Monday, March 17, 2008

K Files Council: Miraloma, Sunset, or Dianne Feinstein?

I have been going around and around in my head with our dilemma. It'll be great to get some more advice . . .

We got 0/7 on our Round I list; we were assigned to Sheridan (a school I had never heard of, in the Ocean View). I visited Sheridan last week and, although it's an impressive school for many reasons, it would not be a good fit for my son or our family. I'm not going to register there, which is a bit risky, considering we have no back up.
We did not apply to private schools.

We are debating whether to list Miraloma, Sunset, or Dianne Feinstein as our wait pool choice. We live in the Sunset, but we're about the same distance from both Sunset and Miraloma (I clocked it!). Sunset is on the way to our younger children's preschool and Miraloma is on my husband's way to work. We love the schedule at Sunset (8:40-2:40) and Miraloma's 1:50 ending time may be problematic because I work part-time and MEEP (their after-school program) is only full-time, 5 days a week (and expensive). If we can't find another after-school option, it potentially means that choosing Miraloma (assuming we could get it off of the wait pool) would mean my working much, much less than I would like to for the next 10 years (we have three kids!) Still, in that time, we may be able to find other options. Sunset has a YMCA after-care program, which you can do two, three, or five days a week, and it will most likely be easier to get from the wait pool.

Aside from the logistics, we really loved both schools (slightly preferring Miraloma), though they have different feels. I keep going back and forth trying to think about which school will be a better match for our family. And then there are all of those unknowns: what if the wonderful Sunset principal leaves? Miraloma's PTA seems better suited to coping with a big funding gap than Sunset, but maybe that's just my impression.

I feel like our family easily fits in with Miraloma and the parents I've met, and I don't have that feeling so strongly about Sunset—but how can you really tell? Also, despite the fact that it takes almost exactly the same amount of time to drive to Sunset and Miraloma, Sunset feels more like our neighborhood school. What I really want is for someone to say: this is what it's like at Sunset and this is what it's like at Miraloma, and this is what it's like at Feinstein—this is the difference in feel. But I know this is impossible!

Dianne Feinstein was our 5th choice in Round I, but we live about five minutes away (walking!) and are now really considering putting it as our wait pool choice. I didn't have a strong gut feeling about it as the others and I toured Feinstein twice! But I know people who are happy there. The teachers are great, and the kids looked happy (as they did at Sunset and at Miraloma). We have mixed feelings about the principal and about the apparent split in the parents about the principal. I think we could be happy there, and it sure is close (I could take the stroller and walk my older son there!), but I still have my doubts.

We will list some longshots on our amended application (Lafayette, Lakeshore, Peabody) as well as Sunnyside and FS Key (a bit more likely). Anyone have any idea whether Sloat is a good amended application choice?

I have thought so much about this (and talked my friends' ear's off!) that I'm not sure there are any new thoughts to think . . . but if you have any opinions or ideas, I'd love to hear them!


  1. well, it does make sense to focus on family fit, as you seem to be doing. but part of fit is certainly your ability to work and get your children to school in the most convenient manner possible. i too have been obsessing about what each school we might waitlist for is really like, and i'm realizing that it is impossible to know for sure -- not to mention that things are always changing.

    i return to what several wise folks have said over and over on this blog: a school is what you make of it. true enough.

    it is also helpful to remember that you get so immersed in whatever school your kid attends that you forget the angst that preceded its choice. truly.

    it occurs to me also that feinstein is so new that its culture hasn't gelled yet?

    and: i think start time is really important. i am a super morning person and even i do not relish the idea of getting children to school by 7:50 for years and years. ick.

  2. It seems to me that if you're pretty undecided between Miraloma and Sunset, the numbers for Sunset sure are more favorable. If it were me, that might be the deal-breaker.

    But that aside, the reason I'm really posting is to let you know that there's a "Latchkey" after-care program at Miraloma Park, immediately adjacent to Miraloma Elementary -- possibly a second after-care option. You can see its little building just down from Miraloma's front entrance on Omar. These programs are run by S.F. Rec & Park.

    I live around the corner and used to take my kids to the park often while the Latchkey kids were there, so that's my experience with it. The upside is that I understand they're really inexpensive; also, it looks like kids who wanted to participate in activities with the caregivers would have nice safe fun. Downside is that the supervision has been really lax for kids who choose to go off and get into mischief -- I've heard this about other Latchkey programs too. I don't know how easy they are to get into.

    Disclaimer: Those things are what I observed for several years, but I haven't been at the park with little kids in the past few years to see for myself (though I dogwalk past and can see that the program is still there).

  3. I'd go for Sunset. I'm a Miraloma parent, but I've heard great things about Sunset and I think it would be a safer wait-pool choice.

    By the way, the MEEP program is the only option for students in grades K-2 at Miraloma. There is a second on-site program run by the YMCA, which is free, but it doesn't start until 3rd grade. And the latchkey programs don't accept students until 3rd grade either (I believe--it might be 2nd). It's a great program, and it often fills up early.

  4. Walk to Feinstein! You have no idea how much your life will improve by walking to school!

  5. We took a tour of Miraloma and Diane Feinstein. Here's how we see the two.

    We really liked the Feinstein teachers but had concerns with the leadership at that school. However, as long as it's called Feinstein, it won't go down hill and also it's likely to get additional funding as it did for its library. Also, if it's walking distance that's pretty compeling.

    As for Miraloma, it's in a great neighborhood and has great facilities. It was one of the only public elementary schools with an auditorium, a gym, and no Bungalows (neighborhood code doesn't allow for it). It's also located to a park along with a huge grass playing field that has been redone. The principal at Miraloma was amazing and you can see his impact based solely on the increase in applicants since he started. He goes the distance for the school and you could even tell by the School fair at Civic Center. He wants the school to be noticed and during that fair Miraloma was the only school with a huge vertical banner with balloons.

    If it were me, I would probably choose Feinstein because with narrow margin between the two schools, why not choose the one that will be more convenient for your day-to-day life.

    Good Luck!

    1. Funny that your post mentions the importance of the Feinstein name. Call me crazy, but I totally discounted this school because I can't stand the arrogance of a public school named after a sitting (and controvertial to some) politician. I've never seen this addressed by anyone on these posts, but, to me, it's a bad mix of ideology and education to name a public school after a current Senator, despite whether you support or reject his/her viewpoints. Anyone else have a strong opinion about this?

  6. Between Miraloma, Sunset, and Feinstein, as in insider, I would choose, Sunset, Miraloma, and Feinstein, in that exact order.

  7. I'm kind of surprised that you don't have one other Sunset school on your list. My two kids go to Robert Louis Stevenson (at 35th and Quintara) and LOVE it. School doesn't start until 8:40; there are TWO afterschool programs on site (one paid and one free); there are lots of extracurriculars (Mandarin, chess, violin, piano, free ballet and dance classes!); and the school has great scores. We have absolutely loved the teachers there too -- my kids have had great ones and not one bad experience so far! As for your other choices, Sunset is a good one too and so is Miraloma, but it appears that the "buzz" is with those two places, so you're going to have less of chance getting into them. Just a thought.

  8. Insider at 2:01pm --

    Could you say a bit more about why you'd rank them that way? In other words, what do you like about Sunset? What do you like less about Miraloma and less about Feinstein?

    I'm inclined to agree with you, but I'd love a bit more information!


  9. I ranked the 3 schools in the order of Sunset, Miraloma, and Feinstein because of what I know about the classroom teachers, principals, and the support staff.

    Average Teaching Staff -- #1. Miraloma; #2. Sunset; #3. Feinstein (with #1 and #2 being very close).

    Principal -- #1. Sunset; #2. Miraloma; #3. Feinstein.

    Support Staff -- #1. Sunset; #2. Miraloma; #3. Feinstein.

  10. I know several families at Sunset who have been very pleased with the school. The principal, Sophie Lee is very good- a real go-getter!
    On the other hand, the principal at Feinstein is not a strong administrator, although I have heard the PTA is led by good parents. Personally, I believe a strong administrator is crucial to a smooth running school. Good luck!

  11. I was thrilled to get Sunset, which was our first choice, even though we live in the Richmond. My impressions there (on 3 visits) were that the kids were very engaged, the classrooms were extremely well organized (compared with many others I toured), I loved the principal, and their methods of positive discipline. As a former science teacher, I appreciated the activity level in the classrooms... productive activity vs. chaotic or non-existent. The parents we spoke to were very nice and knowledgable. I just really liked it there.

    Don't know anything about Miraloma, other than I have a few friends who selected it as their first choice, didn't get it, and are now in your position of trying to figure out whether to waitlist it.

    I did tour Feinstein as well, and I understand some people who really like it, but I wanted to see more science from a school who says they are science focused. But it's a one hour tour, so hard to tell.

    I walk to preschool now, and that is pretty nice! But I passed on about 4 schools I could walk to, and chose Sunset.

    Good luck.

  12. I'm the original poster and I wanted to post an update.

    We decided to wait pool Sunset. Even though Dianne Feinstein is within walking distance, we still felt that we liked the atmosphere at the other schools so much
    better. We were also disturbed by the split and drama in the parent community, but it was a hard decision --the teachers are fantastic, it's really our neighborhood school, and so many families we know are happy there.

    Miraloma would have been our first choice, but we really need some kind of part-time aftercare as I would like to work 2-3 full days a week in the next few years. We have two younger children, so having a nanny pick up our son from school during their nap time and take care of all three kids just would not be feasible, and there is no way we could pay for full-time aftercare for three kids, when I'd like to be home with them a couple of afternoons a week at least!

    We really love Sunset, and are hoping we get it off of the wait pool list!

  13. My kid go to Miraloma, and it's not the cracked up place everyone thinks it is. They do well with the lower grades, but not with 4th and 5th which is reflected in the test scores.

    The Principal is riding on the coat tail of the prior pincipal who got the ball rolling to improve test scores. The things I could tell you about what this guy does and how many parents are unhappy with him! He's very inexperienced and has problems following through or dealing with real issues. All he cares about is that he meet's the min requires from his boss.

    As for after care, MEEP has part-time. Also Lachkey next door works well and the gal that runs it, is very nice. BUT Lachkey is for kids ages 6 and up.