Also, the Foss program is taught throughout the district.

    Art and music varies by school as well but is very present in many if not all by all (thanks to Prop H). Alvarado of course has a stellar and comprehensive arts program, but others do too. The art programs at the middle schools are amazing--art every day, either one subject all year, like orchestra, or a rotation. Plus all the middle schoolers get PE every day, full gymnasiums, and lots of sports team options.

    The quality of science classes no doubt vary across public schools at the upper levels but do check out Kate's post that links to the NY Times article about the biotech kids at Lincoln High School. They beat out MIT, Princeton et al students in a competition, so clearly they are doing something right there.

    I think you can find good parachial and some not so good, just as you can find many good public schools and some not so good. The range of quality might be called comparable. For me it comes down to not having a particular need for my kid to be learning in a religious tradition, so why pay for the privilege. We have found good public schools on the elementary and middle schools levels (so far). Others may want the religious element, of course.

  18. If you want parochial and smaller class sizes, there is one in the Portola district called St. Elizabeth's


    One of my neighbor's children goes there and likes it a lot.

    I have toured St. Philips and they made a point of saying they embraced multiple religions and I felt there was less iconography than at NDV (But I was only at their open day).

  19. i have heard that st. peter and paul in sf will base their decision on the assessment score and will immediately let you know if you are in -- a definite plus!