Monday, November 26, 2007

Great minds think differently

How can two people visit the same school and have entirely different experiences?

That's what I wondered as my friend Summer talked about her tour of Alice Fong Yu. She recently visited the school based on my recommendation, and she found it oppressive, rigid, and systematic. She visited all three kindergarten classes, one after the other, and noticed that the teachers and students were doing the exact same thing in all three classrooms. "It was almost freakish," she said.

Summer talked about watching some kids run laps around the playground in a perfectly straight line. It sounded as if she was describing soldiers. She talked about the lack of diversity among the students. "I didn't see one child with blond hair," she said. Summer was especially shocked by the school's claim that in middle school, all classes at AFY are honors classes because all of its students are honors students. "What if your child isn't an honors student?" Summer wondered.

As Summer was describing her experience I was thinking, "What is wrong with me?" I loved AFY. Was I wearing rose-colored glasses on my tour?

While Summer saw a lack of diversity among the students, I saw focused, engaged students. While Summer felt the school lacked arts, I was impressed by the ceramics program. While Summer saw systematic teachers, I saw animated, nurturing ones. While Summer saw rigidity, I saw organization.

Vexed by the rather annoying personality trait that tends to question oneself rather than challenge others, I started to doubt my perception of the school. Am I too rigid myself? Is the school overly academic? Will Alice fail in a school like AFY?

And then Summer smartly pointed out that her daughter Sally and my daughter Alice are entirely different people. They're great friends. In fact, Alice is practically lost at preschool on the days when Sally isn't there. But their personalities, interests, and emotions are as different as vanilla and chocolate. And so wouldn't it make sense that Alice and Sally's moms would be interested in different schools?

As we refine our lists of favorite schools, we'll likely start to look for validation of our choices from our friends. Don't be surprised if your lists aren't similar. Great minds can think differently!


  1. I know what both of you are talking about. I loved AFY also and for awhile it was a definite 1st choice. I love the idea of my child being bilingual, the scores are great, what a unique opportunity. But some doubts did creep in. The diversity was lacking, I saw about 2-3 caucasian children per class and wondered over 8 years how my kid would feel about that and what the social impact would be. Does it matter? The teachers were teaching a character on the board and kids were sitting on a rug. But, she did not enlarge the character, it was not that visible.
    I felt she could have been teaching to an older audience but they were kindergarters. I did notice most kids were very engaged and one teacher was amazingly animated.
    I did not get a warm, happy or nuturing vibe that I got at some of the other schools. Not as much of children's work adorning the walls like at Sherman or Clarandon.
    The principal was impressive, but not warm. I thought some children might have difficulty adjusting to kindergarten and then to adjust to immersion on top of that might be stressful. She said she had not seen that much.
    I know I think an immersion experience would be amazing, but will my child? I am still deciding where AFY will go on my list, I just wish it felt a bit more fun, a bit more nuturing.
    Do you plan to see Starr King or Jose Ortega?

  2. Well, I have a deeply, viscerally negative reaction to characteristics of some private schools as described, as well as in connection with the overall values issues around them -- while obviously Kate and others don't have the same reaction at all. (And don't worry; I won't say anything further about that.)

    People just have truly different perceptions.

  3. ha! i have noticed that, overall, i have liked nearly every school i've seen. then, after talking with friends -- some of whom don't seem to like anything -- i wonder if i'm not being critical enough. if my standards are too low. then i swing back around to, well, maybe i'm picking schools to tour very judiciously, and that helps (schools i'm predisposed to like). or maybe i perceive my kid to be more adaptable than some of the others. or maybe she IS more adaptable, and can thrive in different kinds of environments. or maybe i don't care much about academic rigor anymore (honestly, i don't -- bye bye). i have decided to care about socialization more. this has, quite frankly, really helped me focus on what i like and don't like. it also helps that my husband and i see eye to eye on these things. (it would be harder if the parents had different views on this point.)

    but it still gives me pause when i emerge loving a school and a friend i respect is like, "yick."

    let's talk specifics -- that's always fun.

    i disliked clarendon intensely. both programs! the overall culture. the classroom feel. the sense that the parent body shared a common notion of "lucky we got in here, or we would have HAD to go private." shocking, i know. i expected it to be all that, and obviously, to some, it is. i can tell i would have hated AFY. i grew up in a chaotic family -- order does not come easily to us.

    loved me some alvarado. art. spanish. the whole friggin' package. (though the start time sucks.) i thought it was all it was cracked up to be, dammit. (i really want to like undersubscribed schools, obviously. damn you, alvarado!)

    i want to love fairmount and flynn, because i want spanish immersion and they are nearby, and, to some extent, i do. but some of my buds had reservations. i'm going to revisit both. (caveat: a lot of people seem to dislike schools because of what i consider to be cosmetics -- dirty or clean? dark or light? i understand the need for an inspiring environment, but this is CLEARLY an area where there is great divergence among parents).

    buena vista? clearly, a love it or don't place. it felt off to me, but so many preferred it to my choices. fascinating. it felt very political to me, in a tiresome, 80s, identity politics way.

    grattan. this one was fun. i started out liking the principal a lot, but by the end of the tour i felt she was flogging the "parents should stay out of our business" horse a little too hard. bye bye, grattan.

    sunnyside is an interesting case. i had a private audience with the principal as i was the only one on the tour that day (!). it's a sweet little school, but some vital energy seemed to be missing for me. then again, my friend who is an IRF (she teaches at the lowest-performing schools in the district) really thought highly of it. i have to take what she says seriously -- she is a pro, and as sharecare partners for a year, i know we agree on most every parenting issue. so that gave me pause. also: it is the cleanest school along with harvey milk that i saw. and, now that i think of it, both had big inclusion programs for special needs students (big plus for me).

    miraloma. the same IRF friend has a stick in her craw about this school, even though everyone seems to be falling over themselves to get in. her feeling is that the administration/staff has taken credit for test scores rising, when in fact, the school has just been 'taken over' by the middle class, forcing low-income students out. she did not find the teaching exceptional. she was shocked when she visited and saw how white it has become since the last time she went. left a sour taste, apparently. (i'll admit it: i liked the place a lot. if only they had spanish....) i'm sure we're going to have a fat argument about it when we create our lists (we plan to work together on this). will our friendship survive? stay tuned!..and tonight on channel 45....

    starr king: as i've said in other posts, i think something wonderful is happening there. if we could walk there, it would be on my list. if i was an everyday driver, it would be. but so many people can't cope with its location. i say, give it a chance.

    harvey milk: LOVED it. some of my friends? not so much. concerned about the tiny playground and no green. did you know they have a program where castro seniors read poetry to the kids? how cool is that? it's 60% free/reduced lunch -- read = poor kids -- so the before and aftercare is FREE. just thought i'd mention....

    now, on to the stuff that makes us all a bit twitchy...on a side note, it's funny how uncomfortable caucasians are being in the minority at a school (or with the idea of their kids being in the minority). people of color have to deal with this feeling every day. i wonder why we think white kids aren't up to it? or is it something else? kate, i realize this is a hot-button danger zone, but it's such a huge issue, a cloud, if you will, hanging over the entire process. i think it deserves a post of its own...wasn't there a study recently by an SF state postdoc who found that enrollment in SFUSD is inversely correlated with the presence of african-american students? ugly, but true...makes me sad. SF -- just like everywhere else. you just see some weird stuff out there...are asians not interested in spanish immersion? this surprised me, but seems to be the case...if so, why do you think not? or is a matter of being attracted to high test scores and sp immersion schools don't have them, typically? i couldn't help but notice....

    back to individual schools: would love to get down to brass tacks and know what all of you are really thinking about individual schools. c'mon - let 'er rip. you know you want to!

  4. I haven't toured schools in a while, but I remember well how schools I loved, my friends hated, and vice versa. Much of it was based on our children's differing temperaments. It's good we have choices.

    I can speak about Miraloma and its demographics changes. This is my personal opinion and should be taken as such. Six or seven years ago, Miraloma was a school with rapidly declining enrollment. Most of the school age, mostly Asian kids, in the neighborhood had grown up or moved out. Same with the African American kids further down in Sunnyside. Also, I found out from working with our partner First Five grant preschools that Miraloma had a very negative reputation within the African American community, and families were actively deserting the school.

    When Marcia Parrott took the school on as principal 7 (?) years ago, it was a school that was half empty, and a lot of the people who were there would rather have been elsewhere. Coincidentally, PPS was founded a couple years before, and found Marcia Parrott a warm and welcoming principal, eager to recruit new students and new teachers into her half-empty school. Many of these families were middle class white families, who liked the principal and her vision, liked the diversity, and were willing to take a chance on a school with bad test scores and a worse reputation. These students were not taking the seats of disadvantaged students -- they were filling empty chairs.

    It's true that part of the reason Miraloma's test scores have gone up is changing demographics. However, another reason is targeted hard work by teachers making sure every child is getting what he or she needs academically. Scores have improved among every demographic group. Our PTA funded a reading specialist just to work with kids who don't qualify for special ed, but need extra help in reading.

    When my seventh grader graduated two years ago, there were only 33 fifth graders in the school. This year we will graduate 48, and next year 60. In a district with declining enrollment, this is fantastic. The school is serving everyone better. In my mind, this is a success story, not a problem.

  5. Some points in response to Kim (whose posts, by the way, are fabulous!). And sorry to sound like a professor, but this is all stuff I've followed closely for years and in some cases written about, and I gather there's a fair amount of interest.

    White kids are going to be a minority at ANY SFUSD school. Caucasians comprise about 10% of SFUSD students, and I think it's about 35% of S.F. residents overall. They're even a minority at the most middle-class SFUSD schools, such as Clarendon and SOTA (my son's high school).

    White families are most likely to feel uncomfortable when their kids are a minority in a school with ONE group as the majority. My kids' K-8 schools, Lakeshore and Aptos, have had significant representation of every ethnicity, so it's a whole different feeling. (Aptos has mostly hovered around 12% white, Lakeshore 22-30%.)

    The news reports about the study you refer to didn't address confounding factors, and I'm not clear how much the study addressed them either. To explain:

    African-American kids are (sad but true) statistically prone to lower academic achievement. Middle-class parents look at test scores. Schools with a lot of AA kids are statistically likely to have lower test scores. So, it's a bit complicated to say that white parents are avoiding schools BECAUSE they have a lot of AA kids.

    Also, the study noted that AA and L families are less likely to participate in the choice/request process at all, meaning that their kids are then assigned to whatever schools have openings. That's a big factor too. White families aren't applying to the less-requested schools, so they're filling up with AA kids. Again, that's a different story from "white families are avoiding schools because they have a lot of AA kids."

    And we cynics and media critics could not help but note that the news reports of that study were written by a columnist who is a parent in Walnut Creek schools, which have 1-2% African-American students. For that matter, the author of the study is a Buena Vista parent (also a school with very few AA students).

    Re language immersion -- families that already speak two languages in the home, or at least have a dual-language tradition, are not that likely to seek out an immersion program in yet another language. Some Dutch immigrant friends initially made that clear to me. Chinese families are much more likely to make sure their kids are learning Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin). (In the immersion world this is called "reclaiming the heritage language.")

    And I also have to comment on the clean-school issue, with amusement. When we first looked at middle schools, the popular choices in our part of town were Hoover and Giannini. Both were built in the mid-'50s in bland, characterless style. The then-less-popular option was Aptos, built in the early '30s in Spanish-style deco, filled with colorful ceramic tile, faded and a bit grimy. My husband was leaning toward Giannini (based on scuttlebutt) until he toured it. He was put off by the fact that the principal made a big deal of how clean the school was, in combination with its boring, hospital-like architecture. Anyone looking to buy a house surely would choose Aptos, with its character and all that amazing tilework. Let the people who think blandness and cleanliness are paramount have Giannini, we decided.

  6. Kate, thanks so much for providing this service; your blog's great.

    Specifics. Recently responded on Kate's old post (3 Teachers) to a parent eager for specifics fr happy parents. Since no one else (other than her) has gone to the archived post, hope I may share my response re Sherman to others.

    Sherman: Excell't, getting better ea yr. (Classrm photos etc are v. informative, you need password which you can get on a tour or call school). for parent reviews.

    Very pleased w/K teacher (v. experienced, focused on developmentally-approp learning, etc) and principal. Strong academics, enrichmt, involved parent comm'ty, beaut library, computer rm, etc. 7:50 am start. They are studying the alphabet, strong emph on literacy, other projs (eg family project, meaning of Veteran's Day). Field trips to library, Acad of Sciences, etc.
    Amazed at the weekly enrichmt:
    * Tues: 8:15 -8:45a. Choral music
    9:30 -10:15a. Computers
    * Wed: 10:30-11:15a Art
    12noon-12:45 Gymnastics(2d/4th Wed) & PE (1st/3d Wed)
    * Thur: 8-8:50a Garden'g(2d/4th Th)
    12 - 12:35p Library
    12:40-1:10 p Dance
    * Fri: 1:15-1:45p Reading Buddies (w/4th or 5th grader one-on-one).
    Lot of above due to principal leadership teamed with parental fundraising (goal $100k this yr, not bad, considering only 2 Genl Ed K classes). Hope the teachers, programs are just as good in the higher grades.

    Demographics-Our K class:11 white, 3 Asian-Am, 2 Hisp, 2 Middle Eastern, 1 Afr-Am, 1 Indian-Am. Nice families. Higher grades have more Chin-Am,lwr socio-econ homes; lwr grades increasingly white, mid/upper class, educ'ted families.

    Downsides: no foreign language

    Tours: Fri 9 am. (If this is a problem, contact school or Sherman PTA to arrange for another time or to talk to current parents).

    THIS Fri, Nov 30, 8-9 am is our monthly PTA coffee-great opp'ty to talk to lots of parents before 9 a tour. Coffee is ev last Fri.
    Tues, Dec 11, 6 pm -Holiday Musicale. Children's holiday songs

    There are LOTS of exc'lt pub schs which we didn't know about last yr (Was going to go priv if we didn't get into CL, Clarendon & Rooftop, the only choices we foolishly put) & yet still got a great sch, so have faith).

    Toured last yr but didn't put down:
    * Grattan (great principal, but dark school (meaning not sunny & spacious like Sherman), but have friends who love it),
    * Alamo (not very diverse, meaning v Asian-Am, didn't get the gut/great energy feeling),
    * Argonne
    * RL Stevenson (again not v diverse, seemed too test-score focused, didn't sense parental participation, not enuf enrichmt). Above are all fine schs; diff parents have diff priorities, vibes

    Re Kim's twitchy issue: I sought strong academ/enrichment schools w/involved parents, and those turned out to have a critical mass of engl-speaking caucasians. Diversity to me means not 75% of just one race, whatever the race. But the bigger part was the cultural/language barriers' possible impact on parent particip'tn. The thriving publics w/ "energy" have parents who volunteer & donate $. My limited perception fr my few tours was that the schs w/largely immigrant As-Amer students seemed (to me) to have less parent involvmt & less enrichmt stuff which is not "tested." Caveat is that I only saw very few schs, so may not be so at an AFY. Was concerned re the impact of lack of parental particip/enrichment on the school and on my child's educ'tn. So, it's not race: Non-immig Asian-Ams can be + involved parents than immigr, Russian-speaking whites. Not faulting hard-working immigr parents (of any race) who may find it financially or culturally challenging to volunt or donate $ and obviously there are lots of Eng-speaking caucasians who aren't involved. PPS deserves huge credit for teaching SF parents to get involved and build a btr pub school. Good luck!

  7. that's one thing that impressed me about harvey milk -- very involved parents of all socio-economic groups. it was rare enough that i noticed it on the tour. true of fairmount, too. and possibly true of mckinley -- which i also loved -- though i didn't see enough to say for sure. my husband attended rooftop and said they clearly do some outreach.

    one thing i have learned is that some schools do outreach among their low-income populations to get families involved in festivals, volunteering, and simply being a more active part of the school community. some do not. that seems to be the reality.

    it's not that i actively seek a level of diversity at a school that reflects the *exact* demographics of's so much more complex than that, and so many things matter. it's just that i think it says something about a school's culture if its response to one or more of its groups being sidelined or self-sidelined is to say, "no way, we need you. get over here." i sorta like that. otherwise you end up with one of those splits you see at two-strand immersion/gen-ed schools, where the immersion program is stuffed with middle-class kids and the gen ed program is not as supported. that rankles.

  8. Kim, great post.

    My kids are at Alvarado, and yes, we do love it. The cultural mix, the language, the arts, the science, the Mission and Noe vibe. Wonderful teachers. Great families. The academics are so much stronger than I ever had as a kid. Math: pre-algebra (writing their own word problems and converting them to equations), prime numbers, properties of integers, negative numbers, sheesh. Science: everything from electrical circuits to astromony to aquatic life and tons, just loads, of environmental education. Great science field trips. Great arts field trips. I could go on. Social studies, language arts, so much richness.

    We got in before the wave of popularity really rolled in, but it was already oversubscribed. We put it first and got in on the first try. The start time was a drag at first, but we have gotten used to it.

    All that said. I have a dear friend whose kids are at Harvey Milk and they really love it. It is a wonderful and diverse (on many levels) community with a great principal, actually one of the ones who led the turnaround at Alvarado all those years ago. However, Harvey Milk may never have the test scores of some others because of the demographic mix, and that may keep it from becoming an A-list school. I think that is too bad, because my friend's kids are thriving there. They just love it, think they hit the school jackpot.

    You imply this in your comment about Miraloma. Schools can do a lot to raise the test scores and close the achievement gap, with serious and intentional focus, it's also true that schools can't do it ALL. So if you have more disadvantaged kids, there will likely be lower test scores. If you bring in significantly more advantaged kids, the scores will rise. Doesn't mean the advantaged kids can't learn very well in both environments, though. I don't mean in a seriously depressed and violent school; but that is not the case with ANY of the schools mentioned on this blog, which have passionate communities of teachers, parents, and often great principals.

    FWIW, Alvarado's scores have never been tip-top for the district because of the lower scores of several sub-groups. There is now an renewed intensive effort to address this.

    I don't know anyone at Starr King but I would surely consider it. Mandarin? Are they kidding? What an opportunity! And the location what I think of as a peculiar SF mix of very poor and very gentrified. I live in a liminal neighborhood myself, so maybe I just don't notice stuff anymore, but I am just not freaked out by that neighborhood (and do spend time there as I have good friends *just* up the block from Starr King). The school itself seems well-contained. The Mandarin program did not exist when we were applying for K, but what an opportunity for all of you. And you can probably get in before it gets too popular, and then have the sibling preference.

    If these are the worst of your choices you will be fine! I really believe that. There will be no perfect school, but then, I think growing up is a bit messy, just like life, and that is what we are raising our kids to be a part of, yes? I have never wanted my kids' lives to be sanitized. Interesting & engaging, yes.

    Guess that's just to say, I would probably be in your group on the school tours, hating Clarendon and loving Starr King. I'm touring middle schools right now and have found some of the top schools (ok, Giannini and Hoover) to be a little cold, and some of the new on the radar ones (ok, Aptos and Lick) to be warmer and really, on the move, if a bit ragged around the edges. Not relying on good demographics to keep test scores elevated--though it's true they have gone up as the schools have attracted more middle class families. There is still that correlation.

    I'm trying to look more deeply: which school, regardless of test scores, is engaging the kids? I read a comment somewhere that Hoover is a good example of "dissociated success"--test scores unrelated to school programs. The kids do okay, regardless. But perhaps my impressions of Hoover were wrong! I hope so! Please, say so if that is true!

    I am glad you are raising the twitchy question that these differing impressions may not be *only* a matter of personal opinion and taste, as Kate suggests in this post, though surely personal taste has something to do with it. It would be really dishonest, though perhaps more polite, to ignore that there are some deeper and more difficult issues lurking beneath (and at times not so hidden), in terms of white, upper/middle class attitudes about poor folks and especially brown and black folks, and not wanting our kids to be a minority in a black or brown culture. Or, flip side, wanting our kids to socialize with and be formed in the culture of educated white people. I say this *not* as a point of pride, certainly, but trying to acknowledge its reality, yes, right here in deepest-blue-state and diverse Bay Area. Yes, that bias is there.

    I see that Caroline has raised some good explanatory points about factors that contribute to the ongoing resegregation of our schools. She is correct that the system is complex and there are many factors at work. Addressing some of these points may help mitigate the segregation, and I give serious kudos to PPS for its ongoing efforts in this area. However. I still say the bias is there. I think it's better if we acknowledge it rather than explain it away. Because then we can face the questions more honestly.

    I'm not sure how this bias could be addressed on a policy level short of a return to busing, so maybe that's why PPS is focusing on improving school enrollment participation in AA communities, and the BOE is looking at transportation resdesign; these are areas where change can happen on a mass scale but not cause mass resentment and scare away the white folks altogether. But on a personal level, or on my personal level anyway, where the heart is, I think we should be looking at these issues as part of the mix.

    As a white and also educated person, I struggle with this bias in myself as we choose a middle school, and I'm certainly hearing it all around me! Where will my kid thrive, be engaged intellectually, by peers as well as teachers? What kind of person will this experience help form my child to become? I am rocking back and forth. It is calling forth a values debate within myself.

    I do want to be clear that I understand that this school decision process is layered and multivalent for everyone and that for most of us, the decisions will be based upon many competing and quite valid factors.

    Nevertheless, perhaps in lieu of forced integration we should at least be required to produce written essays about these questions (um, yes I'm kidding, but I mean, can we take these questions very seriously): What our our biases? What are our fears? Really, what are our specific fears for our kids about certain schools with high poverty and majority black and brown (as opposed to white and also Asian) demographics? Are these fears actually valid in terms of school and social success for kids who are advantaged? What really happens to kids who attend these schools, including kids like ours (white, educated families)? Have we sought out other families who are already there and asked that question? What kind of education do our kids stand to lose if we follow these biases and do not consider certain schools based on poor neighborhood or demographic composition? Also, what happens to the larger community in a situation of increasing segregation by race and class? Do we have a resposibility to address these questions in our personal decisions? What do our decisions teach our children?

    Again, not saying this is these are the only issues nor presupposing the answers. I am finding myself going around and around these questions as we look at middle schools. I am trying to be honest with myself. I am being forced to look at what I really value. I want to make a well-considered decision, and not a reflexive or visceral one in either direction.

    Right now, I'm leaning toward James Lick for the engagement and passion that I see there. (Having just seen Caroline's post, I should also mention that it has the great art deco style and tilework too.) The kids' dad is leaning toward one of the schools on the west side with a full honors program. Not sure what we'll end up putting down.

  9. Kim, regarding your second post, I'm another Alvarado parent, and in the GenEd strand. Not sure I would go as far as all that regarding the immersion program being stuffed with middle class kids and more supported. It should also be noted there is third strand, the special day classes, plus an inclusion program.

    Most of the supports provided by the PTA through direct funding and grants benefit the entire school. The whole arts program, the science lab and teacher, the computer lab and teacher. Motor skills. Also sandtray and other emotional and social supports. Most of the programs directed at disadvantaged kids are there for both SI and GenEd kids, such as reading recovery, Excel, and the Writers' Workshop.

    It also should be said here are some stellar teachers in the GenEd strand, plus cross-over of teachers throughout and esp in the later grades for math, etc. I'm thinking of Laurie Baker-Flynn, Sandy Noltemeier, Ms. Pickens.

    There are also plenty of disadvantaged kids in the SI strand, including just-arrived immigrant kids in the later grades.

    All that said, there are probably factors, including the self-selection of committing to immersion, that lead to a sense that the SI program is the elite program? I just wouldn't put it as starkly as you just did. I know of families that have chosen different strands for their kids, or who have chosen GenEd for their kids on purpose.

    By the way, I love your posts, the way you put it all out there.

  10. Not to mention, these are perceptions based on a quick visit. It doesn't always reflect what is actually going on.

    My kids are at Grattan, I've never felt unwelcome or had anyone, including the principal, expect me to stay out the school's "business". It surprises me to read Kim's comment.

    I've always felt a wide open door policy. Both with the principal and my childrens' teachers. They have always listened to me, and I feel my input is valued at the school.

    The school can't implement every idea, mine included. In those cases, they've always taken the time to explain the need to prioritize, and always in a kind and respectful way. I never walked away feeling diminished.

  11. Of course I didn't mean that there's no racism involved (though you gotta admit that I'm not being a total beeyotch when I point out how ironic it is for a Walnut Creeker to blast white SFUSD parents, who when it comes down to it still enrolled our kids in a diverse urban district that's 10% white). It's just more complicated than it sounded.

    And I happily enrolled my kids in a school that's 12% white when it's 30% Chinese, 25% Latino and 20% AA (plus a scattering of others). But would I if it was 88% one other race? I honestly don't know.

    We would need some control schools that were functioning great, enriched, with high test scores, and high AA and/or L populations to determine that.

    Right you are about James Lick's architecture, Anonymous. Its beautiful motif is Egyptian deco where Aptos' is Spanish. The beauty and attention given to the architecture of these schools really tells us something about how much public schools were respected as institutions when they were built -- and during the Depression, toot.

    Aptos has a full honors program too, BTW. Don't miss the Aptos Open House tomorrow night! (Wednesday, Nov. 28, 6:30-8 p.m., 105 Aptos Ave.; hear my daughter on trombone in the Jazz Band, thanks to free SFUSD music programs!)

  12. wow, so much good information from everyone. i love getting inputs straight from current parents; it's the best.

    one thing grattan parent sheds light on is the inherent limitations of the tour format itself. it forces tour leaders and principals to develop a spiel that by its very nature is bound to overstate certain aspects of the school's culture and undersell others. i suspect in grattan's case, this is partially what's going on. i have come to appreciate a principal being able to attend a tour at all, since they are very busy actually working. that said, i was just trying to convey the *impression* she left. it's funny, because i am the first one to say, let's let the teachers teach and the administrators manage -- everyone to her core competency. in any case, you have to take every single tour with a grain of salt; you're seeing such a limited slice of life there.

    the issue of whether immersion strands draw more advantaged families than gen ed strands was mentioned to me by several educators during my tours (a principal and several parents who are also teachers). their comments left me with the idea that some schools are simply spread thin catering to the different needs of the different constituencies, while others -- fairmount (as of 07), buena vista, marshall? -- are able to focus on a single program. the principal at mckinley -- a non-immersion school -- is clearly a proponent of early second language acquisition (they offer spanish class there). in response to a question i posed to her about how to choose between different immersion schools, all other things seeming equal, she told me it can be hard to form one community when you have two strands (such as at flynn, monroe and alvarado). extrapolate from that what you will.

    it's great to get the inside scoop from families. you can only glean so much from the tours.

  13. I must highly recommend the soon-to-patented "WHAT IF WE HAD NO CHOICE SCHOOL EVALUATION SYSTEM"

    My spouse and I have toured a number of elementary schools: AFY, Lawton, Sunset, Miraloma, Jefferson, West Portal, and RLS. We have plans to visit FSK, Com. Sloat, and possibly Lakeshore. (Spouse was laid off recently, so it makes all these tours possible. When life gives you lemons...). With the exception of a teacher wearing a grungy track suit to class on one of the tours, we have not yet seen anything that has not passed our "WHAT IF WE HAD NO CHOICE" test. In other words, we ask ourselves whether we'd be happy if things in the SFUSD were different, and we lived next door to any particular school we are visiting and HAD to send our child there. If we feel pretty calm about the idea, the school stays on the list. If instead, we feel as if we'd likely be packing the moving van and looking for a better neighborhood, then we take it off our list. Thus far, only one school is borderline on being removed from the list (see track suit comment above. We're somewhat formal when it comes to teachers dressing in a manner that encourages respect. It doesn't have to be a suit and a tie, but it is nice if it looks like the person showed up at work. Oh, it wasn't painting day in class or anything.)

    Anyway, with the exception of the aforementioned borderline school, we've seen nothing that hasn't passed our test. Thus, we're now ranking them based on geography, start time, and, access to language immersion (see Caroline's "reclaiming the heritage language" comment). Bottom line is that they all seem pretty nice, and none of the schools have caused me to start searching for moving boxes behind the local grocery store. As a matter of fact, I'm actually feeling excited to see my little spawn start a new adventure in kindergarten, largely thanks to the tours!

  14. good lord i'm addicted to this blog. and while i love it, i also hate it (not really of course), as now i feel a need to tour Peabody, Harvey Milk, and Starr King. And I thought I was almost done!

    i had a lot of the same reactions as kim, though i haven't seen grattan yet. I have high hopes ...

    i liked alvarado a lot. do any of the current parents who have posted before sense a split between the two programs? it seemed like a pretty cohesive place to me, but i was only there for an hour. flynn -- which i liked and wanted to like even more -- gave me more cause for concern in that department. the two groups (GE and SI) seemed very distinct racially and socio-economically. it indeed rankled. but that place also seems to have a great teaching staff and lots of good parent energy, so i'm hoping it could turn around. the principal seemed like a nice guy, but i couldn't quite get a handle on him. and they seemed to be pushing technology a lot, which isn't a big selling point for me.

    Fairmount -- seems like a wonderful, close-knit community. i went to their spring fair (something like that) last year, and thought it seemed like a really nice, inclusive place. the principal is good too -- i liked that he talked about going into places like Bayview and Hunter's Point to do outreach. Maybe I'm being superficial, but i just don't know if i can get over the physical building. those pods ... the blue linoleum floor (which yes, i know the parents lovingly paid for and installed themselves). The openness of the campus freaked me out too a bit. Seemed like it would be very easy for a child to wander off or for someone else to wander in -- not that i've ever heard of that happening.

    miraloma -- i liked it, and it did seem to have a lot of good parent energy too -- albeit white, middle-class parent energy. and the principal seems like such a good guy -- and cute too! (the west portal principal was nice too, but not my cup of tea in the looks department. too put together. but i digress ...) i didn't get that same inclusive vibe when i went to their fair last year. i saw maybe one African American family there, and one Latina family who were running a Loteria booth that no one seemed to visit. Kinda bummed me out.

    McKinley -- LOVED the principal. she seems like an amazing woman, and i got the sense her philosophy of things (nurturing the children is a big priority) gibes/jibes quite well with mine. I think I could even get over the kinda funky building (the library is cute and i loved how much artwork was on the walls, etc.). i worry mostly about the carpet being moldy and causing allergies -- it felt kinda stale in there. what were they thinking back in the 70s when they built these places ...? And those frosted-over windows. Why? I think I could even forgo immersion, as McKinley does offer Spanish but not full-on like Flynn et al. It's definitely a top contender for me.

    when i think about what i want out of a school for my child, i too find that academic rigor isn't as important as i thought it would be -- or maybe should be. I like the sense I'm getting from a lot of schools that they're taking a more holistic approach to kids these days. i guess i'm hoping my kids come out with some of the life skills that i'm sorely lacking -- or at least kinda suck at -- like project management and organization. i was always the kid whose "trapper" notebook was a disaster ... but then again, my parents probably never had anyone show them how to follow through on things, and so they couldnt' pass those skills on. i'm hoping to "outsource" and nip that legacy in the bud .. but perhaps that's unfair to ask of any school (but hey, it's not like i'm asking them to cure cancer ...)

  15. Thanks to the poster re Grattan and to Kim. It's the school closest to me. I so wanted to love it -- I know many people who do. The principal is no nonsense -- great, I thought. But then I had this little feeling of what might happen if I had an opinion about something, pushed on it, disagreed? I'm wont to do such a thing, it turns out. I comforted myself -- I thought, well, maybe this is because I did the Grattan tour after a crazy 8 private school tours in like 10 days or something, and those people have it wired. Every word is well thought out, softened so as not to offend, and you get lots of words on those tours, too -- way more than the quick public school tours. So, please, people, tell us what you like, don't like, whatever. It's all anonymous anyway.

  16. If you have a spare half hour, y'all should listen to the interview Senior Dad (SF public school advocate) did with Amanda Johnson-the author of the study about race and the school choice system. Senior dad gets a little vocal about his opinions but the stuff Amanda Johnson has to say about her study is pretty fascinating...

  17. Grattan Parent here:

    I also think the tour group itself leads certain aspects to be highlighted over others.

    People are always asking questions off-line to the tour guides, and most of the time people are asked to hold their questions and it'll be addressed in front of the whole group.

    So, if many questions that day are heavy in the school volunteerism, ie. are parents welcome in the classroom, how do you work with the PTA, etc. Then it can seem the focus is weighted in that direction.

    When I toured schools, I tried to keep my list small and focused, then toured my top 2 choices twice, to make sure I felt the same.

    Grattan was a great fit for my whole family.

    It's a small community and it's got a co-op vibe going on. We pull in a fair amount of co-op parents, which brings us back to finding the balance between staff and families.

    I feel blessed my children are there. Mrs. Robertson (the principal) is a kind, loving woman who knows all the children by their first names. She takes the time to check in with them, give them a hug if they need one. The kids adore her.

    And if that wasn't important enough, the teachers take the time to really get to know the children. I've been thrilled with all the teachers my children have had, more to the point, so have they.

    They love going to school. This, not test scores, is for me the most valuable lesson from elementary school.

    The joy of learning is a gift, and my children get this from Grattan.

  18. Miraloma parent of 5th grader here - I concur with the earlier post of the history of what's happened at our school.

    I'd also add that, due to only one city bus getting remotely close to the school, we miss out on a lot of families that rely on public transportation.

    When the Dream Schools started, we lost many families - especially Bayview families to Drew in the Bayview. I know families that lived there that wanted to be closer to home, and felt Drew was a better options for their kids with more resources. Also, some wanted to be with a larger African American community. I also know several immigrant Asian families that left for Lakeshore and Ulloa which had higher test scores (also more convenient school bus routes from their neighborhoods.) This all happened 3-4 years ago.

    As the previous poster said, open spots in our previously underenrolled school were filled up with middle-class (not all white, mind you - just take a look at the parents elected to the School Site Council) families who saw this as a 'new' elementary school option. New and engaging principal leadership also helped.

  19. Well, holy cow, today I went to tour Clarendon -- pretty much expecting that I wouldn't like it. I kept hearing how institutional-looking it is. I thought it would seem more hype than anything else. And guess what I liked it a lot. I mean, yes, it's huge and all that, but it seems like a well-oiled machine. I like that they have a buddy system in place, and that the kindergarteners have their own playspace. I only saw one kindergarten room (second community -- which that term freaks me out a bit. makes me think of Jonestown or something), because I was running late on time, but it was gosh darn cute.

    And maybe I'm becoming a Republican in my old age (not!), but i liked the discipline approaches i saw demonstrated in the classroom -- dinging the bell, and the ol' 123 Magic. Seemed to really re-focus the kids.

    That was one aspect of my own public school experience that caused me to seriously consider private (though after visiting several publics here i could happily see my daughter attending, i ditched that idea. besides we really don't have the money for it. and the whole greater community thing) -- I just have memories of my teachers (and this was in a "good" school district with impressive test scores, etc) having to spend a good deal amount of energy keeping a handful of kids in line. It must have been a pain in the butt for them, and diverted the focus from learning quite a bit at times.

  20. thank you to all the current elementary-school parents who are posting. it's great to hear from insiders:-)

    i loved grattan when i toured. i'd say it's my first pick. i also really liked McKinley, despite the building (as someone else pointed out, it could use some work). However, what really stood out for me at McKinley is the principal, Bonnie. She seems like a wonderful leader. I've been hearing rumors though that she'll be retiring soon, which is a bummer. Are there any McKinley parents out there who know if this is true? Hopefully, though, even if she does leave, she'll have left a very good system in place and someone new with just as much energy will take her place, as seems to have happened at Miraloma.

  21. I'm a Grattan parent and we love it too. I toured twice before we made our choice and both times I was impressed with Jean Robertson. She's a strong person and knows how to lead. She's also very loving towards all the kids and in my experience she is very understanding of the parents' perspectives and concerns. She understands how important her role is in fostering a community feeling at the school. She met my son once before school started and remembered his name when she met him again many months later. She was also very accommodating of my schedule (and my slight anxiety over sending my baby off to K) and made time to meet with me to discuss an issue involving my son at a time that wasn't particularly convenient for her. I have lots of respect for her and appreciate all she does for Grattan.
    So far at Grattan I've been very impressed with the teachers and the extracirculars -- each day he has an "activity" - either music, art (working on a mural), computer lab, motor (PE), or garden. One of my concerns about the public schools in SF was that these extras would not be available, or would not be as available as when I went to school. Fortunately, that's not the case at Grattan. I'm not up on all the budget particulars, but I think the PTA helps fund some of these extras. What I've observed so far is that the parents and the principal and the teachers work well together to set priorities for how to spend the money raised by the PTA. One other highlight for us is the focus on literacy. My son reads (or is read to) and writes everyday and is loving learning to express himself this way.
    Also, Kate mentioned after lunch quiet time at one other school and wondered whether that happened anywhere else. It happens at Grattan -- at least in my son's class.
    I also really loved McKinley when we toured last year -- I even liked the 70s building -- reminded me of my own K -- I especially liked how the library was the open center of the first floor. But Grattan was within walking distance for us, so we placed it higher on the list. Back to the topic, I met another Grattan K family who live very close to McKinley and didn't even consider it. Not sure why -- those questions lose a little significance once you settle into a school -- but it goes to show great minds think differently.
    To those searching, hang in there, touring season's almost over and then you can rest for a bit while SFUSD runs its lottery. Good luck to you!

  22. question to the Alvarado parents -- i loved Alvarado in so many ways, but I have to admit the recess setup gave me pause for concern. First, how does the K-3 recess work out? Do the little ones do OK? (Neurotic mommy that I am, I must admit I like it when the schools have a special play area for the K's.) Second, what's up with the playground for 3-5th graders? I didn't see any adults (teachers) out there with them, and it's kinda far from the school. Two friends of mine noticed the same thing on their tours, plus a preschool friend who ended up sending their son to Miraloma noticed the same thing on a tour last year (and scratched Alvarado off her list because of it). I know they're "big" kids, but they're not that big ... Plus, schools can do all the Tribes-esque stuff they want -- I'm sure it makes things better -- but I'm sure playground nastiness still goes down at times, especially when no adults are around to keep an eye on things.

  23. I have also seen some schools where the recess really lacks supervision. I think this is a time where they count on parent volunteers at some schools. I-2 adults for ALOT of children. It does seem like a time where I want an adult's eye around for safety as well as to help with conflict resolution if needed. When touring one school while I was passing through the library I peered out the window and the playyard was filled with kids. One kid was aggressivley yeling at another and then shoved him twice. He then seemed to be excluded from the game. No adult was aware or nearby so I figured that might be typical or maybe it was actually not. Now I do ask if the K is seperate from the other grades for recess. I know I could benefit from chillin out sometimes but wanted to let the other poster know I can relate to her concerns.

  24. I'm an Alvarado parent. At least when my kids were in K, they were separated from the older 1st graders (one group in the lower yard, one in the upper; they would switch yards for the lunch recess). I'm not sure what is happening with the younger ones now.

    Over the years we have had a mix of paid recess yard leaders, teachers, and parents on the yard during recess. Don't know what you were seeing but there is supposed to be official supervision on the yard.

    Maybe because I have older kids, including one who is very much looking forward to middle school, and who may be taking the MUNI bus next year to school depending on where she gets in, but I used to feel the way that you mention, and now I don't. No, the ratios of yard staffing at recess are not high. The staff is there to maintain a basic standard of safety and rules-following. As my kids have grown they have created their own kid culture and kid games and they are making their way. I have come to think this is good for them.

    I had this experience on my street growing up (in an inner city). Kick the Can, Cops and Robbers, a pogo stick contest, a carnival we organized ourselves with no adult help. Kids are going to claim this space sooner or later. Not that bad things never happen, but that is part of growing up too. If there are serious problems, they need to be addressed, and I have seen the teachers do that. But the kids benefit from a little space in their crowded lives. One of my kids loves just hanging out in the lower yard with friends, especially with the garden area going in.

    I guess some will think I am too laissez-faire about all this, but I also think it's possible our parenting generation (after many of us were underparented in the 70s and early 80s) has swung too far in the other direction. Always in their business, everything scheduled and running according to adult rules. I let my kids go to the corner store and the park by themselves these days. They bring their watches and have to be back by a certain time--and they get back, because they know the privilege depends on their being responsible. They have to learn independence sometime, so I am trying to be incremental about it.

    Interesting, the afterschool program (GLO) provides I think a lot more yard supervision and also more class mixing--not the whole afternoon, but for the "choices" time from 4-5 when the kids do crafts, group games, etc. My kids will regularly choose "outside free play" because they are just tired of scheduled activities in their lives. They just want to play with their friends. When they were younger, they were more likely to choose the adult-directed activities.

    Final note, my kid loves that (fabulous 5th grade teacher) Ruben Guzman gets out there and practices basketball with the kids during recess--he's the coach for their 5th grade team and is often on the yard with the kids. He also took some of them on an after-school field trip to see the James Lick girls basketball team play Giannini, and another trip to see the Cal women's basketball team. None of this is required as part of his teaching, it's more informal than that, something he likes to do and the kids respond to that informality, I think.

  25. thanks to the Alvarado parent who posted about my "neurotic mommy" playground post (and to the others too). i know i'm a little neurotic about it, and i agree our generation is too overprotective and kids need space. i think i was just surprised at Alvarado, because there was no adult on the yard -- zero, zippo, nada -- with the big kids. Another parent called it to the principal's attention at the Q&A, and he thanked her for bringing it to his attention and said they'd had to talk to the teachers about it and would talk to them again.

    Maybe it was just me channeling bad memories from my own playground mishaps -- but I survived, and like you say, bad things happen, it's part of life. And schools these days seem so much more aware of things and on top of dealing with them (at least talking about "no-bullying policy" etc.) I don't remember my schools doing that. Makes you wonder where the adults' heads were at ...

  26. We have friends who are French-American -- French wife, American husband, one now-8th-grader who has attended school in both countries.

    The kid says that in the French school (in Paris' working-class 20th arrondissement) bullying is completely accepted, not discouraged in the slightest by the adults. He attended grades K-2 in public school in Rockville, MD, and told me wonderingly after he'd been in French school for a few years that bullying and fighting weren't allowed in Rockville. That was an interesting view.

  27. I don't think you are being neurotic AT ALL. Maybe the rude person who told you to "chill out" has a bully or a large child, or something, but I can say that I have a very small girl who can get lost in these types of unstructured situations, and quite frankly, the observation you mentioned about Alvarado make me cross it off my list.

    It is NOT unreasonable to expect children to be monitored on the playground. My concern for the safety and emotional security of my child is one reason we are considering privates as well. Saying that "bad things happen" is NOT an excuse. Bad things tend happen only when bad things are DONE, and adults should be around to prevent them.

    So no, I won't chill out. And the fact the comment was even made crystallizes some matters for me. Thank you.

  28. I completely agree. Playground supervision and safety is critical. It's also the law. Our school went from two recesses (K-2 & 3-5) to three for this very reason this year. Kids have more room to spread out, reducing problems in general, and there is a better adult to child ratio.

    I agree that kids need more unstructured time, but I think unstructured time at school and outside of school are fundamentally different. Kids are basically hostages at school. They cannot leave if they are being bullied on the playground or roughed up in the bathroom. Out in the neighborhood, or at a public park, if someone is bugging you, you can just go home.

    I would not go to a private school because of this though. Private schools can be just as bad. You just need to make sure that any school you pick, public or private, is committed to making every child safe at school.

  29. Speaking as an elementary school teacher who has 2 K-2 recess duties every week, I cannot imagine the problems that would ensue without adequate teacher & parent supervision on the playground. While I understand the valid concern about this parental generation hovering and micromanaging so many aspects of our childrens' lives (guilty as charged!)having adult presence available is crucial. The art of supervising children is in striking the balance between being available & present without engineering the childrens' play & social interactions for them. Not one to be ultra-paranoid, I would still never dream of sending my kids to a school with undersupervised recess or playground time.

  30. I'm the Alvarado parent again (and btw not the one who made the chill out comment). As I said, there is supposed to be yard supervision for all the kids, as apparently Mr. Broeker the principal also acknowledged. I have not personally witnessed a time when there was not supervision, I'm thinking times when I dropped by to pick up my kid for an orthodontist appt., for example, and so was just dropping in.

    It sounds like there was a glitch that day, maybe related to a communication error with a substitute teacher or something, because the teachers are aware of their jobs and they have a schedule for it. I believe there is supposed to be more supervision and activity support for the younger kids.

    But even that much may not be what some on this list would want to see.

    My generation really was under-parented. First years of divorce upswing, moms going back to work, childcare not developed yet so we were latchkey kids, the cultural milieu was let the kids roam. I took the muncipal bus six miles across town to school at the age of 10 and regularly took the bus downtown on weekends (in a decaying industrial city back East) to hang out at the library and central mall. My husband's stories of growing up in a series of urban communes in SF are hair-raising, and he was a young child at the time, basically roaming the streets while the adults were NOT paying attention or even providing regular meals.

    Today, my husband and I both pay a lot more attention to our kids' business! and provide a lot more structure. That is our cultural milieu, and also our choice. Nevertheless, I am aware that there are some losses involved in the level of structure that we provide our children, mostly in not giving them the space to learn by experience how to navigate the world in independent ways. I actually think that improving that would mean having some time away from even the not-interfering but nevertheless watchful eyes of adults. I'm not saying that has to happen in a major way at school, but do you remember the sense of freedom you had when you got your first hallway pass to use the bathroom or bring something to the school office in elementary school? It would be good to have a an idea of cultivating the ability to be independent as well as, of course, reasonably safe.

    This applies to playgrounds, too. We do have a safe playground at Alvarado (orthopedic doctor approved) and it is also wheelchair accessible. That's fine, even wonderful, given school liability issues and the numbers of kids playing on it. Still, my kids love Berkeley's Adventure Park which is a little more wild. They even more love tromping around having adventures in more wild places. A whole life of being safe and sanitized can be a little boring, and ultimately may not a great preparation for the real world.

    This whole topic may be a matter of gray areas, definitions, and personal opinion--and isn't it good, then, that we have school choice, and are not pretty much limited to our neighborhood school?--based on our own experience, values, and the temperaments of our kids. Some of us will choose smaller elementary (and perhaps middle) schools for that reason, or will go for the ones that put an emphasis on providing more structure and protection.

    Alvarado probably does have a looser vibe than Alice Fong Yu in that regard. The culture of Alvarado is a combination of Latino immigrants, which in my experience of it means the village is expected to raise the child, and so their kids run around a lot in various mixed age groups with the older ones expected to look out for the younger ones; plus also a bunch of artsy-bohemian white and Latino families from Noe and Mission.

    I have a sense from AFY and West Portal--and we do see these folks, as we share holiday care through the GLO program--as being more structured, disciplined (some might say rigid?).

    Of course the stereotypes may not apply on the individual family level, but there is a grain of truth here in these impressions of school culture, I think. I love a little more looseness. I don't mean unsafe, or a culture of bullying that Caroline describes from France.

    Anyway, I make no judgment on folks who want more structure and supervision. I can only tell my experience, which is that my need to have structured adult supervision at recess is much less now that the kids are older. One of my kids experienced some teasing incidents in the middle grades but the concerns were raised and very much addressed, and appropriately. That child is also more sensitive than the older one. One of our struggles has been to help that one learn how to be more assertive and claim the ability to handle some of the more challenging interactions. It's been a process.

    I sometimes wonder what kind of parent I would be now if I started all over again, knowing what I know now. I also wonder what kind of parents our kids will be. Will they reject our approach and swing the pendulum back?

  31. Just like to get things right...SF is 49-53% white -depending on the census. Not 35% as had been stated previously. Although if you are white, I can see how it seems that way. :)

  32. Just to give you one more thing to worry about: sometimes when kindergarteners have recess in a separate play area from the bigger kids, special ed kids, who may also be overwhelmed by the larger yard, are placed in the same small play area as the kindergarteners. In our school, there were several incidents where kindergarteners were deliberately hurt by larger and socially oblivious special ed kids.

  33. This might not be the right blog for this, but since location keeps coming up, I'll mention it. It turns out that 4 o the 5 schools closest to me are oversubscribed, 3 of them woefully so. So, as advised by parents who are already happily ensconced in a school they love, I started looking for others. I stayed up way too late one night toggling between three screens: google maps, the muni route map and school bus route PDFs. Can someone explain why there are so many schools with such awful transportation options? Miraloma comes to mind immediately. Lakeshore is another. Two great schools that I can't even consider unless I want to drive to work every day (and pay an extra $20 to park downtown) and also get to work quite late every day... I started to feel like the "choice" model is really out of touch with modernity - first, that there's some belief that most kids are actually walking to school and that the only kids who aren't come from the SE part of the city (funny enough, this creepily mimics the set up when I was a kid, where the white kids lived within 1-2 miles from school and the black kids were bused in from the "inner city" as it was called) and/or second, that it's still the 1950s and moms have nothing better to do than schlep their kids to and from school (I recognize the inconsistency in my 2 comments in that in the 1950s kids actually DID walk to school bc they all went to their neighborhood schools, but I'm sure you see the point that w/o reasonable transportation options, the burden falls to parents (and I'm going to go with moms here) to get the kids to school). Can someone tell me how the district determines the bus routes? Obviously, MUNI is its own can of worms.

  34. Note to sfusd parent: this is immediately an issue to address with the principal and special education teacher(s) at your school. Document any incidents there are and stress the need for appropriate facilitation/supervision for any children with disabilities. Recess is an important opportunity for kids with disabilities to learn to socialize with others; if these kids are creating negative experiences for others then the school is not helping the children achieve their IEP goals and they need more support.
    I am not saying that getting them this needed support will be easy: you may well need to enlist several parents and be persistent, but if you document negative incidents and remain committed to a positive solution (ie., the kids with special needs deserve more support to help them interact positively and NOT get these kids out of the K yard) then eventually you will win over the administrators and get some help. Good luck. And please contact me via PPS if you have ongoing problems.

  35. To the poster who asked about the rationale for current school bus lines, this was based on the assigned schools and satellite districts that were set up in the days of the desegregation consent decree. They were also based on the idea that the by and large materially poorer SE sector of the city might need more bus service.

    So there is a reason why it reminds you of your own school days. It's a relic from what is probably the same era.

    There is wide recognition that the lines are out of date and there is a discussion of reworking them when the assignment process is also reworked. There is also discussion on the PPS list at the moment about getting more dedicated MUNI service for some of the upper level schools like Presidio and Aptos. So it's been identfied as a problem, but not solved yet.

    My family did well because we have had school bus service to our school in the elementary years, with a stop one block from our house. But I actually didn't know that when we applied! We just got lucky and were so glad to realize we didn't have to drive every day.

    It's certainly an issue with our choice system. I happen to think that the choice system is probably the best, or close to the best, that we can do in terms of twin goals of serving both our disadvantaged kids AND keeping middle class families in the district (not everyone agrees those are the goals, on either side, but I think they are both important, for different reasons). But short of revising our tax system and also massively redirecting funds from wars in Iraq and such, I can't see how we will have the funds to really provide the bus service that is needed.

    So for now, we rely on a mix of buses and parents. I'm okay with most of those funds going to the poorer sections of town, but it sure would be great to get more. I hope the BOE and also MUNI will do a good job figuring this out!

  36. To the poster who bemoaned the bus transportation -- I can't remember if this has been discussed on this blog and I can't tell whether your information is complete.

    Here's the situation as it existed for many years, unless there have been recent changes:

    Alternative schools (a weird designation discussed elsewhere) generally have school buses coming from various parts of the city -- they pick up at other schools. There's some flexibility to that. I don't think they'll add a stop or change a route for one family, but they do that in response to demand and I don't know what the criteria are.

    SO Lakeshore in our time had buses starting in HP/Bayview and picking up in Bernal Heights, Noe Valley and Sunnyside. I know that buses have run from Bernal and Noe to Claire Lilienthal. Etc.

    The buses to Miraloma (and I think to most or all non-alternative schools) are strictly from satellite zones -- assignment areas far from the school designed for desegregation and to give kids in low-income neighborhoods additional options. In middle school, buses run from HP/Bayview to Hoover and Giannini, and from the Mission to Aptos, for example.

    So finding out how much flexibility there is in bus routes, if it's an alternative school, would be worth your while. Otherwise, there are before-school care programs at many schools, and lots of families carpool.

  37. De Gustibus non est disputandem.

    I visited SF Community, and was put off by the project-based nature of their teaching: I didn't think (with one exception) that they had the teachers with the experience to pull it off. About ~20% of the kids were spacing out/ actively not paying attention/goofing off in the classes. And I couldn't see how you could have real child-focused, self-directed learning when their library (the primary locus for self-directed research) was in an annex which was closed when we toured. But SF Community did seem a caring place - when I walked past later durign recess, I saw several things that really charmed me.

    But I much preferred McKinley, which was organized, with a strong principal with a vision of how education would be in her school. I've 14 years of Catholic school in Ireland, so structure's what I relate to.

    Now, I have a friend who's a real Earth mother type, hates regimented structure, wants kids to have the freedom to become self-motivated learners. She'd love SF Community. But it's not for me.

  38. i love mckinley too! why does it get bad rap?

  39. anonymous who loves McKinley: schools get a bad rap through parent gossip, sometimes deserved but most often not. Five years ago, McKinley was one of those "avoid" schools according to the parent grapevine. Now its reputation is changing - why? Same great principal, mostly same teaching staff. In fact, there was always a lot of great stuff happening at McKinley, but until recently no one noticed. I wouldn't listen to the rap unless you hear specifics from someone whose child has actually attended the school for some period of time. Otherwise, you are likely listening to outdated gossip.