Thursday, April 10, 2008

K Files Council: what makes a PTA on fire?

Here's my question:

During the school search, I felt like I was choosing a school as well as choosing a PTA. I fell in love with Flynn since the PTA was on fire. The parents were enthusiastic, had similar priorities as I do, and were getting things done.

Unfortunately, Flynn was one of the few schools where I managed to get a grasp of the school AND the parents.

What makes a PTA on fire? Paul revere, like Flynn, has had an immersion program in place for the same number of years. Things are happening at PR, but it wasn't as hot as Flynn. Starr King as well—two years of new parents on board, but not the same fire.

Many of us may be facing a school with low scores, a new or no PTA and fear being one of those 3-4 parents taking on all the load. What makes a playground go up in a day? Planter boxes get built and filled? PE teachers get hired? And what stands in the way? the principal? Rifts in the new vs old (immersion vs GE?) parents? What can we, as incoming parents in schools that we want to improve, be planning for, looking for, or seeing as challenges?

I want to be enthusiastic about more schools than Flynn. I went 0/7, have twins, want immersion, and am feeling nervous about the prospect of trying to overhaul a struggling school. Any thoughts?


  1. this is slightly tangential, but i think there are different kinds of fires. i got the feeling at flynn that the pta was on fire but maybe the principal was not quite as fired up. so, a fire that would go in parent directions (playground equipment, planter boxes, etc). at starr king i felt that the principal was on fire and that he was drawing in the parents and pta in various ways, so more of a slow growing fire but one supported by some very hot flames that would keep things growing and improving. ahh, what ridiculous metaphors. i was actually more impressed by starr king than flynn and they are two schools we looked at more than once. also, obviously, there is the factor of strong personalities. we met several folks this fall (playground, classes, etc) who had very strong and persuasive personalities, and whose kids went to flynn.

  2. There are many great schools that are not "PTA" schools.

  3. What impressed you the most about Starr King?

  4. Elephant in the room: A chronic problem for parent groups is that it's really hard to get non-middle-class parents involved in PTA leadership -- though if you have a potluck and call for food, parents who would never turn out for a meeting totally come through -- IF they get the word.

    I'm reading a sociology book about the cultural differences in childrearing between the middle class and the poor/working class that clarifies some of this. ("Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life" by Annette Lareau.)

    So, bluntly stated, a school with more middle-class white parents is likely to have more participation, though of course there are some standout, very involved nonwhite and sometimes lower-income parents.

    In my experience, a few high-powered and effective movers and shakers -- even just two or three -- can really energize a PTA and get its momentum going. (Conversely, it's sad but true that a couple of problem parents can really mess things up.)

    There are indeed great schools with very high parent involvement that aren't PTA schools. It is worth remembering, though, that school PTAs are part of the district/state/national PTA, which is a powerful 111-year-old, household-name lobbying /advocacy force for children, schools and families. School parent groups that aren't PTAs are working only to benefit that one school -- which is shortsighted in my opinion.

  5. why call them middle-class white parents? we are asian+white and middle class. i saw many black and asian middle-class parents who were "on-fire" during our tours.

  6. Thank you 8:19. I'm African-American and on the leadership team of my son's school, and I'm having trouble with Caroline's comment. Perhaps her child's school is very different from my son's.

  7. I'm not white yet I'm upper middle class (raised that way too). It's not the color of your skin, it's basic socio-economics.

  8. I think parents of color are more likely to be high-powered at the school level, where you can see the results of your work and not just go to a bunch of meetings discussing the "big picture". Screw the big picture, for now -- let's make this school better. White people like going to meetings and giving themselves titles and swarming in droves to national conferences. In my culture, in my family -- we get busy and clean up the messes instead of talking about how to clean up the messes and drawing up goals and plans and having think tanks about it. I went to a two hour meeting once and all they talked about was cleaning up the cafeteria. Finally, I just stood up and said, come on bitches, grab yourselves a broom, let's do it.

  9. Which elementary schools do people feel are "PTA" schools?

  10. I agree that it's not about race. Motivated, involved parents come in every shape, size, gender and color and I saw evidence of this on many tours.

  11. There's a lot more to being involved in the PTA or elementary school in general than attending meetings. I am quite involved in my child's school, and yet have only attended one PTA meeting. Evening meetings just don't work for our schedule.

    The important thing is that you can find your niche, whether that be attending meetings and planning events, volunteering in the library or classroom, stapling Wednesday envelope packets, or bringing in something for the bake sale.

    If you want a school that's "on fire" I would look for one that actively seeks out parent participation in whatever way parents can give it. There is no right way to volunteer as long as you're respectful of limits set by the teachers and principal.

    Also, I think having one dynamic tour leader can do a great deal for a school. If you could clone Vali Govier, Carol Lei, and Ellie Rossiter at every school, parents would be breaking down the doors at every school in the district! I can answer most parent questions, but I just don't have that "it factor" that makes a dynamite tour. Sure wish I did!

  12. As a Flynn parent I want to clear up some misconceptions. The playground was built with over half the volunteers coming from outside organizations and was paid for by a grant that we got from KaBoom. Yes, Flynn parents rallied and the PTA is very active, but that was not solely done by Flynn parents and the framework was provided by KaBoom.

    The PE teacher is paid for by a foundation that approached the school.

    Paul Revere's immersion program started one year after Flynn and initially has had some difficulty because they were unclear which model they were using.

    On the topic of involving non-middle class (regardless of race) - it seems it is often that the mdidle class is comfortable with the structure of a PTA and others aren't since it may be an unfamiliar structure than what was used before. There is often a lot of cultural misunderstanding on all sides that happens as well and can slow things down. It is not an easy task to raise funds, organize something and understand a new culture (this is meant as a new culture for all - middle-class people learning about other cultures ways of doing things, as well as those cultures learning the middle-class one) all in the space of time between the demands of your family, job, etc.

    I would encourage you if you are a parent new to a school that hasn't had a lot of middle class families to begin with doing some cultural understanding on all sides and to always keep in mind that everyone has the same goal - a great education for their children. I also think it helps to share information - many families do not go on lots of school tours and just go to the school down the street or where their cousin goes - so they do not have the same frame of reference regarding what is happening at schools across the district. At Flynn we found that when parents heard what was being offered at other schools, particularly in art, they also wanted to be involved to help bring it to our school for their children.

    One last thing - I am assuming you are referring to Paul Revere as overhauling a struggling school since you want immersion. The most important thing for your child's education is the quality of the teachers and I think that is very good at PR.

  13. I'm a person of color and I'm going to back Caroline up a bit. Although parents of all ethnic backgrounds can and do contribute to their schools, I will say that it's the white parents who are really key in major fundraising efforts. They are the ones with the cultural background, connections and general wherewithal to make fundraising efforts such as auctions reach high dollar goals.

  14. From my perspective, as a parent of a kid at a SF public elementary school viewed as second or third tiered and with a PTA that is definitely NOT "fired-up", the key to me is the principal. The principal has to know how to utilize the PTA effectively and, at some level, has to recognize that doing so entails giving up some control. At our school, our principal appears to be almost obsessively controlling of everything going on. The impact? Because of her stance, she has managed to turn off many parents who tried to get involved and make improvements, including many PTA leaders. In fact, we've had two former PTA leaders transfer their kids out of the school in the past two years. (I wasn't one of them, but know of their frustrations.)

  15. I don't think there is any argument upper middle class people have connections and skills which bring in a lot of fundraising opportunity (grant writing, soliciting donations, etc)

    However there are non white upper middle class people at these schools who have the same skill sets.

    On the other hand there are white folks who are socio economically disadvantaged who don't have those connections.

    It's the assumption that middle class = white which rubbed me the wrong way.

    The middle/upper middle class professionals bring different skill sets to the table.

    I think Obama's speech on race was spot on. I hope everybody gets a chance to see it (it's on youtube).

  16. If anyone has ideas, or experiences on how to approach, include, reach out to the parents of color I would love to hear them.

    In our school it is mostly Latino, then about 15% AA and down from there. Few Asian or White families, but there is a large group of white and middle class Moms doing most of the events and fundraising. That is not to say the Latina Moms aren't also helping, perhaps in ways I am not even aware of, or Dads of all races too. But it does seem there is a division of labor.

    In any case, I know I speak for many of the middle class Moms when I say we WANT to find ways to have more people involved both because that helps the school (so much to be done!) and also because it builds community which is really important to me.

  17. As I said, there are definitely high-powered parents of color taking leadership roles as school activists.

    But I have never known of a parent group in a diverse school that did NOT fret about underrepresentation of parents of color and overrepresentation of white parents. I'm not mincing words --
    I'm too (now infamously) old to quiver and quail and be timid or PC. I'm not casting blame, because economics and empowerment issues are a huge factor.

    The SFPTA now has its second African-American president (currently Barbara Lee, succeeding Carl Barnes -- who was both the first African-American AND the first male president). I would say that both of them will attest that parents of color are still underrepresented in PTA at all levels.

    I would also say that middle-class Asians are still underrepresented compared with middle-class whites, so I was not assuming that middle-class equals white. I think anyone who's not too chicken to say so and who has experience with a PTA or parent group at a diverse school will agree with me.

    Some further responses -- re this:
    "Screw the big picture, for now -- let's make this school better. White people like going to meetings and giving themselves titles and swarming in droves to national conferences."

    Well, the "big picture" includes the proposed California budget cuts, which will have the hardest, most devastating impact -- by far, far, far -- on low-income children of color. The state and national PTA have lobbying operations in Sacramento and D.C., and PTA is enough of a household name to scare legislators. The California state PTA is fighting hard against those cuts. Every time you sneer at them as you just did, you weaken that clout a tiny bit. So do you really feel OK saying "screw 'em" like that, and scoffing at the big picture?

    It's one thing to say "f*** everybody else -- all I care about is MY kid and MY school" as you just did -- but the big picture DOES matter to your kid and your school (and your kids' future schools).

    Anon at 9 a.m., it's not a matter of which schools anyone "feels" are PTA schools -- it's a formalized organization; they either are or they aren't.

  18. this is an interesting -- and touchy -- thread, and an important subject to discuss honestly i think (for the children! for the children!).

    one sad fact that has occurred to me is that there may be fewer middle-class and affluent people of color in SF than elsewhere in the bay area. i went to UC berkeley and lived in berkeley and oakland for many years, and it was a bit of a shock when i moved to the city and felt the difference (never measured by moi, mind you, just sort of gleaned over the years...purely observational).

    i have had a number of frank conversations with administrators, teachers and parents at underenrolled schools during this process on this point (PTAs, parent involvement, class differences in such, what to expect, etc.). one thing that they've pointed out time and time again is that parents of all classes and races give in the ways they can, and the ways they feel most comfortable with. my takeaway was that for some class and/or ethnic groups in SF, the comfort level -- not to mention availability factor -- is higher with non-institutional support. more casual and informal support, but ever-ready support nonetheless. i was cheered by that, and i saw it in schools like harvey milk, paul revere, starr king, monroe, SF community and a little bit at sunnyside. there may be (understandable) cultural resistance to being a "joiner" in some groups -- or people may just not have the types of jobs that allow that sort of thing. but i was shown all the little ways that non-joining parents help out, and i was impressed. it's like, if i was made treasurer of the PTA, you could kiss your assets goodbye, because i am your typical liberal-arts-degreed white bobo who can't balance a checkbook and is too lazy and entitled to learn. but i can write me some kickass grant proposals! and i love the crap out of meetings (AKA, socializing)! and no playground structure is too hard for me to assemble (as long as it's from IKEA)! that's my comfort zone.

    also: harvey milk was notable for its commitment to working with people across different comfort levels to get them involved in the school. for instance, they told us on the tour that they will go pick up parents who have no car or reasonable transport option to bring them to potlucks and the like. this is just one example. i couldn't help but see it in stark contrast to whiter -- or, i guess you'd say, more middle-class -- schools. i actually felt the opposite was true at a few schools -- they're getting "whiter" all the time and nobody gives a shit (maybe they're pleased?). i'm not saying individual parent groups should be responsible for maintaining a school's "diversity," or -- being honest here -- even that i care about "diversity" more than other pressing issues. (we got some big fat fish to fry in this town with regard to education, as we all recognize.) i'm just saying it was clear that some "name" schools like rooftop have managed to maintain a class and ethnic balance that is closer to SFUSD's overall balance than others (miraloma and grattan, anyone?) and it seemed like they were doing it through outreach (and good bus routes). i noticed that commitment at harvey milk, is all. and it seemed as if this institutional commitment to inclusion and working with different cultural norms translated into more active parents across all groups. my impression only! not slagging off miraloma -- i put it on my list, 'cause it was awesome in so many ways -- but it must be said, the demographic shift there over the last 5 years is startling.

    i also agree with the poster who acknowledged that standout personalities in PTAs can not only embody the school's culture and energy, but also come to be seen as synonymous with it, regardless of whether the school's reality really matches that particular parent's energy. some of these parents are awesome PR machines just by being fun to be around and shmooze with, and i hope every school gets one.

  19. My Vietnamese coworker went to her PTA meetings in the East Bay meeting a few times and felt them to be cliquish (as in the white moms hung out together). She felt excluded. She no longer participates on that level and has basically limits her participation to the classroom. This is something that white moms and dads (myself included) need to understand – some of the lack of participation comes from the way we subtly (or not do subtly) excluded people unlike ourselves.

  20. Rooftop is a k-8 which attracts all demos, so they have a more diverse pool of applicants.

    For the k-5 schools, the whiter they get, the harder it is to attract people of color.

    Just as people worry about their kids being the only white face in a class, the people of color worry their child will be the only one in theirs.

    It's a difficult dilemma and one I'm not sure how to begin to solve.

    For what it's worth, my kids are of color from a professional household (both parents). And yes, they are the minority in their school.

    We were lucky to have the option of both private and public. We decided on public and so far couldn't be happier.

    But I also feel our children (collective) are growing up with a different outlook on race (and sexuality).

    Somebody mentioned Obama, I think his support is a window to how views of race are changing.

    If you look at the cross tabs of the exit polling in the primaries so far, Obama does much better with the young whites than he does with the older ones.

  21. "For the k-5 schools, the whiter they get, the harder it is to attract people of color."

    But Lakeshore was always in the low 20%s white when we were there, and Aptos is about 15% white, and whites are still overrepresented in PTA leadership and worker-bee ranks. It really is a dilemma. One involved mom was ranting about how unwelcoming PTA is to parents of color -- this mom would be ID'd as white to an observer but is part Native American and ID's as such -- but she had just finished two terms as school PTA president when she said that! ?!?

    I've thought about it a lot. PTA was founded in 1897 (eighteen-ninety-seven), and was in its growth years in an era when organizations with lots of clubby little secret handshakes, rituals and lingo were huge (among all ethnicities). And you can still see a lot of that in PTA rituals at the state/national levels. A lot of that could and should change in my opinion, although many leaders would act like it was from Mars if you suggested it.

    And Robert's Rules of Order should be on that website "Stuff White People Like," if they aren't. Yet at the same time, those procedures were developed to keep organizations functioning smoothly and cope with conflict, and it's not like there's a more multicultural alternative waiting to be adopted. So I'm not sure what the answer is.

  22. I'm a white mom at a public school which is becoming increasingly white. Our PTA is concerned about how to increase parent participation among other racial and economic groups. But at the same time there is a certain cliquish feeling even I get from the very active PTA parents. I work full time and can't be as involved as many others. I certainly appreciate the time many other parents give to our school and I understand how the very active parents will naturally befriend others just like them. But in order to form a community everyone needs to remember to be welcoming of anyone who wants to offer help and understanding when those of us who are less active might not know how best to get involved.

  23. yes, that's another facet: working and SAH parents. i think the culture of these groups is (understandably and inadvertently) set by those who maintain the most consistent presence -- the flextime or SAH parents.

  24. at 12:41
    "But I also feel our children (collective) are growing up with a different outlook on race (and sexuality)."

    I appreciate your comments. Can you help me understand what you meant by "sexuality"

  25. I would assume that 12:41 meant sexual orientation, as discussed on another thread.

  26. "But Lakeshore was always in the low 20%s white when we were there, and Aptos is about 15% white, and whites are still overrepresented in PTA leadership and worker-bee ranks."

    Two different conversations.

    One is how to attract the color diversity to the school. And the whiter the school becomes, the harder it gets to attract non-whites. Because of the concerns people here have raised, worry their kid will be the only (or one of the few) non white face in the room.

    Now, once you've got the diversity (Rooftop, Aptos, etc) how do you get the non whites involved? The person posting above about the Vietnamese woman feeling unwelcome is an anecdotal data point.

    Have any PTAs taken surveys of their community to find out why people do not show up or get involved?

    Re: different attitudes on Sexuality. This generation is not as threatened as prior generations are by who sleeps with who. Be it same gender, transgender, bi-sexuality, and/or mixed race.

  27. " would assume that 12:41 meant sexual orientation, as discussed on another thread."


    I meant sexuality in general.

    This generation is far more accepting with sleeping with a person of a different color. They are also more accepting of LBGT relationships.

    Masturbation isn't taboo the way it was, pediatricians discuss it openly with parents, cautioning us not to make them feel ashamed of self-pleasure.

    Vibrators, dildos, and many other gadgets and gizmos aren't considered as deviant as they are to older folk.

  28. Kim, thanks for mentioning flex time.

    I work outside the home, but I have a very flexible schedule which allows me the luxury of spending time at the school. A lot of people can't do that.

    And it isn't just working families with strict schedules who face difficulties. SAH moms/dads with very young children or multiple children at different schools face similar challenges.

  29. If I were looking at public schools all over again, I would agree with the beginning post -- I would DEFINITELY have tried to learn more about how good the PTA was. I'd try to find out basic things outlined in the comments, along with information about how supportive the principal is about the PTA efforts. I'd look beyond cosmetic things like new gardens and playgrounds and see how well organized the PTA is -- for example, little things that mean a lot: does the PTA have a "phone book" or phone tree so that all the parents can contact each other? What kind of fundraisers do they have and how much do they raise? At the same time, I can't help but noticing the hostile comments of parents at the schools where the PTA is all fired up -- these parents are complaining of cliquishness and, sometimes, downright hostility. You even see it on this string of comments. Some parents seem really put off by an active PTA. Indeed, I hear this a good deal from my friends whose kids are at Miraloma. And I'm a little mystified by it as my kids go to one of those schools where the PTA is not fired up and I frankly can't imagine why it would be a problem. I would definitely say that, if you are just starting out looking for a good school, do not reject one because of comments that a PTA is too cliquish. Because I'll tell you from real life experience that the problems of going to a SF public school without a good PTA are monumental and profound, and will seriously undermine your kids' first learning years.

  30. "the problems of going to a SF public school without a good PTA are monumental and profound,"

    Nonsense. Clarendon doesn't have a PTA, nor does Harvey Milk.

  31. But Clarendon has an extremely active parent group. And, correct me if I've gotten the wrong school, but I believe their parent group even sets out in dollar amounts how much they expect each family to raise or donate. That to me is shockingly inappropriate.

    There's a lot to love about Clarendon, but that certainly isn't one of them. Talk about making people feel unincluded. Actually, I can't even believe it's legal.

    I hope someone here can tell me I'm wrong about this.

  32. Responding to Kim Green and rooftop/miraloma/grattan thing.

    Schools like Miraloma and Grattan are now attracting families that used to only consider Rooftop, Clarendon, Lakeshore or Lillienthal when we were applying to kinder 6 years ago.

    Also, I know many 'nonwhite' families that, through increased outreach, are now participating in the enrollment process the first round and are simply picking schools based on their test scores and APT.

    Quite a few of the Asian immigrant families that used to come from the San Miguel CDC stopped enrolling their kindergarteners in Miraloma about 4-7 years ago for schools with higher test scores. Lakeshore and Ulloa were popular destination schools - and had buses going there and at the time much higher test scores.

    The fact in SFUSD is: Latino schools are getting more Latino (i.e. Buena Vista, Chavez), Chinese more Chinses (Alice Fong Yu), African American more African American (Drew) and, in the case of Miraloma and Grattan more white (although, speaking for Miraloma, some of those that are categorized as 'other white' (OW) are Arabic-speaking Palestinians and children of recent European immigrants that speak other languages at home (in both my kids' classes, kids speak Swedish, Dutch and German and Portugese at home just to name a few that would be OW.)

    It IS startling to me when I read here that 60% of Miraloma's current kinder class is OW. However, as noted above, a lot of those that are under the OW label are not necessarily your stereotypical 'white-bread' Americans.

    My son's class in kindergarten was about 15% OW 6 years ago. The same class is now 30% OW through the loss of families that left (again, for Drew, KIPP, moving out of town.) We also attracted some more OW families from private school and other SFUSD schools in that time.

    So even the same class at the same will change over the course of 6 years!

  33. Correction to the post above:

    ...I know many 'nonwhite' families that, through increased outreach, are now participating in the enrollment process the first round and are simply picking schools based on their test scores and API.

  34. To the original post:
    "We are the leaders we have been waiting for"

    It is not as difficult as it seems to make a difference. You just have to be willing to jump in. Everyone who gives has value.

  35. Does OW include mixed race?

  36. "The fact in SFUSD is: Latino schools are getting more Latino (i.e. Buena Vista, Chavez), Chinese more Chinses (Alice Fong Yu), African American more African American (Drew) and, in the case of Miraloma and Grattan more white "

    Exactly. As I said up thread, people worry about sending their children places where they stick out.

    It doesn't matter the color, we all share the same fears for our kids. Will they stand out? If they are one of the few white/brown/black will they be bullied? Will they fit in?

    And it isn't only color, it's socio economic. A lower income family may not want their child to be surrounded by advantaged kids. They can't provide the material goods advantaged people can. So imagine a few free lunch kids in a room full of kids talking about their new toys, clothes, vacation.

    It's a very complex situation. We need to make sure no child is really left behind. And so far Arnold and Bush haven't shown the slightest inclination they even care.

    So it's up to us! Flunk the budget!!

  37. My earlier comments about cliquish PTAs was not meant detract from the great work the very involved parents do. Instead, I intended for it to serve as a reminder to strive inclusiveness for all families so that everyone feels welcome. It's about community building.

  38. I'm Mexican, so I think I can shed some light here. There are two issues keeping Latino parents from being active in PTAs: class and culture.

    I'll start with culture. The mere idea of a PTA is completely foreign to our traditional, paternalistic culture. We are raised to think of schools as run by authoritative experts who deserve our utmost respect. We do not meddle in their business any more than we would want them to meddle in ours. We leave the schooling to them. The very idea of a PTA trying to make a school better seems a tad disrespectful of the people in charge, as if the parents were second guessing or doubting the teachers and administrators.

    Fundraising is also foreign. Asking for money isn't appropriate. And if you have any money to donate, you usually give it through the Church. It is only very recently that the wealthy in Mexico started donating money to non-profits, for example. They were used to making donations to Church-related organizations only.

    Ours is not a "meeting" culture. There is an old joke that says, "What do you get when you put three Mexicans together? One of them pulls out a guitar, the other sets up the food and drinks, and the third tells jokes: A party! What do you get when you put three Americans together? A committee!"

    Finally, there are the class issues. Most uneducated, working class immigrants are struggling to survive here and send money home. They do not have a lot of free time to spend working on their child's school (nor does it occur to them that it might be necessary; see first point above). They are not necessarily comfortable speaking in public or managing projects. These are not skills they have been taught or have had to use at work. They are much more comfortable bringing some tasty enchiladas to the meeting than running a committee!

    There are always exceptions, of course, especially among immigrants who are more educated or those who have been in the U.S. longer (namely, those who are closer to middle class).

    But I hope I have been able to shed a little bit of light on the issues.

  39. 8:22 -- thanks so much for your comments. It's very helpful to have some understanding of cultural differences and how they impact the comfort level of some families in getting involved in their children's school. So maybe we could get three mexican families to throw a party at someone's home and a few white families to form a committee to figure out how much to charge for admission and give all the proceeds to the school : ) Seriously though, your comments are very helpful.

  40. As long as you don't expect the party to be planned far in advance ... (keyword: planned)

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  42. Hi -

    This is an interesting post, and I have enjoyed the comments. I'm a mom with a child going into a public that definitely needs more parent participation (Argonne). As a SAHM and someone ready and willing to help out and improve the school, I don't yet know how to go about doing this - I'm sure I will learn as I go along.

    Slightly off topic: does anyone know how Alvarado got their fabulous play structure?

  43. I know its like gospel- Parent Participation, Strong PTA, but honestly in a way its like feeding the bears. As things evolve, the more parents take on and take over, the more the schools abdicate and leave to the parents. It is a ridiculous statement that it is up to the PTA to set the foundation for a child's early years. Even if its true it shouldn't be this way. These aren't public schools- they're coops.

  44. 1:18 I agree, it shouldn't be that way and it wasn't when I was a kid.

    But budget cuts make fundraising essential. For that you need a strong PTA. My children went to co-op preschools, you're spot on, the stronger schools are reminiscent of co-ops.

    The only difference is PTA participation is voluntary, which isn't the case with a co-op.

  45. I am late to this discussion but I had to address this.

    To April 11 9:17 pm

    You wrote (as a person of color):

    "'s the white parents who are really key in major fundraising efforts. They are the ones with the cultural background, connections and general wherewithal to make fundraising efforts such as auctions reach high dollar goals."

    I am a white woman raising a child of color and this comment blew my mind. How am I supposed to empower my child and instill in him the belief that the color of his skin does not predetermine his ability to make a difference in this world when ADULTS of color still continue to propogate ideology such as this? WHITE does not equal SUCCESSFUL nor does successful indicate a willingness to partcipate in this public school process. You can have all of the money and connections in the world and still not be an "on fire" parent. It comes from within - a desire for your child to have the best education possible - a belief in the system. This comes from the heart - not the pocketbook or filofax. And the depth of either of these is not determined by the color of ones skin - to believe that is to believe that my child should still be living in a world of educational segregation.

    As for Caroline, I would address your issues around race but others already have tried. You seem to find rationalizations. Your original comment re: white parents was what stirred the debate and yet you seem to deflect any criticism.

  46. Dear previous commenter: I understand your outrage for indeed the extent of racial inequity in today's society is outrageous. However, I did not say the quoted comment in order to say it was right. As noted by 8:22 above, the likelihood of participation with the PTA by parents does have a strong cultural basis. Indeed, some PTA's seem to operate similar to a high-functioning non-profit. On a positive note, I was encouraged to see developing PTA's in some of the west side schools with predominantly asian populations (and some with 50% or more free/reduced lunch students). PTA's are learning from each other it seems (I'm sure through PPS outreach and networking) and this is a great thing!

  47. 3:45 pm. Caroline is always right. She has more experience with SF public schools than anybody here, she is older than everyone too. She grew up in Mill Valley even.

    Private bad. Charter bad.

    It doesn't matter white people are not the only inhabitants of the educated middle class.

    Just remember that Caroline knows best when it comes to the SFUSD.

  48. I have long thought that it would be great if schools in the district buddied up; that a more affluent or "already there" school could be a big sister to a poorer school, and give some percentage of monies raised to that other school. This brings up lots of issues of course, and all PTAs fight hard for their money. But ultimately I believe that so many societal issues can be solved with good education for ALL. That it benefits us to help fund the poorer schools for the poorer kids.

    I think I remember that Rooftop raises more than $200K, but think how nice it would be if they, say, paid for a year of PE for a Hunters Point school? Or if Alvarado paid for an art unit somewhere else.

    I had this idea when I was touring last year and ultimately we put a poorer school first (Flynn with a PTA goal of about $35K last year compared with Fairmount's $75 or so.) It's harder (and seemingly more self-serving) for me now to say "Hey Rooftop, Claire Lilienthal, what say you take Cesar Chavez or John Muir under your wing?!" But if we had gotten Rooftop or Alvarado (schools lower on our list last year) I would have pushed for us to share the wealth. (And it's not out of the question for us at Flynn either, expecially going forward.) (Not to freak out our fundraising team! Oh shit - turns out that Kathy Bruin is a socialist!)

  49. "As for Caroline, I would address your issues around race but others already have tried. You seem to find rationalizations. Your original comment re: white parents was what stirred the debate and yet you seem to deflect any criticism."

    It's called supporting my position and defending my original statement, which seems legit to me.

    Re richer schools adopting poorer ones, it's a tough one -- there was a big flap about that a few years ago in Palo Alto, which (surprisingly) had some PTAs that brought in lots more money than others. There was a proposal to divvy up the money equally, and parents at the richer schools screamed bloody murder. It's all "why should we work our butts off fundraising when it doesn't benefit our own kids?" I know that proposal was dropped, but I'm not sure what system did eventually shake out.

  50. "she is older than everyone too."

    This part is probably true.

    But I'm not nastier.

  51. "But I'm not nastier."

    That is debatable.

  52. @3:45:

    I am not the original poster whose point so enraged you, but I think you are not hearing what I believe to be the intent of the comment.

    As I read it, the commenter wasn't talking about people of color: the comment was about white people.

    It cannot be denied that our society systemically rewards white people for being white. (NB: I'm not discounting class or gender privilege here, but I am focusing on race to respond to your point.) The dialect of English common to whites is the "standard". Studies have shown that identical resumes sent under names more common to whites get a better response than those attached to names associated with people of color. White people overall enjoy longer life spans than people of color. Most CEOs are white. Their colleagues? Also white. The schools they attended where they met each other and made connections? Tend to be white enclaves. Same with their neighbhorhoods.

    I think that's what the commentor was pointing out: in terms of very large financial outlays of the type some PTAs make, and the corporate connections they build - being white gives you an edge in doing that.

    (For the record: I'm white.)

    I agree with you that this state of affairs is poisonous to our society. Ongoing racism in the United States must be challenged. However, I think you're attacking a straw man. The comment wasn't about working with public schools to make the best experience for one's children in any way other than major financial investments. And that's an area where upper-middle class whites have an edge.

    I also want to question something you said:

    t comes from within - a desire for your child to have the best education possible - a belief in the system.

    It is much, much easier to have that belief in the system when the system is built by people like you to work for you. The public education system, frankly, does not have an excellent record on educating poor children of color. That's clear even here in SFUSD: many posters here were discomfited by their school assignments because they were assigned to low-performing schools that have large populations of color.

    There's a tendency to blame children and families at a school for its lack of success, but - and I'm a public school teacher - we've also got to look at what the school is doing. There is significant evidence that the schools themselves fail children of color. And given this, why on earth should every parent of color put absolute faith in the system? Why should any of us? Certainly we need to work to make our schools better for all children, but we can't do that without being honest about them, and about our own privileges and biases.

  53. I'm sorry if I was a little sharp-tongued when I reinterpreted a poster's comment earlier on this thread. (OTOH I don't think it really falls into the category of a gratuitous personal attack, as 9:29 p.m.'s comment did. I do try to avoid those.)

    7:21 a.m., I agree with you about the larger issues. But I do think it's asking too much of schools and teachers (and parent volunteers at schools) to repair and compensate for society's injustices and biases all by themselves.

  54. Of course African American parents don't trust the school system. Only 1 out of 5 African American children in SFUSD test proficient or above on English and Math tests. ONE OUT OF FIVE. Only 20%! Totally APPALLING, isn't it?
    SFUSD can't blather away all they want about "social justice" and about being the "highest performing urban school district" but the real truth is they are failing miserably at educating African American children.
    Show your outrage. Let the powers that be know that this is UNACCEPTABLE. Join Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth on April 22 at 6pm at 555 Franklin Street to urge the Board of Education to make closing the achievement gap their top priority.

  55. Caroline,

    (I'm the 7:21).

    I don't notice where I stated parents and teachers are single-handedly responsible for creating equitable schools, or that equitable schools would overthrow institutional racism. I don't believe that, so I wouldn't say it.

    I would say that it is critical for parents, teachers, and schools to point out institutional racism, admit to their own biases, and work toward a more just society.

    And I'd rather say that than say nothing, or consider it impossible because the system is so oppressive and...systemic! That hasn't ever worked.

    (More broadly, I'm not of the opinion that a strong PTA that raises a lot of money is going to change a school, or even that a lot of money is going to change a school. Or at least, nothing is changing without some open communication about what it means to have a successful, equitable school that serves all students.)

  56. Sorry, I should have been clearer, 8:39 -- I didn't really think you were saying that:

    "I don't notice where I stated parents and teachers are single-handedly responsible for creating equitable schools, or that equitable schools would overthrow institutional racism..."

    A lot of people do say it, though, and I took the opening to comment.

    I blogged recently about the book "Code of the Street," which shows how racism and economic desperation have led to an inner-city culture that almost requires kids to resist participating and cooperating in school as a matter of survival.

    "I've been reading the 1999 book "Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City," by Elijah Anderson, an African-American sociology professor at Yale. Anderson shows that for young people from the violent, impoverished inner city, behavior that's disruptive, oppositional, anti-social and sometimes explosive is not due to poor impulse control or acting out. It's a calculated and effective survival mechanism, completely rational and essential in those kids' life context."

    Full post:

  57. And here's a blog item (not by me) about another book that addresses social class issues and parent involvement. This is from the Perimeter Primate blog, created by an Oakland parent activist, who worked for years as a parent liaison in a diverse Oakland middle school.

    She writes that she couldn't figure out for a long time why so few parents came to meetings and other school events.

    "Because I needed it to make sense, I began a personal quest several years ago so I could understand this phenomenon. I discovered a book that has provided me with some of the answers, “Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life” by Annette Lareau (2003).

    If you are a middle class person interested in understanding poor and working class families, you should read this book. Then you should reflect on how you personally approach childrearing, in actuality or in your mind's eye. Your middle class assumptions about how it is "supposed to be done" will become apparent to you."

  58. To April 13, 2008 7:21 AM
    Extremely well articulated post - you completely hit the nail on the head.

  59. To Caroline:
    But note that even in this book (“Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life” by Annette Lareau) that middle-class doesn't = white.

    Many of the examples are middle class African Americans and this book very clearly makes their point that it is the CLASS that makes the difference, not the race.

    However, although see this, I recognize how many black doctors, for example, get followed around in stores with the assumption that they are going to steal something, as noted on a recent PBS special. In this case, class DOESN'T matter - it IS race.

    Like so much in life, it isn't squarely one or the other - it's BOTH class and race that has huge impacts on outcomes in life.

    Caroline, I think you need to fess up that you made a slip with equating middle class with white in your earlier post. It's a mistake too many keep making in SF -especially around the discussion of public schools. It would be more accurate to describe the group you were referring to as the "English-speaking middle class" - and maybe add a qualifier that includes higher educated individuals in most cases as well.

  60. Yes, Lareau made a specific point of studying low-income, less-educated whites and middle-class, educated blacks (although no other races). And she found that these parenting styles correlate with income, not race.

    I agree that middle-class does not equate with white, and if that's what my original post implied, that's not what I meant to say, and I apologize.

    That's an especially important point in our school district, which is plurality Chinese -- a nonwhite ethnicity that tends to be high-achieving and often middle-class.

    However, middle-class whites still tend to be overrepresented in visible parent involvement roles overall -- in SFUSD schools, I mean -- which is what I intended to say (not that all middle-class parents are white).

    Here's my original comment, which reflects what I meant to say but perhaps was misinterpreted:

    "... a school with more middle-class white parents is likely to have more participation, though of course there are some standout, very involved nonwhite and sometimes lower-income parents."

  61. Caroline,

    Thanks for the links. Following Ventakesh, I think Anderson's work is compelling but perhaps reductive (Off the Books goes into how 'decent' and 'street' are not necessarily binary).

    Responding to the broader point (the broader public policy/systemic issues surrounding urban education), I thought Jean Anyon's Radical Possibilities does that quite well. I also recommend Joel Spring's Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality. Collectively, I think they present a good picture of how individual schools, school systems, and the broader political economy reflect and reinforce racism and classism.

    (By the way, I'm not trying to be snarky by making more book recommendations - I'm a nerd and can rarely keep myself from doing so! You gave me an opening!)

    I've also been really lucky to have had friends, students and their parents, and colleagues who were willing to share their experiences with me and to ask me to check my privilege when I don't.

  62. April 11, 2008 9:15 AM wrote: "I would encourage you if you are a parent new to a school that hasn't had a lot of middle class families to begin with doing some cultural understanding on all sides and to always keep in mind that everyone has the same goal" I do not understand this sort of thing. Honestly, I am not being argumentative, but how does one "do cultural understanding?" I barely have time to do the volunteering!!

  63. Reading this thread has me confused... If I join the PTA as a white woman, I am going to be expected to also bend over backwards to do "outreach" to "parents of color" and if my fundraising is successful, I will be pressured to give some of the money to other schools...???? I only want to help but the diversity police want to do a cavity search.

  64. I love, LOVE how there are so many schools that are 75-90+ % Asian, but people are freaking out about Grattan being 33% white. WTF?

  65. April 11, 2008 3:06 PM wrote:

    This generation is far more accepting with sleeping with a person of a different color. They are also more accepting of LBGT relationships.

    Masturbation isn't taboo the way it was, pediatricians discuss it openly with parents, cautioning us not to make them feel ashamed of self-pleasure.

    Vibrators, dildos, and many other gadgets and gizmos aren't considered as deviant as they are to older folk.

    And what do dildos have to do with my child's kindergarten?


  66. Wait, I'm confused, do you mean now it is politically incorrect to tell our toddlers to get their hands out of their pants?

  67. Please, Kate! Post a new topic soon!

  68. April 12, 2008 8:28 AM:
    Argonne can always use more parent participation, and we're glad you're coming on board! But FYI, we're a pretty high parent participation school compared with some.

    In a few weeks you'll get a letter with instructions for joining our parent listserve, which is a great way to find out what's going on at Argonne.

  69. Argonne is an awesome school with strong parent participation! I don't know what the earlier poster was talking about. They have a great School Site Council who's members have been very involved in the new Parents for Public Schools "School Governance for Parents' training that has been given to about 600 parents around the city.

  70. 8:02 - what exactly is your point?

  71. I am 8:02 & cannot believe there would be any talk of sexuality in a kindergarten, even posters celebrating LGBT month - and I am pro-LGBT all the way.

    I must be losing my mind.

  72. "I am 8:02 & cannot believe there would be any talk of sexuality in a kindergarten, even posters celebrating LGBT month - and I am pro-LGBT all the way."

    THIS is the kind of attitude that is a problem many places, and is why overwhelmed, overtaxed public schools don't feel like a good option to me or my family. Obviously this person sees him/herself as "pro LGBT" - yet to make the assumption that LGBT month is about sexuality, rather than about celebrating different types of families - some of whom happen to have parents who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender is completely heterosexist. You are against LGBT posters in my child's Kindergarten? - well what about my child when she is "star of the week" talking about her 2 moms? How is that any different? Does that offend you too? This kind of attitude is so prevalent and yet straight people do not get why it is offensive and alienating to LGBT people.

    This blog is so heteronormative it is infuriating!

  73. My daughter's preschool (and most of the ones we visited when we were in the market for a preschool) had pictures of the kids' families displayed visibly where the children could see.

    There was no formal "unit" in my daughter's preschool to teach the children about LGBT families. Rather, these children did not grow up thinking there was a particular "norm" in terms of family composition. To them, it was really natural that some children had one Mom only, or two Moms, or two Dads, or one of each, or a Mom and a Grandmother in their respective households.

    Our family has a Mom and a Dad, though we aren't married. Our daughter often complains about having only one Mom unlike her best friend who "gets two".

    I love our bubble.

  74. Not all the people posting here are talking about Kindergarteners, some of us have older kids. And like it or not, sexuality (masturbation, sex, STDs, etc) will come up.

    Who said anything about sexuality in conjunction with a 5 year old? Nobody.

  75. hmmm...I thought this blog was specifically addressing one parent's search for a Kindergarten for her child. There are other blogs for broader topics of SF schools in general.

  76. To April 13 11:48,

    As both a lesbian mom and a teacher, I am frustrated by the assumption that public schools don't address GLBT issues appropriately. Many do, all teachers in SFUSD go through training to do this. Most schools do address family diversity and some even celebrate LBGT pride month in April with events and celebrations. Many of these schools have LBGT staff and families that work together in diversity committees to do this. Look around, you may be surprised!

  77. to 7:29 - I mean read some of the books, etc. - understand where people are coming from - do not come in with the attitude of "fixing the school" - many have been there for years and it is insulting to come in and say "well, here we are to pull your school up".

    No, there is no diversit police, but you might want to look at your attitudes - FOR EVERYONE involved - there are prejudices on the part of ALL families - those that have been in a school, those new to it. Taking the time to do that can make things a lot smoother in the long run.

  78. Re the Alvarado play structure question of two days ago, it was a Kaboom grant, just like Flynn's. Went up one day in March 2004 with the help of convention attendees of an orthopedic doctor group.

  79. 9:14--- that's exactly the point. We all have our prejudices even if we think we don't. For the sake of improving our children's schools, let's all remember to take a hard look at ourselves when we decide how to engage with our school community.

  80. 8:15, it's become a much broader discussion. The blogger in this case has found her kindergarten.

  81. Seems the prudes do not understand how to read in context. The race/sexuality discussion was a tangent conversation on how this generation (teens, young adults) have different attitudes towards race. Obama's campaign is showing us this.

    The discussion then broadened in to issues of sexuality.

    The prudes are right, vibrators, dildos and the rest have nothing to do with finding a kindergarten. Neither do attitudes towards race, the diversity index is socio-economic not racial.

    However, tangents happen in almost every on-line setting.

    If this type of frank conversation offends you, and you're not ready to deal with the day jr. hits puberty, or accept that younger kids masturbate then by all means close your eyes and ignore the tangent discussion.

    Note: pre-schools and kindergartens don't shame the kids these days. If they're caught with their hands in their pants (and it happens they are told this is private behavior, and to please take their hands out of their pants when sitting in class.

    Now we return you to the usual tiresome entitled whining and faux outrage.

  82. Kate, love the blog however can you please post a new topic

  83. I don't know that it is appropriate to have "awareness" for 5 year olds - other than some kids may have 2 moms/dads, what was that other psoter writing about dildos for on a kindergarden blog?

  84. "Now we return you to the usual tiresome entitled whining and faux outrage." - nice. thanks. Just b/c i don't want my 5 y.o. hearing about dildos, I am an entitled prude.

  85. You obviously have serious reading comprehension problems. You seem incapable of understanding the sexuality/race conversation a few days ago had nothing to do with 5 year olds.

    It was a tangential discussion about changing attitudes on race and sexuality among the younger generation. Those voting for Obama in droves. Are 5 year olds voting?

    This is a blog written by and adult for adults. Is your 5 year old reading it? If so, Why? You shouldn't be allowing your child unsupervised access to the internet.

    There have been many side conversations on this blog. Conversations about high schools, about older kids, race relations, and now sexuality. These issues will come up with your kids, just not in elementary school.

    If the blog owner has problems with the side conversations, she can remove comments she finds objectionable. Otherwise, I suggest you skip what doesn't interest you. If you can't handle the topic, by all means ignore it. Or better yet, start your own blog and moderate the comments to suit yourself.

    So yet again, back to the regularly scheduled whining from those who have reading comprehension problems.

  86. Wow. Is it possible to take in someone's point without resorting to demeaning comments? Isn't it possible that expressing frustration that a thread about PTAs has now digressed into discussion about masturbation is just another perspective, not "whining"? Why is it that you expect everyone else--and their children--to be respectful about your views/lifestyle/sexual orientation, but you can't offer the same respect to the "heteronormative"? You can't dish it out and then cry foul if someone disagrees with you!

  87. well put, 3:36.

  88. Thank you, 3:36.

    I'm looking forward to hearing round 2 results...This thread is getting tiresome.

  89. Wow. You're making some assumptions. For what it's worth, I'm straight but that is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I have no idea where you got the idea the conversation about sexuality had anything to do with respect or lifestyle.

    It didn't. It had to do with changing attitudes among the younger generation. Not 5 year olds who do not know anything about sexuality yet. And as it should be. They are too young.

    It was a harmless conversation about the younger generation (again, teens NOT 5 year olds) and how their views about race, sex, politics (and many other things) are changing.

    Not once did anybody advocate teaching sexuality to kids, young or older.

    It was a tanget, meaning off topic, side bar. This happens on blogs. It happens on this blog often.

    But it apparently struck a nerve with you. Even though that particular conversation had nothing to do with LBGT.

    It was a simple statement of fact. Young adults (and teens) are growing up with a different attitudes toward sexuality.

    Sex and the City and other TV shows which the high school kids watch talk about things I had never heard of when I was 16.

    You are free to ignore what makes you uncomfortable. But if you're going to act as if somebody was advocating teaching 5 year olds about sex, vibrators, etc, then be prepared to be called on your erroneous assumptions.

    5 year olds were not mentioned in that conversation. 5 year olds are not reading this blog (or shouldn't be)

    You think it was off topic? It was. You want to complain it was off topic, go ahead. But remember, the blog owner has the right to delete comments and stop conversations she feels are off topic. You do not.

  90. 3:36: Your posts have nothing to do with "What makes a PTA on fire" either.

    Pot meet Kettle.

  91. Oh dear santimonious, all-knowing, all-wise 3:59: You are doing a great job of stopping conversations yourself.

  92. 4:08: Great! Maybe now we can get back on topic and talk about what makes a PTA on fire.

    A strong grant writing committee is very important. People who can identify and people who can write grants.

    Also some inclusive community building events go a long way.

    Chevy's offer fundraising/community builder events for schools. It doesn't bring in a lot of money but it brings in people you don't often see at PTA meetings.

    I think the Giants baseball team has a fundraising program for schools too. This is another way to get people who might not want to come to meetings.

    How about having a family potluck night? People bring in their favorite family dish to share with the community?

    Fundraising is important, but community building goes a long way in bringing people together. This in turn makes people feel invested in the school community.

  93. I kind of enjoy the meandering conversations on this blog, tangents and all...

  94. 4:51

    So do I. It is fun, you never know where the conversation will go.

  95. Information on the Giants fundraiser events:

  96. A PTA note: Since PTA is a support and advocacy organization and does not define itself as a fundraising organization, its guidelines call for three non-fundraising events for every fundraiser.

    Events at my kids' various schools that have been non-fundraisers include: the multicultural potluck (and OMG did that blow me away when I walked in as a new kindergarten mom), Family Math Night, Family Literacy Night, Science Fair Night, many concerts and theater performances -- you get the idea. All of these were already established traditions when we arrived at the schools, BTW.

  97. Fundraising FAQ from the CA PTA

  98. Re: Kathy B comment way above. I think the idea of a "buddy" system is a great one. I notice that at my not-fired-up PTA, there is often an ignorance of "best practices." For example, I'll never forget the discussion about creating a parent phone tree at a PTA meeting. One or two parents expressed concern about a tree raising privacy issues. Before we knew it, an idea that all good PTAs use was shelved! If someone from a good PTA came and gave a presentation, however, I think parents would more readily see the necessity for something like a phone tree. I think this is simply a GREAT idea.

  99. This is actually a meeting pathology that I've encountered over many years of PTA and, before that, co-op preschool (and even activities pre-kid...):

    "I'll never forget the discussion about creating a parent phone tree at a PTA meeting. One or two parents expressed concern about a tree raising privacy issues."

    An idea is under discussion (in the case 8:19 mentions, it hardly counts as an "idea" -- just adoption of a common practice). One or two voices question it. Everyone else in the room is so afraid of conflict that a completely workable idea -- even an essential one -- dies.

    I also saw a PTA's use of a well-functioning e-mail discussion listserve die stone cold dead because ONE cranky member objected to getting "too much" e-mail. So everyone started just targeting the necessary individuals with e-mails, depending on the topic. At that point the cranky member complained about being "left out of the loop," but the damage to the communications system was done. It's been about 5 years now, and it honestly has not yet recovered.

  100. Anonymous at 8:19

    If you really want to get a phone tree going, I would bring up "safety concerns" as a good justification to create one. After an earthquake or other disaster, a phone tree (assuming the phones work) would be the best way to get information out to families. I can guarantee the school district auto-dialer ain't gonna work.

    After the 1989 quake, my office downtown quickly realized this lapse when they had no way to communicate with all their scattered employees, and created a phone tree.

    Of course, if your PTA directory and phone tree helps in other ways, that's just a nice side effect;>

  101. 8:19, I love the idea of PTAs sharing their experiences with each other.

    Are there any PTAs in particular people feel are 'on fire'?

    Maybe we should contact them for tips. Ask them to create a faq or offer up some advice? Perhaps not on this blog, but either in person (a PPS seminar maybe?) or a different venue?

  102. who knows (caroline?) much about the student site council vs pta in terms of focus?

  103. The School Site Council (SSC) creates the school's academic plan and budgets money from the state to pay for it. They submit the academic plan to the school district. They work closely with the principal and teachers to monitor school climate, parent/teacher program priorities, GATE, ELAC, etc. The SSC is mandated by the school district/state (not sure which.)

  104. Good question -- I had no clue till I'd been an elementary parent for a couple of years at least!

    PTA is an advocacy/support organization, a separate nonprofit. The SSC is a state-mandated governing body overseeing school operations.

    Here's a definition of the SSC from

    The school site council is a group of teachers, parents, classified employees, and students (at the high school level) that works with the principal to develop, review and evaluate school improvement programs and school budgets. The members of the site council are generally elected by their peers. For example, parents elect the parent representatives and teachers elect teachers.

    The exact duties of school site councils vary from state to state and even between districts in the same state, but site councils generally either make decisions or advise the principal on the school budget and the academic or school improvement plan.

  105. On the issue of schools like Miraloma and Grattan becoming increasingly white, do you think this is partly due to the fact they are neighborhood schools in fairly white neighborhoods? Is it an example of the "neighborhood preference" which supposed factors into the lottery in some complicated way?

  106. I believe the issue is that the white neighbors were starting to find these schools attractive and started to request them through the lottery. Three years ago you could get into either school on the 2nd round. Since then, the act of getting the first and second round applications in on time facilitated the white families getting into these schools. This year there was outreach into non-white communities about the application process and the deadlines. Hopefully, desirable schools were requested in the first round by non- white families who had previously not statistically gotten the applications in on time.

  107. PPS just developed an 8-part training on School Site Councils with several dozen parent volunteers and the SFUSD. This has been presented it to over 600 parents, principals and teachers just this school year. You can see it at

    In my experience the best PTAs (and any other nonprofit at a school site) operate to support the direction set by the elected SSC parents, teachers and the principal as outlined in the yearly academic plan.

    The PTA exists on site as an organization to support the school. At our school (Miraloma) the PTA and SSC sort of grew up together and it has been an instrumental and key partnership. The PTA has done a wonderful job helping support with volunteers and funding the academic needs of our school.

    I think it's a good model for all SSCs and PTAs!

  108. 12:11 PM - Grattan is less that 35% white...why is that a problem? What about McCoppin, 66% Asian? Roosevelt 65% Asian? Robert L. Stevenson is over 70% Asian, but why is that not a problem?

  109. 12:11 here. I didn't say it was a problem. Actually, I'm wondering if it's a natural consequence of the neighborhood preference. But I did note from the information on SFUSD's website that Miraloma and Grattan's K classes are close to 50% white, so seems the 33% overall may not hold for long.

  110. Truthfully, that % is not entirely representative of the lower grades at Grattan. As a poster above noted, however, the trend will hopefully be adjusted as more non-white families participate in round 1.

    Although we are located in Cole Valley, I tend to think of the Grattan neighborhood as including the haight, panhandle, parts of the western addition and inner sunset- overall a pretty diverse neighborhood. Nonetheless some of these neighborhoods that were previously strong AA communities have been subject to fairly substantial gentrification. In any event, for what it's worth, the changes in our student make up have not gone unnoticed and I believe that outreach efforts have been made in this regard.

    Finally, there is also a significant level of diversity within our OW families. I was pretty amazed by the number of international families at our school. I'm not sure if that has something to do with our proximity to UC or just random good luck.

  111. based on a large survey of our friends and fellow K applicants, i suspect that recent european immigrants are being swept into high-demand schools on the wings of the diversity index along with other SF groups. i think it's because of the home language survey. i suspect it all comes down to a single question (of the four they ask on the application): "what language does your child speak most often at home." i have yet to encounter a family with a home language other than english who did not get one of their seven round 1 choices, whatever their origins or socioeconomic level (i'm not saying they don't exist -- anyone??? -- just that i haven't met one). among the europeans i know personally, their K children got into:

    alvarado spanish
    alvarado english

    all very high-demand programs, si...?

    i also recall that while touring clarendon i fell in with a friendly group of current parents there and they were all foreign-born (seven or eight in all).

    i had big old american white tennis shoe sour grapes for about five minutes when the success stories started rolling in, but then i reminded myself that that is the point of the diversity index -- to add diversity.

    just think, if your own dad had accepted that togo posting back in '71, your kid might have a school right now!

  112. Hopefully, desirable schools were requested in the first round by non- white families who had previously not statistically gotten the applications in on time.

    The notion of schools like Grattan being desirable is one by white people and for white people. Grattan is desired by white people because there are more and more of them there every year. Doesn't necessarily mean that it is a desirable school for everyone else.

  113. I have to agree. Grattan has changed a lot in the past few years. I think last year was the turning point. The lower grades are less diverse than the upper grades.

    When we were going through the lottery, our pre-school community thought we were nuts listing Grattan as our 1st choice in the first round.

    We had friends who ended up with nothing the first round, they listed Gratan low in their 2nd round application, and still got in.

  114. well, we put our home language down as both spanish and english (my husband is from spain, and didn't get squat (eg no alvarado, grattan, miraloma, flynn ...). maybe we should've put down Catalan or Basque instead.

  115. "The notion of schools like Grattan being desirable is one by white people and for white people. Grattan is desired by white people because there are more and more of them there every year. Doesn't necessarily mean that it is a desirable school for everyone else."

    Exactly!! The whiter a school gets the harder it is to attract the diverse pool of applicants.

  116. i have yet to encounter a family with a home language other than english who did not get one of their seven round 1 choices

    Have they taken their tests yet?

    Students with a language other than English as reported by parents in response to the four questions below are required by state
    law to take the CELDT to assess English proficiency, as well as an assessment of proficiency in their home language.

  117. how can the district test everybody? i read this on our own language affidavit and thought: what a bunch of bullshit. what is the real purpose of the testing? (is it maybe to establish the english proficiency of kids applying to gen ed programs?)

    poster who listed two languages in the language survey: so did we. our first mistake [grin]! i'll betcha five bucks there's only one way to enter a student in the system's interface, and that's with one language attached. and that if your kid is bilingual like ours, and one of their languages is english, they'll just enter your kid as an english speaker. there goes your diversity point. i definitely plan on suggesting to other bilingual families applying in the future that if they want to save themselves six months of anxiety, they should simply put one language in that slot: the foreign one.

  118. I think that for the European language to play as an advantage, the foreign language needs to be the predominant language in the house, as in both parents primarily speak the language between each other as well as with the children. This is how the questions on the application are worded. I say this as a 1/2 German language household. Didn't do diddly-squat for us (0/7).

  119. WE know a bilingual family who described themselves as Spanish speakers and listed all the Spanish immersion programs as their 7 choices.

    That was last year. They got zilch in Round 1.

    In subsequent rounds they switched their paperwork to say they were English-speaking. They got into Flynn.

    Meanwhile, I've got several Spanish-speaking friends with children in all the Spanish-immersion schools and they are reporting that there is *not* a strong co-hort of native-speaking children in their Spanish-immersion Kindergartens this year.

    What gives?

  120. Maybe I'm missing something here... but can you help me understand how two-way immersion works? I thought the lower grades are taught almost exclusively in the "foreign" language. Great for immersing English speakers, but how does the other half become immersed in English? Are they not English learners? Perhaps they are already bilingual? Or is the program designed to benefit native English speakers at the expense of English learners?

  121. In dual immersion programs they typically start with 90 percent of the time in the target language, 10 percent in English.

    They add more English each year until they get to 50 percent, usually by grade 3.

    Most of the Spanish-speaking children already speak some English, even if they are Spanish-dominant.

    But you're right, these kids are probably pretty bored while the English-dominant kids figure out the basics. It is hard to challenge kids when you have to dumb down the vocabulary because have your class has never heard the language before.

  122. Off topic: A *dozen* kids from my son's preschool got into MCDS. I'm sure lots of them are siblings, but 12 from the same school? Wow.

  123. Well, that certainly begs the question: WHICH PRESCHOOL????

  124. Hmmm... I thought the trend was for independent schools to tout how many different preschools their applicants came from and that coming from a larger preschool was a huge disadvantage.

  125. I want my kid to go do a diverse school because thinking about hanging out with a room full of this blogs main demographic is a bit off-putting. Of course, what I'm hearing is that the PTA groups are just like that. Those "inner city" schools are looking better and better. I'm not a joiner type, but if I see a need I will try and contribute. I hate social politics, though.

  126. 4:42 said, referring to native speakers of the target language in immersion programs: "these kids are probably pretty bored while the English-dominant kids figure out the basics. It is hard to challenge kids when you have to dumb down the vocabulary because have your class has never heard the language before."

    My friends who are immersion parents, teachers and advocates tell me that this isn't the case. Teachers are doing regular kindergarten activities in those kids' native language and not really dumbing it down. That's what they tell me, anyway. Also, in the case of limited-English-speaking kids, this is a time when they can really shine.

    Still, my understanding is that it's sometimes hard to attract native speakers of the target language to immersion programs because they want their kids speaking English as quickly as possible.

  127. We have close friends who really truly have a different language than English as their first language - they are Russian immigrants and their children's first language is Russian. They went 0 for 7.

    As to MCDS's 12 kids from the same preschool, that does seem like a lot, but MCDS is much larger than the other schools. They seek to enroll approximately 58 kids in Kindergarten, according to their literature, and usually schools admit more than they expect to enroll. Sure, half of the students are from SF, but I heard that more people turn down spots from SF than Marin due to distance reasons, so they, like all schools, will make more offers than they expect to enroll.

    I wonder if all 12 kids enrolled? We know several families who, in prior years, selected other schools over MCDS, including public schools, for a variety of reasons. That is not to say it is a fantastic school. It looks wonderful. (I didn't look at it, but I have heard from friends and Kate how great it is, and have no reason to doubt them.)

  128. All enrolled...or at least turned in contracts/deposits, as far as I know.

  129. Must've been a lot of sibs for 12 kids from the same (SF?) preschool to get in. Of the kids they take, only half come from the city, and of those half are girls and half are boys, or whatever ratio they need to balance out the sibs. I find 12 kids from the same preschool gaining admission to any one private school a little hard to believe.

  130. Say I have two choices I'd really like to get into. One is a win the lottery choice and the other has more supply than demand.

    If I list my preference:

    1. Lottery Winner School
    2. Huge chance to get in school

    Will listing the likely to get in school in second place decrease my chances by much? It should reduce just by the number of people who put that school first on their list, right?

  131. Also, in the case of limited-English-speaking kids, this is a time when they can really shine.

    That's nice, but given that their target language is English, why should they waste their very most formative years NOT immersed in it?

  132. The short answer: So that they don't lose their first language.

    There are lots of cognitive benefits that come with being bilingual. It is sad to see immigrant kids actually lose that edge during the course of their monolingual, English-only education... the one edge they had.

  133. English is hopefully not their only target language. Surely we want Spanish speakers to remain Spanish speaking, while learning English as well. Too often Spanish speaking kids do not get taught how to speak, read and write their own language properly. Our English speaking kids get to do this in our GE programs, in a dual immersion program Spanish speakers get to keep and improve their language as well as learn a second one. What a great opportunity.

  134. Seems to me it should be 50/50 then, not 90/10 weighted towards benefiting English speakers.

  135. I thought the 90-10 split in K growing to 50-50 in later grades has been shown to benefit both Spanish and English native speakers, but it would be interesting to see any data you have that shows the reverse.
    The research I found suggested that it is the Spanish speaking kids who benefit most from improving their native language in the early years and that the English speaking kids are shown not to lose their native language skills if they are immersed in a second language in their early years. Therefore benefiting both groups without impacting negatively on either. If this is the case I can't see why it is not a good model?

  136. Unless Spanish brains are different than English brains, it seems to me that this research would apply only if the Spanish kids were already at least partially bilingual.

    Imagine your English-speaking family living in Mexico and your kids learning in English in school. But if you really wanted them to be fluent in Spanish too would you choose that route?

  137. Yes, to answer the above question. I would choose the route that taught my kids how to read and write in English knowing that by the fifth grade, they would learn how to read and write in both English and Spanish.

    Think about it. If my family were living in Mexico where everyone around us spoke Spanish and we intended to live in Mexico forever, then the only English my kids would be exposed to would be at home. Since I likely would not home school my kids to learn to read and write in English, I would jump on the chance to send them to a school where they learn to read and write both English and Spanish. It's not just about being able to speak two languages.

  138. 4:44 -- Is your son at the Little School?

  139. i know dozens of children who have lost their heritage language after an english-only language education. it is very sad when, as teens and as adults, they hardly can speak to their parents. it is very hard for the parents especially seeing their children assimilate to the new culture and lose the native language.

    the schools are 90-10 at first to compete with the outside english-speaking world. then it balances out to 50-50. the spanish speaking children in kindergarten usually know quite a bit of english already. often they have older siblings whose dominate language is english.

  140. Kate--Are you letting this blog go? Time for another topic!

  141. I know this is off topic, but does anyone have a sense of which publics and privates are particularly strong in Math?

    A poster on another thread wrote that private school kids at Lowell are typically a full year behind in terms of Math compared to top students at public schools.

    Math is very important to us, but we don't know how to find out where the various schools stand in terms of preparing kids for higher Math.

  142. About a third of all graduates of Brandeis Hillel head to Lowell each year, apparently, and from what I hear, they are very well prepared in math and otherwise. I have also heard good things about the math programs at Hamlin and Burke's.

  143. AP Giannini reputedly has the best math department of SF middle schools.

  144. 6:30 - Where did you hear Hamlin and Burke's are strong in Math? I know of at least one Hamlin girl who really struggled in Math once she left Hamlin. She felt the Math had been "dumbed down" for her compared to her peers at co-ed schools. But then, that's just the opinion of one girl.

  145. I'm told that the math scores at CAIS (Chinese American International) are off the charts. Has something to do with learning a tonal language and excercising the same part of the brain that learns mathematics. Music apparently has the same effect.

    I would love to learn more of the mechanics of this phenomenon myself.

  146. I think the CAIS kids do more math in general: They have math classes in both English and Chinese, so they may in fact be spending twice as much time on Math and learning the subject from two different approaches.

    They also have a kick-ass Russian teacher in the middle school who makes math both tough *and* fun. It'll be really tough to replace her when she retires, that's for sure.

    I'm not sold on the CAIS middle school, though. The kids seemed a little burnt out, if you ask me.

  147. I wanted to add something to the 90/10 dual immersion thread.

    In leading tours at Flynn I always acknowledge that immersion is not the right choice for every child. You all probably weighed this very thing in considering immersion or not. Native Spanish speaking parents might feel that their child would benefit from a slower entry into English than the full immersion that regular general ed (all English) program would be.

    At our recent Welcome meeting a set of Spanish speaking parents spoke to me of their fear in having their son in the general program as he speaks no English presently. I don't know if they had chosen the immersion program or not, but they were nervous that their son would be lost in an English-only class. Of course this is the same sort of anxiety English speakers feel in sending their children into immersion. Will the child know what's happening? Will they be lost, intimidated or fall behind? Will I have a clue how to help them with their homework?

    I do think it is difficult for the non-English speaking kids across the district who are thrust into English only classrooms (they don't even get 10% in their native languages). But so much of what they are doing involves context and repetition. And 5 year olds are still in language acquisition mode and pick up the new language very quickly.

  148. I worry that the children who are already completely bilingual (English/Spanish) might get bored in an immersion classroom.

    They are at an age when they could and should be absorbing increasingly complex vocabulary and concepts in their two native languages, something they are unlikely to get if a significant number of their classmates are not proficient in one of the languages.

    I've got a fully bilingual early reader (just turned 4) and I do worry about the boredom factor. Teachers keep telling me it will be good for her self esteem to "shine", but I think self-esteem is built through work: taking risks and challenges, persevering, seeing yourself do things you once thought difficult.

  149. My kids haven't gotten bored in English-speaking classrooms with English as their native language. The point is that the overall teaching is happening in both languages, not that the students are being directly, specifically instructed in how to speak English and how to speak Spanish.

  150. Are you saying a third to a half of the children in your kids' English-speaking classrooms had never heard a word of English? Are you saying a full third could not name their colors in English or even count to 10?

  151. Immersion kindergarten teachers are teaching kindergarten, but doing it in a language that half the class needs to pick up from the context. They're not just teaching the kids the language. Go watch one or more and see what you think.

  152. I've seen immersion kinder classes in action, with the teachers using grossly oversimplified language and gestures to help the English-speaking kids follow along. And I agree with a previous poster (and a couple of kinder immersion teachers) that the children who are new to Spanish get a lot more out of it than those who already speak Spanish -- especially if the Spanish speakers have already mastered the pre-reading and pre-math curriculum in preschool.

  153. Ick -- what kind of preschools have kids mastering pre-reading and pre-math curricula? (I'm a play advocate, myself.)

  154. My kid is in a play-based co-op.
    But I have to say that most of the three and four year olds seem to know their letters and corresponding sounds, even though these things were never officially "taught" at the school. THey've learned simple addition, too, mostly by helping to prepare the lunch, etc.

    BTW: It is not unusual for gifted kids -- girls in particular, to teach themselves to read on their own. We know of several examples.

  155. BTW, children in playbased programs come out with very strong pre-academic skills -- much stronger than if they had been doing drill-and-kill worksheets. Perhaps you don't understand the connection between children's play and academic readiness, Caroline.

    I thought only fans of academic preschools saw them as mutually exclusive (playing and preparing for academics).

    IN addition to the social/emotional stuff, role playing games refine abstract thinking and language skills. Building with blocks is about physics and geometry. Drawing helps with fine motor skills, which are essential for writing. And being read to sparks a desire to read and familiarizes children with the conventions of printed books (reading from left to right, page turning, etc).

    The BEST preparation for academics is actually a play-based curriculum.


  156. So testy! It seems people are looking for a good fight even when they are on the same team. I think Caroline would agree with you about play-based preschool. I'm a fan of Montessori myself but I won't even go there.... ;-)

  157. read again folks...

    caroline is PRO play-based.

  158. Thanks, 6:57! I said "ick" about the notion that a preschool would require children to master "pre-reading" and "pre-math" curricula. I am absolutely in favor of an all-play preschool.

  159. My children attend a popular Reggio Emilia - based preschool program in San Francisco. It is "play-based" and "follow the child." Nonetheless, most of the children in my daughter's pre-K class are reading, including my daughter. They were never formally taught - they just picked it up somehow. They are also doing simple math. It isn't part of the official 'curriculum' but as it turns out, these kids I guess have more than mastered 'pre-reading' and 'pre-math' in this fun, play-based environment.

    I see nothing wrong with pointing this out. Having dealt my whole life with school being too easy, I didn't want that experience for my children. We listed language immersion programs on our public school lottery form and went 0 for 7. Fortunately, we were offered a spot at a private school that we are confident will offer our children a challenging academic program.

    Honestly, what is so wrong with wanting that?

    As to Caroline, please, don't take this the wrong way, but sometimes your posts sound a bit like bragging. I have heard so often about your children's outstanding test scores, their great accomplishments, their incredible music and academic aptitudes, etc., and how these were all well-served by the public schools.

    WELL, for the record, you insisted on sending them only to the ONE public school you thought was good enough (Lakeshore) and even though now you say that other schools are just as good, you have no way to know if really your brilliant son would have aced his SATs had he been educated instead at Cobb or New Traditions.

    Or, maybe your children are just so friggin genius that you could have just plunked them anywhere and they would have risen to be the wonderfully gifted students they have proven to be.

    Hindsight is always 20-20, isn't it.

    Finally, as to all the people gloating about how much better it is for the mind to be raised bilingually, yes. But not all of us were lucky enough to win the Cantonese or Spanish immersion lottery, and we'll see what happens with the second round/waitlist.

  160. The fact that my kids tend to test high is relevant to this discussion because it does demonstrate that the schools are giving them what they need in terms of mastering the subject matter.

    It seems like if it's inappropriate to describe our children's strengths, then we experienced parents are unable to share our experiences with younger parents; and younger parents are unable to learn from our experiences. So would you muzzle me and other veteran parents by shaming us for "bragging"?

    A couple of points: My kids are far from perfect, and I'm sure I've mentioned several times that my son's GPA is not so stellar because he "forgets" to do his homework when he views it as busywork. And I really don't think I've said he's a great musician as much as a passionate one.

    And only yesterday I implied that he's a geek or a nerd, and I've previously said he was a total nerd in middle school. I'm trying to share the range of my experiences, since others have told me that's valuable.

    Others describe their children's strengths too (a poster just described a fully bilingual child reading as a young 4) -- should they be shamed and muzzled too?

    And yes, kids in a good, enriched preschool play program -- and who live in enriched homes -- pick up math and reading readiness from their activities. What I was disparaging was the notion of specific pre-math and pre-reading curricula that must be mastered in preschool.

  161. As a parent of an incoming Kindergardener, I am glad to hear from experienced SFUSD parents, including Caroline, who have been through the system. I am also very grateful for all the work they have done to make the public schools a better place.

  162. Caroline:
    Maybe your son would have done even better for himself at a private school like Nueva? We'll never know, will we?

  163. "Caroline:
    Maybe your son would have done even better for himself at a private school like Nueva? We'll never know, will we?"

    Nope! It's always unknowable. Though we do know that we would have no college or retirement fund if we'd taken that route.

    Conversely, many of our friends who are in deep and with little savings after paying huge private school tuition also have no idea if their kids would have done as well or better in public school.

    (And there is the issue of social impact; if there is ONE thing I will boast about, it's that my children have social consciences! And they understand the social impact of choosing public vs. private.)

  164. Sorry, dropped a word -- that should have referred to "...our friends who are in deep debt..."

  165. And only yesterday I implied that he's a geek or a nerd

    Gosh, here I was thinking he was hippie or gay: My son says semi-jokingly that all the SOTA guys are geeks, hippies or gay

  166. I forgot "hippie," but here is why I worded it that way.

    My son's comment was that SOTA isn't a hotbed of available guys, for girls, because all the guys are geeks, hippies or gay.

    By geeks and hippies, he meant undesirable to girls. By gay, he meant unavailable to them.

    So when I referred to his comment to point out that I disparaged him by implication, I said geeks (forgot hippies and replaced it with nerds). I didn't say "gay," because in our gay-friendly family that's not viewed as disparagement.

  167. But CAroline, the poster with the bilingual early reader never said anything about preschools pushing children to master academics. You made that up.

  168. April 22, 2008 5:34 PM

    "I agree with a previous poster (and a couple of kinder immersion teachers) that the children who are new to Spanish get a lot more out of it than those who already speak Spanish -- especially if the Spanish speakers have already mastered the pre-reading and pre-math curriculum in preschool."

    I didn't say it was the same poster -- since almost everyone here is anonymous, I have no idea.

  169. I didn't say "gay," because in our gay-friendly family that's not viewed as disparagement.

    Our family is geek-friendly, hippie-friendly, AND gay-friendly. (Apparently because we don't have any teenage girls.)

  170. My point was that implying that my son was a geek, a hippie and/or a nerd would probably not be viewed as boasting. It's fine with me if he's any or all of the above (gay too, were that the case).

  171. I read that post to mean that it was the KINDERGARTEN pre-math, pre-reading curriculum that was mastered in preschool. And that the poster's child would be bored since they were fluent and articulate in Spanish *and* already knew the "content".

  172. Though we do know that we would have no college or retirement fund if we'd taken that route.

    Can you even know that? Maybe you'd have taken a paying job, written a bestseller, or otherwise risen to the occasion.

  173. I give Caroline a hell of a lot of credit for staying so calm in the face of attacks on virtually everything she says or does. And I remain shocked at how frickin' emotional so many of you are in here. Knee jerk here, and knee jerk there. I certainly hope you all mellow over time so when your kids are in High School you too can report what you know to the next generation of parents without hostility toward others in the conversations. Oh yes, and that you will be brave enough to use your real names.

    (And I am going anonymous here because my usual use of real name has me linked with a school that I don't want to suffer unnecessarily from the potential incoming hostility...)

  174. oh...please.

    Whether you want to acknowledge this or not, Caroline clearly has an agenda and it's very black and white.

    I've read many threads of hers on other blogs besides this one where she seems to "pounce" on anyone who says anything positive about charter schools or who has a different view on race.

    I think if she didn't want the attention, she would post anonymously.

  175. Dismissive again.