Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School

Reviewed by Kate

You should consider this scho
ol if you're looking for a place with: a Spanish immersion track; developed arts program; three on-site after-school programs offering flexibility and options; inquiry-based teaching; smaller class sizes in 4th and 5th (25 students); a motivated and growing PTA

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: Thursdays at 9 a.m. (extra tour added: Monday, December 10 at 9 a.m., for those who can't make Thursday tours)
Location: 3125 Cesar Chavez, Bernal Heights/Mission District
Grades: K–5
Start time: 8:35 a.m.
Kindergarten size: two immersion classes (20 students each); two general education classes (currently under 20 students each)
Student body size: 450
Playground: brand-new play structure for 1st–5th, separate structure for kindergarten
After-school program: three programs: Child Development Center from the district, Mission Learning Center, and Mission YMCA.
Language: Spanish immersion strand
Highlights: Fabulous library with new books and computers and a full-time librarian, arts programs offered by San Francisco Symphony and Ballet, schoolwide Morning Welcome at which the principal welcomes the students and everyone stretches together

Kate's impressions
The Flynn tour started outside on the playground. Parent guide Vali Govier gathered our small group around a sparkling new play structure with bridges, tunnels, twisty slides, and rock climbing walls. "Parents put that up in one day," Govier said proudly. Over 400 people attended the work party, including Gavin Newsom, Tom Ammiano, and Cesar Chavez's grandson. The structure is the perfect metaphor for this school that's making great leaps forward at a rapid rate.

When Govier toured the school three years ago, she was told parent donations amounted to some $3,000 that year (there wasn't even a PTA). Last year, the newly formed PTA raised $35,000. The goal for 2007–08 is $55,000. If Flynn can erect a play structure in a day (it takes the city of San Francisco at least a year to do this) and increase its parent donations by one-thousand percent in about three years, you can only imagine what's going to happen in the future.

Flynn's current project is petitioning to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. The French American International High School is currently the only other IB school in the city. "At the heart of the program’s philosophy is a commitment to structured, purposeful inquiry as the leading vehicle for learning," says the IB Web site. This means kids learn by asking questions. So let's say a class is studying marine life. The students might visit an aquarium to observe fish or maybe they put together a tank in the classroom. Then they learn about the fish by asking questions. "Does a fish have blood?" "When does a fish sleep?" "How do fish reproduce?" The next step is to answer the questions—either through research, asking experts, or simply asking more questions.

IB is also about encouraging students to think globally and to think about how they can make the world a more peaceful place. It promotes intercultural understanding and respect. The program would require Flynn to introduce a language component in the general education track.

Half of the Flynn teachers have gone through IB training and this year teachers are introducing one IB unit based on the theme, sharing the planet. The complete IB program includes six themes of global significance: who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves, and sharing the planet.

The idea to adopt this program is brilliant. I think it will help solve one of the primary problems with this school—the division between the Spanish immersion strand and the general education strand. Four years ago, Flynn introduced Spanish immersion. This track is hugely popular with middle class families. The immersion classes are truly diverse with a mix of Caucasians, Latinas, African Americans, and so on. But the general education track is less popular. Some of the classes are underenrolled and there are few, if any, Caucasian students in those classes. The IB program will draw interest as it offers something unique. And it's a way to improve test scores without "teaching to the test" as IB students tend to test well. Also, both tracks would incorporate the IB curriculum so this would help bring everyone together. (Please, Flynn parents and staff, correct me if my assessment seems inaccurate.)

There's no guarantee that Flynn will become an IB school but they're on the right track to do so. The commitment to the program shows that the school is striving to grow and improve.

So let's get back to my actual tour that started out on the playground. Vali Govier and another mom named Kathy (not sure if that's with a "C" or a "K") were the guides. Both have children in the immersion strand. Interestingly, Govier's daughter was accepted at Friends and Flynn. She went with Flynn and is entirely happy with her choice.

Govier talked about the school's rich arts program. Music, dance, and visual arts are offered kindergarten through fifth. There's drumming, dance with San Francisco Ballet, music with the symphony. The school's emphasis on arts is apparent in the artwork plastered in the hallways and the murals adorning the school yard.

Govier also raved about the P.E. teacher who runs the kids around the play yard, and the full-time certified librarian. She said Flynn is only one of two schools in the district with a full-time librarian. "It's like gold dust," Govier said. The library sits in the heart of the school and it's huge. Thanks to an $80,000 grant from Gavin Newsom, it's stocked with an up-to-date collection of books and equipped with computers. Students visit the library once a week. Flynn has also been awarded Prop H funding in the amount of $125,000 for greening the school yard. This means more trees and a garden. Currently, the school has some containers and raised beds filled with plants.

Govier said goodbye and Kathy took us inside. Flynn is housed in a three-story building that was built in 1924 by the same architect who designed UC Berkeley. It's a grand, old school with lots of original details and hallways painted in bright, cheerful colors. We walked into the cafeteria with intricate molding, red velvet curtains, lovingly worn hardwood floors, an antique piano, and a large stage. It's the sort of room that every school should have.

Next stop: a general education kindergarten class. Among the 12 students, I spotted one Caucasian. The students were engaged in a lesson on the difference between upper and lower case letters. In Teacher Gretchen's Spanish immersion class, with 20 students, the kids were writing stories. "Me gusta mi Papa," wrote one boy. Gretchen is a warm lady with a genuine smile. She happened to know one of the prospective parents on our tour and she greeted her with a friendly hello and a kiss on the cheek. In the other immersion class, Teacher Erin, a gorgeous Latina woman who wore her hair like Princess Leah, read a story. Her students sat cross-legged on the carpet, fully engrossed.

Our tour wrapped up in the principal's office. We sat around a table and principal Charles Addcox greeted us. "I certainly want to welcome you," he said. Addcox came to Flynn three years ago. Before that he lived in Los Angeles, where he was a teacher for 18 years and an assistant principal for four. He moved to San Francisco because his own children live in the area. He's Venezuelan and speaks fluent Spanish. He isn't one of these super-high-energy, animated principals who tells lots of jokes. But he does seem thoughtful, honest, dedicated, and open to change. And I think if your child was struggling, you could go to him and he'd listen and help you work through the problem.

Addcox told an interesting story about a Flynn teacher who is a lesbian. When the teacher and her partner had a baby, a student went home and told her Catholic parents that her teacher's baby has two moms. The parents complained to Addcox, and so he brought the teacher and the parents together for a meeting. They talked through the issue and worked it out together. "It was an enlightening experience for all of us," Addcox said.

Addcox addressed Flynn's status as a STAR school, which means it's under-performing (in terms of test scores) and receives some extra support and resources from the district. Addcox says test scores went up 36 points last year. And it seems like things are only going to get better.

He excitedly talked about the possibility of becoming an IB school. Field trips are a big part of inquiry-based learning and Addcox told a story about the third graders studying urban development. The class walked to the recently shuttered Kelly Moore store on Cesar Chavez and came up with ideas for redeveloping the space. They ended up with a plan to turn it into a homeless shelter.

He told us that the student body is 62 percent Latina and then one of the parents asked about the division between the immersion and general education families and students. "If there is a gap, it's not intentional," Addcox said. "And we're making efforts to bridge what gaps do exist." He believes the teachers are equally strong in both tracks—even if there are differences among parents and students. Teachers from each grade level meet with Addcox once a week. They closely look at teaching and curriculum and identify holes. Together, they make sure that they're reaching every student.

In a sense Flynn is conducting a great social experiment (like many of our city's schools). They've taken a school that wasn't diverse—that was primarily Latino—and they've introduced programs such as immersion to draw middle-class families. Flynn's experiment will undoubtedly succeed. And I think it would be an amazing experience for any family—both parents and children—to be a part of it.

If you're still searching for your hidden gem, check out this school.


  1. Flynn has already made my list, I toured Harvey Milk this morning and it reminded me how much one (It can't just be me?)is influenced by who is leading the tour and other superficial experiences of the day. The tour was uninspiring, our tour guide confrontational and defensive, many of the kids we saw seem bored, but then, flipside, I also saw, in other classrooms some really engaged excited kids who were clearly learning and enjoying it. I was impressed by the Principal more than anything else and while I wanted to love this school (great location, perfect start time, warm and small as well as an available and FREE after school program) the school did not feel right for me and will not make my list. Anyone had a different experience of HMCRA?

  2. agreed: tours are HIGHLY variable, depending on the day, people, etc.

    so, HMCRA. i have to say, i really liked it. i did feel the kids were engaged beyond what i expected. and i liked the energy i saw the teachers bringing to the classrooms. i loved the location/space/neighborhood/hours/small size. i feel they ARE doing something unique there, and i liked the sense of confidence they have about raising test scores THEIR way instead of hewing to the district/fed govt line (damn NCLB!). in fact, their scores are dang good considering that at least 60% of the students qualify for free/reduced lunch. overall, i was impressed. i do think that if you ever disagreed about something there, you would have a hard time getting anyone to adapt. they have their own way of doing things, and i'm not sure how open it is to "outsiders." that said, they really are like a family and i respect the outreach they do in poor communities. one unusual thing i saw was how involved low-income families are in volunteering and at the school -- unlike most other schools where it seemed to be all middle-class families in those roles. so unusual. i think this place will only get stronger with time. i think it should get many more applicants than it does, personally. i think they are doing so many things right.

  3. I haven't toured Harvey Milk (to be honest, i had thought it sounded too "granola crunchy" to me, but that's mostly because i knew of a dad with kids there who is progressive to the point of being annoying and judgmental -- trust me, i run to the left). But then I read Kim's review, and talked to a couple of other people who toured, and now i've added it to my list. And I agree about tours and subjectivity. First poster -- curious what it was about Flynn that makes you want to add them to your list. I toured -- impressed with the teachers, parents, principal seems like a nice guy but he didn't wow me. Concerned about split with the two programs -- does school feel cohesive, that sort of thing. Anyway, i'm blabbing. But Flynn is making my list in any event. Just curious what you liked about it (deciding factors in our house included the 8:40 start time and uniforms!)

  4. Kate - did you ever go back for the SF Day School tour or is it off your list now completely?

  5. RE: Flynn feeling cohesive or not because of the two program split, I'm a new parent there and feel cohesiveness. The kids all refer to themselves as "from Flynn" and the teachers, regardless of program, work together each week to provide the same content, just in different languages. This to me is an example of multiculturalism: same content, different languages.

  6. New topic, but what I want to read about and ponder more is the effect of large class size in grades 4+. At each of my two most recent tours, parent guides, each with a 4th-grader, were available for questions. At each one, someone asked the parent (mom) how her child was adjusting to a class with 33 students. Each mom indicated that it has been a difficult adjustment so far. The students simply don't get the same amount of individual attention, and I am having difficulty finding anything positive about that. I'm sure most kids eventually adjust, but isn't it a downward adjustment, to a less desirable environment? Does anyone actually strive for 33 kids in a class, or is everyone just doing the best they can with an undesirable situation that isn't likely to go away?

  7. Good question, but I can't answer it because my child is in a school that has used some of its site money for class size reduction in the upper grades, meaning there are 24 kids in the class instead of 20. That number seems to work fine as it was not much of a jump and the kids are more independent workers at that age than in kinder or 1st.

    I don't think you would find anyone arguing that bigger classes are better, especially at the elementary level. It's a question of site councils choosing to prioritize class size reduction with the funds they have to spend. So now I am wondering if anyone knows which schools have purchased class size reduction for grades 4 and 5.

    It's another question in middle school. Most of the classes seem to be over 30, especially at the high performing schools. Some of the "up and coming" middle schools have received grants for class size reduction. I wonder how much of a difference class size makes at that level, especially for the struggling kids. I assume so. Maybe a veteran middle or high school parent can comment on that point.

  8. I've heard that "studies show" that the small class size is most important in the K-3 year, and that the benefits of those small classes stick with the kids throughout their schooling.

    I wonder something related: I've heard about schools (like Alvarado) using money to keep the sizes down, but I've also heard that the district won't tolerate any openings in highly requested schools, so how do you do it so that you have a better teacher/student ratio and yet not have the district say "Oh, I see you now have an "extra" teacher -- we're giving you 35 more students"?

  9. The site council can use its local budgeting power to buy class size reduction, so the district does not get to then just fill it up those new classrooms to the larger size. The total number of slots at the school stays the same though; there are just more classrooms.

    When class size reduction first happened on a mass scale all over California in K-3, it created two immediate crises of demand, one of space and one of credentialed teachers. It seems that in a few years that has mostly sorted itself out. I saw news story this week saying that the percentage of teachers who are credentialed (not with emergency credentials) has risen back up to where it was before.

  10. I apologize that this is off-topic.... Can anyone chime-in on the food served at the public schools? I know that a majority of the students participate in the free-lunch program. What is the quality of the food for these children? Does everyone else bring a lunchbox? Do some of the PTAs organize for greater nutrition? Thanks so much! icipateDo you send your child to school with a

  11. i would like to hear more about flynn, if anyone has impressions or comments.

    specifically, what are people's impressions of (1) the current state of relations between the teaching staff and administration there? are the teachers in both programs content with the way things are going? and (2) how well is flynn coping with maintaining two strands?

    it would be ideal to have current flynn parents weigh in as well.

  12. The SFUSD website has the lunch menus, which I believe has nutritional content.

    I believe some PPS parent has spear-headed trying to improve nutrition, Dana? I believe some middle or high schools are participating in experimental, leading edge programs (grab n go breakfast), but not aware of any elementaries. Other than Miraloma, I thought has a salad bar thru some similar experimental program (Miraloma parents, pls chime in).

    The few times I have seen the hot lunches served by SFUSD, they looked pretty good. (heated chicken tenders, corn, some fruit muffin, milk, and an apple). They are not organic, unforutnately.

    I had heard on tour that the school lunches were not so great. My actual experience this year: I've tried to get my kid to let me pack her a lunch or to at least drink organic milk that I could send with her, but so far, she prefers the school lunches, which are $ 2. My impression is that many non-free/reduced lunch kids pack their own lunches or alternate depending on if they like what's on the hot lunch menu. I don't know if our school's lunches are better, because we have a kitchen. I recall some elem schools didn't have a real kitchen.

    I would support SFUSD and PPS doing more on getting organic and more nutritous food into all elem schools at a minimum. (perhaps unrealistic, but aren't there foundations that would give grants for this?)

  13. PM,just when I think I'm posting too much on this blog, someone asks a question that I HAVE to answer.

    SFUSD has improved its school food considerably since 2003, when we parents and staff at Aptos Middle School persuaded SFUSD to let us run a pilot project getting the junk food out of our "a la carte" food sales operation and vending machines and tracking the financial results. That project expanded into the districtwide Wellness Policy.

    There are massive financial obstacles to improving the food further. The city's Dept. of Children, Youth and Their Families and the mayor's office have jointly funded salad bars now being installed in several schools, and a a proposal is moving through the Prop. H approval process to expand them to more schools.

    Here is an article co-written by moi summing up the situation, from last week's Bay Guardian:

    And for full information on SFUSD food and the Wellness Policy, go to -- this is the official website of the SFUSD Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, but entirely created and run by volunteers.

  14. just curious -- do the schools with gardens (rooftop, commodore sloat, lakeshore) let the kids eat the stuff they grow -- a la that program in Berkeley that Alice Waters spearheaded? i know this was probably covered in the tours, but i'm blanking on the answer. thanks.

  15. They don't produce enough to create the school meals from the gardens. Of course they can serve their own salads, or whatever.

    To give a brief idea of the finances: SFUSD lunches cost $2, or free to low-income students.

    I have a childhood friend who's the cafeteria manager at Marin Academy (high-end private school -- Sean Penn's kids go there). She told me that the entree alone there is $6; with beverage etc. added, kids spend $10-$15 a day on lunch at Marin Academy. So that's just for comparison.

  16. Despite the structural obstacles to improving food quality ($2/child is a shameful pittance, and many schools have removed their onsite kitchens and replacing them is prohibitively expensive), the food really has improved in the last few years in terms of both nutritional content and taste. Thank you, Dana Woldow and the rest of the Nutrition Task Force! You are heroes!

    Examples, the chicken tenders are baked, not fried; also the turkey soup, lasagne, and bean and cheese burritos get thumbs up from my kids. (They seem to hate the rice bowl, though.) You get a menu with nutritional info each month through the school, plus it is available online through the sfusd site, and also KALW public radio reads it out at 6:50 each morning.

    All that said, one of the attractive factors of some middle schools we are looking at is the roll-out of the salad bars. Some elementaries have them (Miraloma, not sure where else), but this year Aptos MS has it and next year Lick MS will too. I was told at Lick that they will include fresh veggies plus several additional menu options to the normal middle school lunch, and various breads. Not sure about deli meats for sandwiches. Giannini and Presidio each seem to have a modified version of the salad bar with veggies. At the high school level, Balboa has the innovative Grab n Go breakfast that has boosted participation (and thus revenue stream as well as more kids not going hungry) in the breakfast program.

    To the parent who asked about PTA supplementation, I know of several schools whose parents pay for organic fruit boxes from local farms. Parent volunteers peel and cut up the fruit and deliver it to the classrooms or yard for snacks at recess. This is a voluntary contribution; some parents really make it possible with sizable donations for the good of all and others give what they can.

    Afterschool programs are mandated to provide snacks as well. Quality varies but has been okay, usually a carb with protein and some fruit or veggie like carrots.

  17. does anyone have anything to say about flynn? i met the kindergarten teacher at the sfusd fair and really liked him.

  18. agreed - for the love of god, please tell us what you know about flynn! we're dying here!

  19. ok, i've been reading this for a while and so stressed out about the whole subject and just wanted to thank the previous poster kim green fro making me laugh out loud. i too, and dying here, what's up with flynn? ? we live in the neighborhood, the parents seem excited but i toured and couldn't get a good feel for the school. please help, flynn people!

  20. so kate, it doesn't sound like flynn is making your list, right?

  21. Kate, I got the opposite hit from what you wrote, that you really like Flynn and also where it seems to be going. Will it make your list as a gem? If so, congratulations for finding it!

    In response to everyone else, I don't have insider knowledge except for friends with kids in 2nd and Kinder who are very happy. They happen to be middle class, white, non-Spanish speaking as a family, and live in the Mission. They are also great folks whose judgment I trust, so I've been planning to check it out next week. Based on this review, I will certainly be visiting.

  22. Thanks, Kate, for a very well-described Flynn! It is right on target, as seen from my experience as a Kinder parent there.
    Except that I don't see or feel the differences between the immersion and general strands. The faculty and Mr. Addcox stress at every opportunity how the teachers work together by grade, and teach everything the same, just in different languages. For example, my son plays with all the kids, regardless of which classroom they're in. Every day he comes home happy from school. Every day he walks very happily to school. Today they came home from going to see Jack and the Beanstalk in a live theater. They all went together, learned together and had fun together.
    To answer two questions some of you had, Mr. Addcox works very hard to support his staff and does a great job building a hard-working team. Mr. Robert is that great kinder teacher you met. As you sensed, he is wonderful. He is very dedicated and energetic and Flynn is very lucky to have him. And this is Flynn’s strongest ingredient, from the first moment I toured the school last year, to our current experience and observations: the teachers are great, they engage all of their students effectively and the students are responding to them and learning every day. Oh, and one of my favorite things: kids take home a book every day to read with parents. They have a special backpack for their daily book. Parents log what books was read, how many pages and minutes were spent reading with their child. This is one of the ways Flynn shows its commitment to literacy.
    Lastly, this is a great school and I would recommend it highly. I feel the families are very diverse and a true representation of San Francisco, something I didn't see at other top Spanish immersion schools.

  23. speaking just as a touring parent (my husband and i attended separate flynn tours, i also went to kindergarten night, and i know one of the kinder teachers personally), i will say that flynn made an outstanding impression. what i walked away with:

    1) the feeling that the teachers were much more ambitious than is typical, for both themselves in terms of professional development, and, more important, for the children (as evidenced by their pursuit of the IBPYP).
    2) the idea that the parents there are AMAZING -- on fire.
    3) the feeling that if the gay families of bernal and surrounding 'hoods can achieve a high enough comfort level that they will be supported at this diverse school -- with, obviously, lots of catholic/latino and AA families, not always known to be gay-friendly (let's be honest) -- it will be flooded with applications.

    i did hear a (thoroughly unsubstantiated) rumor that there has been discontent there among staff or between staff and old administrations in the past that affected the school's ability to succeed. that there was some sort of bad blood there and they can't seem to get on top of things. i don't even like repeating this because i know it is enough for some people to cross it off the list, but i am curious if others have heard this too. frankly, given what i have seen there, i find it hard to believe. impossible, almost.

    some friends of mine are concerned about it being such a large school, but it didn't feel that way to me. it felt warm. addcox and the teachers seemed compassionate above all. i liked that.

    we live in outer noe and i tested the walk and it's just a hop, skip and jump across mission and through the nice north slope of bernal, down precita park and, boom, you're there. very pleasant.

    personally, from the outside looking in, i thought flynn rocked.

  24. I don't get the divide at ALL? I thought the teachers in every kinder class (I toured twice) was great, among the very best I have seen in the city and I have been to a lot of schools. I would love my son to go to a Spanish program but more importantly to us is that we go to a local school with a later start time that has great teachers. So Flynn makes our list for both its programs. I don't get the diversity concerns either. I don't want my kids to be the only white kid in their class but that is not the most important thing to me and in any case at Flynn (in either strand)that would not be the case. I also have a younger child and I want to have some choice about his language education when I know him better (he is not yet speaking) a school with two strands works well for us. No school is perfect but, like Kim, I thought Flynn seemed great on all the things that are most important to my family. To get a scoop on the teacher issue I hung out at Precita Park (best days Friday - when the weather was good) the Flynn teachers are there a lot with kids, doing various things and you can get a great take on so much from watching them at work, and talking to them (off site). I saw and heard nothing that gave me anything other than more encouragement to choose both GE and ImmS. Different from my thoughts and decisions on other dual schools (Alvarado and Monroe).

  25. This is the first poster. Sorry I was off topic but time is running out and discussions can not wait for Kate's reviews!
    Great review of Flynn but what is clear to me is that Kate is looking for some things that are just not important to me and vice versa. I think my child will succeed both because of and despite and school she attends, no school is perfect. Like other posters on this thread I want a school I can get to in 10 minutes. I don't want a school that starts before 8am (why are so many of the GE schools early starts?) I want a school with an active PTA, a diverse school body and wonderful enthusiastic motivated teachers who are supported by the principal. All these things I get from Flynn - so to answer the question that is why it made my list.

  26. Just one important clarification - Flynn tours are on Thursdays at 9am. Please show up outside of the office - you do not need to book ahead of time. We do not have regular tours on Tuesdays - we had an 'extra' tour on Tuesday Dec 4th for those who could not attend a Thursday tour. If you cannot come to the remaining 3 Thursday tours (Dec 13th, Jan 3rd, Jan 10th) then please contact

  27. Flynn will very likely make my list. I think it's an amazing school. I'm hoping my husband will go on a tour next week.

  28. I toured Leonard Flynn this morning and attended the open house last week.

    For the record: I've seen 20+ schools at this point (5 privates and multiple publics - everything from Clarendon to AFY to Peabody, Starr King and Jose Ortega). I should also note that this is my local neighborhood school and that I deliberately waited until later in the touring process to see it.

    From my POV, it's got a beautiful building, super-dedicated teachers, a visionary principal, diversity, and a super-charged newly-formed PTA that's firing on all cylinders.

    But what I love about this school more than anything is what it represents: A school that, through the commitment and vision of teachers, parents and principal, can really make a difference in the city's under-performing schools. It's inspiring and affirming on so many levels. Clarendon, Alamo, CL, Miraloma - these are all great schools that have made it. Flynn is on that path, and is even aiming for higher with the IB program.

    I'm admittedly still concerned about the general academic rigor and wonder/hope that test scores will continue to rise, but this is definitely a place where I'm willing to place my bets.... and I sure would love to walk my daughter to school.

    Kathy with a K here, the tour guide from Kate's tour on Tuesday. (It took me all morning to deduce which one I think is you!) Anyway as a K parent at Flynn in SPI, I will give you some of my impressions. Firstly we live 3 blocks away and proximity was one of the highest priorities on my list. I have posted on this subject before but I was seeking sanity over test scores! And the walk to school has been an incredible quality of life bonus for us. Please note that if the school is your attendance area school, your child's app. will be looked at FIRST. If it is your neighborhood school, you do take precedence over other applicants.

    My concerns with Flynn when I toured a year ago were about how rigorous the education would be, and I had some middle class fear about how whether there were gang influences - from big brothers, cousins - that would trickle down. (There, I said it.)

    Also, I know that in many schools with underperforming kids that a divide can get bigger in the upper grades and kids who are doing well can get bored. Or if there is no GATE program it's a problem to really stretch the kids who need to be stretched. I have friends who pulled their kids from such schools as BV and Harvey Milk in upper grades because of this so I think it is a city-wide issue, and for us my feeling is we will cross that bridge when we get to it.

    For the lower grades I think the challenges of learning to read, early math and such are enough to keep my son engaged, and of course learning Spanish. And we'll see what happens in the future. I tell you everything seems to be going gangbusters over there. I think the teacher quality impressive and the commitment of everyone is blowing me away. Also the idea of becoming an IBO school is so exciting, or as Kate said, "brilliant."

    In terms of any negative influences, I think this remains to be seen. What I am seeing is that kids are kids. There is no nefarious marauding troupe of 2nd graders trying to steal my son's lunch money (or teach him how to.) There are challenges with some kids(which would be true anywhere) but the school itself is a positive force with positive, caring role models and many tools (the school is very active in teaching the kids conflict resolution, older kids being peace makers for younger kids, and the committment to smaller upper grade class size). All of these things help kids find their own way and keep them engaged in school. And being engaged in school insulates them to large degree against opting out.

    As a Kindergarten parent you don't usually know much about what's going on in the upper grades or even who the teachers are. But I have been leading some tours and through this have been going into the upper grade classes. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to watch some of these teachers in action in both strands, and to see the kids - many of them from disadvantaged homes - engaged and interacting! I led people into two totally new clssrooms today (a 3rd grade and a 5th) and was impressed with two more teachers. Also I have seen different teachers at PTA meetings, some old guard and some new and they all strike me as very committed and proud to be a part of the school. (I think of some of the old slugs at my High School and haven't seen anything even approaching apathy among the teachers at Flynn.)

    Last night my son Miles said to me "I am learning that you can't always know something about a person by looking at them. I thought that if someone looked like me they would speak only English and if they looked like Maria they would speak only Spanish. But so-and-so looks like me and speaks Spanish and English, and so-and-so looks like Maria and speaks only English, and..." He then went through several classmates and what they speak and then finally wrapped up with "And I was wrong." And I thought, well isn't that just about the best lesson I could hope for for my newly six year old City boy. I said, "You can't always judge a book buy its cover!' and he said "Yeah, and you can't always know a bird from its feathers!" (From one of the bilingual books he recently brought hom in his bookbag.)

    Sorry this is so long!!

  30. Kate, are you going to look at Clarendon?

  31. Thanks for the clarification on tour days. I made the change to the posting.

  32. Hi, teacher Gretchen from Flynn here. I'm glad you liked Flynn - we definitely have a hard-working group of staff and parents and I think it pays off. I wanted to clarify one thing. Just by chance it seems that you walked in on one of our general education strand teachers teaching a "simple" lesson about letters and Erin and I teaching lessons that may have seemed a bit deeper. I just wanted to let folks know that all of us on Kindergarten team taught that same lesson about letters, interactively sorting the lower-case letters into short letters, tall letters, and letters that "fish" below the line. Though it is simple and not the richest material in the world, we take some time to make sure all kids know how the letters are formed. We on Kindergarten Team plan all lessons together and all deliver the same (hopefully) rich, engaging, rigorous curriculum to all students. We hope folks take an interest in both immersion and general ed strands (as well as our excellent Special Education strand), because we really do consider ourselves one community of students, staff and families. Teachers from all strands collaborate closely at every grade level, and the teachers in our general education strand are really top-notch.

  33. Teacher Gretchen. Thanks so much for the feedback. I was really impressed by all the teachers at your school. It seems like you have an outstanding team.

  34. Nancy- 1st grade Flynn momDecember 6, 2007 at 6:48 PM

    We've added an extra tour date on Monday, December 10th at 9 am. In case you cannot make our last three Thursday tours (December 13, January 3 and 10). Just show up at the office, there is no need to rsvp.

  35. well, that's sorted. spanish, english or masai, we're all going to flynn. i hope you have room for us.

  36. I'll add my two cents about Flynn after comparing it with Fairmount (the other immersion program we are considering). For whatever reason, Fairmount felt intense about their spanish immersion identity, while Flynn felt relaxed about its work.

    Flynn does also seem full of kind people - a woman on lunch and yard duty didn't skip a beat when I asked some questions about the school. She gladly stepped into a "tour guide" role as best she could.

    I'm both excited and concerned about this "inquiry-based" IB program that is proposed. It'd be great if program comes through, but most important that it comes through as an "inquiry-based curriculum". Teachers need special training to facilitate and guide this kind of curriuclum - I hope they are getting the training and support that is necessary to make it work.

  37. I wanted to add one more thing. I am so happy to hear that people are excited about Flynn. I know from leading tours that at the end many people are saying excitedly (and with panic) "how do we get in?"

    I would like to suggest that if you like Flynn and all that is happening, and destined to happen going forward, and if you are putting some non-immersion schools on your list, and if let's say it's your neighborhood school and you are tempted to give it a shot, consider putting Flynn on your list for the General Ed strand too.

    Here's the thing, we are at a tipping point to have more diversity in BOTH strands, and all it would take are about 10-15 Caucasian and/or Asian families to make the difference.

    In March, right after the assignment letters go out, we will be inviting all those people who got assigned to Flynn to a Kindergarten Welcome party (March 13th) where you can come, look us and each other over and sign your kid up. Then you can waitlist somewhere else if you choose to, or just GO FOR IT! We'd be happy to have you. Feel us out and take the leap!

  38. i'm confused -- how can you waitlist at another school if you get into flynn? i thought if you got any of your 7 choices that's it, you're stuck.

  39. I just talked to the Educational Placement Center and confirmed that you can go on a waiting list even if you get one of the seven schools you chose. So, if between Jan and Mar you decide you really want your 1st choice, you can go for the waiting list even if you get assigned to your 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th choice. You don't have to give up your spot in your assigned school to go on the waiting list, either.

  40. Two questions:

    Is there any way to "subscribe" to all of the posts and comments (without having to subscribe to each one)?

    Is there any way to post a new topic to this blog? Say I wanted to hear from people about the issue of immersion. How could I put it out there and get feedback from people?

  41. I agree that if are going for immersion and you really like Flynn it might make sense to apply to both strands. This is perfectly within the rules, and it doubles your chance of getting in at all. Plus if you get into GE but wanted SI, your kid would already be integrated into the Flynn community if an SI opening occured later, either early in kindergarten or even as late as the 1st grade. At the very least, you would be able to get a younger child into the immersion program down the road via sibling preference. Same goes for Alvarado and Monroe with their two strands.

    Just have to quibble with kathy b.'s post about Flynn's diversity tipping point approaching with a few more white or Asian families (though your contributions about Flynn are great, thank you kathy b.!). The diversity index used for oversubscribed schools is forbidden to use race or ethnicity as factors. There may be indeed certain correlations between race/ethnicity and the socio-economic factors that are used, such family income (poverty or no poverty), educational background, and family language spoken at home. But they not always match up, examples, in the cases of a very low-income white family; an Asian American family that speaks Cantonese at home whose kids would be considered ELL; an English-speaking Latino family; or a high-income African American family; and then there are the many mixed-race families.

    kdoah, there has been lots of discussion of immersion on this blog. Most questioners have posted on the relevant school reviews, such as Fairmount, and veteran parents have responded. I'd encourage you to do that here as it is a relevant topic for Flynn.

  42. i agree with the last poster. if you have questions about immersion, just post them here. I assume Kate wouldn't mind ;-)

    There is also a language immersion list that i joined a few months ago when I wanted to start learning about immersion programs. check out language_immersion at Yahoo Groups. But the discussion on that group extends beyond us prospective immersion parents. It's not always directly relevant.

  43. Just to agree with Anonymous in her comment (his?) about what I said about the tipping point and the diversity index. You are right of course that there are variations in what one puts down and what that might mean to the class make up (your examples), although I am pretty sure that if two children applied, both English learners, one from a family speaking Cantonese at home and the other Spanish that the Cantonese-speaking child would get in when the computer is looking for the most diverse child in the applicant pool at that moment.

    My main point is just to say that more white and asian families and mixed and children of LGBT etc. need to pick Flynn in the English strand or it will never be diversified.


  44. i just got the link for this blog from a friend and wanted to add a comment as a flynn parent. the lower grades (k-2)seem to be truly fabulous at flynn. the upper grades are not so fabulous. there are teachers who are teaching immersion and at the same time verbally oppose immersion. there is little differentiation and the GATE program is just getting started (but not in place yet). if you are at all concerned about the academic opportunities you may be disappointed in the upper grades. the tours really do 'market' the excellent parts of the school.

  45. flynn parent, do you know if there is an effort to improve the quality of the upper grades? i watched improvements happen at another school, and it takes time. teacher attrition, reassignment, the culture moving up through the grades, and so forth

  46. Flynn parent -- thank you for your candid remark. I too would be interested in knowing what the school has planned in terms of strengthening the upper grades (and adding Gate etc.). It must send such a mixed message to the children if the teachers teaching them immersion-style are expressing their displeasure with the program. I'm hoping maybe as the younger students become older this new-found energy at Flynn will grow with them. How does the school address such concerns? Does the parent community? Thanks.

  47. I have a bead on who the 3rd grade Flynn parent is and am trying to get her to respond to your questions about upper grades.

  48. thanks so much, kathy. very thoughtful of you. no rush though -- i know it's holiday time.

    thank you again.

  49. i had similar concerns -- about quality in the upper grades -- when I toured Fairmount. I can't say I was all that impressed by the student work displayed on the walls. It seemed like they should have been doing more complicated things by then -- writing, etc. But again, it's subjective and it was just me passing through for 10 minutes on a tour. And then I meet parents from Fairmount, and get a sense that it's such a warm-knit community. The Flynn community seems great in a different way.

  50. For those of you who have been interested in Flynn I wanted to mention that we are having a passive fundraising dinner at the 24th Street Pasta Pomodoro next Monday night, January 14th from 4-8pm.

    I say "passive" because all we have to do is eat, but P.P. will give Flynn 15% of the check amount. The only rule is you have to turn in a flier about the Flynn fundraiser when you pay your bill.

    If you are interested in coming to support the school and get some feel for the community, let me know and I'll email you a flier. My email is Thanks!