Tuesday, March 11, 2008

It's time to soldier on

The past few days have been rough. When I opened that letter, I felt crushed, deflated, demoralized—as if I was lying sprawled out in the middle of Market Street and a Muni train ran right over me. Yesterday at work, a coworker of mine said that he knew I didn't get into a school before even asking because the bags under my eyes were so big and dark. Can anyone relate?

And I worry about Alice. I'm trying to hide the situation from her. If someone calls to talk schools and Alice is in the room, I say that I have to call back or I whisper or I try to use some sort of code. She must have a clue? She must sense the stress? The anguish? That can't be good.

But finally I'm starting to rebuild my strength and I'm feeling ready for private school letters later this week and SFUSD Round II—bring it on! This morning I meet with a representative from Parents for Public Schools. I'm excited about the meeting and I feel lucky that we all have this organization available to us (huge round of applause for Parents for Public Schools). I have a long list of questions for her (thanks so much for the input). I'm also touring Juipero Serra with the principal and another friend who received the same assignment. I'm keeping an open mind and I'm impressed that the principal actually invited me to tour on this blog. I only wish the school had an immersion program; I don't think I can give up on that.

Finally, I want to thank everyone who is contributing to this site and making it an engaging, informative, and supportive place. The SF K Files is about the visitors. I'm so happy for all of you who got into a school. And for those of us who didn't, I'm terribly sorry—and it's time to take a deep breath and soldier on.

77 comments:

  1. thank you, kate, for your blog. such an important space for us all.

    let's think about other immersion options. what about paul revere? can anyone who toured or attends give feedback?

    i. too, am feeling very depressed at the prospect of giving up the immersion dream. i also am completely torn (and feel guilty in fact) when it seems like i must pick language exposure at the cost of other enrichment, community, neighborhood security, facilities. to be honest, it was very hard for me to list starr king ahead of miraloma on my list of seven. you can't help but fall in love with miraloma - but you can't help melt at the site of children speaking mandarin.

    paul revere? hidden SI gem? any feedback? can i get a little art there? some dance or drums? is there a play structure? is it too late to tour?

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  2. Paul Revere is a great idea. Parents are starting spanish immersion at Daniel Webster for 2009 - Paul Revere is available now. It's located in Bernal... Anyone have any insight? Hours are 8-4pm as I believe it is a dream school. Does this apply to the immersion program too?

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  3. The comments about Paul Revere on greatschools.net are very positive (especially surrounding the principal). It seems like it would be easier to enhance enrichment activities at a school (art, music) than to add an immersion program.

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  4. we, too, are crushed at the idea of giving up our dream of immersion. for me, it was the thing that made the whole process worthwhile. can't go to school down the street because the system's based on "choice"? great -- i choose immersion.

    SFUSD: no, ya don't.

    anyway, we're still hoping for both immersion AND walkability/busability. our family would definitely be up for looking at revere VERY seriously. since i'm leading the charge on visiting serra, maybe someone else can lead the charge on at least gathering background for those interested in revere?

    i will be touring for sure.

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  5. alright. i am ready to pump it up for revere, marshall and monroe. i visited both marshall and monroe, and did like them both, but wanted that "spark" that flynn had, or that artsy stuff that BV had, or that beauty and security that alvarado had.

    i felt a little afraid to go at it alone.

    marshall's pta seemed like it was small and mostly the few eng-speaking parents. they'd need more of us to get those things - a tree, garden, better play structure, art. they did have science.

    i have no idea about revere. anyone who knows when they will see us - let us know.

    ps - love how we all wake up and run to this blog. i was here last night at 11:30pm as well. sigh...

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  6. me again. i will email now requesting a parent ambassador from psssf for revere, monroe and marshall. will report back.

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  7. The great thing/problem with this blog is that there are only a finite amount of spaces and thousands that read this blog. Sometimes you do need to "go it alone" without the reassurances of the blog in order to find the right spot for your child. Hopefully someday all the options will be decent ones and we all won't be clamoring to get a spot at the next "hidden gem" before the hoards of bernal decend.

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  8. Got a call from a Sunnyside's PTA parent last night. She was lovely and sounded thrilled that there is a group of parents who are considering adding our enthusiasm and talents to the parent community there. She said that, with just a few more engaged parents, Sunnyside's PTA could accomplish so much (we didn't get into details as my child was in the room). To the Miraloma Co-op parents, she was sooo excited to hear about you all. You have quite a good reputation it seems! I have to admit that he lack of instruction in a second language (immersion or not) is a tough pill for me to swallow. On the positive side, she said that the teachers (at least in her daughter's class) have dealt well with varying ability levels in the same classroom, giving kids who are stronger readers the next text book so that they can continue to learn at their own pace (which is what my private school did with me back in the day -- can't think of any negative feelings/consequences from my personal experience) and that teachers will give kids strong in math additional problems to challenge them. All-in-all, I left my conversation with this mom feeling pretty good. BTW, I think there was a comment on an earlier post about projects being nearby. I'm not sure which ones are close by. The nearest ones I can think of are along Alemany, and those are not particularly close. Personally, I'm not concerned. The kids will be on the school grounds. Also, this school appears to have true diversity, at least from the numbers I checked on its profile at SFUSD's website. Ok, just wanted to share. Kate: are you going to start a rehab program for those of us addicted to your blog? :)

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  9. There are no projects anywhere near Sunnyside. I think someone was commenting on that re: Starr King. (Yet many families are trying to get into Starr King for the Mandarin immersion program.)

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  10. Hi Kate,
    Just got onto your blog courtesy of the SF Examiner article yesterday. Thank you--it's very helpful, if not cathartic. Regarding Juniperro Serra, we personally know the principal (her daughter plays on the same volleyball team as our's) there. She's a no nonsense straight shooter and committed to giving the kids the best chance for a great education. Give her a shot.

    Our situation relates to getting our daughter into a good high school. We are so new to the whole process. The concept of the "lottery" selection is so vague and mysterious to us. We have been property owners in the city over the last 20 years and have not used the public school system throughout, except now. She was assigned to George Washington (her third choice, after Lowell & Lincoln). Anybody know anything about Wash?

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  11. Run, don't walk, to Washington, check it out, and get ready to grab that spot, Anon! A LOT of families want it. Wash in very high demand and I know a number of high-powered families who have chosen it over Lowell when their child HAD gotten into Lowell.

    I'm one of the few high school parents posting here. For more info, call Parents for Public Schools, 415/861-7077.

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  12. Kate,
    I'm so glad for this latest more hopeful post. I think that it's time for some new perspective and energizing for next steps.
    I only wish that my greatest challenge was dealing with round two (that may be easy to say since I got my first choice), but I'd rather deal with another round than deal with radiation treatment for cancer.
    I go into the hospital on Thursday for radioactive iodine treatment for thyroid cancer and your latest post struck a chord since I am feeling many of the same emotions about a different situation.
    Protecting my child from my (and others) emotions about this situation has been challenging. I worry about the future and about the fact that I will be away from him for about a week and how it will affect him. I am trying to be strong and just plow ahead with each step of this journey. We can only take one day at a time and be strong and determined with each new step. There has to be time to express anger and fear, but at some point we move on and find solutions (what ever they may be). Our children are more resilient than we think they are, believe me.
    Best of luck to all,
    Teacher/Parent

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  13. One thing about Paul Revere that greatly appeals: it's K-8,no?

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  14. Teacher/Parent, best wishes for a successful treatment and a good recovery from the thyroid cancer. I have a couple of friends who have been through this. You are right, kids are resilient. Someday you will be looking back on this as a past event that made you all stronger (NOT that you would ask for it to happen, but it will bring its own gifts.)

    Speaking as someone who has been tossed a few curve balls too....

    Glad at least that you got your choice of schools--one less thing on your plate right now.

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  15. Hi
    All. I toured Marshall, Monroe and Paul Revere. Paul Revere has potential the only down fall was the after school program ends at 5:15 which is hard for working parents. I feel really lucky that my child got into Monroe, The school is sweet , sunny and friendly.If they have open spots please go and check it out.It is a hidden gem. We also like Glen PArk and Sunnyside for a non langauge scool. I wish you all a ton of luck..

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  16. anyone decided on a waitpool strategy? from what I have been listening to it seems wasteful to put down Flynn (or even Monroe and Marshall) but I don't hear anything about Fairmount or Buena Vista? I think Kim liked Fairmount but apart from her it's hard to find anyone on this blog that would fight for a space. anyone considering waitpooling Fairmount or Buena Vista even though they had increased numbers of applicants? they seem to be a lot less "in favor" this year or at least I perceive there to be a lot less enthusiasm about them?

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  17. To the woman battling thyroid cancer: I'll be thinking of you. You are generous to have sympathy for we who didn't get one of our 7. A question for all: Where and how have people been getting last year's waitlist data? I'm a control freak and would really like to know everything I can! That being said, I calculated a very high likelihood on Adam's spreadsheet and got nadda, so control only goes so far.

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  18. Ha - Fairmont or BV less in favor? Are you serious?

    Fairmont had 300 applicants for 60 spots - 30 of which are reserved for native speakers. Buena Vista had 391 people clamoring for 60 spots - 30 of which are reserved for native speakers. This is not even taking into account siblings and not taking into account applicants with diversity.

    I think it is safe to assume that there is a very high demand for ALL immersion programs, with the exception of Paul Revere (which may change if enough blog-readers decide to go for it - I don't even know if there are any available slots).

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  19. If you really want immersion, I think Marshall and Monroe would be worth submitting for Round 2; more likelihood than the schools located in Noe or Bernal. But doesn't the EPC (with the help of PPS) publish the numbers on the waitpools for THIS year at some point? Also, you can switch your waitpool school at any time (though not your amended list) if it just seems unlikely due to the numbers involved.

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  20. Here's a link to wait pool data from June 2007:
    http://portal.sfusd.edu/template/?page=policy.placement.round_one

    I wouldn't rely on it too heavily to plot school-specific strategy because demand changes from year to year, but it should give you some sense. One relevant piece of info for those wanting language immersion is that with the exception of Alvarado the other immersion schools did not have long lists by the beginning of the summer.

    You can find current year demand statistics for all schools via the Parents for Public Schools SF enrollment page. It doesn't seem to be posted on the district's website yet.

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  21. Just have to say about Sunnyside- it truly is one of the safest neighborhoods in the City (and diverse). It's off a lot of folks' radar, but that makes out of the way of trouble. In fact, few Sunnyside residents have sent their kids to the school in the past (many private and alternative schools) so the Sunnyside neighborhood shouldn't be on anyone's list of worries.

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  22. Just got back from registering my son at Marshall and they do have some open spots for English speakers.

    So if you have your heart set on immersion, don’t be put off by the neighborhood and check it out. There is a tour on Thurs. @10 am, call the school for more details. And the secretary told me that they are getting a new play structure over the summer as well as some upgrades to the building.

    Also, we have friends that are very happy with Monroe, so you should tour it as well if you haven’t.

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  23. Has anyone here checked out Edison Charter?

    I don't know anything about it, and the SFUSD doesn't even mention it. It is right in Noe, at the corner of 22nd and Dolores. I live near by, but hadn't even consider it until now. I too didn't get any of my 7 choices, and have been assigned to J. Serra.

    GreatSchools gives it a 4. With an API of 728, it ranks higher than most of the schools I have seen labeled as gems. I would be interested to know if anyone else has any info on Edison.

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  24. This is kind of amusing, because I ran a volunteer "research and information" campaign debunking Edison Schools Inc. when it was being touted as the "miracle" solution for public education. Edison is a for-profit company that was publicly traded for a while and vowed to improve schools, cut costs and make money too! As an enterprise, it has totally fizzled.

    I did tour the school, and practically had its statistics committed to memory, back in its heyday (2001 and thereabouts).

    But for all that, I can't tell you nowadays how Edison Charter Academy, the specific school, is at all. Edison as a larger project has so fallen off the radar that there's no reason to pay attention anymore. Be aware that Edison Charter Academy is not an SFUSD school; it's chartered by the state and is just a rent-paying tenant in an SFUSD property. It's technically its own separate school district. Let us know what it's like if you check it out!

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  25. Edison's API is 728?
    Junipero Serra has an API of 755, just like Sunnyside.

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  26. We were assigned to Paul Revere GE. The only thing I know about it is that the principal sends his kid to Miraloma. Anyone have any insight? I don't think I'm going to bother registering but maybe I'll put down the immersion program down on my ammended list.

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  27. anon at 1:51...and j. serra's student population is primarily spanish-speaking ELLs. i have to say, that's pretty impressive, considering they test in english.

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  28. Anyone else worried about their kids take on this process?
    From what I can gather "Kate" chose to involve "Alice" in the process which I thought was brave. We decided not to tell our daughter about it at all. She knows she is going to school after the summer and that it will be different from most if not all of her friends, but we decided not to involve her or inform her about all the choices the touring and the lottery etc. I'm trying to shield her from the reality of the process and hoping that when the time is right we will introduce her to her new school as the "perfect" school where she is going to make lots of friends and have a wonderful time. Which I am still confident it will be, wherever it is.

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  29. If you're also applying to private school there's no way to completely keep your child out of the process.

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  30. Lance Tagamori, the principal at Paul Revere, is WONDERFUL He's a Miraloma parent, and until this year was at Cesar Chavez, where he was responsible for turning that school into a wonderful community that is mostly below the radar. I really urge you to check Paul Revere out. In fact, earlier this year I was fantasizing about applying there for my daughter who's going into 6th grade. (I think their new 6-8 program is geared to immersion.)

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  31. Indeed, and one reason why we decided against going that route this year. I really hate that the kids have to take part, IMHO four is too young to be faced with personal rejection. Perhaps when she is five (LOLs)!

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  32. Vikki from Parents for Public Schools helped me today to strategize. She is very knowledgable and eager to help those of us who got none of our 7 choices. For questions referring to wait pools, she can offer you info on previous years wait pools. She can also offer suggestions for alternative schools for round 2.

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  33. question -

    i got nothing in round one. i really, really wanted west portal. oh well. we were assigned a school we will not take.

    for round two, can i go for something we might actually get, like say sunnyside, as out #1 waitlist in hopes of getting in, then after round 2 is complete, call SFUSD and ask to be waitlisted for west portal?

    reason is that i want an assignment i can actually live with. but i still want a change to hold out for #1 west portal - even if it means hanging on until october 2008.

    any ideas?

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  34. yes indeed you can do this 3:49:

    your waitpool choice should be west portal. it will always be considered your top choice and will remain so until the waitpool lists are dissolved at the end of september or until you remove your name from it or change it to a different school, which you can do at any time. it will keep your chance open for your top pick, regardless of anything else.

    meanwhile, to get that security you want of an acceptable if not top assignment, you should also submit an amended list of schools that are acceptable and that you are more likely to get. this might very well include sunnyside.

    hopefully, you will get an assignment from the round 2 run with your amended list. sigh of relief, you have something you will accept. then, hopefully, you will get further good news about your waitpool choice, west portal.

    pps will help you and all this info, including forms, is also available on the sfusd website under enrollment. the amended list and waitpool slot are listed on the same form to submit by march 28.

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  35. Last year, we put 4 spanish immersion schools on our list. We got BV, it was our third choice. We werent expecting it at all, and actually were hoping for another school. Strategies shmategies. Our friends put BV as their fist choice and didnt get it. Then they got it second round. Its always worth trying again!

    That said, BV isnt the perfect place by any stretch. I'm saying this to let those of you know who didnt get in, its okay. You didnt miss out on THE BEST THING EVER. Promise. We have often wondered if life would be better if he had gotten into a more bougie, well run school like Alvarado or the holy grail that is Rooftop. Our son had subs for the first 6 weeks of the school year and there have been numerous issues that have been beyond challenging that I will spare you the details on. He was very discouraged, as were we, up until a couple months ago. My point I guess is, have hope. Now we are in a school that we "wanted" and feel like we can't move him. It truly sucks to have to fight, and possibly lose, for your kid to go to a school that is hopefully near home or work and that they will like. And now teachers are facing layoffs, including my husband. I really dont want to move out of SF, but sometimes, I feel things like this give us families little choice...Sigh.

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  36. Is anyone making a "back-up plan" in case you get zero schools listed on your round 2 list and waitpool? I hate to think ahead to September and the 10 day count...but what if it doesn't work out?

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  37. "I really dont want to move out of SF, but sometimes, I feel things like this give us families little choice...Sigh."

    I definitely understand this feeling. I also think that there is no where to run to, nowhere to hide....my suburban relatives have similar complaints about their school programs, and also different ones related to being in less diverse, car-based environments with the anomie and boredom and entitlement their kids seem to show.

    The fact is that in America today it is increasingly hard and risky to have kids, unless you really are very rich. Rich, not middle class. Our country does not support us, not with education dollars, or health care, or pensions....and we are shouldering more of it. Two-job families now a necessity with family-wage jobs gone. Housing prices insane, price of gas going up, etc.

    New policies that are family friendly are needed, and a re-thinking of national priorities. Meaning, political involvement. The rally today that I am missing as I am chained to my desk.

    In the meantime, we have to band together and help each other--which this blog is doing (thanks Kate!), and PPS, and the PTAs, and the communities at each school. We are muddling through on that basis. Hopefully soon, more change will come on a larger scale.

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  38. Reply to (Now we are in a school that we "wanted" and feel like we can't move him.)

    Sometimes it is easier to get into schools when you aren't applying for Kindergarten; if you want a first grade spot, try applying for some other schools and see what happens. You don't have to give up your current placement and you may be pleasantly surprised to get another choice.

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  39. my back-up plan was to spend the next month or so researching homeschooling, but apparently that's no longer an option.

    "Home schooling takes a hit in Calif"
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2008-03-09-home-schooling_N.htm?csp=34

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  40. i just heard that principal eve cheung of junipero serra was named schoolmaster of the year for elementary schools. interesting.

    still seeking feedback on paul revere...does immersion currently run K-8 there?

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  41. i am going tomorrow to see paul revere. they have immersion k-3 right now, but it will go through to 8, i believe. will find out tomorrow. the middle school is across the street from the elementary. i did a drive-by today of them and j serra. they are near one another. nice new playground there at holly park.

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  42. I'll check out Revere too. I want to ask why they need my 5 year old for seven hours a day. What's so dreamy about that?

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  43. This may be a stupid question and I may be missing something completely, but is there anyone who can tell us which schools have spots after Round 1 so we have an idea what to put?

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  44. Wanted to pass on that I heard on the radio tonight that State Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has introduced a bill to raise oil taxes to help pay for education next year. A first shot across the bow, I would guess, in the ongoing fight to restore funds. The show also covered today's rally, and interviewed Carlos Garcia.

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  45. For those of you who are still looking for a school, I highly recommend that you head down to Paul Revere for a tour. The Principal at Revere, Lance Tagamori, is doing everything he can do turn Revere into a solid school. If you were to look into Dr. Tagamori's track record down in Mountain View before he came up to SFUSD and to look into the before Tagamori era at Cesar Chavez ES, during Tagamori era at Chavez, and after Tagamori era at Chavez, you will easily see the vast difference that one person can make.

    Take this from an insider.

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  46. Anon @ 9:39, last year we received a list schools with openings (including no. of openings) at the PPS counseling session. It would be helpful if someone would post a scanned version of this for those who cannot make it to these sessions.

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  47. I just love love love all this talk about banding together to give some of these other schools a chance. This is what it's all about, people. The schools need us, and when we give them a chance, they can easily, and quickly become viable and then thriving places for our children, and strong communities for all of us.

    Really, years ago I just thought if many more of us give public schools a chance they'll change for the better, and that beats our earlier options of fighting over a few schools, leaving the city or paying 20k for kindergarten. PPS has helped greatly, and this year this blog has helped because we are finding each other and supporting each other. I love hearing all the stories about how the new hot schools were a few years ago scary or low-performing. And how it only took the first batch of parents to go for it and found great schools. And I love how the discussion this week has created possibilities for schools that during the search were not much considered. I love that Fairmount and Flynn seem to have "arrived" this year even though last year both were still a little iffy in the perception sweepstakes. I love that now schools like Sunnyside and Revere and Serra and Starr King are being given a look, and that this forum has let us hear from principals and parents from those schools.

    There is a grass roots movement afoot here, and damn I love that!

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  48. I am not in the process right now, but I too am inspired by all of you. You guys can really make all the difference in the world, and your children will be the better for it.

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  49. Along with other parents, I wanted to express my deep appreciation to Parents for Public Schools. After hearing some horrible stories about my first choice school, I was put in contact with the public school ambassador of the school who walked me through each of the data points and had constructive, practical advice for researching the issues deeper. She validated my anxiety, shared with me her own personal experiences and had a host of ideas on how best to proceed at this point given our family and our son's needs. I can't tell you how helpful it is to have such a supportive network. We are all so luck to have PPS!!!

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  50. Our back-up plan is to homeschool for kindergarten. After all, kindergarten is NOT mandatory.

    Our 4-year old is already bilingual (English/Spanish) and starting to read, so I see no issues in terms of her being ready for 1st grade when the time comes. I think a year at a lousy school will be more damaging than a year of homeschooling. Even if we get a Spanish-immersion program, I wonder if she´ll be bored waiting for the English speakers to learn Spanish and the Spanish speakers to catch up reading wise....

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  51. I faxed my application for round 2 in and was emailed a confirmation, so you don't need to wait in line to submit your paper work.

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  52. Hello soldiers:

    If you go to http://www.ppssf.org/enrollment-08/2008-09DemandComparison.pdf) you will find the number of people who requested schools and number of seats for Round (2008-2009). There were 986 requests for Clarendon and 40 seats available.

    If you go to: http://portal.sfusd.edu/data/epc/WAIT%20POOL%20LIST.pdf

    you can get an idea of how many folks were still on a wait list for 2007. I am not sure if they helps folks stategize...

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  53. Question for Caroline or anyone who knows the process. How is a new Principal chosen or appointed? and when is the name and details of that person made public?
    Specifically I hear that the principal at Fairmount is leaving this year and while I know it is not a deal breaker for some, it probably is for us.

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  54. For Anonymous at 9:30 am, I am pretty certain that a bilingual Kindergartener will not have a chance to be bored in Spanish immersion. There too much cutting and pasting and counting, not to mention showing off and interpreting for her friends!

    Cheers to all who are making this public school thing work. Revere was on my radar last year, as a Bernal parent who ultimately chose Starr King. I think it could be a great neighborhood school for Bernal, especially with a few more participating parents added to the core of neat parents that I saw there last year.

    And for perspective one year out, I have a friend who got into Alice Fong Yu and feels that the school stifles his kids' creativity and is taking them out; a friend at Clarendon who laments the repeated and intense pressure to raise money, and a friend at Buena Vista who decries the lack of supervision on behavior stuff. Even the "great" schools have issues of fit - and demand is not necessarily a guarantee of quality.

    I think that, compared to public schools elsewhere, our kids have the opportunity to get a great education here. Though we parents find it ironic that we can't get into the school "in our neighborhood," we also value the chance to go to a school that has a program we like in a neighborhood we can't afford to buy into.

    Thanks for this great blog!

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  55. I'm excited to hear what folks think of Paul Revere immersion. I'm going to see it tomorrow and will add my comments. I'm hoping the long hours include lots fun things like music and art and sports. Did anyone read the comments on sfschools.org about Dream Schools and middle class families. Interesting.

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  56. Do I remember this correctly from last year - they do ballroom dancing at Revere, and offer instruction in American Sign Language in the after school program?

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  57. Just did the Sunnyside “tour” on Wednesday morning. I must have got the day wrong because there were no other parents. Luckily, the principal stepped out of her office and offered to take me around personally!

    The school overall seemed solid and well-run – attractive hallways, peaceful hum of teaching, calm atmosphere. The kindergarten classrooms were as good as any I have seen, with the teachers all in control and the kids attending to the teacher’s directions. The classes are racially diverse, mostly Latino and African-American kids, with a smattering of 3-5 White and Asian-American kids.

    What was more interesting to me was the principal’s description of her work with the teachers for the past four years. She said that she was brought to the school because it was dominated by teachers who were in the senior part of their careers (“57 years old or so”) and they all “worked in their own castles.” Her job was to come in a make it more collaborative and change over the teachers that were not on board with this.

    As she tells it, she has made good progress in this direction. She emphasizes sharing lesson plans, having teachers share kids, having one teacher instruct all the kids in a math lesson and the other teacher teach all the kids in a language lesson. Her goal, she says, is to continue building teacher professional community by getting the teachers to look and evaluate their own work. The principal comes to this school as a former science teacher, Exploratorium teacher, and curriculum specialist for the district.

    Other plusses for the school
    – due to its proximity with City College, it gets eight student teacher volunteers a week from its teacher education program.

    – Kids get PE twice a week from an excellent PE teacher

    – Kids get theater/movement/dance specialties once a week from various organizations

    – It is predominantly a neighborhood school, set in a quiet, residential, aesthetically pleasing setting – part of a community rather than plopped in a random location.


    Issues of concern
    n two of the three current kindergarten teachers are likely to retire this year (though not for any reasons related to the school). The principal does get to choose who replaces them, and she emphasized that she will look for teachers who fit in with the team. To this end, she will get the current teachers to interview possible replacements.

    n The PTA budget is abysmal -- $12,000/year! One could see how this school could have some great programs if it could get that fundraising up near the $100K mark, but they face a long history of not raising money and have a parent body that cannot afford to contribute much money to the school. Fundraising may be possible here, but it seems quite a challenge.


    BTW – after school care is provided on-site by the YMCA

    Overall, I got a good feeling about this school and would include on our amended list. The biggest points for me is the quality and intentions of the principal and what sounds like a collaborative teacher environment.

    Let me know if you have questions about anything I may have forgotten to mention.

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  60. fundraising can change quickly - and there are many ways to fundraise in communities that do not have a wealthy population - grants, more creative fundraisers, etc. I think the things you mentioned about team teaching, the principal's vision, etc. are way more important and would certainly make it worthwhile. also, fyi, we have friends in Jefferson and at times their child has been the ONLY Caucasian in a class, it does actually reflect the demographics of the city.

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  61. I went on a tour at New Traditions school today. Some people mentioned they got assigned to it, even though it wasn't on their list. Their mission statement and web site thought it was worth a look. I really liked it. They are a small community school with a principal that is in her fifth year. The school focuses on interdisciplinary instruction with a focus on creative arts. They don't focus on teaching to the test, which I found appealing. But instead, they use differentiated and thematic instruction to meet the needs of the learners. They have on site before and after school care through the YMCA. It is worth a look. I think that they are in the process of trying to raise more funds through the PTA and mentioned a need for grant writers to help fund some of their programs.

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  62. I visited John Muir this morning. There's a pretty, well-maintained garden out front, and the building is attractive and welcoming. There's a nice big auditorium and a sunny lunchroom. The playground needs play structures and more greenery.

    Principal Wheaton welcomed me warmly and took me to several K, 1 and 2 classrooms. The classrooms were spacious, bright and cheerfully decorated. The teachers had the children engaged. The children were well-behaved, enthusiastic, and working diligently on projects similar to what I've seen kids working on at every other school I've toured.

    As Principal Wheaton described it, the after-school program (open until 5:45) offers a nice variety of physical and creative activity with extra tutoring. They're taking a number of concrete steps (extra help after school, one-on-one tutoring, etc) to try to bring the test scores up.

    Then I met with Marta, the bilingual (English/Spanish) parent liaison. Ironically, she does not have children in the school, so was not able to answer all of my questions. When I asked about parent involvement, I think I got the key to the answer to the test score question. Marta said, more or less, that most of the parents are so far under water that the school is pleased just to be seeing increased attendance at parent teacher conferences. The current critical mass does not have the resources to be around at school or (my speculation here) to support their kids' learning at home at anywhere near ideal levels. Most of the outside support comes from the surrounding community rather than the parents. Community members rather than parents volunteer in the classrooms. Supervisor Mirkarimi in particular has taken an interest.

    My takeaway was that this school is a project waiting to happen. The administration and community very much want this school to thrive and the kids going there deserve for this to happen. They're under-enrolled and anxious to welcome engaged families to the school community. Principal Wheaton basically said, "If you're interested, we want to go there." I could not take it all on myself (my husband and I both work full time), but if there were a group of 4-6 engaged families with a reasonably shared vision, I think this could be a success story.

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  63. Kate,
    A seasoned SFUSD parent feels Serra is a great school on the verge of "turning around."
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sfschools/message/29708

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  64. as many of you know, a large group of junipero serra assignees toured (or will tour) the school this week. i wanted to share with you some inputs from a PPS representative who toured with today's group. the topline message? serra is viable. more than viable, in fact. please read on if you think a small, warm school that is doing phenomenally well at teaching the core curriculum might be for you:

    FROM THE PPS REP:

    My visit to Junipero Serra Elementary

    I’m not an incoming kindergarten parent, but I have been checking out some elementary schools lately, looking for one to support as a volunteer. Having been involved with the so-called “turnaround” at both Aptos MS and Balboa HS, I’m now in the market for an elementary school to assist. Actually, the term “turnaround” is a bit of a misnomer, as both Aptos and Balboa were already schools with “good bones” which just had a low profile. By good bones, I mean: a strong Principal with a vision and the energy to inspire the staff with that vision, an experienced staff with just enough new blood to keep the energy level high, a good location in a safe family oriented neighborhood near a park, rising test scores, small class size, and a warm, caring atmosphere. I’m happy to say that after looking for 6 months, I have found my perfect match – Junipero Serra Elementary.

    I knew the minute I met Eve Cheung, Principal, that this was a school where I would be welcomed. The winner of the 2008 Schoolmaster of the Year award for SF elementary schools, Ms Cheung is that visionary leader who can take a school and really put her stamp on it. During the entire 2 hours of my visit, she addressed by name every single child who passed her in the hall. She spoke about the school’s new focus on science, because she feels it is important for the students to get beyond just the English and math that figure so prominently in the standardized testing. Later this year, the school will host a science night for families, with visiting scientists and some experiments set up, and by next year they hope to host their first science fair; I’ve already volunteered to help organize this.

    The school uses a program to foster cooperation among students (I am sorry to say I forgot the name, but it included the word “Caring”), which includes older students having a buddy in the younger grades, and a daily component when the students share their feelings, especially about their interactions with other students. This helps the staff keep tabs on what is going on when the students are out of the classroom; if someone is being teased on the yard, for example, that will come out immediately during this sharing time, where it can be addressed and the situation defused, so that no child ever has to endure feeling unhappy about being at school, for any reason. As a result, the students all talk freely about their feelings, and exhibit a high level of compassion for each other.

    The class sizes are small, and all of the students we saw were engaged and on task. We were in a first grade classroom during the reading lesson, and I have to say I was impressed at the complexity of the story they were reading aloud – a lot of hard words in there which those kids got easily. I shouldn’t be surprised, though, because the school’s test scores have been steadily rising, despite the fact that 81% of the students qualify for free lunch, and many of them are English language learners. Their API is 755 – the same as Sunnyside – and they rank a 7 on the similar schools index (for those who place stock in that number.)

    The school has a well-equipped computer lab and a full time technology teacher. The instrumental music teacher was there today and we heard the violins play a pretty good rendition of “Happy Birthday”; 4th and 5th grade have the usual choice of violin, trumpet, flute, or clarinet, while 3rd graders play recorder and 1st and 2nd graders have choral music. There was student art all over the walls, and student writing samples up in most of the classrooms, including Kindergarten. Two of the Kindergarten classrooms are located in the annex across the street from the main building, where they share a nice play yard with the child development program. Next year, a third Kindergarten will be situated inside the main building, and smart parents will sign up soon for a spot, because Serra has an interesting enrollment pattern. The school alternates enrolling 3 Kindergartens with 3 1st grades – so, next year they will have 3 incoming K classes, and 2 1st grades, while the following year they will have 3 1st grades but only enroll 2 incoming K classes. For those with a younger sibling coming up, this means that snagging a place for the oldest in next year’s K class will ensure getting a seat for the younger sib a few years down the road, even if it is year when only 2 classes are admitted. You all know how it goes with schools in this town – the school no one ever heard of this year is on everyone’s top 7 list a few years later, and then there are tears and recriminations when people get turned away. The smart move is to get in before the crowds descend.

    I spoke at length with some of the other school staff, and learned that the school has a PTA, but more importantly, they have a huge number of parents who come to the school on a regular basis, volunteering to go on the field trips, and attending the school events. They have a new partnership with Google, who will be supporting some site improvements and providing more volunteers, and are having some work done by the district as well, including an exterior paint job.

    Although the school does not have a language immersion program, it does have a bilingual strand in the early grades for language learners. With a high number of Spanish speakers, the Principal mentioned the possibility of having an after school class for English speakers to learn Spanish. Ms Cheung is committed to the idea that every child should speak at least two languages, she is bilingual herself as are her children, and she is trying hard to be able to offer that option to all of her students as well.

    Located right on Holly Park, the school is convenient to Bernal Heights and Noe Valley. I was able to get a parking place within a block of the school, and there is a fire station right across the street, with hunky firemen standing around out front (always a plus, in my opinion), showing off their fire engine to a group of big-eyed preschoolers. For those who worry that they don’t have the time or energy to “turn around” a school, all I can say is, this one really doesn’t need any turning – it is THERE, and just needs to become known to more parents. If you are not happy with your assigned school, I really urge you to check this one out – it’s a winner, and in a year or two, it will be the “hidden gem” school that everyone has on their top 7 list. They are doing tours every day now; you can call the school at 695-5685 to set up a visit.

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  65. Kim, that post about the PPS person's visit to Serra is tremendous. Can't wait to hear what you think, and if you and others will take the plunge. I think if it weren't for the lack of language immersion for those of you who want it (as I did) it would be quite exciting to give this neighborhood school your commitment and energies. Close to home, nice setting, sounds like a great principal.

    Have you filled out yor Round 2 list, yet? Your waitlist choice? Will be interested to hear what all of you decide and how the lists shift from the first round.

    Do we know what Kate did? I don't know if I am up on all these posts since Saturday!

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  66. Kim, that post about the PPS person's visit to Serra is tremendous. Can't wait to hear what you think, and if you and others will take the plunge. I think if it weren't for the lack of language immersion for those of you who want it (as I did) it would be quite exciting to give this neighborhood school your commitment and energies. Close to home, nice setting, sounds like a great principal.

    Have you filled out yor Round 2 list, yet? Your waitlist choice? Will be interested to hear what all of you decide and how the lists shift from the first round.

    Do we know what Kate did? I don't know if I am up on all these posts since Saturday!

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  67. I'm so impressed with all of you soldiers!! I went throught this process last year and fortunately got one of my top choices in round I. I'm sure I would have been extremely stressed out if I got 0/7 and I don't know if I would have been as open minded and enthusiasist as so many of you are about seriously considering an under enrolled school. It's great to see everyone working together and getting to the heart of what makes a good school -- good teachers, good principal and involved parents. Looking forward to hearing lots more about J. Serra, Paul Revere and John Muir in the next few years!

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  68. Just to note, the parent who is posting about Junipero Serra isn't technically a PPS rep, though she is a PPS member -- she's not staff or board or anything like that. This is a community member committed to donating her time to a cause she believes in.

    Regarding the principal search, in answer to a prospective Fairmount parent: The school both my kids will attend next year, SOTA (one is already there) is also seeking a principal. The School Site Council, which is a legally mandated body made up of school staff, parent and community members that makes the key decisions for the school, has major input. I know that at SOTA, parents have volunteered for and been accepted to the principal search committee, and they'll devote one weekend day soon to interviewing candidates.

    Still, it is hard to know. I posted before that I know from experience that a strong school can survive a fairly long period with a weak principal (should the worst happen) -- some are arguing with that, but I've been there. That said, I'm a bit nervous for SOTA as well.

    Lowell had a disastrous principal last year. Interestingly, I just had lunch with a parent from the school that principal had been at before Lowell -- Skyline HS in Oakland -- where she was pretty well-liked. For whatever reason, she just did not work out at Lowell, with a vengeance. It's a cautionary tale about how hard it is to predict, though.

    Also -- Fairmount struggled with a problem principal or two before Karling Aguilera-Fort arrived. It's a fragile school in some ways, yet it still survived the challenge, so that's heartening. Sorry I can't be 100% encouraging -- we all just have to wish hard!

    I posted on the sfschools blog about Paul Revere; my post may explain why you're hearing about unique enrichment programs there:

    http://www.sfschools.org/2008/03/dream-schools-and-middle-class-families.html

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  69. Sorry; here's a working link for the blog post on Paul Revere:

    http://tinyurl.com/3dgo6p

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  70. In reading the post on principals...I'm wondering. Is Fairmount on the search for a new principal?

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  71. Yes, Fairmount is in search of a principal.

    Alvarado survived a year with a bad principal (06-07). The previous principal was much better, but was near retirement and didn't last so long. The school carried forward on the strength of a wonderful teaching staff and tremendous parent community, and made it to this year, with *much* better principal to boot. It helps a lot if the school already has those other two legs (teachers and parents). An up-and-comer like Sunnyside or J Serra would need a strong principal--which it sounds like they do have.

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  72. Thanks for the info on principals. I wasn't aware of the upcoming change at Fairmount as it wasn't raised during my research in the fall. How is Fairmount positioned to weather this change (ie the strength of parents and principal as mentioned)?

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  73. oops...meant to write "strengths of parents and teachers"...

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  74. I read this with concern, I did not know the principal was leaving Fairmount. He was one of the major plus points for me and I am not certain how appealing the school would have been to me had he not been the person in charge, he really seemed to be the one driving the improvement and keeping the whole thing together. Any Fairmount parents out there care to comment, are you concerned? Thanks for the blog, I wish I had found it earlier.

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  75. Kim, thanks for posting this great news about J Serra. For anyone in Bernal or Glen Park or Noe or Mission, the location is great with Holly Park right there (green space!). I also wanted to note that the same essay/description is now posted on www.sfschools.org and the PPS volunteer who wrote it is identified there as Dana Woldow--no ordinary volunteer, but someone who has worked very, very hard and made a huge difference on school lunches and nutrition in this district--in addition to being part of the Aptos and Balboa turnarounds. Wow, that's a big plus for J Serra. Both J Serra and Sunnyside sound like great possibilities.

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  76. One more note on Paul Revere: I was there last month for an SF School Volunteers project, and I really liked it. I was in two different 1st grade classrooms, one immersion and one general ed, and thought the teaching and the classroom environments in both were warm and nurturing. I hear fabulous things about the principal. It's K-8. The physical site was well-maintained and clean. I would definitely take another look at this one if I were looking for schools in the Bernal area.

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  77. Kate: I am trying to contact you regarding appearing at a community event in Bernal Heights, but the message keeps bouncing. Could you please contact me directly at karenzuercher [at] gmail.com? Many thanks.

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