Friday, January 4, 2008

11 reasons why Ryan likes Flynn

It's a Friday night. The kids are in bed. What do San Francisco parents do?

Talk schools, of course.

***

Last night, Ryan and I attempted to finalize our list of seven. Our conversation started with Ryan sharing his impressions of Flynn, which he toured on Thursday.

Did he like it? Yes, very much.

On our list, Flynn is the school with the lowest test scores (which I realize aren't that important). It's up and coming. It's a school that hasn't peaked but it's definitely moving upward. When I toured, my instincts said, "This is a great school." But a few weeks later, after over-thinking my choices, I started to feel uneasy. So I asked Ryan to go on a tour, and it wasn't until Friday night that we were actually able to talk about it.

Our conversation went something like this:

"So what did you think of Flynn?"

"I liked it."

"Why?"

"I liked the parents. Seemed like a good school."

"Should we include it on our list?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"It's a good school."

Sometimes it can be difficult to draw detailed information from Ryan, so I assigned him a task: Come up with 10 reasons why you liked Flynn.

He easily rattled these off, and in fact he gave me 11.

1) Organized, involved parents. "Did you see that play structure they put up in one day? Amazing! I wish the city of San Francisco could do that at our [neighborhood] park."

2) Beautiful old building. "I liked all the architectural details. The inside was colorful and the classrooms were cozy. It reminded me of my elementary school."

3) Spanish Immersion program.

4) Small classes. "I like that they keep the class sizes smaller in the upper grades."

5) Location. "I like how it backs up to Precita Park. Have you walked the streets around the park? There are some beautiful old houses. Hey, maybe we could move over there." (Ryan thought the tour was at 8 a.m. rather than 9 a.m. so he spent a lot of time walking around the area.)

6) Well-behaved and focused kids. "The kids in the kindergarten classes were working in small groups on projects. And it seemed like they were working hard and they were focused on the task at hand. And this was in both the general education and Spanish strand."

7) Positive energy. "I like the idea of joining a school that's building something new, and this school has some serious momentum going. I sensed a positive attitude toward change."

8) Clear vision and goal. "The school has a strong goal with the International Baccalaureate program."

9) Abundance of enrichment programs. "Alice would love the classes with the SF Ballet."

10) United students and parents. "There were parents from both strands leading the tour. It seemed like they were very conscious of any split between the Spanish strand and general education, and they were trying to do everything possible to address it."

11) Friendly tour guides. "I liked the tour guides. I could seem myself being their friends. We're going to spending a lot of time at Alice's school, and we want to be in a place where we feel like we can connect with the other parents."

And then we went on to discuss: Should Leonard Flynn (SI) come before or after Alvardo (SI)? What would we all be doing on Friday night if we didn't have to be making these difficult decisions about schools?

34 comments:

  1. O Kate, what will you do next Friday night when there is nothing more about (public) schools to discuss: :-) Hopefully you and Ryan will get a babysitter and have a nice dinner out. That is what my husband and I did when we'd finally turned in the application. It was great!

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  2. we are having the same discussions around here. great gut feeling for flynn... but should we really list it above "higher performing" schools like alvarado or clarendon? test scores just play in the head game.

    so, will you list flynn before alvarado?

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  3. us too. still debating whether to put flynn first or alvarado ..

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  4. I was interested in Flynn (but had my concerns) but my husband really disliked it (and test scores aren't that important to us). So it didn't even make our list. Goes to show how each person perceives things so differently. Have other couples felt like you and your SO worked as a team in this process and really made decisions together OR were you (or your SO) the primary driving force (and if so, did you at least confer with your SO or did you make the decisions yourself)? I did most of the work (tours, research) but conferred with my husband about priorities. In the end I didn't feel like it was really a collaborative effort.

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  5. for people who are listing flynn and alvarado, where is buena vista falling on the list -- lower?

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  6. also, where does Fairmount fall for most...?

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  7. i toured, i make the spreadsheets, i talk to people, i agonize. SO just says "i trust you..." (Aka - you do all the work. spare me the stress.) frustrating as i will get blamed for the decision when and if things go wrong. but that is how our relationship is for most things sadly.

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  8. and monroe? i think i'd put it before fairmount. maybe tied with flynn. haven't seem BV yet but will try to next week. bummed about the freeway proximity as my son has some allergy/breathing issues.

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  9. Kate,

    This is off-subject, but how about a discussion about a very hot (and touchy) subject: people using personal connections to get into schools?

    Certainly the private school world is heavily abuzz with talk about who-is-recommending-whom and how much it may matter, but I've also heard such talk go on about hot public schools as well.

    Officially I know these things are not supposed to matter, but where there's smoke...

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  10. I don't see how personal connections would make an difference to the SFUSD computer that does the school assignments. Charter schools are another matter.

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  11. With five days to go in this agonizing process, we're still in a fog about the Flynn vs. Alvarado issue and even the spanish immersion issue in general. I don't expect anything to resolve our/my questions about these choices in the next week, so I'm not sure what to do about the valid questions that people are posing.

    Why choose Flynn SI over Alvarado SI (or vice versa)?

    No idea. Alvarado does have the arts program, but Flynn has the feel of an exciting developing program. Alvarado is walking distance for us, but Flynn has more cultural/SES diversity.

    Why not consider Buena Vista, Fairmount, Monroe?

    While we've heard good things about all of these, I've been scared off by a couple of personal things. I'm not comfortable with the notion of a total SI school. Nor am I comfortable with the idea of a school in a sketchy neighborhood.

    However, my reactions are simply gut reactions based on brief visits and hearsay -- I don't know if my reluctance to put my son in these schools is based on some implicit prejudices that I can't get a handle on.

    So...where is the post-application-dropoff party? I'll bring the whiskey...

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  12. It's really nice to continue to hear positive things about Flynn. It's on our list, somewhere in the top 3. My husband wants to make it No. 1 but I am still enthralled with AFY. Alvarado SI will be on our list too, but I prefer Flynn over Alvarado for 2 simple reasons: Flynn is our local school (4 blocks from our Bernal home) and it doesn't start at 7:50am (big deal for me). I'm also more inspired to contribute my time and PTA-energies to a school that is up-and-coming. How thrilling to help a school turn-around, watch the scores rise (hopefully) to the benefit of many lower class children. Contributing to Noe Valley's Alvarado feels rather ho-hum in comparison.

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  13. if flynn were in walking distance for me, it would so be #1. i think neighborhood is key if you can swing it. go for it!

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  14. flynn is definitely on my list, but i do have my concerns. i worry about the pressure to bring up test scores, since it was labeled a star school. hopefully the teachers have found creative ways to do that (they certainly seem like an inspired group). i know other schools have -- miraloma, for example. i loved all the hands-on learning i saw going on in their kindergarten classrooms (miraloma's, that is). i'd like to hope flynn does similar things too.

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  15. i didn't get a good feeling from fairmount so it's not on my list

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  16. Before I leave a comment that will probably upset most people-I've really enjoyed reading this blog and people's perspectives- so thank you. But after touring Flynn I was really shaken and very disappointed. In my mind this school embodied all the problems with the SF school district. I really wanted to like the school. SI, a playground nearby, preschool families already enrolled there, an active PTA- everything I wanted. But all I heard and saw- was a PTA that was pushing for a bachanal program (sp) to attract middle to upper middle class families (this was said on my tour). What happens to all the poor people- what school will they go to now when they are displaced by overly involved middle class families (one of which I am)
    and also am I the only one who saw the "time-out" desk in the corner with a student sitting there scribbling (I'll let you guess what race they were)
    or when I walked out of the tour in the schoolyard someone threatening a student that if they didn't listen to them they would be sent to the office.
    I know I'm sheltered- my son is in his third year at a very child friendly preschool (Glenridge Co-op) and yes there is a reason why we are there for a third year. I know these tours are just a snapshot, but I still can't shake the image of the kid sitting at a timeout desk. (am I naive- were these at other schools?)
    Fairmount is our first choice. Not impressed with the tour- but I really appreciate the principal's philosphy of focusing on the child not the behavior.
    But that's my bias.

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  17. last poster -- don't apologize. thank you for your post. it's always good to hear from everyone. can anyone from flynn respond to her comments? is there really a time-out chair? i just don't know what to think. your experience feels like the antithesis of what i saw. the teachers seemed so well-attuned with the kids. so engaged. teacher robert -- the k teacher in the kindergarten class seemed like he knew how to keep his class in line, but also incredibly dedicated and passionate. and yes, they do seem like they want to bring in more middle and upper-class families, but i didn't get the sense they want to push the lower-income kids by the wayside. i do worry about "diversity" in terms of how public schools -- when they're stretched so thin -- can meet the needs of children from such different backgrounds.

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  18. My son is in kindergarten at Flynn. It is true that if a child is acting out (I have seen this while sitting in the back of the classroom doing the take home book bags) that the teacher will ask the child to participate or behave, with a warning that they'll have to leave the group if they cannot. If the child does not heed the warnings, they are asked to sit away from the group to compose themselves before they can rejoin. (Please note that a kid has to really push it to be asked to sit apart. When I have wirnessed it I think - jesus this teacher is patient.) If they continue to be disruptive they are sometimes taken to the adjacent K classroom to sit for a few minutes. Sometimes a child is taken to the office. There are several people on staff who help with these transitions, check back with the kids, ask if they are ready to rejoin their classes.

    I guess this does look like a time-out chair, but I am not sure of a better way to discipline children who are being disruptive (at the expense of all the other kids). Some children do have a lot of trouble with boundaries and may be learning things at school that they didn't already learn at home. (My son does not push these same boundaries.)

    To the poster who was concerned about this, what do you think should be done when children are being disruptive? It's tricky. How do other schools address this?

    Also, I cannot guess which race the child was, but can guess it was a non-caucasian boy.

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  19. Dave here – I’m a Flynn parent and also lead (most of) the tours.
    In my experience, the teachers at Flynn, as at a lot of schools, are experienced at dealing with students who are have disruptive incidences, but eventually they have situations where the student must leave the classroom – the teacher has many other students and a very rigorous learning plan.
    With regards to the race of the child in the time-out chair: I really think that the teachers at Flynn would take serious umbrage to an allegation that they are singling out darker skinned students for discipline. Please do not jump to conclusions based on a short visit to Flynn and observing one incident.
    In my personal experience at Flynn, disruptiveness has come from children of all skin colours and race, in a pretty representative frequency. And from a positive angle, the children that are well behaved and respectful come from a range of skin colours and race.
    The staff try very hard to teach values of respect and kindness at Flynn. Listen to the announcements in the school yard before the children file in to school, and you will hear this message loud and clear.
    We have one last tour, which will be on Thursday (the 10th). If any of you have questions on this or anything else and want to ask in person, I'll be there and will try to answer them!
    ... dave

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  20. I would echo the comment above (from the perpective of a parent of 2 in another "up&coming" sfusd school). Any assumptions you may have about students of color behaving poorly while white/middle class children are behaving well will go right out the window as soon as you start kindergarten. I do think boys tend to act out more visibly than girls but the rest is very equal opportunity!

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  21. I've read and really enjoyed this blog and all the comments, its helping to make a hard decision a little easier. Todays comments though pushed enough of my buttons that I finally have to comment.

    Every school deals with discipline in a different way, but everyone has a "system". McKinley's disciplinary system, for one example, may work well, but it freaked out my daughter (we were there for a Sat open house - which is a GREAT idea). But anyhow, it was clearly visible in the classroom, they use a card system, red, yellow and green, you get warnings and then your cards change colour. It was explained that when you got to a red card, you "lost" recess. Well my four year old is still saying "I don't want to go to that school, I won't get to go outside".

    I toured and really like Flynn, since its my neighbourhood school as well, it gets extra points on my list. Is the previous poster really suggesting that because we are a middle class family we shouldn't send our daughter there? with the other kids in our neighbourhood? Where exactly should middle class kids go, in her opinion?

    And on the race issue, if all the grown ups would just stop making assumptions, most of the problems would go away. I'm Cauacasian, my daughter is not (adopted) and the next person who assumes that her behaviour is tied to her low income, lack of parenting skills, junk food and tv filled upbringing may just get slugged. She's a very high spirited, energetic, umm, challenging child - who doesn't watch tv, eat junk food (much) and has VERY clear consequences for her behaviour. The previous poster knows NOTHING about the child observed, except their race - how can a schools disciplinary system be judged on that one observation and tiny piece of information?

    Back to school hunting, good luck everyone, just a few more days.
    MCL

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  22. i'm actually encouraged to hear that a teacher took a hard line at Flynn on discipline. it makes me like the school more. if my child were unable to behave and prevented the teacher and other children in the class from focusing and learning, i would want the teacher to take action! nothing makes me more angry than seeing one or two kids disrupting other kids in the class. on my tour of Flynn, I saw a K teacher at Flynn take steps, appropriate in my opinion, to discipline a child who could not follow instructions. i applaud this.

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  23. Flyyn's up on our list as it has immersion, a convenient location and, although it is larger than I would prefer, the parent community did seem active and involved.

    As well as touring I also went to the kinder information evening and it was good to hear from the kindergarten teachers there (There were some tough questions on the ups and downs of the school)

    One other item that did not seem to be mentioned here is the greening grant and plans that will transform the yards and add some garden.

    Lastly, I'd like to plug Marshall in the immersion discussions. There may be a tour this Friday for those procrastinating. I was extremely impressed with where this school is going and loved the intimacy of such a small school and the dedication of the PTA.

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  24. This is in partial reply to "Henry's Mom" a bunch of posts ago.

    I too hear your concerns about the discipline tactics used by most public schools. I may ruffle some feathers of my own, but to me the whole "rewards and punishment" system is just not the way I want my child to be treated. In reading your post I am kicking myself for not adding Fairmount to my tour roster at the last minute (I've already turned in my form). And I wanted to also thank you for your post because it made me think there is another parent out there who is looking for similar things.

    Anyway, some of the schools that I found were OK in the way they treated kids were West Portal, Rooftop as well as Creative Arts Charter School. Just thought I'd mention those, in case there were others looking for something different. I know those are super subscribed schools, but I figure it's totally worth a shot if they agree with my philosophy about the way kids should be treated.

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  25. Henry's mom brings up an interesting point. I witnessed basically the same thing during my parent interview at Live Oak School. In this case three children in the kindergarten class had been sent out of the class to the "time-out benches." The teacher was stern, but from what I overheard, it sounded like the childern did something that deserved being sperated from the class. My point: All schools have issues that come up requiring discipline. Even at a school where you're paying $18,000 a year, your child could be put in a time-out chair. And I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing.

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  26. In case this discussion is about to close I want to add something to my earlier post which I thought about a lot today while I drove to and from UC Davis.

    I said I could not guess (assume) the race of the child Henry's Mom saw in the "time-out" chair but said I could guess it was a non-caucasian boy. I regretted this all day. The reality is that by sheer numbers at Flynn there are far more children of color than caucasian ones so the chances of witnessing a kid of color in trouble is inherently higher.

    While doing the book bags in a couple different classes, I have heard children of all races be asked to refocus on the lesson at hand. And honestly, usually they just need that one reminder/request.

    thanks for listening...

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  27. I just want to remind people about Buena Vista! As you agonize where to put schools on your list in these final days...As parents of a child in kindergarten there we love the school. While it may not have a driven PTA running the place it has a great caring compassionate community. It is not just an immersion program it is a school that embraces all cultures and makes that integral to learning. It is a school with a spirit and a heart!

    The teachers are very committed. They team teach so learning is consistent across the classrooms (while teachers can insert their creativity) and lessons are continually tweaked and improved by the team. You will be amazed at what your kindergartener will learn in both languages. There is a sense of fun and excitment to learning- what more could you want for your child!!

    You will be inspired by the other families you meet. People work hard to raise money for a VERY strong Arts program as well as sports 4 Kids and Acrosports etc.

    If you do put BV first (or anywhere on your list) you won't be disappointed if you get it...especially if you care enough to keep reading this great BLOG you will care enough to help build a great community at whatever school you end up at.

    (FYI- There is a strong childcare program if you need support before or after school too!)

    There is a tour on Wednesday at 10.

    Good Luck!

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  28. 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 kbruin@yahoo.com Thanks!

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  29. Just out of curiosity, why are test scores not important? They wouldn't be my highest priority, and I'm not a huge believer in standardized tests, but low test scores would concern me. And Flynn's, while improving, seem pretty low, especially in the upper grades.

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  30. It's a can of worms to talk about, but test scores closely reflect demographics -- that's why wags refer to the API (Academic Performance Index) as the Affluent Parent Index. They correlate closely with family income, parents' education level and English fluency, and race. It's sad but undeniably true.

    So a school with a lot of students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, for example, is likely to be a lower-scoring school. The westside schools tend to be high performers because Chinese students -- who make up much of the westside student population -- are statistically likely to be high achievers. The challenge in public education is to change the correlation between demographics and achievement (with corollary public debate about whether the school system can do this or whether it's a community and family challenge).

    So you get the idea.

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  31. "It's a can of worms to talk about, but test scores closely reflect demographics -- that's why wags refer to the API (Academic Performance Index) as the Affluent Parent Index. They correlate closely with family income, parents' education level and English fluency, and race. It's sad but undeniably true."

    Yup. If you look at Monroe or ER Taylor, and take one socioeconomic group in particular, the APIs are similar to Rooftop.

    If you're going to use APIs as a guide, you have to dig a wee bit deeper: e.g. sorting out effects of non-native English speakers. You also want to look at trends, which will enable you to spot the schools in the middle of a turnaround (before the buzz hits).

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  32. But what about schools like Glen Park or Moscone, where the schools are populated predominately from lower socioeconomic and non-native English speaking backgrounds. the scores there are pretty high. is it that the schools teach to the test?

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  33. "But what about schools like Glen Park or Moscone, where the schools are populated predominately from lower socioeconomic and non-native English speaking backgrounds. the scores there are pretty high. is it that the schools teach to the test?"

    To the last poster, I have heard that was the case at Moscone which I ended up cutting off my list of schools to tour. Sounded very rigid. That said, I did not go there so there could be more to the place.

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  34. ^i crossed moscone off my list for the same reason.

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