Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What's to come

I have a few parents lined up who want to write reviews and share their stories of going through the school process. I will introduce them later this week and then I'll be passing the torch off to them. Thanks! Kate


  1. Hello,
    I am trying to get a feel for the process for entering K this coming year. I am a neighbor of a very popular school but am nervous that I won't get in (I live one block from this school). What is the school of thought? also, I have a child at a different school so I can sibling preference my K child into that school but I am very interested in being able to walk to school and give up some driving with the other sibling moving onto to middle school after another year.
    any advice?

  2. You gotta tell us what schools if you want any real advice.

  3. The thing to weigh is that you currently have sibling preference at a school. If you go for another school, especially if it is very popular (Alvarado, for example), then you definitely run the risk of not getting it--and then you will have lost the sibling preference at school #1. It will be a question of how much do you want to risk for the chance to attend the very popular local school, versus how much do you like your older child's current school. Presumably you do not want to run the risk of ending up with nothing.

    I would just say that getting into a very popular school is definitely not great odds. Look at the number of requests for the top 20 schools last year (this is available on the sfusd site under "enrollment." If you are willing to pair this popular school request with another one that has much, much better odds, like say Sunnyside, then it may be a risk worth taking. Only you can judge, though.

  4. I'd go with the sibling preference for next year and then think about getting into the popular neighborhood school for first grade. The odds are a little better for upper grades and my understanding is the neighborhood preference means very little unless you contribute to socioeconomic diversity at the neighborhood school.

  5. We have our first private school interview coming up.

    Are there any other questions we should be anticipating at our interviews?

    What are your child's strengths? Weaknesses?

    What are your child's interests?

    Tell me about your child's personality?

    Tell me about your family?

    What are you looking for in a school?

    Why our school?

    How do you envision yourself getting involved in our school community?

    How would you measure your child's success at school?

    Tell me about your child's preschool environment and experience..

    How does your child get along with other children?

    How does your child handle separation?

    How does your child do with new adults? New situations?

    Do you have any questions about our school?

  6. 9:03p-

    Just remember for those considering private - pick the schools you think YOUR CHILD can thrive in versus what you as a parent wants for him/her. There is a difference...picking a school ie FAIS, do you want it because the French language/culture is cool and you want your friends to come from that OR because your family has a connection to it or s/he has a thing for language.

  7. It isn't always that straightforward. My child is good with languages, completely bilingual (English/Spanish) with some French (my Grandmother is French) and a smattering of Mandarin. She is already starting to read, too.

    But she also is shy and might need a more nurturing environment than FAIS, CAIS or the Lycee. (FAIS makes a merit out of not "coddling" children.) But those schools with more of a focus on the social/emotional do not have strong language programs (one of her gifts) or as challenging academics (which she is totally suited for). Even Nueva, a school for gifted kids that has an explicit program for social/emotional does not introduce foreign languages until middle school. So if your gifted kid is a Math genius, they can accelerate in Math; languages, not so much.

  8. I don't think the dichotomy is clear. Some shy kids benefit socially and emotionally from more structured environments. And some shy kids also do not necessarily like the noise/activity level of schools with less structure.

    So I guess I'd be less concerned about whether a school offers an explicit social/emotional component to its curriculum than whether an overall atmosphere/teaching philosophy of the school fits the child.

  9. To be honest, at the age of entering K, you should not be concerned too much with your kid being advanced. I think if you show that your child is happy and well-adjusted, and prepared socially it counts for much more than that. The school will teach your child at this point, so in my opinion, being 'advanced' doesn't count for as much as some may think. I think it's more important to show that your child will be prepared and be an asset to the classroom.

    I am speaking of course, in regards to the private school admissions process. We have one child in a fantastic private school (MCDS) and are about to go through the admissions process for our second, for the same school. Of course, the sibling preference will help, but we still have to go through the same process nonetheless.

    For first time applicants - my thoughts. When we applied we certainly spent a lot of time on the applications and answering the questions well - this may have had a tremendous impact on our chances. We got into our top choices (actually all but one school we applied to).

    Go in with an open mind and realise that the process is not a conspiracy. We found that the schools do not 'favor' applicants due to status or wealth - they look for good people whom will *contribute* and care about the school and become part of the school community. This is very important - they obviously want people who care about the school and espouse it's values.

    Don't stress too much about the child interview. Of course, you should try to prepare your child, but it does no one good to try to do it at the last minute. We didn't 'prep' our first one at all, but we do know certain things which might make a difference this time around. We told our child that it was a playdate and to just try and have fun.

    The other thing I can say is to be sure and try to get the applications and necessary other things done not only before the deadline - but as soon as possible. You never know how long this may take, the sooner you start, the sooner you will understand exactly what is involved in not only the applications, but the process itself.

    Good luck all, I hope everyone the best in getting into their top school choice(s).

  10. As a parent who sent her kids to private and then to public, I have to put this out there. Anybody who lives in San Francisco should enter the public school lottery.

    Everybody is on equal footing. If your number comes up, it comes up and you get a free education that is the equal of the privates in this City. There is a small list of public schools that you would be silly to say no to.

    Private school should be an option for those who 1) don't get a public they like, or 2) who want to stay in the City, or 3) who don't mind spending thousands of dollars.

    Private school is great! It just shouldn't be assumed that what you get for $20k+ is any better than what you get for free--in some cases.

    The top ten rated public schools in this city are great schools, the equal of anything in Marin or the East Bay. The only real difference is, once you get past the first few schools, there is a rarity of schools that have lots of white kids, and as you really move down the list, you get weirder more specialized schools which may or may not suit you, and then there are less white kids farther down the list. I want to say that plainly, because I feel that is the sticking point with all these parents who are interviewing at the private schools. I want you to know public schools that are great do exist in SF, and if that is your thing, you will be happy at them.

    I'm not bringing up this stuff to be bigoted, I am just saying that I spent $20k per kid for several years to send my kids to great private school, then ran out of money and switched to a top public. Only to find out I'd been spending $20K+ for not much of anything different except the color of my kids' classmates. And there is no difference in my kids' discipline, their learning ability, their skill. My kids thrived at both private and public.

    I just need to put that out there, so the private school people at least check out some of the public schools. It's true, what I say. Most families who stay in SF send their kids to private based on the comfort level of seeing a whole lot of white kids in a class.

    I found out in a backwards way, but I did find out that the schools are equal, even if there are only 7 white kids instead of 17 white kids. It's a good education in the top ten rated public schools, and don't be fooled when people say the privates are all that better.

  11. Without saying that one or the other is better, and cost aside, private education and public education are quite different. But there's little point in exploring the differences if a lack finances dictates your outcome. If you can afford private school, by all means check out both public and private.

  12. Sorry, but there are many, many differences in private and public education, and among privates themselves. Do not fool yourself into thinking that there are none!

    I am not saying one or another is better, but people tend to justify their own beliefs and convictions - especially when it comes to their children.

    We each have our own reasons as to why we prefer public or private, or one school over another - and as to why we believe it to be a good fit for our child. To be honest, most of us defend our choices as being the RIGHT ones.

    In my opinion, there is often no right or wrong. It depends on YOUR situation. Sure, someone may love a private school, but the financial reality often will dictate whether or not it is even considered. In that case, well you are forced to subscribe to a different way of looking at your childs future and education - much more so than a parent who does not have to worry as much about those same costs. NEITHER PERSON IS WRONG OR RIGHT - we all make decisions based on our situations and what we believe is best for OUR children.

    I was hoping that the information I posted would lead to more questions posed on the admissions process at some privates, as I have gone through it, rather than this turning into a private vs public thread again. Let's try to stay on topic!

  13. I have open houses scheduled at four privates. Are those initial visits generally pretty low key? Do they save the intense moments for tour/interviews? SFDS, Lycee, etc.

  14. <<< most of us defend our choices as being the RIGHT ones. >>>

    I wouldn't say that, and I have been pretty involved in opening up the questions on this blog about whether private school is worth the cost (and other issues).

    It's essential to find a school where your child can thrive. If you feel that needs to be a private school, that's the right choice for you.

    I'm a veteran SFUSD parent with kids in 9th and 12th grades. The attitude that I and other public-school advocates have combated is the old "anybody in San Francisco with two nickels to rub together sends their children to private school" assumption.

    Assuming that we have newcomers to this list, here are some things to think about.

    By now my kids have spent many years in SFUSD schools, and we have lots of friends, relatives, neighbors etc. whose kids have gone to private school. Yes, the private school kids tend to get more amenities (and some of them are useful amenities -- the one I would cite right now is college counseling, which is overall much more consistent and thorough in private schools). But when it comes down to the basics, I don't see any consistent difference in the results -- my kids aren't noticeably more ignorant or less educated than the kids in our circle whose education cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    That still doesn't mean that private school wasn't the right choice for those families. But I'm offering the long view.

    When we first started our K search in the mid-'90s, private was on our radar; we had no problems with that and assumed that our financial picture would allow it if necessary. (Our lifestyle choices would have been different -- I'd have been working full time.) We also assumed that our financial stability would improve as we aged, if anything.

    But of course the economy has meant that hasn't really happened. My husband is the primary breadwinner, and his field (which looked secure back then) is now imploding. His job is now extremely unstable, and at age 56 he has worked for the same employer for 32 years -- his options are limited. College is looming; our three living parents are (knock wood) thriving at very advanced ages, but their financial situations are not. If we had been shelling out or taking out second mortgages for 23 kid-years of private school tuition, we would be in deep s#!t financially.

    Of course if we had had to do that to ensure a decent, safe education for our kids and gain them a brighter future, so be it. But we didn't. Our kids got into what at the time was considered one of the "only five good schools" in SFUSD (an inaccurate image, but we believed it then).

    My kids go to SOTA (San Francisco School of the Arts), a public school that attracts a lot of kids from private K-8s because there aren't any private high schools like it. At SOTA, there's no consistent pattern of differences between the kids who come from SFUSD K-8s, suburban public K-8s (SOTA accepts some out-of-district students), or private K-8s. There are kids in all categories who are the academic superstars, kids in all categories who struggle or slack off on schoolwork, kids in all categories in between.

    When students take the PSAT in junior year, the top scorers are announced. Again, this is a school with a lot of kids coming from private K-8s. Three students tied for top score last year -- two from SFUSD K-8 (Clarendon/Aptos and Lakeshore/Aptos) and one from public K-8 in Pacifica. The No. 2 behind the three-way tie was also from SFUSD K-8 (New Traditions/Giannini), and I don't know behind that. But that's a little something to get your teeth into.

    Still ... still ... I'm not saying private school is wrong if it meets your child's needs best. I'm just saying that it's not justified to assume that's what you HAVE to do.

    These choices were the right ones for us in the sense that now it's clear that it wasn't necessary for us to spend hundreds of thousands on tuition, and our old-age financial picture would have been scary if we had. That's not to say everyone is in the same situation.

    Oh, for the record, my kids went to Lakeshore when it was a trophy school (and during the years when it was becoming more middle-of-the-pack). Then they went to Aptos Middle School starting when it was viewed as a "dirty and dangerous" "ghetto school," and during the years when its reputation was improving, and then on to SOTA.

    I posted these observations last year too, and my comments do tend to attract anonymous flames and "does she ever shut up?" slapdowns because I post under my name. Is that really effective, or worth anyone's energy? To newcomers, this may be a point of view they haven't heard.

  15. To Oct. 3 Anonymous:

    Thanks for your post, it is helpful to hear from parents who have done both public and private.

    Which are the top 10-rated publics in SF? Do you mean by API scores or by demand (# of applications in the lottery) or what? Thanks

  16. 3:49, sorry, but this IS the topic. As the person who did both private and publics, and my private one was one of the dreams, I have to disagree with you.

    My whole point, which I'm not sure you or another poster or two gets, is that there really isn't a lot of difference. We are talking, at the end of the day, the Clarendon/Rooftop/, top ten scoring publics as comparison. k-5. Apples and apples. Not oranges.

    The only huge difference I saw, was race. And no, I would never have sent my child to a public school had it not been the top tier publics, so I don't know from all these other oranges.

    So when people say the education or experience is "very different", I am saying NO IT IS NOT. Not at the top, at least. Sorry. Okay? Okay. The only "very different" my kids experienced was having "very different' classmates, which in this city usually means Chinese and Latino.

    I am reposting this to reiterate the core of my comment.

  17. Actually, let's say you have a really bright kid and you go through the process of interviewing at all the top schools back in the day (we applied at Burke, Hamlin, SF Day, NDV, Presidio, Stuart Hall, etc.) And out of this process, you find that you get offered two or three schools.

    Rare that would happen, no matter how rich you are, because you usually are lucky to get one and a waitlist, but this is my point. You come up lucky and get a real choice of privates.

    Let's say they tell you that your little Jane is so bright and made the best most brilliant paper airplane of all the kids in the intake. Little Jane is a little genius. And they want you.

    I am telling you, you should enter little Jane in the lottery. Because if little Jane is really gifted, come 2nd grade, she will test out into the GATE program, and I have to tell you as a parent of two kids who went through it, it is THE BEST education you can get. Bar none. It's better than the privates.

    My oldest didn't benefit from GATE, because we were still under the spell of private schools. Our finances hadn't cracked at that point. She would have tested into the GATE too, I'm pretty sure.

    The other point I wanted to add about Caroline's post is that all the kids I went to college with at my Ivy League school were in fact from public schools. I don't know what's in the water, but those were the kids that excelled and ended up on top. My Deerfield and Dana Hall buddies couldn't tough them, honestly. And they all felt crazy strongly about public education. Much stronger than I felt, having gone through private school all the way.

    No. Even though my financial situation improved again, and I could send my kids back to Burke and Town, I wouldn't do it for the world. I might consider a private high school, but in San Francisco, private school families should enter the lottery. If you get a good one, go for it. Your kid will be better prepared to enter that chi chi high school, or your dream Ivy. And odds are, if the kid is bright, he'll get tested into GATE.

    The Sfusd is a lot of bad things, but one thing they do well is pick the kids with the top scores and take care of them

  18. 11:32, I would put about seven or ten schools on the list, and I would rank their quality not by test scores. Although that is a good thing to review too, they tell more about the economic mix of the kids than the quality of the education. Anything over 850 still gives you twenty schools to choose from.

    I would rank them on 1) cleanliness of facilities 2) a good balance of white/asian/latin, 3) established PTA and principal and 4)GATE programs. Unfortunately, it takes months of touring to figure all that out. I didn't figure it out until my younger kids were in public and I just wanted to learn. This admission process is probably this biggest barrier in attracting more people to the public schools.

    If you ranked them like that, a clear list of favorites show up. Grattan, Miraloma, Yick Wo, Lillienthal, Rooftop, Clarendon, West Portal, Lawton, Alamo.... How any parent that gets one of these schools could turn it down is absolutely beyond me.

  19. "My whole point, which I'm not sure you or another poster or two gets, is that there really isn't a lot of difference. We are talking, at the end of the day, the Clarendon/Rooftop/, top ten scoring publics as comparison. k-5. Apples and apples. Not oranges."

    I completely disagree with this post. I think it really depends on what you are looking for for your child. If hard core academic training to prepare your kid for an Ivy is NOT what you are looking for (which is our situation) I think a kid can really benefit from a private school where there is time and there are resources to consistently build a classroom and school-wide community, focus on emotional and social development, and help support your child become the kind of learner they are meant to be. So again, it does go back to an individual's family needs and the the child's needs (of course if money is not an issue, which is a big if I recognize that).

    Having gone through both public and private in this city I will say that I have seen a HUGE difference in terms of 1) teacher stress level; 2) quality of communication within the school; 3) leadership; 4) classroom community; 5) academic approach and philosophy - and the list goes on and on. Yes private schools are mostly upper middle class white people - which has a lot of downsides, in my opinion. Still, you can't beat the supportive and nurturing environment for your child.

    Finally, I will also add that I went to public school in the inner city (not this city). I was in the top of my class, got 4s on AP tests, got in and went to a highly competitive east coast college (not an Ivy, mind you) - and I wasn't NEARLY as prepared as my peers who went to private school.

    Just sayin'. There's more than one side to any story you read about on here. You have to weigh your personal situation and make the best decision for your family. Talk to a lot of people - it is not a clear cut situation.

  20. 8:32, we can disagree. Ok.

    I would like to comment about your statement about preparation of students, once they arrive in college. When I arrived at my Ivy league school, my prep school friends and I seemed rather burned out on everything we'd experienced in prep school, and were so overly prepared, that the whole college experience was different for me, in the begining. It took a while for me to get excited, and by that time, I'd fallen behind a little.

    Amongst my friends who'd arrived there from public school, I found an excitement emanating, a feeling of their having arrived at something, a curiosity and a "we'll show them" attitude. Maybe that's why they did better, overall.

    Also, as to your comment comparing apples and apples, public and private, I found the communication, environment, and quality of teaching to be equal or better in the SF public schools than in the private schools where I sent my kids. Stress level...maybe you're right about that. My daughter's public school teachers called me on the weekends, came to my house, worked their fingers to the bones, and that certainly caused more stress. The private teachers were more distant.

    My experience is that the career teacher with the grad degree and the credential usually goes to a public school. They pay more and the benefits/security are superior. It's not a career, it's a calling.'

    With the private schools, sometimes the teachers are more interesting personally, but it's hardly a case where these highly educated people will stay in teaching or have it become their calling in life.

    I suppose as a parent, paying for private school is a good use of your money. I'm all for it. My whole point in all my recent posts was to share that I found the differences minimal.

    We can disagree, 8:32.

  21. 12:48, can you explain more about your children's experiences in GATE at the elementary level. My understanding is that there are no separate GATE classes until middle school and I don't have a clear idea how the differentiated instruction works in the upper elementary grades. Thanks.

  22. I'm not 12:48, but my 4th grader is GATE-identified. He and other GATE kids in his class get a more challenging list of weekly spelling/vocabulary words (last week's included environment, longitudinal, climate, politics among others) and extra challenge math problems.

  23. So when people say the education or experience is "very different", I am saying NO IT IS NOT.

    And others are saying YES IT IS. When you measure the outcome by what ivy colleges the kids end up at, you're talking about the destination, not the journey. There are many ways to arrive at the same place; choose your path. And not everyone is headed for the same place.

  24. My opinion based on my own education, all public until college, my husbands,public lower, private boarding high school, private colleges, and my more recent ongoing experiences with my own kids , a saucy blend of both public and private through high school and those of my friends,ditto, is this:
    Academically S.F.'s top public grade schools are on par with the privates, some even get the arts and social developement components of education in there. In high school however there's no contest. Privates far and away offer way more for a well rounded education. The one exception to this is the SOTA honors and AP track. I'm not saying our public high schools are bad or that they can't produce life long learners who are well versed in both the arts and sciences. I am saying private high schools seem to do it more successfully and with more consistency and academic rigor without sacrificing the arts .

  25. Hi 6:22:

    We actually only went to one open house, but I can imagine that the tours are of most importance. I would say that the open houses are like a screen to see if you would really consider the school, and the tour is a drill-down where you get to see everything up close and 'in-action.'

    The tours are an absolute must and will give you a pretty good feel for what the school is about. Any questions you might have can be answered here, and others on the same tour will most certainly be asking tons of questions as well.

    You know, I think the tours are only as intense as you make them. Try to relax and connect with the guides / staff, as they are there for you. Another always interesting thing about these events are being able to connect with other fellow applicants :)

  26. I agree about the tours. I went on lots of them, and beforehand, I thought Hamlin was a perfect fit for our girl. Once I toured the place, however, I decided, you could have it. Musty facilities, tired stressed looking kids. The kids' faces say everything to me. And skinny moms. We ended up at a smaller private school we fell in love with on the tours. Off our radar in the beginning, but then we fell in love with it on tour.

    Publics, it doesn't much matter, because it's a lottery. But the privates say everything on their tour.

  27. What school did you end picking?

    It is very true about the tours. One school we looked at looked absolutely fantastic via marketing (great info packet and website), but ended up being VERY different when we saw it - it was a great school, but we felt it was it was a real let-down when we saw it due to our expectations.

    To all these people thinking that private school has one size and color, it has much more differences than the publics. Privates are pretty much allowed to do things however they wish, and so you can imagine the differences it creates! If you are considering privates you are in for a very interesting experience in looking at the schools.

    We luckily foud a school we consider to be a perfect fit for our kids and have been happier than we expected.

  28. I chose NDV, and we were exceedingly happy there.

  29. This is exctly what I was saying regarding private schools. NDV and Hamlin are so different, yet you looked at both. Each school we toured were very different, it's just so amazing how much so! I much profess that we ended up focusing on privates in Southern Marin (with the exception of Hamlin), but we were just amazed at how each school differed in their philosophy, core values, teaching methods, environment .. it goes on and on.