Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hot topic: tour improvement

Today, a friend emailed me about her frustration with the touring process. She works full-time and she's struggling to find time to visit schools.

She wrote: "One thing I've been thinking about this process—be it public or private schools—is just how down-right hostile it is to working parents. Why do these tours need to be two hours long? Why are they all in the morning? (What would otherwise be my most productive time?) Have you had this reaction at all? Doesn't it all seem a bit insane?"

Luckily, I have a flexible job. I can work on a Sunday night and then skip a few hours on a Tuesday morning for a tour. Plus, I work only 30 hours a week. But still I feel like I'm running around nonstop trying to fit in work and the school search. I can't imagine how challenging the process would be for someone who's working over 40 hours and has to be in the office during core business hours. Or what about parents who are at home with a baby? They have to pay a babysitter or bring the little one along, which makes it difficult to focus on a school tour.

Does anyone have ideas for ways schools could improve the tour options? I know that some schools offer events in addition to the tours. I believe that Flynn offered a kindergarten night, and I know that Miraloma welcomes parents to attend the Friday morning sings. Does anyone feel like all the tours are on the same day—Thursdays? Would anyone attend a weekend open house? Most of the private schools host these. Please share your thoughts—but please try to offer constructive criticism rather than mean complaints. A lot of school parents are pouring tons of time and energy into leading prospective parents on tours. And I know we all appreciate that.


  1. YES. My other gripe is that tours are often only on certain days of the week (e.g. Tuesdays), when sadly, some of us have standing meetings and can't get out of them. Just today I underwent a nervous breakdown as I learned that the kindergarten screening appointment, which for this particular school that happens to be our far and above first choice, was almost on the same day as pretty much the ONLY work event I absolutely cannot miss. PHEW, the work thing ended up being on a different day.

    Anyway, here are some of my suggestions:

    - stagger the days of the week - not always on Tues or Thurs or whatever

    - offer some more Friday options - those are often days that FTEs can come in late (more often than other days)

    - offer some LUNCH TIME tours!!! This would be particularly interesting to me for schools that are close to the financial district, e.g. Yick Wo and the Potrero Hill Schools (and I think that there is a school in Chinatown - I'd love to check that out!!) and a lunch time tour would be totally possible. By lunch time, I mean 12 to 1, or 1 to 2. Schools are still in session then. Why not? I could walk to those Chinatown schools from my job.

    - Start the evening events later than 6 PM. It's hard to pick the kids up (as many of us do) from full-day preschool, get them home, get a babysitter over, and then take off to an evening event. I'd love an event that starts at 7.30 or 8. How human! Then end it an hour later. I'm sleepy.

    - For schools like Clarendon that don't start until 9.30 am, offer tours at times other than 10 am. I have tried so many times to visit Clarendon, but a 10 am tour means I don't get in until noon. My co-workers and boss get in between 8 and 9 (as do I under normal circumstances). Noon? Come on! I guess that most of those 9.30 am schools are so popular, but please, have the principal talk FIRST, at 9 am, then we can see the school at 9.30, then leave at 10. How humane!

    - I hope that the independent schools recognize that it is often the busiest people who are best at getting stuff done. Kate, you are evidence of that!

    Thanks so much for asking.

  2. Great ideas! Staggering days and offering some lunchtime tours are particularly brilliant.

    I'm the friend who emailed Kate about my frustration with the tours. Like Kate, I have pretty flexible hours and can attend tours without taking personal days or suffering nasty looks from my colleagues (if anything, they've been remarkably sympathetic and supportive).

    The parent guides do a great job and I certainly appreciate the effort and time they put in. The 2-hour tour, however, ends up being too long for my needs and schedule. My suggestion: quick tours through the school's facilities, with a chance to observe a kindergarten class and an older class, a brief talk from the principal, THEN questions (so those of us who might be satisfied can leave) and time for people who want to observe more classes or have a more in-depth look at the library or playground a chance to do that. I know everyone processes information differently and that many people want the longer, more in-depth tour and they should have access to that.

  3. I blame the lottery system for creating too much uncertainty. The tours would be much more manageable if parents were going to, say, 3 schools. But everyone we know is seeing anyhere from 8-20+ (if doing public and private).

    The result to me is chaos. Public parents need to find 7, and to find 7 they probably need to tour more. Because its a lottery, many public parents also tour privates, adding to the number. That means more people apply to privates, which means everybody has to tour more privates to apply to enough to have a shot at one. It feeds on itself.


  4. I think the complaints are starting to get through. For the first time this year our school (Miraloma) offered an evening tour (5:30?) and an early morning tour (7:30.) Both were pretty crowded. During th early morning tour we quickly zipped through the facility, observed morning circle, and then dipped into a couple classes "in action" before Q&A with the principal. The 5:30 tour would not be able to show classes in progress, but the afterschool programs were still up and running at that time, and parents could still see the facility and chat with the principal.

    Although all the tour guides are totally on board with the concept of offering tours at different times, it was still difficult for our regular tour guides to commit to times outside their regular window. It's tough enough to get your kids up and out to make a 7:50 start time, much less there in time to greet folks for a 7:30 tour. I was lucky that I went early to lead a tour and my husband dropped the kids off later. But these are just bugs to get worked out now that the issue in on our radar.

  5. I'm the first poster above. This morning I stopped by two public schools unannounced because time HAPPENED for the first time in a LONG time, to open up on by my husband's and my work calendar, and we were both free until 11 am. We also wanted to do drop off at our children's preschool because we had gifts to deliver and wanted to thank our wonderful, wonderful teachers and staff (all of the teachers and staff are wonderful at our preschool). So we couldn't really get anywhere much before 9.

    First stop: Miraloma. I had mentioned that we were going to come by, but we were late and the administrator at the office desk by then assumed we would be a no-show. Nonetheless, she found a parent to show us around, and even the principal Ron Machado (who is as great as everyone says) came out to talk to us. We saw the whole school, got a feel for the place and walked away knowing that we would be more than comfortable sending our daughter there. THANK YOU, MIRALOMA! Now I know what all the Buzz is about!

    Next stop: Alice Fong Yu. Their tour times never coincided with my schedule or that of my husband. We both tend to have a lot of morning standing meetings, especially on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I really like to visit schools with him, as he notices things I don't, we come at observations from different angles. We were able to find a parent there, who told us where the office is, but when we made it to the office, the principal said ABSOLUTELY not would she allow us to peek into a kindergarten class, which seriously is all we wanted to do. We said that literally a 5 minute view would be sufficient to us, as we have never seen Cantonese immersion in action, but she was not swayed. So we went home empty handed.

    I guess that AFY figures that they are already so popular that they don't need to do any marketing. That is a shame. Cantonese immersion seems like an incredible opportunity, but I feel like I kinda need to see it in action, like for 5 minutes, before putting it on my lottery form. I asked when future tours would be held, and the office administrator told me she didn't know, and I should call back after the holidays.

    So there you have it.

  6. 2 other quick points:

    1. Afternoon tours would be particularly helpful for those of us (usually the same full time working parents) who will be taking advantage of the aftercare program. Wish I would have been able to go to the Miraloma 5.30 tour.

    2. TOTALLY AGREE that 1-2 hours is WAY more than necessary. I can get all I need in 20 minutes. Questions can be asked by email or with a follow-up phone call.

  7. Ooo wrong. Sorry All. The correct answer is:

    "Suck it up and work around their schedules."

    Yes, thats:

    "Suck it up and work arund their schedules."

    You'll never get schools to bend their schedules to yours. May as well get used to it for the next 13 years

    If you wanted control over your day you should not have had kids.

  8. Ok TROLL: I'll take the bait. Do schools have an obligation to accomadate us? Probably not. Do they stand to gain from doing so? Yes!

    1. Private schools need to recruit in order to fill their classes with smart kids whose parents can afford to pay $20K/year. The parents of those children often have demanding jobs. They'll miss a big segment of their potential pool by not working around people's schedules (and in my experience, most private schools are relatively accomodating).

    2. Private schools also stand to gain by increasing their diversity, which many of them want to do, and just statistically speaking, the best way to reach the largest population is to be most flexible in scheduling. If they limited all tours, open houses, interviews, etc. to mid-day, they'd have an entire population of society moms, which I honestly believe they don't want.

    3. Public schools have a LOT to gain by attracting the widest interest. The harder the school is to lottery into, the more buzz it gets, the more active the parents tend to be, the better fundraising, the more committed parent body, etc etc etc. Miraloma is evidence of that.

    Of course, the above poster was just a troll, a stupid troll, but I'm just annoyed enough to respond.

  9. If you are touring at 5:30 pm, all you see is empty rooms. You won't see the children, you won't see the teachers, how the staff, other parents, etc interact with the children, how the children interact with them.

    Public schools are under funded as it is, many parents leading tours are working parents carving a few hours to help the school.

    At some schools, the principals take the time out of their very busy day to lead tours.

    I agree schools should stagger the days of the weeks. Most schools offer the tours the same days, and that is a problem.

    Lunch time though is very difficult. Because of budget cuts parent volunteers, the principal and other staff monitor lunch room and recess times. It adds extra work for everyone if you have a large tour moving through.

    I think we can all agree, the first consideration must be the children and not disrupting them.

    Morning tours work well for the children too. Teachers usually do eye-opener projects with the kids first thing in the morning. Which makes it less problematic when 50 people are walking in and out of the rooms.

    I understand the frustration, but public schools don't have the money privates do, they can't afford extra staff. Principals, para professionals and others often have multiple duties. And the parent volunteers aren't always stay at home moms/dads, they have jobs, albeit flexible, meetings to get to etc.

    And in the evenings everyone has children to care for, dinner to get on the table, homework to help with, etc. Starting an evening event at 8:00 pm is very late, especially if a school has an early start time.

    It is different with private schools, most likely the staff gets paid for attending the open house events be it evening or weekends. They don't at public schools.

    Teachers, principals and current parents are very generously volunteering time from their very busy lives out of love for their communities and to help prospective families cope with this difficult process.

    If people find themselves having trouble touring a school they really really want to see. Call the school and make an appointment to meet with the principal. Or call Parents for Public Schools. See if a parent ambassador is available to walk you through the school.

    Good luck to everyone, I hope you all get your first choices, be it private or public.

  10. FYI first poster: please contact the principals of schools that interest you to inquire about alternative tour times. I know that last year, the Yick Wo principal was very accommodating about setting up a time when our family could visit the school.

  11. poster before last - it is all being worded as if everyone is going out of their way and doing such huge favors by providing tours.

    the truth is that schools BENEFIT by getting the word out. yes, it is marketing, but marketing has a purpose, otherwise companies wouldn't spend so much on it.

  12. Why am I a troll because I speak the truth?

    There are more than enough applicants to each private school. They dont need to take a poll to see how they can fit your pilates class / protest march / foodbank volunteering / sleeping in / making a living into their need to educate kids / let their staff have a life / let their parents have a life. Dont worry they'll fill the slots regardless of the scheduling of the tours. WAHHHHHH all you want. Tis the truth. Get used to it.

    As for the public schools, shouldnt they be spending their important tax-payer paid time / limited resources time and money teaching? Rather worrying about prospective parents lifestyles / jobs as you tour their schools?

    Besides it's a lottery. Where you get in wont be determined by where you tour.


    Next topic.

  13. If you don't like this topic, why do you post here and bait bait bait? Kate specifically asked for positive suggestions. Perhaps you should go vomit out your bile elsewhere if the question bothers you so much. Clearly you have a chip on your shoulders. Tell it to your shrink!

  14. I am in the unique position of being a teacher at one of the more popular schools above mentioned and a parent of a pre-k child. I cannot make most tours at the public schools, but have gone to visit a few private ones in my search. Of course my first choice is to have my child at my school, but I do not get priority in the first round, as many believe. So I also need to collect my list seven.

    The subject of tours is a popular discussion topic in the teacher lunchroom. Parents touring should be aware that the tours are disruptive to classrooms at any time of the day. Imagine being a child trying to listen to your teacher instruct you while 30 adults parade through the classroom. The children do adjust to this and we learn to adjust our plans to accommodate the tours. Today the teachers were a bit resentful and feeling that the tours were becoming a bit too disruptive. I am probably a lot more tolerant than most teachers, for obvious reasons. I will close my door if I am assessing students or if I need a bit more quiet in the classroom, but a colleague of mine told a story that troubled me.
    She had asked a student to close her door because the tour group outside was noisy. When the student went to close the door, a tour participant grabbed the door and told the student to leave the door open and that she would close the door herself when she was finished observing. Needless to say, as teachers, we would not want this parent at our school and her actions shows a lack of respect for both the teacher and student.
    Really a few moments in a classroom only gives a glimpse of the reality and if you walk in on a day when a student is having a tantrum, or there is a substitute in the classroom, you don't even get an accurate glimpse. A conversation with parents who send their children to a particular school would probably tell you much more.
    Finally, when you visit schools, please be polite, respectful and aware of your impact on the students. We do understand the need for tours. We appreciate the hours of time that our parent volunteers give to them and we have sympathy for how frustrating the whole process can be (I really really have sympathy!!), but it can be intimidating to have large groups of people stare at you while you are trying to do your job whether you are a teacher or a child.

  15. On the contrary I think it is extremely helpful to point out (with a sense of humor) that there are certain things in this challenging process to focus on and others not to focus on.

    A parent trying to modify tour times in mid-december is not a productive use of anyones time. Face it.

    Focusing on family priorities, school feel and focus, economics and strategizing about how to get where you want to be when private school letters / public school lottery come out in March are productive.

    I'd like a lot of things in life but they won't be provided just cause they're better for me and my lifestyle.

    Focus, focus, focus.

  16. There really is a significant population of parents who work, and many of them don't have flexible jobs. For the life of me I don't understand the opposition to trying to make this process more friendly to working parents.

    I really wish Caroline would jump in here and tell me that public school parents really are noble people who are in it for the greater good. Right now I feel like the posters are just snipey negative smug stay-at-home moms who are gloating that they have the time to conform with the arbitrary and poorly planned out schedule.

    Honestly, there is nothing wrong with trying to improve the system.

    BTW: to the ignorant rat who continues to insist that the world will never be accomodating to working parents, and we should get used to it: I think not.

    I happen to know from experience as a working parent, who is married to a working parent, that the schools that my children have attended are extremely accomodating to our ability to work. Additionally, both my partner and I were raised by dual-working parent families (actually, my partner, by a single mom) and the schools went out of their way to make early morning appointments. This really isn't rocket science, people.

    One reason that so many people flee San Francisco public schools is that they perceive the schools to be populated by smug arrogant semi-hippies who expect the world to be like them. The truth is that San Francisco is a City of many different types, and the best schools do in fact do a great job of accomodating the many different types. Hurray!

  17. Public school parents are a cruss-section of the species just like anyone else, Anonymous.

    It happens that their choice of public school does contribute to the greater good, while choosing private school does the opposite. But very few people are conscious of that when they make the choice (those who HAVE the luxury of making the choice). I wasn't.

    I don't think I've ever met a stay-at-home mom who gloated that she had lots of time.

    And when parents avoid San Francisco public schools because of the people they or their kids might encounter, I doubt that it's smug arrogant semi-hippies they're worried about.

    The marketing issue is a constant challenge. Back when public schools had adequate money and could have funded a bit of marketing, the need wasn't apparent in the slightest. (It still isn't in many places.) Now there's need and no spare money, unless we want to take it away from classrooms.

    Privates have always marketed themselves, as I understand it, because the more applicants they get, the higher standard they can set. It's not necessarily true that they all have more applicants than openings, either. There are certainly private schools that can accept a newcomer at any time -- if they WANT the newcomer. That doesn't mean they don't reject some applicants.

    I agree with the poster who pointed out how disruptive tour groups are to classrooms. I've sat in my kids' kindergarten classes and watched eager, engaged kids suddenly shut down when a crowd of adults came in to stare at them. Of course that would happen in a private school class too. Do private schools let parents wander in at any time?

    The first anonymous comment, mentioning a kindergarten screening, implies that the private school process may also pose a challenge to working parents.

  18. I mean cross-section; sorry for that and all other typos.

  19. I'm one of the public school moms who has posted here, also a single mom who works full time, so definitely not a smug stay-at-home (if that is actually a real category). We have some stay-at-homes in our school and they are a great bonus; I am grateful for them, but I am among the MANY working moms at our school. Caroline is right about the cross-section.

    I've been touring middle schools this fall, and have certainly found myself grumbling about the hours and days of the tours (MUST they all be on Thursday? and there is no early tour option for middle schools that almost universally start classes at 9am). It's been very hard on my job and I have had to take home lots of work to complete after the kids are in bed.

    No doubt, I am lucky I could do that and not get fired for taking mornings off. It is one of those inequities, because non-professional working parents are less likely to have the flexibility. PPS has done a good job of scheduling special enrollment events for AA and Latino parents, but that doesn't erase the inequities. It's even harder with the privates with the required screenings. Even beyond tuition and cultural issues, that would be a big barrier.

    I'm glad to say that two middle schools (Lick and Aptos) took the advice of the parent enrollment survey from last spring and scheduled evening open houses. Both were well-attended. However, I went back and toured each of them later to get an impression of school in session.

    As a current elementary parent I really sympathize with the teacher/parent who commented about the disruptions of the tours for the classroom. The older kids are used to it--my outgoing 5th grader will even approach prospective parents to ask politely if they want to hear about the school from a kid's view--but the tours really invade the space of the kinders. Just wait till you are one of the parents of those kindergartners and you may have a different perspective about some of the more insistent parents on tour!

    Sigh, I think this is one of those "competing values" issues for the public schools. Yes, we have to market like crazy to fight the persistent negative rumors and fears from the playground about us, and show off the good stuff. But we have to do it without an admissions staff, while keeping focus on the primary mission of educating and nurturing the children who are already enrolled.

    Seen in that light, the tour season seems very long at some schools, and the anxieties of prospective parents can seem a bit over the top--and please understand, I say that as a prospective middle school parent, so I am wearing both hats this fall and pointing fingers at myself too.

    School choice has many good aspects, including empowering parents to look for a good fit, improved schools, and more social mixing than would be the case with neighborhood schools; but the consumer-driven piece of it is exhausting and we have complaints on all sides, it seems. I'm not sure there are perfect answers, either.

    I would certainly suggest encouraging more schools to have open house nights or weekend events. It's true you miss seeing the kids at work and play, but they expand the options for working parents. Maybe PPS can work with parent liaisons to put these on a master calendar to minimize conflicts. Perhaps as well PPS can do the same to encourage tours to be staggered in terms of day of the week. This would all be something.

    Finally, remember this will all be over in not that long. At least it is a time-limited process, and it does not happen every year. Kind of like pregnancy and childbirth--overwhelming, and then it is over and you are in a different stage of life with your kids and the travails mostly forgotten.

  20. The poster who commented posts were phrased as if everyone is going out of their way to provide tours.

    In public schools, yes. They are. It's not wrong to point this out and acknowledge the hard work people put in to these things, and to show some appreciation.

    The teachers schedule their lessons around tours, and most importantly, the children have to deal with groups of strangers standing around their classes.

    As the teacher poster pointed out, it is intimidating, especially to the younger ones.

    Imagine being in the middle of the lesson and answering a teacher's questions when 50 people pour in the room to watch you.

    I agree the tours should be spread through the week to make it easier. But there are also other options to get in to see if you really want to.

    You can attend PTA meetings or holiday events Call the schools and see if there is an evening or weekend event. Some schools have weekend work days for beautification. Call or check their web sites to see if any are there.

    A comment was made marketing is important, and companies wouldn't spend so much if it weren't. Sure. As that comment itself points out. It costs money, and companies have the budget.

    There is no money in public schools. The brochures, the printing costs,etc are all volunteered talent and costs. Or the PTA has to pay for design/printing, and that is money taken away from the children's programs.

    The reason we are all involved with the school. The children.

    I love Fairmount's Principal's take on the marketing question. The schools aren't 'selling' themselves to people, but offering choices.

    All schools offer something unique, but will not fit all families.

    The ones who have 50 + people walking through every week don't need to offer extra options, they are on the radar. And will fill up.

    Word of mouth from friends and other sources, test scores, immersion programs are what brings people to the tours. The SFUSD fair is another opportunity to see cross sections of schools.

    I don't think anybody is resistant to changing the tour culture. However complaining about individual public schools which are doing their best on shoestring budgets isn't productive.

    If the district provided the money for schools to put on a weekend open house, so food can be bought, teachers and janitors could be paid, that would be a step in the right direction.

    Call parents for public schools or go to a Bord of Education meeting and bring this issue to their attention.

    People who tour 15 schools and how ever many privates aren't the ones who need to be accommodated.

    It's those in the lower socio-economic bracket who need more options. And hopefully parents for publics can lobby the SFUSD to provide the budget to expand options and outreach.

  21. I am also a teacher and find the process very frustrating. I want to make a well-informed decision but can not realisticaly take 10 sub days to see schools. Therefore I have mostly had my husband check out schools from a list we compiled together and those he liked, I then went to see, which meant taking an entire sub day for a hour and half tour, or begging a support teacher to watch my class till I could make a mad dash accross the city back to my class. I am at school that does not even have tours, as it is not perceived to be good, although it has many great qualities. I love the choice, but find it very limiting in which parents it allows to do the tours.

  22. My above post should read "Board of Education". Sorry for all the other typos.

    Carolyn: I love your posts. Both here and on the sfschools & ppssf listservs.

    Do you think the SFUSD would work with Parents for Public Schools on this issue?

    I know getting money from the district is like bleeding a stone, but perhaps offering a budget line item for one weekend open house per school would be a step in a positive direction.

    The schools who have large tours already don't need to do this, so wouldn't be likely to dip in to PTA funds for this purpose.

    Maybe a beta program for a few schools who fly under the radar? Those which don't have lots of people walking through every week?

    I don't know. When I was touring a few years ago, I felt the frustration that most schools offered tours on the same days. But I have/had the luxury of flex time, so I could take off from work, but people who work in other industries (service for example) don't have those options.

    Thoughts? Thank You in advance...

  23. one weird thing that started happening on tours is that i began to infer things about the school's culture and merits based on the qualities i perceived in the touring parents. not the current parents--the touring ones. it was strange, because after a while -- i saw many, many schools, thanks to self-employment (which for the last few months i would call "unemployment")--i could tell instantly whether a school was going to be a good fit for my daughter and our family. and, if so, how good. when other parents asked questions that were on my mind, i was like, yes! when many of them gobbled up valuable time to ask questions that would have been better answered in advance, online or by a PPS or SFUSD employee/volunteer, i was irritated (clarendon, anyone?). i began to see an inverse correlation between how many tourees were there and how informed they would be (i.e., more touring parents = less informed parents who had not bothered to do any research, and thus asked questions like "how does the lottery work?" that had nothing to do with that school). i couldn't help but infer something about the ultimate makeup of the families who would attend the school in question from this.

    that said, overall, the touring process is sort of ridiculous. i get that it is necessary as part of the "choice" system. but it is problematic for almost every constituency. wouldn't it be great if every neighborhood school in this town was decent enough that folks who couldn't or didn't want to tour could know that any school they got would be decent? then those who wanted more specialized features or wanted to zero in on their "best fit" could carve out the time to tour (not that touring really tells you much -- it's more like a snapshot, and a blurry one at that).

    i know, i know...pipe dream.

    i will say i really appreciated the people giving the tours -- parents, principals and sometimes paid parent/staff liaisons. some who stood out for me were all the flynn parents, the parent liaison at starr king, carol lai at miraloma, the librarian at clarendon, the parent librarian at fairmount, the parent and principal at sunnyside, the lakeshore parents (who didn't growl at me for being late), the alvarado principal, the buena vista parent, and the mckinley principal. (i feel like i'm thanking the goddamn academy...we'll see how my speech really goes when i get my daughter's assignment [grin].)

    and, yes, agreed that: we must work together to stagger the days more; we must figure out how to help low-income folks who have other children with both childcare and transportation (hey, even i, a middle-class person, would have been cleaned out on babysitting by the "no-baby-on-tour" schools if my mom didn't live here and watch my baby); we must help parents cull down their choices more prior to daytime touring, perhaps with more mini-fairs and kindernights a la flynn (rather than the big blowout, which is marginally useful).

    i did notice that the grossly oversubscribed schools made everything harder, and, by god, i judged them (negatively and, i believe, justifiably) for it. it's funny how one school will say, "well, of course you can bring your baby on your back, as long as you remove him when he fusses" and another one, "we offer two tours only. they're all at the buttcrack of dawn the day after halloween. no babies. no cell phones. no bad haircuts." fuckers.

    anyway, it'll be done soon. as another poster reminds us: at the end of the day, it's a lottery. i turned in my list yesterday. the only regrets i have are that i didn't (couldn't) include a couple of schools i really liked. that's a good problem to have.

  24. Kim: great point about educating oneself before going on the tours.

  25. YES! That is why, for me, a 20-30 minute tour would be sufficient. I do all of my research at home and at work, and the tour is basically just to see it in action briefly, nothing more.

    FWIW, shorter tours would also be less disruptive to the kids!! (Valid points about the disruptive factor.)

    And clearly, you can't get the full picture of the school from these tours. You also won't get the full picture from a 3 hour tour. But you get enough for round one of the lottery, at least IMHO.

  26. For our last few tours we've had upwards of 50 parents, split into 3 groups. Some people really want to see EVERYTHING including the kindergartens, and upper grade classroom, gym, cafeteria, auditorium, garden, all three playards, and sometimes bathrooms, AND do the Q&A with the principal, which puts you at upwards of 1 1/2 hours. As tour guides we totally understand that some people have to leave earlier though -- no one is the least bit offended. Usually the first group to go starts with the kindergartens, so it's definitely feasible to do an unofficial abbreviated tour.

    But it's also worth considering making one of the three groups the 1/2 hour "abbreviated tour" (kindergarten yard, playground, cafeteria, no principal chat.) Would that be helpful to enough people though? We're aiming for a tour that hits the needs of the majority of parents. Our school tries to be flexible about working with parents that absolutely can't make it during the regular tour, but it would be disastrous if every family wanted that.

  27. Ooops. Caroline not Carolyn. SORRY!!

    Anne C, interesting question regarding abrievated tours.

    I was wondering the same thing, what could be eliminated to keep tours approximately a 1/2 hour?

    I think meeting the principal is important, but perhaps all one needs is a few minutes instead of a Q&A session?

  28. Kim, you crack me up : )

  29. Kim Green is killing me with her posts. I am laughing my ass off. (Thanks for the swear words!!) (And may I just say that I hope you put Flynn on your list, and that your child gets in too.)

    In terms of the tours, we at Flynn have done a couple non-Thursday tours, but please know that if you really want to see Flynn (or see it again) let us know and we can arrange aprivate or semi-private tour. You can post here, to me, or email the flynnelementary dot org site. (Tell 'em I sent ya. wink)

    On another subject I hope that many of you will post your picks after all is said and done. I am interested after following so many discussions to know how your choices will fall. And it's always interesting to look for the patterns in those choices too; to see where the prioroties seems to fall. For those of us observing and NOT in the position of looking for schools this year, seeing some of your lists will be like the culmination of a fascinating study. (Or social experiment?)

  31. This post is really aimed at the school staff and (more often in SFUSD) parent volunteers who design and run the tours, but...

    If I may boast about a small achievement, I conceived and put together a FAQ sheet when I was tour coordinator at Lakeshore a few years ago -- I worked really hard to get the facts right, with PPS' help. We copied it massively and handed it out at the beginning of every tour.

    It gave a brief description of the lottery process, with sources for more infomation. Then when a parent asked one of those out-of-place, time-wasting questions, the tour guides could just say, "It's in your FAQ."

    That was also helpful because some parent volunteer guides were extremely prone to giving inaccurate answers. We had one great parent volunteer who always gave a wildly inaccurate answer to the constant question, "What's an alternative school?" no matter how often we tried to diplomatically get him to get it straight. Another, who has kids in my kids' grades and thus went through the enrollment process in 1996, was totally unaware that the enrollment process had changed drastically, and continued to give advice based on the 1996 version.

    So we found the FAQ very helpful in overcoming those problems. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it.

  32. kathy b. -- of course i applied to flynn. who isn't applying to flynn? (shooting self in foot now, as hordes descend....)

  33. well, i'm close to picking the "final 7," but still need to do some last-minute decision-making. I'm happy to share my semifinalists with you, though ...

    1) Flynn (definitely SI, might apply for GE too)
    2)Alvarado (same story as Flynn)
    4) McKinley
    5) Grattan
    6) Miraloma
    7) Sunnyside
    8)Commodore Sloat
    9) Rooftop

    hmm ... i should check out spreadsheet thing and see what my chances are.

  34. does anyone know if the schools publish how many sibling spots they have taken already? anecdotally I have heard that certain schools have a larger than normal number of sibs this year. it would be nice to know this info when placing our bets (which is how this feels to me!)

  35. We really, really, really want to like Flynn. We have several friends at Flynn and it is close to our house. We think the teachers are great and the parents are definitely amazing. But. We are extremely concerned about the principal and his lack of vision and leadership. We are also concerned about the difficulty in integrating the two strands in the school. We think they are doing a good job, but it seems that this will always be an uphill battle. If there is one thing that we have gotten out of the kindergarten touring process, it is the importance of the prinicipal to provide leadership, vision and continuity. Help us change our minds... (Although you might not want us too, as spots at Flynn - if you do the math - may be limited :))

  36. last anon: what is the basis of your criticism of flynn principal addcox? i've heard him speak twice, and although he is certainly not a flamboyant character or political animal, he seemed conscientious and warm enough.

  37. I'd be curious to hear specifics too. I'll be honest -- Principal Adcox seemed like a perfectly nice man, but he didn't "wow" me either on the tour. But then I thought about it later, and wondered, does he need to wow me? I mean, no, he doesn't have the charisma of the principals at McKinley or Miraloma. But he does seem conscientious and supportive of his teachers. (He also seems very into technology, which isn't a big draw for me. I would rather hear more about "differentiated learning" -- though the only principal he seemed to demonstrate the specifics of that was the McKinley principal.) I'm also thinking I've been overthinking this process too much -- it's elementary school, for crying out loud. I'm sure my kid will do fine just about anywhere. And when I think back to elementary school, the lasting positive impressions I have are of my teachers (unfortunately, only two stand out). I'm starting to think teachers are the most important thing, and the Flynn teachers seem outstanding.

  38. Back to Flynn principal.

    Again this is our subjective opinion and we put principal leadership high on our list for selection criteria. Others may rightly differ.

    My partner is a teacher and we have seen firsthand how important the principal is in providing an overall structure for a school. Through long hard and bitter experience, we have concluded that organizations will reflect their leadership. Teachers, although generally good people, are as prone to factionalism and infighting as any other group. The kinder group at Flynn seem especially compatible and excellent but we worry about the future. It can just takes one teacher leaving for problems to start up - and that is where the principal is important.

    Our sense at Flynn is that Principal Addcox is a nice guy and supportive of his teachers and attentive of the parents - but that he doesn't really take charge. Our impression is that the teachers and parents are running that school. At the kindergarten night, he was noticibly absent in addressing questions that he should have been answering and my partner was disappointed when he answered a standard 'what do you want the school to improve on' question with an answer about cleanliness of the school grounds and buildings. Again, we are not piling on criticism of Principal Addcox. Flynn has improved tremendously and he has take as much credit for that as anyone else. We are concerned about worst-case scenarios and whether he would be the right leader when the difficult choices need to be made.

  39. Kim - lol.

    It is so interesting to me to hear that Mr Addcox didn't seem visionary. Then again, like everything else in this process it's all so subjective.

    Here are some things I have seen and liked about Mr. Addcox:

    -I googled him more than a year ago and found that he had led the charge to get restrictions and clean-up in place for an out-of-control dump near or next to the school where he worked. I thought - activism, social conscious, action!

    -he is soft spoken and has a certain elegance about him. I think he is a terrific role model for the boys in the school. I think his even-temperedness sets a fine tone for comportment.

    -He is ALWAYS around - in classrooms, leading the morning announcements (each day alternating the language he uses so that both are always seen as equal in the school), on the yard, often with kids in tow.

    -He is leading the charge on becoming an International Baccalaureate school which speaks to me of his vision, his commitment to making real change at Flynn, and his globalmindedness.

    -The first time we saw him he was in the dunking booth at the Bernal Fiesta on the Hill.

    -The third time I saw him he was in his old model VW bug at a stoplight behind me. I called my husband "you'll never guess who drives an old bug!!!!"

  40. thanks to Kathy for her informative post, as well as the original Flynn poster.

    what principals have really impressed folks? i agree with a previous poster that McKinley and Miraloma's principals both seem outstanding.

  41. Bonnie Coffey-Smith at Mckinley is awesome as has been noted before. Question on everybody's mind is whether or not she is going to retire. I hear through the grapevine that she is grooming somebody to take her place - but who knows if she will get the district to get her way.

    Karling Fort-Aguilera at Fairmount was also very impressive - which seems to be the consensus of the people posting. With these two above examples - I was especially impressed with their clear vision of what was wrong and right with the system and how to work around or mitigate the issues. They don't sugarcoat the truth.

    Darleen Lau at Redding and William Vroegh at Peabody also impressed as principal leaders. Not picking their schools for other reasons.

    On the private side, Dr. Jackson at SF Day School and Catherine Hunter at SF Friends were the best principals that we saw. Again a clear example of how much difference a principal or head of school can make.

    Worst principals? We have our opinions but we will keep them to ourselves. :) There are a couple of real characters in the SFUSD system.

  42. My kids are at Friends and I wholeheartedly confirm the previous poster's impressions of Cathy Hunter. She is really phenomenal. I truly think that Friends would be in a very different place right now without Cathy there. She has handled the huge challenge of starting a new school remarkably well. One thing she really understands is the importance of hiring quality people.

  43. i was quite impressed with Chris Rosenberg (spelling?) at Starr King. I also liked Mr. Machado at Miraloma, and the principal at Rooftop (name escapes me). I didn't tour Peabody -- ran out of fuel -- but kinda wish I had. the principal sounds great. I also didn't tour Feinstein, which is another regret. I've heard fab things about the physical building -- big surprise there, given it's so new -- but mixed things about the principal.

    As for the principal who made the biggest impression on me, I'd have to say Mrs. Harrison at Adda Clevenger. Whew! That lady is a character. Now whether she's a genius or just a bit out of her tree (or both)I'm not sure, but she certainly makes a lasting impression. (She was very nice and gracious on the tour, and I know people with kids at AC who are very happy, so I don't mean this to be entirely snarky.) I got a kick out of learning the older gentleman at the school is her brohter ...

  44. This is such a braindead of obvious thing to do. It's almost pathetic that we even have to discuss this.

    I mean, if the schools can't think just slightly outside the box on something as basic as creating better tour flexibility...

  45. I think most schools strive to be flexible, but it's not always easy. It's not "schools" that give tours, but "parents." Most of us tour guides have the same constraints as other parents -- works schedules, child care issues, sick kids, etc. Many tour guides do tours week after week for the whole season.

    And, we have to work around the school schedule. If you always offer your tours on Wednesdays, for example, you can make sure doors are unlocked, space is available for a large group, the principal is always free for Q&A, etc. If we want to offer tours on alternate days, parents may have to gather in the crowded hallway because the library or auditorium is being used by students, the principal may be in an IEP meeting, etc. Doing tours on alternate days and times is certainly a good idea, and I'm glad that schools are trying to be more flexible, but it does add some logistical challenges that may not be obvious.

    I'm talking about public schools here -- private schools mostly have a staff person assigned to handling enrollment and tours.