You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: strong academics; high test scores; a middle school (K–8); great sports program in middle school; involved parents
Web site: Lawton Web site
School tours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; call for an appointment at 759-2832
Location: 1570 31st St., outer Sunset
Start time: 9:30 a.m. (K–5th); 8:55 a.m. (6th–8th)
Kindergarten size: 60 students, three classes of 20 children
Playground: separate playground for lower grades
Before- and after-school program: K.E.E.P, fee-based program, K–8th; P.R.I.D.E., free program, 4th–8th.
Language: after-school Mandarin and Spanish
Highlights: Artists-in-residence; monthly spirit assemblies; field trips; partnership with SF Ballet; computer lab; library; winter music concert; science night; spring carnival; middle school dances; Halloween haunted house
"My monster is named Coconut Moo Moo.
Her head is a big cloud.
She has a curly wig with a fruit loop belly button.
Her arm has three stems with holes in it.
Her feet are bugs that get food for her.
She likes to eat mud with lead and bats."
As I waited for my Lawton tour to begin, I strolled the school's downstairs, where the kindergarten and first grade classes are located. I like to arrive early so I can peruse the hallways. When I first started touring, they all looked alike with murals, artwork, Day of the Dead decorations in October, turkeys in November. But now I'm noticing that the displays are actually quite different and they say a lot about a school.
At Lawton, stories written by children paper the walls. The one excerpted above, written by a student named Katie, had me laughing out loud—especially when I read that the monster eats lead. There was also a story about a turkey named Angelina who ate all the vegetables in her farmer's garden so the farmer moved to the farm next-door (a logical solution). There was a piece on how to not have a bad Christmas: "Put lights on your tree and be sure to put the tree close to the window so Santa can see it when it's dark." There was a series of stories starting with the phrase, "I am thankful for..." The writing was rich, clever, touching, and funny. Yes, there were some art projects mixed in and drawings accompanied all the stories—but the walls were primarily covered in beautiful, youthful handwriting.
I immediately fell in love...the tour hadn't even started.
Deborah Gordenov, Lawton's counselor, led the tour, which started in the teacher's lounge. She was a smart, friendly lady who seemed to know everything about the school. She provided an overview (school start time, after-school care, PTA) and then opened it up to questions.
What I got out of Gordenov's talk is Lawton is an academic school. Yes, they have arts—artist-in-residence program and a partnership with SF Ballet. And sports—the girls volleyball team won some big championship. And music—band, orchestra, chorus. But the bottom line is the curriculum is rigorous, the teachers are dedicated, and the parents have high expectations. The test scores are some of the highest in the district and Gordenov says that's a result of the teachers and the parents. The middle school is an all honors program. Gordenov says they have special tutors, a resource specialist, psychiatrist, and so on to help struggling students.
"Very few of our kids fall through the cracks," Gordenov says. "I think that's largely because we're a K-though-8 school. In nine years, we get to know all of our students very well."
I asked Gordenov about drugs and alcohol in middle school. In seven years, she hasn't been faced with any incidents—except for a student spotted smoking a cigarette at a sporting event. And this was a really big deal, she said. The middle school has only 197 students so it's small, intimate, close-knit—and easy for administrators to manage.
Last year, 38 percent of the students went to Lowell. Gordenov guessed that maybe two percent went to private. Lincoln and Wallenberg are popular choices with students.
After Gordenov's talk, we were let loose on a self-guided tour. I made a beeline for kindergarten and parked myself in Ms. Tam's class. When I first arrived the kids were scattered about the room and engaged in different activities: a little girl was doing a Polly Pocket jigsaw puzzle, another was using a Leap Frog, a group was drawing pictures at a table. And then Ms. Tam said, "1, 2, 3. Hands on head. Eyes on me." The kids placed their paws on their heads. Ms. Tam said nicely, "Please, let's clean up." And as she counted to 10, the kids wrapped up their activities and gathered on the rug at the eraser board, where she taped a big white sheet of paper.
"Okay it's time to do the daily news," she said. "Who can spell the word 'TODAY?' "
And then the kids proceeded to spell out "Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007," as Ms. Tam wrote it out the letters on the piece of paper.
A little boy named Khang was called to the front. The kids spelled his name and then Khang was invited to share something with the group. "Tell us what you feel, what you see, what you did yesterday," Ms. Kim said. There was a moment of silence. And then, "I went to the park" Khang said. The students spelled out the phrase as Ms. Tam wrote it under the Daily News heading.
Next stop: First grade. The kids were sitting at their desk writing stories. I peered over the shoulder of one little girl who was writing, "I really like dance class. I like to dance to the song 'Nothing But a Hound Dog. ' "
On up to third and fourth, where I observed some students learning math. "How many degrees are between 100 degrees and 260 degrees?" the teacher asked.
I stepped into a third grade class where a sweet girl named Christine greeted me. "Hi! We're doing centers. We're reading and writing and doing math. Those things hanging from the ceiling...those are art projects we made. And over here, this is the closet where we put our backpacks." Thanks for showing me around Christine.
On up to the third floor, junior high. I arrived when the students were changing classes and pulling binders out of their lockers. Some lockers were messy and stuffed; others were perfectly organized with labeled binders. The kids wore jeans and sweatshirts—no Brittney Spears wannabes in this crowd.
I dropped in on a science class where the students were going over the cell cycle and DNA replication process—interesting stuff that I've long forgotten. I observed an English class in which the teacher, sporting a coat and tie, was a spitting image of my Chaucer professor at Berkeley. And I watched an algebra class—in which the teacher just kept saying things related to "x." All students at Lawton take algebra.
And then I sneaked into Gordenov's office—as the door was open. I don't have any numbers, but the student body at Lawton looked largely Asian to me. I was curious to ask Gordenov how a non-Asian student might feel at the school. She said, "I honestly don't think our students even notice a difference." she went on to explain that the students at Lawton really support each other. "We have a zero tolerance bullying policy," she said.
Downsides? For me, it was the building and atmosphere. There's little that's cozy or charming about the actual building. It's big and expansive compared to the small student body—so the overall campus feels weirdly quiet. Plus, it's a long haul from my house to Lawton. Nonetheless, this one will make it on my list.