Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kate's recent public school tours: hidden gems

What do you do when you're 0/7 for SFUSD public schools? Tour more schools, of course. Hunt for that hidden gem.

This past week, I furiously set out to track down that up-and-coming school with a fresh coat of paint, a fabulous principal, peppy teachers, and a PTA with potential. Here's a rundown of what I found.

Junipero Serra
This was my assigned school. It's actually within walking distance of my house and sits right on Holly Park. I was thoroughly impressed with it and I give the principal, Eve Cheung, and the teachers a standing ovation. They are truly dedicated, hard-working, highly intelligent, and they've poured their hears into this school. A few years ago the teachers—not the parents—at this school raised some $37,000. The teachers and principal have helped bring up the test scores. There's a computer lab with shiny new Macs and a full-time computer teacher. That said, we decided not to accept the assignment because we're set on immersion if we go with public.

This Spanish immersion school in the heart of the Mission (Capp and 15th) has a lot of spirit. When I walked through the door a group of kids were doing capoeria in the cafeteria. Colorful mosaics and tiles adorn the school's inner courtyard. The kids in the classrooms are cheerful and clearly excited to learn. In first grade, a little boy guided us around his classroom, telling us—in both Spanish and English—about the tadpoles swimming around in a dish, the plants growing in the cups, the students' ice cream chart on the wall. The school is tiny and cozy and there are plans to rebuild the playground and renovate the bathrooms this summer. The neighborhood might seem a little sketchy but the school is a safe haven.

Paul Revere
I wanted to shout, "Eureka!" as I walked through this school's hallways. It's truly the hidden gem that I had been searching for. If you want Spanish immersion and you're interested in getting involved in an on-the-rise school, this is probably the one. The reasons are endless: big, beautiful building with fresh coat of paint; K through 8; small classes (around 20 students) all the way through eighth grade; paraprofessional assigned to each classroom (meaning each classroom has a teacher and an additional teacher); Spanish immersion (2 SI classes and one GE); uniforms; huge library stocked with books and a fabulous librarian; IRF coach who helps all the teachers become even better teachers; young, vibrant, dedicated teaching staff; 50 new Macs and 60 Dells; teacher professional development programs; three full-time counselors (one for elementary, one for middle school, and another working with the entire student body) . . . and the list goes on and on. The PTA is small yet growing and waiting for parents who want to become more involved.

Jose Ortega
I took a brief tour of this school when I attended one of the district's counseling sessions. The school introduced a Mandarin immersion strand last year. I met the kindergarten teacher and she's lovely and animated. A parent told me about her kindergartener counting to 80 in Mandarin. The principal is warm and friendly, and motivated to continue to improve the school; she's open to parents' ideas. It's near San Francisco State and sits atop a hill offering gorgeous views of the surrounding city and ocean.


  1. Marshall is definitely worth a look. It ended up as our 2nd choice (Flynn was 1st), and I really liked their focus on science. It is a small school (Only 40 student intake) which gives it a more intimate feel.

    They have a brand new library, a well equipped computer lab and share a computer teacher with one other school (I think Paul Revere).

    We did also tour Paul Revere (Their touring policy needs some work) and they have nice large bright classrooms and the children seem engaged. It is nestled in Bernal heights with relatively straight forward access from all directions and is K-8 which I think is unque on the immersion side.

    Good Luck everyone.

  2. I'm so pleased that you liked Paul Revere! I had both it and Marshall on my list and liked them both enormously. My friend Shannon is very active on the Paul Revere PTA, so say hi from me!

  3. Rosa Park is another hidden gem worth the time of the tour. Last year, after Round II, I "discovered" this school. Rosa Parks Rosa Parks has two
    strands: a general education program and a Japanese Bilingual
    Bicultural Program (JBBP). My son attends the JBBP which has been
    around for 35 years. The Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program classes feature one hour of language/art/music/culture instruction a day (this is not immersion).
    Dr. Monica Nagy is the energetic, action-oriented principal. She is respected by parents, staff and students.
    The school reflects a blend of the neighborhoods it sits in: Japantown and Fillmore.
    Another plus for me is that there is a bus which will take your child to one of many afterschool programs (including HYC at the JCC, Columbia Boys & Girls Club in the Haight, Nihonmachie
    Little Friends in Japantown, and Pine Methodist Afterschool in the
    outer Richmond).
    For those of you looking for an academic-focus and a spirited student body, I encourage you to tour at Rosa Parks any day next week. There will be an
    Open House next Wednesday, 3/19, at 6 pm. The school is located at 1501 O'Farrell in a quiet cul-de-sac surrounded by churches and private residences near the intersection of Geary and Webster (great location for people headed to offices in Civic Center or downtown).

  4. For those of you considering P.Revere: what about those crazy hours, 8-4? Is this for Kg too? That leaves little time in the day for a parent to pursue other extra-curricular activities after 4pm. If it weren't for this we might consider it. Will this change? And, how far into Immersion is Revere?

  5. About Revere - I'm pretty sure that the reason they have a paraprofessional in each class is that they have mainstreamed special education students whose Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) call for classroom aides, and the aides usually aren't in the room for the entire day, while the students are.

    Not to say that inclusion is a bad thing, but it's important to find out WHY those paras are there - usually they are filling the needs of particular students, not the class at large (although it can be argued that helping the few does help the many). The para is not going to be assisting students without documented needs, from what I've seen - and I've been a sub and a teacher in SFUSD for almost 4 years. Also keep in mind that if the severe budget cuts do go through, they may be sacrificed.

    I haven't been to Revere since they got this new principal, but I can tell you that the quality of the principal makes all the difference in the world! How to judge that, however, is beyond this comment!

    Ortega and Junipero Serra both qualify as "hidden gems" in my mind - I'd be more than happy to work at either school, particularly Serra. (No, I don't have children so it would be a bit dishonest for me to claim I'd send my kids there. I can say I think I would.) Eve Cheung is wonderful, she was the principal at Sunset before Serra, and Sunset is topnotch.

  6. i was wondering the same thing about revere's long hours, and to be honest, its proximity to the alemany housing projects ... i know that's probably not the most pc thing to admit. i still haven't toured; is the middle school separate from the elementary school? and marshall sounds like a sweet little school, and we'd love immersion, but i do worry about the neighborhood. does it feel isolated from all the drug crap etc down on 16th and Mission?

    finally, i keep reading about people being impressed with Serra and the principal, but haven't heard anyone say they're going for it. i'm torn. i was really into the idea of Span. immersion, but i also like the idea of a neighborhood school (we live right off holly park).

  7. at paul revere, the PK-3 is in one building and grades 4-8 area across the street. school is from 8-3pm 7hours.

    i am a little concerned with 4th graders and 8th graders being together, but i am a kindergarten parents so i am a little concerned about everything...

  8. finally, i keep reading about people being impressed with Serra and the principal, but haven't heard anyone say they're going for it. i'm torn. i was really into the idea of Span. immersion, but i also like the idea of a neighborhood school (we live right off holly park).

    Go for it. This herd needs someone to go first. Then they follow. If they don't? Their problem.

  9. we enrolled at j. serra today. i can't say whether we'll end up there in september, as we're going to waitlist for an immersion program. but the long conversation i had with the lovely woman at reception -- lydia? -- reaffirmed what i saw last week: really warm people, calm kids, committed staff.

  10. I ditto what Kim said. We too are crossing our fingers for immersion, but I went ahead and enrolled at J. Serra. I too was impressed with the people there.

  11. I don't know if the Alemany Housing Projects comment person is still reading, but I wanted to clarify that Paul Revere is no where near those projects!! I have no idea how that person got that idea. Paul Revere is on Folsom at Tompkins - the Alemeny projects are far away, south of Cresent on Alemany. I think, but am not sure, that their closest school is Hillcrest, but Hillcrest is on the other side of the freeway, so maybe they get divided between J. Serra, Hillcrest, Monroe and Paul Revere? At any rate, Paul Revere is not near any projects.

  12. We're not looking at Paul Revere for public K because it's too far away for us, but we do currently have our very young 5 in a private K with an 8:30 to 4:30 academic day. Our son loves it but he's (compared to his friends and according to his teachers) unusually high-energy. If your K child needs more rest it could be a problem. Maybe ask if there's a scheduled rest or nap time for kindergarten students.

  13. What about Redding ES? It looks pretty decent and is located in Polk Gulch, but I never heard about it until I met a Little League teammate of my son's who attended this school.