You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: emphasis on teacher collaboration and professional development; differentiated learning in all grades; small, intimate environment; a neighborhood, community feel; involved, motivated parents; curriculum that doesn't teach to the test; a wonderful music programs; clean, tidy, cheerful campus with cafeteria, gymnasium, and auditorium; a dynamic, dedicated, innovative principal
Web site: www.miralomasf.com
School tours: Reservations are made via the school web site (eVite registration) not by phone.
Four tour options are available to accommodate as many schedules as possible:
* Self-guided tours: Oct. 17 and 24 (can be accompanied by video podcast, details below)
* Saturday morning guided and self-guided tours: Nov. 15
* Early-evening guided tours: Oct 14, Nov. 18, Dec. 1
* Thursday morning guided tours: Oct. 23, Nov. 6, Nov. 20
Additional tours in Dec. and Jan. will be posted on the Web site as they are scheduled. One great new feature this year is the self-guided tour and video podcast (which you can view and download from the web site www.miralomasf.com). This option provides flexibility for those who enjoy exploring on their own, whether it's a quick walk through the school in a few minutes or taking your time to read what's posted on the bulletin boards. The podcast can be downloaded to your MP3 player (iPod) and used to guide you through the school. Otherwise, a guide booklet will be provided to assist and inform as you walk through the school. Parent volunteers will be available to answer your questions.
Location: 175 Omar Way, on Mt. Davidson off Portola Dr.
Start time: 7:50 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 60 students, three classes of 20 children
Playground: cozy kindergarten playground; larger big kid area; neighboring city park where kindergarteners play on Fridays
Before- and after-school program: MEEP for K–5; program available through YMCA starting in 3rd grade; also, chess club, Girl Scouts, basketball league
Language: After school Spanish (beginning and intermediate) and Mandarin offered two times a week.
Highlights: Smaller class sizes in 4th and 5th; poet in residence; kiln and cermacist; art show once a year; full-time coach for P.E. and coordinated games at recess; chorus for grades 3–5; school-wide annual fair; UC Berkeley math consultant; science with Lawrence Hall of Science; gardening with credentialed instructor; social worker; speech therapist; resource specialist; USF interns for children dealing with death in family, divorce, and so on; LGBT family eduction
If you go to Miraloma's Web site and click on the "About Miraloma" section, there's a photograph of the school perched on the side of Mount Davidson—with a rainbow rising above it. It's as if Miraloma were a little pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And as I toured this school, I kept thinking, I've found a treasure.
No doubt, this is a special school. When I first stepped through the entrance, I was welcomed by the sound of children—lots of them—singing. In the auditorium, some 160 students were bellowing out "Great green gobs of greasy, grimy, gopher guts" as a teacher played the piano and two students strummed guitars. They sang other songs such as "Hey, now. Hey, now. Iko iko an nay." And as they sang, they clapped and snapped and moved their hands about.
At Miraloma, the third through fifth graders have sing-along every Thursday, 8–8:30 a.m. There's also a sing-along for kindergarten through second, on Fridays 8–8:30 a.m. If you're interested in this school, attend a Friday morning sing-along. It's something I plan to do with my daughter Alice. You just need to drop by the office beforehand so you can get a visitor pass.
Okay, so now let's get to the actual tour. It started in the library. When I walked in, I was immediately greeted by a parent named Carol Lei—who is best described in one word "awesome." She's the person who started the Mandarin after-school program at Miraloma and somehow she's involved in bringing Mandarin to Starr King and Jose Ortega. She's a real go-getter: "The one thing I really like is if you want to change something, you can speak up and make it happen."
Lei had four other parent guides helping her greet prospective parents. We split into groups; I was in Lei's. She started by telling us about the library, with over 6,000 books. It sounds like a few years ago the same room housed only 2,000 tomes. But through read-a-thons the children raised money to stuff their library with books. This is the sort of story I kept hearing again and again at this school, which has taken great steps forward in recent years. The library is always open during school hours and classes visit once a week.
As we walked by the auditorium where the kids were still singing, Lei told us that the symphony performs for the kids a few times a year on the stage. They also have two talent shows a year. An international cultural day. And other assemblies and performances.
Next stop: Cafeteria. The interesting story here is that Miraloma was the pilot program for the district salad bar—that means kids who buy their lunch, which costs only $2, also get to pick from fruits and veggies in the salad bar. The hot lunch includes things like macaroni and cheese, bean and cheese burritos, and cheese pizza. No, it's not organic but what do you expect for $2? To meet the families interest in organic produce, the school has a relationship with Eat Well Farms, so parents can pay for and pick up a box of locally grown organic produce on Thursdays.
The full-size gymnasium, with a climbing wall, is connected to the cafeteria. The dance teacher, who looked like a British pop star, greeted us. Kids were moving around to techno-sounding music. The teacher would stop the music and the kids froze their bodies in interesting poses.
As we walked through the hallways, I admired the artwork and displays adorning the walls: pictures of the school's participation in a sandcastle-building contest, a community service board, paintings, tons of quilts, murals, a parents' corner, Day of the Dead art projects, jokes and riddles written and illustrated by students, poems.
We stepped into the computer lab with 33 purple iMacs. The school doesn't have a tech instructor; teachers bring kids into classroom once a week, sometimes more. However, the computer lab will be dissolving next year—because the school has grown. As I understand it, the upper grades weren't filled to capacity so there were only two classes but in recent years the school has become more popular so they need an additional classroom (Please someone correct me if this is wrong). While we're on the topic of class size: Miraloma has three kidnergartens, first grades and second grades. Each class has 20 students. There is one fourth grade, one fifth grade, and two fourth-fifth combo classes to keep upper grades smaller with only 25 or so students.
Into a classroom: Ms. Huang's first grade. The kids were all working in small groups at tables. One group was doing some simple math, another writing, another was reading along with a Book-on-Tape, and another was doing an art project, tracing their hands and coloring them like turkeys. Outside the classroom, a snack sign-up sheet indicated which parents were brining snacks each week. "Families bring snack for everyone so no one goes without," Lei explained.
Next: Ms. Shivers's second grade. We walked into the room and a happy kid said, "We're making comic books."
We dropped by the school garden with sunflowers, lettuces, herbs. Lei explained that they had recently harvested pumpkins for Halloween. Her daughter was involved in a project where she had to count all the seeds in a pumpkin. The classes visit the garden once a week.
The kindergarteners were at recess when we walked into their rooms, which sit right on their little play yard. The classrooms are cozy and full of fun stuff: bean bags, dress up, puppet theater, piano, guitar. Outside in the playground, where lush green vines grew over the fence, some kids were jump roping while another group played soccer. The school staggers recess so kindergarteners get some alone time and then the first graders come out and join them. Same thing with the upper grades. A parent asked Lei how the school deals with bullying. "It's not so much an issue because we stager recess and because there's always a coach out there to organize the children," she said.
The tour wrapped up in the library where the principal Ron Machado addressed the parents. This guy is truly amazing; he wins my prize for the district's best principal. He reminds me a bit of Adam Sandler, and I mean that in a good way. His voice is sort of nasal like Sandler's—and he's funny and animated and youthful and absolutely darling—now I can see why so many Moms were hanging around the halls. He struts around the school in a coat and tie and as we toured the school he was walking in and out of classrooms. He seems to be comfortable with all sorts of parents and teachers—there's no chip on the shoulder of this principal.
Machado gave us a little background on himself. He's in his second year at Miraloma. He started out as a teacher and then went through the principal leadership program at UC Berkeley. Next year his contract is up and he plans to sign another three year contract. Yeah! He has two young children; I think he said four and 20 months and he hopes to see them go through Miraloma.
He initially went into education as a teacher because he wanted to make changes in children's lives. And he wanted to become a principal because as a teacher he realized that administrators aren't always supportive of their teachers. "I'd heard too many teachers talk about principals who weren't supportive."
So what's Machado doing to support his teachers at Miraloma?
Every month, the teachers get a half day away from their kids to develop class curriculum and collaborate. Also, teachers visit other classes so they can teach the same lesson plan several times. For example, one of the kindergarten teachers has a specialty in science so she might teach a science unit to each of the three kindergarten classes. "This allows her to teach the assignment three times rather than just once and she can actually learn how to improve on the assignment."
A parent asked, What's been your biggest challenge?
He said that when he arrived at the school recess was chaotic. He changed that by staggering recess so the older kids are grouped together. And he came up with the idea for kids to play first and then eat and then return to class. "When they arrive in class after eating, their heart rates are lower and they actually eat more," Machado said. "Before we made the switch, we had so much compost because the kids weren't eating their lunches."
The average teacher stays at Miraloma for seven years, he said.
What about GATE?
This year the school has 300 percent more kids in GATE. He estimated that there are 70 students in the program that's offered to grades third through fifth. He mentioned that the GATE students are in the process of launching a school newspaper.
A parent pointed out that the older grades looked more diverse than the lower grades. She was concerned that the school is losing some of its diversity due to its increasing popularity.
He responded that the upper grades are 35 percent other white; the lower grades are 45 percent other white.
What's your guiding philosophy?
We're focused on the whole child, he said. "We're making sure that we're developing these children in all aspects."
Then he went on to say, "We'll never be a school that teaches to the test. We're not aspiring to be a school that scores 1,000."
The questions kept coming. Even the hard ones he answered quickly and confidently. Machado knows his stuff.
How many students on free and reduced lunch?
Last year, it was 29 to 30 percent.
Why do you no longer work with Sports 4 Kids?
Because you need to have 50 percent or more of your kids receiving free or reduced lunch.
How much money does the PTA raise?
Last year, $135,000.
What's your dream project?
I want Smart Boards in every classroom because some kids are visual learners. I want laptops for teachers. LCD projectors.
He ended by telling parents that he knows the SFUSD process is tough. And he said, "You'll know with your heart what's right." And I'm thinking, this guy knows in his heart what's right.
This school is fabulous. The only thing missing for me is immersion—but even though it doesn't have Spanish, I'm putting it on my list. It's irresistible.