Thursday, October 30, 2008

What is kindergarten like?

SFUSD interviewed some kindergarten students about their experiences and recorded them in the following audio clip:


As a parent of a young child in an SFUSD public school, I urge anyone concerned about children in San Francisco's public schools to vote for Rachel Norton for Board of Education. I have had the pleasure of serving with Rachel Norton on San Francisco Unified School District's Community Advisory Committee for Special Education for almost four years. She has common sense, integrity and is one of the smartest women I know.

The school board is in dire need of someone who understands what parents of children in special education programs face every day, and that person is Rachel Norton. Rachel Norton has been a tireless advocate, volunteering countless hours helping parents who are not fluent in English navigate the complex special education system.

This experience has taught Rachel much about what SFUSD needs to do to improve the way it serves children, parents and teachers. Having Rachel Norton on the Board of Education will be beneficial not only for children with disabilities, but also for all children in the school district.

I trust Rachel Norton to listen, to closely study the issues brought before her, and to take her position as board member very seriously. She will concentrate on what is best for the children attending SFUSD schools, and has no other political aspirations and agendas to distract her from that purpose.



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

BOE Student Assignment System meeting

If you attended the meeting below please share:

Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:33 pm (PDT)
SFUSD is re-evaluating the Student Assignment System for next year, and
tonight's Board of Education meeting is the first step in the process. The
district is presenting their road map / timeline which will include the

1. Fall 2008:

a. Board of Education meeting (10/28/08): Presentation of Re-Design
Process, Principles and Timeline
b. Summarize previous work done and information collected on Student
c. Develop and distribute a survey for parent input

2. Spring 2008:

a. Present the Student Assignment Options to Board of Education
b. Hold community focus groups to get feedback on the proposed Student
Assignment options
c. Share results of surveys and focus groups to the community and Board
of Education

The goal is to adopt a new Student Assignment system by end of school year
2009 and implement it for families applying next year for the 2010-2011
school year.

The Board of Education meeting starts at 6:00 PM at 555 Franklin Street. If
you can't attend, I'm pretty sure you can catch it streaming on KALW live.

NOTE: potential changes in the student assignment system will NOT affect
families applying this fall for the 2009-2010 school year.

Ellie Rossiter

Executive Director

Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hot topic: Early start times

An SF K Files visitor suggested the following topic:

“Our daughter has two months of K under her belt, at a 7:50am start time school. It is a wonderful little school, it works for us in so many ways, has a great community, and after waiting for months to land any school, we are so happy here. With one major caveat: the start time. It feels much too early for our daughter. She is adjusting beautifully in all respects except that one. Even though she has to get up only about 30 minutes earlier than she otherwise would, she is just exhausted in the AM, and very edgy in the afternoons. We let her sleep until we are almost surely running late – and morning inevitably becomes a huge hustle that requires a lot of focus on her part (and ours!). Earlier in the week, it is OK. By Thursday or Friday, we practically have to peel her out of bed. She seems to recover on the weekends, but even with an early bedtime – 7:30 or 8pm at the latest – she seems to have no reserves.

I am wondering – and would love to hear especially from veterans – whether this is a normal adjustment period? How long before things normalize? Whether it gets easier once the kids are in older grades? Any suggestions to make the transition easier? Do those with later start time schools experience any of these challenges?

Your collective wisdom would be most appreciated because we are seriously considering applying for a transfer for next year to a later start time school, but don’t want to be hasty with such a decision. It would be great to know whether this is a common challenge that works itself out or whether our kid is simply not a morning person (neither of her parents are, so this would not come as a surprise).”

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hot topic: Tuition insurance

An SF K Files visitor suggested the following topic:

"Did anyone get tuition insurance for the 2008-09 school year? What are the terms? What if you started at a private or parochial school and later got into a public, did you get your money back through the insurance?"

Vote in the Chronicle poll

Vote in the Chronicle Poll:

What should be the top issue for the San Francisco school board?

Narrowing the achievement gap

School safety

Restoring JROTC

Communicating with parents

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Only a third of SF teenagers say they feel safe in school

According to a story by Nanette Asimov in today's Chronicle,

Fewer kids in Napa County visit the dentist regularly than kids in other California counties. More San Francisco children teeter on the brink of depression than other children do. And for some reason, fewer parents in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties are reading to their very young children than parents living elsewhere.
These are among hundreds of illuminating and sometimes heart-wrenching facts revealed in a new county-by-county study of the well-being of California's youngest residents, published Wednesday by Children Now, a national nonprofit advocacy group based in Oakland.
By peering in at the details of children's health and happiness - and showing precisely where they are doing well or poorly - the group hopes to push counties to take action to improve the lives of children.

Most surprising to Lempert was that so many young people reported feeling disconnected from adults - and not particularly safe at their high school.

"I was really alarmed by that," Lempert said. "Especially in urban counties like San Francisco."

Slightly more than half of San Francisco's ninth- and 11th-graders (52 percent) say they feel "connected to an adult."

That's the lowest rate in the state, although students in about two-thirds of California counties feel almost as disconnected.

Feelings of safety also plunge when students reach high school.

In San Francisco, just a third of teenagers say they feel safe in school, compared with more than two-thirds in the younger grades. Similar trends show up in every Bay Area county and in most across the state.

"We're taking this quite seriously," said Trish Bascom, an associate superintendent in the San Francisco Unified School District who oversees health services. "We know that the strongest markers for success in school and life are caring relationships, high expectations from adults, and opportunities for meaningful participation in the community."

Bascom said the district began tracking students' emotional well-being two years ago and has discovered an alarming increase in students considering and planning suicide.

For the first time this year, she said, every city school is offering mental health services, supplemented by 50 mental-health interns who visit students who need them. Each high school also has a wellness center for the first time this year. Teachers - including those in high school - have been told to make students feel good about coming to school and even welcome them to class.

For the full story, click here.

Creative Arts Charter School Fall Fair

Creative Arts Charter School Fall Fair

Bring your kids and have a great time!

Saturday 10/25/2008

12:00 PM -3:30 PM

1601 Turk Street
San Francisco CA 94115

Have fun at a benefit for Creative Arts Charter School. Fun for all ages! There will be costumes, a dunking booth, bounce houses, a cake walk, live entertainment, games, prizes, food and drinks, and a Haunted House sponsored by 7th and 8th Grades. Tickets $0.50 each (multiple tickets required)

Rosa Parks

Reviewed by Wendy

Rosa Parks Elementary School / Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program (JBBP)

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: a friendly, centrally-located and diverse public school; small class sizes with lots of adults in the classroom; fully credentialed teachers (no emergency credentials); a full-time librarian; a stunning facility, with light-filled classrooms, ADA accessible school building; a good special education program; exposure to Japanese culture and language; government-supported after-school programs (for low-income families); extra funding and resources through federal and state programs; and an early 7:50 a.m. start time.

The JBBP is a separate program that was established more than 35 years ago, and they recently relocated to this building. You should consider this if you are looking for Japanese language instruction and cultural education on a daily basis, and you are able to volunteer in the classroom.

The Facts
Web site (for JBBP):
School tours: Tours are Wednesdays at 8:30 a.m. and can be scheduled by calling the school.
Location: 1501 O’Farrell Street, near Webster & Geary, Western Addition / Japantown
Grades: K–5
Start time: 7:50 a.m.
Dismissal time: 1:50 p.m.
Kindergarten size: General Education, 40 kids (2 classes of 20 students); JPPB, 40 kids (2 classes of 20 students); and Special Education, 20 kids (1 class of 20 students)
Buses: Several routes through the Western Addition, the Mission and Bayshore.
Playground: One for the kindergarteners, one for the older kids. It is blacktop, and there is a climbing structure. There is also a spectacular roof yard, with planters just waiting to receive plants.
Library: The library is spacious, newly remodeled and houses a large collection of books. Natural light pours in from tall windows along one wall. When the JBBP moved in, the two schools merged their collections, creating one huge collection. There is a librarian there 5 days per week. Every class spends at least 1/2 hour in the library every week. They do two book fairs each year, with Scholastic and independent booksellers.
Before- and after-school program: After-school care on site is available through two programs, both for low-income families. Buses run to other programs in the city.
Language: In the JBBP, all children, even the kindergarteners, receive one hour of instruction in Japanese every day. Native speaking sensei teach during this hour. The program is also infused with Japanese culture, with field trips into Japantown, participation in the Cherry Blossom Festival and Japanese holidays and events celebrated by the school. One annual event is a Japanese athletic event called Undokai. Another annual event is Osho Gatsu, the Japanese New Year. The General Education program also benefits from inclusion in these cultural events and field trips.
Highlights: This school may be the next Miraloma. There are many great things about it – a spectacular facility, great teachers, the Japanese exposure, many extra resources and services due to the high percentage (67%) of kids who are on school lunch program.

Wendy’s Impressions

School community: This is a diverse public school. It is 8% white, 39% black, 15% Latino, and 22% Asian. There are two separate school programs. The old Rosa Parks Elementary school and the JBBP (newly assigned to this location) are trying to grow together and create community.

Facility: The building is old and beautiful, with architectural details rarely seen nowadays. It is spacious and well cared for. The classrooms are large and sunny, and each has a cloakroom area where the kids can hang their coats and put their backpacks in cubbies. There is a roof yard that will be just amazing once the school begins planting its container garden up there.

Academics: The school uses the standard SFUSD curriculum and expects kindergarteners to be reading by the end of the year. In addition, in the JBBP program, the kids are expected to read and write in Japanese by the 4th grade. The JBBP curriculum is enriched with Japanese instruction and culture. The General Education curriculum is enriched by these influences as well, but does not receive language instruction.

Teaching: The teachers seemed competent, and fully engaged with the kids. By and large, the classes were under control and focused on the subject at hand. In the JBBP program, the sensei had the full attention of the children. The children seemed intensely interested in learning Japanese.

The tour:

The tour began in the office, where an administrator was giving tardy children passes to get into class. She had a casual demeanor and teased the kids gently as they came in. In the classrooms the teachers were cheerful and seemed genuinely happy to be teaching. In one general education kindergarten, the class was working together to identify patterns. In another the teacher was working with the children to identify rhyming words.

All of the classrooms were well cared for, and the teachers have obviously put a lot of time, energy and thought into decorating them. I saw number lines, illustrated alphabets, children’s art and educational posters (some professionally printed and some handmade by the teachers) in each classroom.

The JBBP classrooms, as you would expect, were decorated with Japanese posters and cultural items. In one of the JBBP kindergarten classrooms, I noticed a music area with a piano, a kitchen play area, a book reading area, and a few other centers.

We saw a handful of JBBP classes doing Japanese time. In the kindergartens, there were four adults in each class, if I counted correctly. They have the regular teacher, the Japanese teacher (“sensei”), and two native-speaking parent helpers. The tour leader emphasized that volunteering is very important in the JBBP program, especially during the kindergarten year.

The library is described above. It is newly renovated and the collection of books is large, comprising both English and Japanese books. The librarian also runs the computer program, and there is a separate room used as a computer lab, full of PCs. The kids get computer time in the lab on an as-needed basis. The computer lab is used as a way of differentiating the kids, providing some with additional challenges and support. The school has also gotten a grant that will allow each classroom to have 2 PCs. The JBBP program has developed a computer program to assist the kids in learning Japanese.

The cafeteria is on the first floor, but it is still a sunny and pleasant space. The school has the district hot lunch program; the same one that all the schools in the district have. They are beginning a compost program. They have also gotten a grant to do a school greening program, including a landscape architect who will plan gardens for the school. The school will use the gardens as a basis for developing math and science curriculum.

All of the kindergartens, JBBP, General Education and Special Education, intermingle at recess. However, the kindergarteners play in an area separate from the older kids. The kindergarteners have a play structure, and there were balls and hula hoops available for the kids. This year, a program called Sports for Kids will teach and coach the kids through structured games during recess. In addition, this program will provide P.E. instruction during dedicated P.E. time during class.

One of the nice things about this school is that they have a lot of extra adults on campus. There is a school psychologist two days per week, a learning specialist full time, a resource specialist four days a week and a full-time librarian. There is also a Parent Liaison, who provides parenting and educational resources to parents. This school receives a lot of extra services because the population they serve is traditionally underserved. There are some special art programs, including an art, music and movement program for the K-3 grades. The two after school programs, Excel and Jump Prep, are geared towards kids who need extra support. If your family doesn’t qualify for that, there are busses going to the Boys & Girls Club, the JCC, Little Friends and other programs. There are also other after-school programs, including Academic Chess and Ballet. The ballet program is in cooperation with the San Francisco Ballet, and is in its third year.

The tour guide emphasized that this school had the largest jump in API scores last year of any school in the district--the scores went up 48 points last year!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hot topic: To redshirt or not?

We have covered this topic in the past, but an SF K Files visitor suggested that we cover it again for those parents going through the process this year. Seems like a great idea.

"To redshirt or not? For all of those who have fall birthday kids, boys and girls. I've heard every rationale under the sun, Pros: that the older kids thrive through high school, do better in sports, are more coordinated, that it doesn't matter as much in lower elementary but in middle and high school socially it makes a big difference to be the older/most mature. Cons: that your kid who may be K-ready at almost 5, maybe bored out of their mind not only in K but through elementary school, or even worse, be turned off by school altogether by their K-1 experience.

For parents who have made this choice in the past, what was their experience and would they do it again?"

Here's a link to a post where this topic was covered in the past:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Promote your Elementary School

PPS-SF Enrollment Event on Tuesday October 28th

Paul Revere Elementary

Come to Paul Revere Elementary School on Tuesday Oct. 28th and talk w/ 150+ preschool parents about your school. This is an invitation to table at this event and have the opportunity after the formal program to chat with parents. This is a great way to make a connection and set a favorable impression about your school. Bring any material and handouts you have but please no boards as there is limited space.

Please RSVP to and let me know if you will be coming and what school you represent. If you need childwatch for your 3+ age child please let me know.

Date: Tuesday Oct. 28th
Time: 6:00pm - 8:00pm (But please arrive by 5:45 to setup)
Place: Paul Revere Elementary, 555 Tompkins Ave @ Folsom St.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pushing for a public school in SF

My editor at SFGate encouraged me to write something about the SFUSD enrollment process for parents looking for a kindergarten right now. I came up with a blog post titled, "Pushing for a public school in SF" that makes the case that going through the enrollment process is like having a baby. It's far-fetched and hopefully not overly cynical and negative. It's meant to be tongue-and-cheek. Anyway, you can check it out by clicking here. Thanks! Best, Kate

Sometimes dinner is about something else

In San Francisco these days everyone is writing about public schools. Buena Vista parent and food writer Molly Watson writes about schools on her food blog, The Dinner Files, in a recent post titled, "Sometimes dinner is about something else."

She writes:

The public school assignment system in SF is insane. One person last night recounted his inability to see his child through the process, and instead just opted for the private school that accepted his child. The lottery system as it currently exists is daunting, bizarre, inscrutable, and opaque. It needs to be fixed. However, after some discussion, he recounted how, like me, he knows many people who saw it through and ended up with the schools they wanted.

I’ve done it on several school sites, I did it in a now long-shelved radio interview for “Philosophy Talk,” and now I’ll do it here. I’ll come out as pro-public schools. Rabidly so, one might say. I am a product of public schools. I believe strongly in their importance as the foundation of democracy. That’s right: the god damn foundation of democracy. I was pushed over the edge, however, by a friend years ago who said: “if a school isn’t good enough for your kid, why is is good enough for anyone else’s kid?”

Touché. Words to live by. Someone at dinner last night, someone I like and respect very much, someone I’ve always looked up to, to be honest, said “well, San Francisco schools are a lost cause.” She said it as one would say the sun rises in the east. As undebatable fact. As fixed and determined as the place of dry-farmed heirloom tomatoes in the average foodie’s wet dream. Internets, this person fights the fight against all kinds of food problems, all kinds of sustainability issues, all kinds of labor issues. But her local schools? She was willing to write them off.

It made me want to cry.

Read the full story by clicking here.

Last chance Board of Ed Candidate Forum 10/30!

6:30-8:00 PM

More than 55,000 children currently count on SFUSD for opportunities and choices in life, and it is our responsibility to ensure that the next leaders on the Board of Education are focused on closing achievement and opportunity gaps and have real insight on the talent and organizational capacity policies needed to enable positive change.

Please join us for an evening forum to hear directly from SFUSD Board of Education candidates about how they'll make the promise of excellent public education true for all SFUSD students.

Space is limited, RSVP REQUIRED.

Please RSVP by October 24th to

Please let us know if you are bringing a guest.

Sherman Fall Haloween Carnival

Everyone is invited to come and celebrate Halloween at Sherman Elementary School's Fall Halloween Carnival, Sat. October 25th, from 11am - 3pm. Sherman is located on Union St. between Franklin and Gough in Cow Hollow. More info.
The days events include:
Games of Chance and Mystery
The ever popular Jumpy slide
The first ever live performance of 'The Musical Sharks'
A Haunted House
The Spooky Spa
Arts and Crafts
Costume Contest at 1:00
Chance to win an iPod at the Raffle
Food and much, much more...
Everyone is welcome -- great for little kids, too.

Hot topic: Changing kindergarten mid-year

An SF K Files visitor would like to get feedback on her situation:

"I have a 5 year old child who is now several weeks into a private kindergarten. There's a chance that it may not work out, through no fault of anybody's. So, I'm at a loss to even think about what options I may have. I already called the SFUSD and not surprisingly the options are pretty lousy. Right now, moving seems like the only albeit draconian option. I'm pretty upset about it and feel pretty helpless. I'd like to hear from others who've been in a similar situation."

Big difference in candidates education plans

"Here's the biggest difference between the education plans of presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama: $18 billion," writes Nanette Asimov in a story in today's San Francisco Chronicle. That's how much more Democrat Obama says he'd spend than Republican McCain to transform schools, from quadrupling the number of kids eligible for public preschool programs to strengthening long-neglected science education. Obama claims he can implement his long list of reforms without raising the federal deficit."

What about McCain?

"McCain's package would add less than $1 billion to the education budget," Asimov says. "His message is about doing more with the nearly $70 billion in federal education funding already flowing to California and the other states: giving principals more say over funds while redirecting cash to online schools, home schools and tuition vouchers." (To read the full article, which details the two contrasting plans, click here.)

While the presidential candidates rarely talk about education in debates and speeches, they clearly have different ideas. And for anyone with young children this is an important issue. What do you think of the candidates' education plans? Who will you vote for?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hot topic: Is immersion worth it?

An SF K Files visitor suggested the following topic:

"I really want to hear from those who chose language immersion like we did. I know it is early in the year, but is IT WORTH IT SO FAR? I was totally committed to immersion and even bullied my spouse into letting me put immersion higher than any other desired feature. While our girls are certainly learning Spanish fast and well, the price is very high. We sacrificed art, music, PE, all enrichment, nice physical space, outdoor time, safety , etc etc. And we have greatly complicated our lives as the school has no before or after care. I want to know if other folks w/kids in Immersion feel it's worth the price?"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Open forum

Please feel free to discuss among yourselves...

SFUSD nutrition meeting

The school food subcommittee of the SFUSD student nutrition and physical activity committee will meet on Monday November 3rd, 4-5pm at the offices of School Health Programs, 1515 Quintara St., across from Lincoln High School. Everyone is welcome to attend; this is the best place to get questions answered about school food, or find out how you can help improve things. Talk directly with the assistant director of Student Nutrition Services, and with parents and others working toward better quality school meals. These meetings are very informal, and you don't have to be a member of this subcommittee to participate; you are welcome to attend all of the meetings, or just one. We especially would like to have new parents come and get involved.

For more information on school food in the SFUSD, please visit
You can also e-mail questions directly to me (Dana Woldow, committee co-chair) at nestwife at owlbaby dotcom

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Meet BOE candidate Emily Murase

I am hosting a meet-and-greet for Emily Murase.
Emily is a fellow parent at Rosa Parks JBBP. She is also a graduate of SFUSD, and has many qualifications which make her a great candidate for the BOE.
I would like to invite voters, and perspective kindergarten parents to drop by to meet her and other public school families. Kids welcome. Light snacks will be served. Thanks! Best, Amy

When? Saturday, October 18, 1-3 p.m.
Where? At the home of Amy Lauer, 1607 9th Ave., at Lawton
Questions? 415-681-4164

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hot topic: Twins!

A suggested forum topic from an SF K Files visitor:

"There are a lot of twin families in SF and there is a lot of disinformation about how to apply to the public school system with twins. I would love to hear from those who have gone through the application process to find out what works and what does not work. I know that there was some discussion about twins not having sibling priority under your '10 day Count' entry but it would be great if there was a whole entry dedicated to this topic. "

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hot topic: He says tomato, she says tomah-to

An SF K Files visitor suggested the following forum topic:

"My question is about what happens when you and your spouse disagree about the school decision. One really wants private, one isn't sure; one really likes one school and the other hates it. One really thinks a summer-birthday boy should go to any school that will have him, one thinks he should red-shirt for a year. I suppose the way families deal with these questions is emblematic of many other family dynamics, but I would still love to hear any responses or thoughts."

Hot topic: First choice public vs. first choice private

An SF K Files visitor suggested a forum topic:

First choice public vs. first choice private: If you were to get both assignments from the get-go, how would go about making the final decision?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hot topic: enrichment

A topic suggestion from an SF K Files visitor:

"What bells & whistles does your school offer? How often? How are they funded?

I'm trying to get at any real or perceived differences between the big PTA-funded trophies, the government-funded programs offered to struggling schools get, and anything else out there. I suspect there's a lot of myth. it took me months to figure out that some stuff some schools brag about is offered at every school, or most." —Kim

Friday, October 10, 2008

West Portal

Reviewed by Thanh

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: a tried and true Chinese immersion program that has been running for 24 years, great student and family community, great API scores (897), long-term kindergarten teachers who are still exciting in the classroom, a dynamic and committed principal, good fund raising, safe and attractive school setting, a late-ish start time (8:40am), and highly regarded before/after school program.

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: by appointment
Location: 5 Lenox Way
Grades: K-5
Start time: 8:40am
Kindergarten size: 20 students (5 classes: 3 GE, 2 Chinese Immersion)
Total student body: 553
Before- and after-school program: GLO
AM Program: 7am – 8:40am $120/month
PM Program: 2:40pm – 6pm $300/month
AM/PM Program $340/month
Language: Two-way Chinese Immersion Program (CIP) in Cantonese.
Instruction time: K : 80% Cantonese/20% English
2nd/3rd Grades: 70% Catonese/30% English
4th/5th Grades: 50% Catonese/50% English
Note: you will have to specifically apply to the Chinese Immersion Program. So for instance you could theoretically have West Portal down twice on your application, one as the General Ed program, the second time as the Chinese Immersion Program.

Highlights: This has clearly been an excellent-running school for many years. It just feels good to walk on campus, it’s homey (even for a pretty big student population), and it’s safe. The kids are relaxed, the teachers are relaxed – and you can tell it’s a tight-knit community. The classrooms are well run; everyone knows what they’re doing and where they should be focused. The Chinese Immersion Program is clearly well-established and seems to run like clockwork. It’s hard actually for me to think of highlights because it’s just clearly been a very good school for a long time, and you can only use so many superlatives before it starts sounding like treacle. From looking at the 875 requests for West Portal from the 2007-2008 school year, it would seem that every prospective parent touring the school felt the same way.

Thanh’s impressions
So I wanted to at least see one of the “popular” public schools myself so that I could have that as a basis of comparison while I looked at other schools. There clearly has to be very good reasons why so many families request Clarendon, Rooftop, West Portal et al, right? And what can I say? West Portal is what everyone says it is. It’s a great, well-run school, with good academics, great teachers and principal, and a caring, homey, safe environment.

The tour (note, be prepared for a crowded tour) was led by Will Lucy, the Principal for 6 years. He is clearly a dynamic person, and incredibly proud of his school. He will (hopefully) be having a son that will start K in 2009 as well. I think he mentioned that previously he had bee Asst. Principal at Northstar Academy in Redwood City. He began actually by touching on two topics that were clearly close to his heart. First was K readiness. Your information packet will have 4 pages regarding K readiness. He threw out some interesting points: 70% of K experience is social, 30% academic. So his point was, “Is your child ready to hit the ground running, right from the beginning?” He says when he and the K teachers sit down and assess the kids who are having difficulty, 9 out of 10 times, its kids whose birthdays are in Sept, Oct, Nov and Dec. His own son has a July birthday, and Will held him back a year because of his experience with knowing what it takes to have a good K year. He punctuated his K readiness point by ending with the point that there are kids now in 4th grade at WP who are still feeling the impact from the fact that they probably started K too early. The second point was while they are proud of their high API scores, they also spend time doing their own internal assessments to ensure that their curriculum is solid around developing the skills for critical thinking and ensuring that they have a solid foundation of project-based learning.

Tour and Day in the Life Observations
We saw three general ed Ks and 1 CIP K. Both GE classrooms were cheerful and covered from ceiling to floor with student work and colorful art. Two of the K teachers have been there 22 years and 3 are newbies who have only been there only 12 years.

In the first GE, we saw groups of 4 kids doing different activities: coloring, a listening game with headphones, working on a worksheet game to identify numbers by sight, and free form play in a play corner. There were three adults in the room: the primary teacher, an assistant and 1 teacher devoted to an Inclusion student. West Portal has an Inclusion program to support children with learning difficulties. The Inclusion students are integrated into the classroom and are assigned their own teacher and may even have additional specialists working with them at any given time. All the students were engaged and focused on their different activities, and the teacher walked around working with each group individually. We saw a CIP K in the middle of their art class sitting at tables of 4. The teacher was walking around and talking to each in Cantonese, there was a special Art teacher, and another Inclusion teacher working with her student 1:1.

The 3rd K class was a GE class sitting in a circle as one big group, with the teacher working on identifying numbers 1-33 by sight (based on the fact that they had been at school 33 days) and then moved on to identifying sentence structure and learning about the period that is at the end of every sentence. They also worked on spelling their own names by identifying letters by sight.

There are 4 play yards and structures. Only Ks are allowed on during staggered recess times. There is a library (which we didn’t see) but it’s opened every day with Ks visiting once a week. There is a librarian there 3 days/week, who is funded by the PTA.

We saw a music class for 2nd grade, with a dedicated music teacher and the 2nd grade teacher there to lend support.

There a multi-purpose room that serves as the lunchroom for Ks and 1st graders, who sit at tables by classroom, with a supervisor. Hot lunch and salad bar are available.

I don’t know the make-up but the school looked very well diverse with the whole spectrum of children represented.

General Ed: There is small group learning, which emphasizes whole language activities such as storytelling and listening, science, printing and phonics. There are whole group learning activities for phonics, journal writing, music and math. There is time carved out for free play and exploration (art, puzzles, free play, water table, etc.).

There additional programs for all , which include art and music. The music program includes a trip to the symphony for grades 1-5, music maker classes for all grades, and instrument lessons for grades 4 and 5. The arts program includes craft and art museum visits and includes a Youth Arts Festival. There is also a large spring musical every year which includes all grades.

Chinese Immersion Program: There is a separate curriculum for CIP students, which we didn’t go into detail on. There is an upcoming special night for prospective parents to talk to the principal and the two CIP teachers about the program on Wednesday, November 19 at 6:30pm.

It is a two-way immersion program (as opposed to Alice Fong Yu which is one-way immersion). Program Goals include:
* Develop proficient English language skills
* Develop bilingual and bi-literate skills in English and Chinese language
* Meet or exceed academic content standards and performance standards
* Develop knowledge and appreciation for Chinese and other cultures

Physical Ed is offered for all children and emphasized perceptual motor development for Ks (e.g., balance and agility). It meets 1/week for 30 minutes with PE teacher, who is a consultant. But while unclear for me, there are additional physical group activities in addition to dedicated PE, which results in children getting 200 minutes of physical time for every 10 days.

I asked about the homework policy but was only referred to a flyer which mainly said don’t let your kid watch TV. Maybe someone else can elaborate on homework? When does it start? How much?

BTW, Will said that most kids end up going to Hoover after West Portal.

Parental Involvement
Very involved parent community under a Parents Club (still 501c3). Myriad of fundraising activities including Halloween Carnival, spring auction, readathon, pumpkin patch, etc. I didn’t hear much about it but it’s clear that parent’s community is active and integrated into the school.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hot topic: computers in classrooms

A forum topic suggestion from an SF K Files visitor:

Do children need any computer time in the classroom before middle school? (Personally, I think restricting computers would address, if not solve, many academic, social, physical, mental, and budgetary issues facing our young students. Read Todd Oppenheimer's "The Flickering Mind," for starters.)

Suggest forum topics

Hi: If you have an idea for a forum topic, you can email me at Thanks! Best, Kate

McKinley Elementary

Reviewed by Wendy

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: a small public school with a nurturing, friendly environment; small class sizes and engaging, responsive teachers; a good special education program; an active and enthusiastic PTA that participates in decision-making, fundraising and volunteering in the school; a wonderfully diverse student body; exposure to some Spanish instruction (but not an immersion or bilingual program); an after-school program until 6:00 p.m. (for a fee and with a waiting list); and an early 7:50 a.m. start time.

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: Tours are Wednesdays and Fridays at 8:15 a.m. and can be scheduled by calling the school.
Location: 1025 14th St., at Castro
Grades: K–5
Start time: 7:50 a.m.
Dismissal time: 1:50 p.m.
Kindergarten size: 60 kids (3 classes of 20 students)
Buses: Two routes, one through the Mission and one through the Haight.
Playground: New, state of the art climbing structure, plants at the edges, large conifer trees shading one edge.
Library: A wonderful, open library in the center of the school, with a large collection of books. There is a librarian there 2 full days per week.
Before- and after-school program: Fee-based after-school care is available until 6:00 p.m. A private non-profit runs this program and there is a waiting list. There are kids on the waiting list even now.
Language: All children, even the kindergarteners, take 1/2 hour of Spanish 2 times per week. There is no immersion program.
Highlights: Throughout the tour, the children in class were very focused on their work, whether a collaborative project, an individual writing assignment, or a participatory lesson. All of the classes are small, all the way up through the 5th grade. Teachers engaged the children in a positive and skillful way. This school is beautifully diverse (26% white; 22% black; 29% Latino; and 8% Asian). The school takes advantage of the larger community by bringing in artists and musicians to teach the kids in their classrooms. The library is spacious and comfortable, and stocked with a large collection of books. The PTA provides a lot of added opportunities, such as a Spanish enrichment program, fun, community-building events at the school, and volunteering to help in the school.

Wendy’s Impressions

School community: This is a small, intimate and beautifully diverse public school. Parents are very involved, and the PTA is really revved up. There is a real sense of community here among the parents, kids and administrators.
Facility: The building is 1970s architecture. The entryway leads you into the spacious, open, yet charming library at the center of the school. Large orange dome lights hang down from the high ceiling and illuminate the space. The library is cheerily decorated with papier-mâché totem poles, leaf awnings, and other artwork. It is the central core of the school. Throughout the school, three-dimensional clay panels and other kids’ art festoon the walls. In the classrooms, there’s a lot of wood paneling, also appropriately and colorfully decorated with children’s artwork, writing projects and the like.
Academics: The school does a good job of pursing excellence in academics. There is a Spanish enrichment program that provides every child, K-5, with at least a half-hour of Spanish instruction twice per week. Students in K-3 participate in weekly music and theater classes. Fourth and fifth graders participate in orchestra, chorus, drama and art. No Child Left Behind mandates that the vast majority of class time must be spent on reading and math skills, so the teachers work science instruction into math and art units. There are other enrichment activities as well, for example, each year the school has a U.N. Day, where each class transforms their classroom into a different country. The kids get passports, and use them to visit other “countries” to learn about the other countries.
Teaching: The teachers are highly competent, positive, energetic, fully engaged and had their classes well-focused on the tasks hand. They use a “differentiated” approach, which, along with the small class size, provides for added attention for both advanced children and children facing special challenges. The school appears to be working hard on professional development with the teachers so that they can competently address a wide variety of student abilities, and provide instruction in P.E. and science to the kids.

The tour:

Three current parents at the school warmly greeted the touring parents as we entered the building, and they chatted with us about the SFUSD process and the school. The parent leading the tour first took us into the library. I’ve described it above, but it is truly a warm and inviting space. I envisioned the kids being able to listen to a story there, all cozy and warm on a foggy San Francisco day. The tour leader explained that every class comes to the library once per week and works on a grade-appropriate exercise. Demonstrating the point, there was a group of students working on a project at one side of the library. They were happily working on a project.

We briefly visited all three kindergartens and many other classes. In each, teachers and kids were focused on learning. Each kindergarten room was spacious and colorfully decorated with the kids’ artwork. One class was working on writing a sentence, and in another, the kids were engaged with the teacher about the letter W. The teacher said, “Yesterday was Tuesday, so today is…” The kids answered, “Wednesday!” The teacher said, “Yes, today is Wednesday! And Wednesday starts with…” One kid answered, “Wuh, wuh, wuh…” Another said, “Willy Worm!” The teacher said, “Okay, so I am going to make a Willy Worm to start the word,” and he wrote a “W” on the easel. The kids were totally engaged and interested.

After seeing the kindergartens, we went out to the “upper yard” of the playground. This is where the PTA raised the money and organized a building team to put in a brand new, state-of-the-art climbing structure. The four-year-old on the tour thought that it was just the cat’s meow, and told the principal so at the end of the tour. Under the structure, they have installed the springy stuff you find on so many San Francisco playgrounds. The rest of the yard is mostly blacktop. There were large, colorful murals on the walls of the school. There were large evergreen trees just on the other side of the fence from the climbing structure, as well as some gardening efforts (also PTA sponsored and organized) along the edges. I saw some raised beds off on one end, where there was some kind of squash plant and other plants growing.

We went back into the school and saw the first grade classes, which were participating in a group reading activity and a writing assignment. In one of the classes, a colorful Chinese dragon, which must have been a class project, dangled from the ceiling. In the second grade classroom, the teacher was reading a story with the kids in an oversized book. The kids answered questions about the story, and defined the vocabulary word “ancestor.” In the Spanish class, the kids were handily translating Spanish phrases into English. In the third grade class, a very dynamic teacher worked on spelling with her kids. Again, the kids were engaged and participating appropriately. In another third grade classroom, children were listening to a book on tape while each student followed along in his or her own book. The story had to do with Jewish culture and weddings. A fourth grade class was working collaboratively on a language project, and a fifth grade class was doing a descriptive writing project about an imagined vacation. The teacher encouraged them to write about what they would see, hear, smell and taste on their vacation.

The tour leader answered questions at several points during the tour, emphasizing the involved and active PTA throughout. The PTA helps plan the overall direction of the school at an annual community meeting. At this meeting, the school decided that it would sacrifice a dedicated arts studio and teacher in order to keep class sizes small. The school makes up for this by bringing in artists from the surrounding community to work with the kids in their classes. He said there is also a program that brings in a music teacher from outside. One of his kids is learning clarinet and the other, violin. The younger kids participate in chorus and percussion. In addition, there is a dance teacher who comes in to teach the kids, and to organize two performances per year in which the kids perform a song and either a dance or some kind of percussion display. In sum, there are a number of parent committees helping with just about every aspect of the school, from fundraising to building/facility issues to cultural activities.

He also answered some questions about the after-school program. An independent non-profit runs the program, and there is a significant waiting list for it. There are four groups in the program, divided according to grade level. There is one certified teacher per group and two aides per group. They do homework with the kids, and they also do fun projects, including claymation, art, clay and ceramics, drumming, dance, tree frogs hikes and other field trips.

At the end of the tour, the school’s new principal, Ms. Rosa Fong, spoke to the group. Her goals for the year are: 1) to maintain and increase the school’s test scores; 2) to improve emergency preparedness; and 3) to bring an IT/computer lab into McKinley. She has an impressive background, layered with a variety of experiences as a teacher and administrator in both public and private schools. She is also the mother of three teenagers. I got a good feeling from her, that she was happy to answer questions, friendly, accessible and genuinely interested in what parents want for their kids.

K Files Council: Inter-district transfer

A question for the group from an SF K Files visitor:

I have a question for the group on inter-district transfers. We live in a nearby district, which does not have any after-school care for kindergarten programs, nor any before-school care for any grade. So rather than do a private school, we would much rather transfer into the SF district. I've looked at the rules online, and it says no high demand schools are available and something about a wait list, which I don't understand, Has anyone in the group been successful in transferring into the district? Is there any hope in getting a decent school? An up-and-coming immersion program? As I understand it, 80 percent of the money follows the child, so it's good for everyone. I'd appreciate your input. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

St. Monica

Reviewed by Thanh

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: a very well rounded approach to school – core curriculum of the three Rs and equal emphasis on extracurricular activities (sports via CYO, student council, yearbook, community service, etc); an active (and I mean active) parent community, and a very traditional school setting and culture (think Leave It to Beaver), engaged teachers who seem devoted to their craft, a foundation of Catholicism in the sense of a respect for God and appreciation for spirituality, a structured and clearly well-run administration, and a real sense of community between the different grades.

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: by appointment
Location: 5920 Geary Blvd, Richmond district
Grades: K-8
Start time: 8:00 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 16 students (by my count – but I am told that average class size is 25)
Average class size lower school, K–8: 20-25, one class per grade
Total student body: 225 students
Tuition: (based on one child)
$5,320 for Catholic in Parish
$5,570 for Catholic out of Parish
$6,010 for Non-Catholic
Financial aid: Financial Aid assistance is awarded on the basis of need and funded through the BASIC Fund for low-income families.
Before- and after-school program: Extend Care program $2,394/year, drop-in fees $6.00/hour. School-run with multiple activities, including dance, music, and physical activities. There are also numerous additional enrichment programs for additional cost. In addition, starting in 3rd grade (I think) there is a variety of sports teams offered and school extracurricular activities (at no cost).
Language: There is a Mandarin Chinese class offered after school for additional cost. I did not note if additional language class offered starting in middle school.
Highlights: There is a wide range of extracurricular activities after school including Mandarin language, Science Adventure Club, guitar and piano lessons, dance, etc. for additional cost. In addition, mostly for older children, the school offers a host of school-sponsored activities including student council, media club, yearbook, newspaper, peer tutoring etc. Also there is a range of sports options starting in 3rd grade soccer (I think), basketball and baseball (co-ed) for boys and soccer, volleyball and baseball (co-ed) for girls. All at no cost.

In addition, because of the schools Catholic foundation, community service is also integrated beginning in 8th grade with visits to St. Anthony’s kitchen, volunteering in the Parish, etc.

Thanh’s impressions
St. Monica is a very traditional school in the very best sense but will never be mistaken for alternative school. My takeaway is that their mission is to develop the whole child – academically and developmentally. As such, there seems to be equal emphasis on core academics and extracurricular activities. Academically the school wants to ensure that their middle schools students are prepared for high school. We’re told that most students seem to enroll in St. Ignatius, Sacred Heart Cathedral, Archbishop Riordan, Mercy and Lowell – and from the parents who led the tour, that seemed to bear out. As you can see from the highlights, there is what seems like a few hundred ways to get involved in the school via extracurricular activities.

Our tour started in the Library (with a dedicated librarian) and two current St. Monica parents met us. The Principal, Mr. Sweeters, who has been there 3 years, led the intro session. We met Mr. Mullen who is the 8th grade science teacher and two 8th grade students who were part of the Student Council. Mr. Mullen was clearly excited about his craft, he leads a 7th vs. 8th grade science challenge every year, and is proud of the fact that St. Monica kids are ready for a college preparatory high school when they leave. Example cited: you take Algebra in 8th grade and when you enter 9th grade, you are ready to Algebra II or Honors Algebra. One statement he made stuck out for me. St. Monica offers a range of tutoring – both by peers and by teachers – outside of class. The philosophy is that instead of lowering academic standards and expectations, they want to build a “scaffolding” of support with regard to academics, should you’re child need it.

The curriculum is based on California standards, in addition to adherence to curriculum guidance from the Catholic Archdiocese (I think). K-6 is homeroom style, with one teacher teaching all subjects, and augmentation from specialty teachers for art, music, computers. Starting in 7th grade, you start having multiple teachers across different subjects, so a history teacher, a math teacher, a science teacher, and english teacher, etc. Homework starts in kindergarten, and is about 15 minutes, for both K and 1st grade. Then each subsequent year adds an additional 15 minutes – so if you’re doing your math, it ends up being about 1.5 to 2 hours by 8th grade. I am told that the K homework might be something like read your child a book and have him or her tell you about what happened. I don’t know the extent and how it works in practice, but apparently the teachers (who are mostly long-term), are required to take additional professional development courses.

Tour and Day in the Life
We then moved on to look at the kindergarten class. It was incredibly cheerful room with all sorts of kid drawings and activities on the wall. There were 3 computers in the class. They had just finished english and were involved in free form play – most of the girls were playing dress-up in a great dress up corner and playhouse, and most of the boys were building giant forts with wooden blocks. From what I could see of the english workbooks on their desk, it looked like what they had been doing was coloring with crayons all pictures of things that started with D, so coloring in a dog and not coloring in phone. I have to say I liked what I saw of both things in that there was both structured learning and unstructured activity. Unfortunately, did not meet the K primary teacher because she was out sick. Met the assistant teacher and a parent who was helping out. Apparently parental help is welcome, and up to the teachers to determine the level.

We saw a 1st grade PE class in a nice little gym, led by their PE teacher who seemed enthused and liked the kids. All the kids were lined up and learning how to kick a soccer ball with the inside of their foot and passing it back and forth to each other. The K-3 play yard did not have a playground structure – apparently the teachers bring out balls, hula-hoops, equipment, etc. to play with. There are two daily recesses, each 30 minutes. And an “Activity Time”, for 30 minutes – activity time might include yoga, PE, etc. depending on the day. The school day at St. Monica is long, 8:00am to 2:50pm, so there is a 30-minute Rest Time after lunch for Kindergarteners, where you can either do quiet activities or even nap. We saw a 2nd grade class in the computer lab (with new iMacs) doing games that helped them with math and keyboarding, led by a computer teacher, with the second-grade teacher present and lending support. We saw the middle school science class and observed a 4th grade class – I can’t remember the subject – and the only thing from my notes that is interesting at all, is the fact that there was same level of cheerfulness – with walls plastered with student work.

Student Observation and Diversity
St. Monica is a mostly Asian student body – 40% are Chinese, 24% are Caucasian, and 22% are bi-racial (mostly Asian/Caucasian), 14% other. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember seeing any African-Americans. My observations of the kids are that these are real kids – not worldly nor overly coddled, just happy, well-adjusted children. The two 8th graders we met were confident, bright, articulate boys who seemed respectful to each other and respectful to their teachers. Just a nice note: the school has a K and 8th grade “buddy” program, which work on projects together once a week, and it was delightful to hear how much those boys liked working with their K buddies. That was reinforced by the K teacher who remarked on how much the Ks adored their 8th grade buddies.

Parental Involvement
You are expected to provide 25 hours of service per family/year. You are also expected to participated in Fall Fundraiser by selling $300 worth of products (you’re able to buy our $200 yourself), participate in Spring Fundraiser by purchasing $100 with items in something (auction?), and $250 in Maintenance Fund, an emergency fund to cover capital improvements. In addition to that, it sounds like, just as there seem to be a lot of extracurricular activities for your kids, there are many ways you can jump into and help as a parent – parent club, room parent group, parent volunteer on business side (marketing and development). The parents we met were long-term parents who were relaxed, clearly very involved in the school and in their kids, and really proud of their children.

Personal Note
So I have to address the Catholicism, a bit, I think. St. Monica is Catholic school – make no mistake about it - which means in Kindergarten, you have 20 minutes of religion class, school assembly every morning starts with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, and there is once-a-month student Mass. Catholic students will be prepared to have First Communion and Confirmation. There are students who are non-Catholic (as a matter of fact, my notes tell me that 50% of students are non-Catholic, could that be right?), and they seemed genuinely open to accepting students who are non-Catholic. Personal note, I am Catholic (and handful of Mass/year attendee who was raised by a Buddhist father, who promised my mother when she died that he would raise me Catholic), my husband is not, and our son is not baptized. For some folks, Catholicism, however offered, is not going to be suitable. For others, it might be a draw. For our family, here is how we look at it: the tenets of religion (any religion) are good – do right by yourself, do right by others, do good in the community and honor some higher being – whether that’s God with a capital G, whether that is Allah, whether that’s a spiritual being you find in the nature, etc. The religion question in our family is an evolving one, but currently we’re thinking that our son’s path can take on many forms, Catholicism, Buddhism, Muslim, spiritual awareness, etc. And as he grows up, and as we grow up (!), we’re open to wherever that may take him and us. So for our little family, an introduction to Catholicism via school is fine and that’s why we’re looking at them. But I appreciate the fact that for many of our friends, and I’m sure others, it wouldn’t be appropriate.

Monroe Fall Fun Festival

Monroe Elementary School is having its annual Fall Fun Festival on Sat. Oct. 18, 2008 from noon to 4 p.m. Bring the whole family for a fun-filled day including a cheer-leading demonstration, fire truck, bike obstacle course, haunted house, pumpkin patch, face painting, food, games, arts and crafts and much more. Come in costume if you like! Admission is free. 260 Madrid Street at Excelsior, San Francisco.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Creative Arts Charter School

Reviewed by Wendy

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: an emphasis on arts education, including music, dance, visual arts and theater; you like the idea of a small public school with a nurturing, intimate environment; you are flexible on location; you value diversity in the student body; you are interested in an alternative to the SFUSD curriculum; you need an after-school program until 6:00 p.m. (for a fee); and an 8:30 a.m. start time will work for you.

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: Open Houses can be scheduled through the Web site.
Location: 1601 Turk St., between Scott St. and Pierce, Western Addition
Grades: K–8
Start time: 8:30 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 20 students, one class; they are considering whether to add another kindergarten class for next year.
Playground: The school is moving, so the current playground isn’t pertinent.
Library: We did not get to go in, but we looked at the library through the window. It looks like fairly spacious library, with a respectable collection of books. There is a librarian there 2 full days per week.
Before- and after-school program: After-school care (fee-based) available until 6:00 p.m.; after-school clubs are available as well (language clubs, yoga, chess, arts & crafts, and play (theater)).
Language: The school offers clubs after school, including Mandarin and Spanish.
Highlights: The teachers seem truly great, and interact with the kids in a positive, upbeat way. The teachers are making space for a very diverse array of abilities by making the most of their open-ended, project-based curriculum. The kindergarten teacher is truly inspired. Two four-year-old girls on our tour became completely engaged in what he was doing with his class, and their parents had to pull them away when the time came. The arts emphasis brings the school to life. Three hours per week for every child are dedicated to arts instruction, in visual arts, dance, music or theater. There is a very charismatic full-time music teacher and a well-stocked music room full of high-quality instruments.

Wendy's Impressions
School community: This is a beautifully diverse school. The school uses the responsive classroom approach to creating community and fostering positive interactions between students. Parents are expected to volunteer 40 hours per year.
Facility: The school will be moving before the next school year begins, and the school does not know where the new building will be. So, an evaluation of the current building would not be relevant. However, the teachers have made tremendous efforts in the current facility to set up and decorate their rooms well. The kindergarten teacher had set up a painting area, a dress-up area, a reading area with books, an area for studying plants (a current theme of study), and a “loft” in the center of the room, where kids can climb up and read on a platform covered with blankets and pillows. The third grade teacher had also done a nice job with her room, decorating it with the kids work and instructional posters. It was a cheerful and tidy room, with a couch for reading (I presume). She also had some grapes and carrots in the room for snacks. All of the teachers had clearly made efforts to decorate their rooms.

The school emphasizes arts education, and studies subjects using a project-based, “integrated” approach. Arts are integrated into the classroom as an additional way for students to access and learn the material. The curriculum is open-ended enough that the teachers can extend class subjects for more sophisticated work with talented students. The director of the school stated that if a child does not know how to read by the 2nd grade, the school has failed that child. Further, if a child does not know his or her times tables by the 3rd or 4th grade, the school has failed that child, and the child will struggle with tasks waiting for him or her in the upper grades.

Teaching: From what I saw, the teachers are talented, upbeat, energetic and committed to their work. For example, we entered the kindergarten during circle time. Each child had a chance to say something to the group. While the teacher was explaining the schedule for the day, one student began to be disruptive, while all of the other kids were eagerly answering questions. The teacher simply put an arm around the child’s shoulders and kept the child near him. This was positive, not punitive, and it completely resolved the problem without disrupting the flow of circle time. It allowed the child to regroup and focus on the discussion as well. Another example I saw on my tour was the third grade teacher, who had a fully engaged and participatory class. They discussed colors, multiplication and counting by 5’s. She was upbeat and fully in tune with her kids. Overall, I think the quality of teaching here is very good, and the parents I’ve spoken to are very happy with their school and the education their kids get here.

Could Flynnarado happen again?

An SF K Files visitor asked me to share the below. I hate to bring up the Flynn/Alvarado situation again, but this is interesting. Best, Kate

Hi Kate,

After the Flynarado 23 screw up with EPC this summer, I decided to ask the Superintendent if they were planning to re-write the software code that assigns students to schools. IMHO, this code is clearly broken. Here is the response from the EPC person he punted my question to.

Short answer: No, they're not going to re-write the code.
My conclusion: This is trouble. March is going to result in a whole new set of screw-ups when the letters go out.

Feel free to copy/paste this into the blog if you like.

Parent and Tour leader at Flynn

Dear Mr. Forer,
Superintendent Garcia forwarded your inquiry to me for a response.

The situation that occurred in the Round 1 assignments to two-way immersion programs was not due to a programming error or a flaw to the computer system itself, but to an error in the coding of the languages that should have been attached to the applicants. Our consultant did a double check on the program file from both before and after the assignment run, which is how the error was discovered.

In order to prevent a recurrence of this situation for school year 2009-2010, we have installed preventative measures for the future:

  • Ensure that the proper language code is attached to all pre-assigned students. This code will be reviewed by a second IT programmer, or team, who will also check the balance of languages after completion of the Student Assignment process run by the consultants prior to mailing notification letters.
  • Post Round 1/Pre-Mailing: Print Manual Query verification lists for all K-1 Immersion programs showing student language distribution.
  • Build in additional data verification days so new run can be accomplished if required.
  • Provide Programmers and consultants a check off/ signature verification sheet for all required pre & post run checks.
  • Schools to immediately review assignment lists in March and notify EPC of any discrepancies.
  • Provide Multilingual and Assistant Superintendents check off/ signature results query sheet.
  • Schools to immediately review assignment lists in March and notify any discrepancies.

All these measures will allow us to be more diligent in ensuring the appropriate balance of languages are assigned. The district will not allow this error to re-occur in the future. I hope that you will be able to communicate our assurances to future immersion families.

Darlene Lim
Executive Director, Educational Placement Center

Monday, October 6, 2008

French American International School

Reviewed by Thanh

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:
a core foundation of language immersion via French; emphasis on broadening children’s minds to a truly global horizon, very structured curriculum (based on French curriculum established by the French Ministry of Education, that ultimately prepares students to pass the difficult Baccalaureat), a very involved parental community, amazing extracurricular activities at each grade beginning with 1st (e.g., overnight camping in Santa Cruz Mountains, snorkeling on Catalina Island, even two week trip for French exchange in 5th grade), an amazing renovated IT lab and library setting, a very urban school setting located right next to the symphony and opera.

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: by appointment
Location: 150 Oak Street, Civic Center
Grades: PreK-12
Start time: 8:20 a.m.
Kindergarten size: 20 students, one class. There are 3 pre-K and 4 K classes.
Average class size lower school, K–5: 22, one class per grade
Average class size middle school, 6–8: don’t know
Total student body: 867 students (remember, preK-12)
Tuition: $18,970 (lower school), $20,510 (middle school)
Financial aid: Financial Aid assistance is awarded on the basis of need and the potential family contribution as reported by School and Student Services for Financial Aid.
Before- and after-school program: School run enrichment program 7:30am- 6:15pm; $12.50/hour (drop-in use), $8.50/hour (regular but not necessarily full-time use), $2,750/year (full-time use) – enrichment programs in music (based on Orff philosophy and taught in French), movements, sports, arts/crafts and computers
Language: 80% French instruction until 4th grade, 50% in 5th and 6th grade, then 70% 7th and 8th.

Highlights: Each year, students in grades 1 to 5 are involved in an overnight outdoor education program which complements and enriches their studies in the classroom:
• 1st and 2nd graders experience a hands-on, experiential program at a nature camp for three days
• 3rd graders expand their knowledge of California History by spending three days in the gold country studying Native American cultures;
• 4th graders spend five days at the Headlands Institute at Marin Headlands in an environmental education program;
• 5th graders culminate their lower school bilingual education with an exchange trip to France for up to two weeks.

Thanh’s impressions
In so many ways, French American represents one of the main reasons why I would imagine many of us have decided to stay in San Francisco – a community that actively cultivates a global perspective, educating children in a thorough curriculum that will allow them to be true world citizens.

The beginning of the tour was parent-led and then ended with an intimate group discussion with Andrew Brown, the Director of Admissions for the Lower School.

The school’s mission is to provide a foundation of academic rigor and diversity, to prepare students for a world in which the ability to think critically and to communicate across cultures is of “paramount importance.”

In the pre-K class we observed 21 kids, who had only been there for 5 weeks, sitting in circle with the teacher and assistant discussing in French “compote de pommes” (applesauce). The teacher asked the students the ingredients. About 60% offered the ingredients in French, pommes, l’eau, etc. and 40% offered them in English. If an English word was offered, the teacher would review the French words – so for instance, they all learned that the word for cinnamon was “cannelle.” There was no pressure to “know the right word” – it was clear that this was to help expand and broaden and not “get it right.” They sang two songs in French, with the asst. teacher playing guitar and the primary teacher playing the flute – one song taught them the different French words for the days of the week. And all kids seem to know the song by heart. After 5 weeks, that was pretty impressive! In the K class we observed, we saw 22 kids sitting on the ground in a circle, getting ready for class. The kids were well behaved, eager and clearly looking forward to what was to come next. At the moment we were observing, the teacher was going over some expectations for the class and provided instruction in French and repeating in English for emphasis. About half the kids in K come from the pre-K, so if you’re child starts kindergarten, without knowing French, I wouldn’t be worried. I should note that all teachers are native French speakers.

We viewed a 3rd grade class and saw a bit of a 4th grade class. In my quick observation, I believe it looked like Pre-K to 3rd grade classrooms had intimate group tables, and starting in 4th grade, each student got individual desks. We saw a great computer lab just for the Pre-K to 3rd grade set, a great gymnasium (with apparently an impressive middle school girls’ basketball team), a wonderful, intimate library dedicated just for K to 3rd grade, with what looked like to full-time librarians just for that one library! There was a nice playground for Pre-K and 1st graders, and across the street and nice size outdoor basketball court and mini-playground for 2nd and 3rd graders. We entered into a very impressive art studio for the Lower School with an art teacher with her Masters in Fine Arts preparing for her next class and an impressive offering of different media offered to the students. The physical tour ended up on the 6th floor in the high school, with a newly renovated IT lab and a truly (truly) impressive library and view of SF to kill for.

Homework at French American starts in 1st grade, with no homework on the weekends up until 5th grade. Apparently, starting in 4th or 5th grade, homework becomes quite important. No matter where you fall down on the homework debate, I will say the fact that French American kids are reading The Odyssey (in French) by the time they are in 8th grade, speaks volumes for the level of academic excellence the school strives for. I could be wrong, but I swear, I didn’t read The Odyssey until I was a sophomore in high school.

The tour ended up at the Admissions office with Andrew Brown, the Admissions Director for the Lower School. It was a very different and intimate experience than I have experienced on other tours. We were served tea and were asked to speak first about ourselves and backgrounds and then shoot away at any questions we had. It was a nice setting and Andrew seemed genuinely interested in getting to know about the parents and why they were interested in French American. And for me, that fit in to the background of a school that is interested educating global citizens. Before you get the idea that you have to have some exotic background to fit in – I don’t think that is the case. 70% of French American kids come from families who do not speak French at home. But I do get the feeling that based on their mission, the school looks to families who are committed to reinforcing their children with a global perspective.

One point I would bring up here is the question of the relevancy of the French language. It seems that by 6th grade all students are completely and fully fluent in French, orally and written. One of my husband’s primary questions was the relevancy of learning French and how useful that would that be going forward. After a morning at French American, I walk away with the following perspective: learning another language when you are young provides you with an inherent awareness and appreciation of a broader set of cultures, language and context of all kinds. And if, as parent, that falls on top of a priority list, this school is worth looking at. Looking at the kids as we toured the school from Pre-K through to the high school, I observed kids who were mature and confident. Because French American goes through 12th, it’s a lot to take in for most parents just focused on kindergarten. But I would imagine that if your child likes structure, is bookish - and verbally confident – along with being very bright-eyed and inquisitive – he or she would do very well at French American.

San Francisco Day School

Reviewed by Wendy

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: an emphasis on social skills and community building (they consider teaching these skills equally important as academic ones); a beautiful facility, including a two-story library in the center of the school; an excellent outdoor education program (including overnight camping trips starting in third grade, and a five-day backpacking trip for the seventh grade); committed, involved teachers (many of their teachers have long tenures with the school); a great technology program (a room full of relatively new iMacs and the use of technology to aid learning in traditional subject areas); an intimate environment (the Head of School seemed to know the kids and their strengths and weaknesses); an after-school program until 5:30 p.m.; and an 8:00 a.m. start time.

The Facts
Web site:

School tours: Open Houses can be scheduled through the Web site.

Location: 350 Masonic Avenue, at Golden Gate, NOPA

Grades: K–8

Start time: 8:00 a.m.

Kindergarten size: 40+ students, two classes of 23-25 children.

Playground: I did not see these during the Open House, but maybe when I tour, I will see them. I was told that they have three separate outdoor play spaces on the roof of the building and an additional one in back.

Library: Yes, a beautiful library with cozy reading spots, and a terrific alcove where the children sit on small, carpeted risers while the librarian reads to them from an overstuffed chair. Children visit on a weekly basis and check out books to discuss during class time.

Technology: Smart Boards in all classrooms, which are like giant iPhone touch-screen whiteboards. Computers in classrooms, a large computer lab, all teachers meet with the technology teacher to explore of how to use computers in support of science and other projects.
Before- and after-school program: After school care available until 5:30 p.m.
Language: Spanish instruction is required starting in 4th grade, and Latin is available in grade 7.

Highlights: Extraordinary social skills education integrated into every classroom, with two full-time school counselors and a health and education program starting in 4th grade; excellent technology program with a full-time teacher, classroom integration and awesome resources; a delightful, large library with cozy reading nooks and immense book collection; teachers that stay long term and seem creative and excited about their school; outdoor education program with overnight trips starting in the 3rd grade; backpacking adventures for the 7th grade, and the 8th graders going to the Pinnacles this year.

Wendy's impressions:

School community: This school seems to have created a loving community of students. The school teaches using the “responsive classroom” method. The mantra of this method is, “Love for self, respect for others, care for the community and environment.” (This is paraphrasing, as best I can remember) The students seem to know each other well, communicate well and support each other well. The kindergarteners are all assigned to 8th grade “buddies,” sit with them during assemblies, and help shepherd them through their first year at the school. There was a panel of six children at the Open House, speaking to a crowd of over 100 parents. All of them were articulate, confident, thoughtful and honest. They were very impressive kids.
Facility: The facility is beautiful, especially considering its very urban location. I wanted to lose myself in the library. They have two science labs, two art studios, two music studios, an immaculate gymnasium, and courtyards with plants, benches and sculptures.

Academics: The school emphasizes academics and creating well-rounded kids. The program relies on responsive teachers and staff to support kids who lag behind as well as to find additional challenges for kids who exceed expectations. Classrooms are well-staffed such that each child receives one-on-one attention and gets tailored assistance.

Teaching: The teachers seem truly energized by their work, creative, caring and nurturing to the students. For example, a history teacher that spoke to the parents had been at the school for 21 years. He focuses on class participation, analytical thinking skills, and getting kids to have civil and energetic discussions, and getting them to ask questions. He uses “the Ethicist” columns from the New York Times to encourage discussion among his kids about academic honesty. Another example is the technology teacher, who has been at the school for 14 years. He was jazzed about the whole school, especially the outdoor education program. He talked about using computers to assist with a science project. The kids were studying the effect of changes in water temperature on a fish’s frequency of respiration. He showed the kids how to use a computer to monitor the water temperature over time, so that the kids could focus on counting the respirations (“breaths”).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

K Files Council: 1st Grade Lottery

Our child had to enroll in kindergarten this year. We were very interested in language immersion, so we included two language immersion kindergarten programs in our list of 7, along with two neighborhood schools and a few others we liked. In the end, we were assigned to our neighborhood school. We like the school very much and are grateful to have gotten one of our seven when so many other people did not. Nevertheless, we'd still like to expose our child to another language. Our child has been attending Saturday classes in another language, so we were wondering whether we might try one last time to get him into an immersion program, since presumably the Saturday classes would prevent our child from being too far behind potential classmates.

Our question for the K Files Council is:
Can we submit a FIRST GRADE lottery request next year for our child for our favorite immersion program? If so, would this jeopardize our child's current spot in the neighborhood school? Clearly, this will depend on a kindergarten child not advancing to the 1st grade at the immersion school because they've either left the school or moved out of the district. Does this happen very much? Is it even worth the effort?

Meet the new SF K Files team

Introducing Elizabeth, Wendy, and Thanh Phan—the new SF K Files team. These San Francisco moms are all on the hunt for kindergartens for the 2009-10 school year and they're excited to chronicle their family's search on The SF K Files. They will post reviews of schools to spur discussion and share their thoughts and feelings throughout the process. I will add their reviews to the right-hand column and indicate who authored the reviews. Please note that the new team members are using pseudonyms. I think it will be fun to follow their stories. Many of us know that things don't always turn out as planned.

Here's some background on each reviewer. And you can look forward to Wendy's first write-up on San Francisco Day School, which I will post tomorrow.



My name is Elizabeth, and I'm married to Ming. We work full-time in fields that don't translate well in a "what does your mom/dad do for a living" elementary classroom presentation. Our daughter Sage is 4 years old; our son Henry just turned 3. Both of our children go to daycare. I'm an SF native who attended private and public schools in the city, but a very, very long time ago.

We're looking at both public and private schools. Our criteria are simple, really:
* Strong principal leadership and teachers. I want to develop a partnership with the educators of my children because, as the cliché goes, "It takes a village to raise a child."
* A school that is a good fit for both my daughter and son. I have to confess that we're focusing a lot of attention on Sage's needs, but we need to carefully consider what is important for Henry, too.
* Before- and after-school programs. Because of our schedules, and because we'll need to do a double drop-off/pick-up for a year, maybe more, I'd love to find a school with a before school program that starts at 7 and an after-care program that ends at 6; this gives Ming and me the most flexibility.
* Located near a public transit option that takes us downtown in less than an hour, and vice versa.

I'm looking forward to sharing my impressions and engaging in meaningful dialog with you all.

My 4-year-old girl, Bea, will be entering kindergarten in the fall of 2009. My husband and I both have high-pressure careers. We live in a central location in the city, but closer to the east side than the west. Both of us are products of public schools and politically committed to them. We hope we'll find a public school that we like, and it is certainly our preference to have our daughter in public. However, realizing that we may not be able to get a space in a public school that is acceptable to us, we are reluctantly exploring private schools as well.

I'm feeling anxious about the school search. I've heard a lot of war stories from last year. I'm approaching it as a big research project, and I'm gathering as much information as possible about each school. Mitch seems to be taking a complimentary approach, organizing and analyzing all of the information we gather with spreadsheets. We are trying to look at up-and-coming public schools, but we're finding that it is hard to sniff them out. Our primary goal is to find a school that our daughter will love, and that will teach our daughter to love learning. I'm less concerned about the academic rigor in the curriculum than I am about whether it will inspire her imagination and encourage her curiosity. I also want her to be in an environment that will show her that not all kids have the same advantages and privileges that she has. We have a list of about ten other criteria, but they are secondary to these considerations.

Thanh Phan
I live in east San Francisco with my husband and our son who just turned 4. Our son currently goes to preschool. My husband and I have high-powered careers. We considered moving out of the city when I first got pregnant and even looked for a house outside of San Francisco. We ultimately chose to stay because we could not yet convince ourselves that we were ready for the suburbs. I am hopeful that our sentiment won't change. But I know better than to "never say never" because as soon as I say it, I will be living in Tracy, driving a minivan and commuting into San Francisco (not that there is anything at all wrong with living in Tracy and commuting in via minivan...just not for me).

I looked at a couple schools last year to get the lay of the land. I credit Parents for Public Schools (PPS) and The SF K Files, which I stumbled upon over the summer, in broadening my horizon of the education opportunities in SF. I can safely say that last year I was only thinking about private schools. After attending a couple of PPS meetings, I was gratified to learn that there are more options for us. We will be looking at a range of schools, from private to public. Neither my husband nor I, frankly, feel strongly politically about either route. We're just interested in finding the best environment for our son and our family. I went to both Catholic and private schools growing up (all on scholarships) and my husband went to public down on the Peninsula. We both had great experiences.

As I begin this process, I'm looking for the following in schools: strong emphasis on core curriculum of reading, writing and arithmetic, good sports options, after-school program that offers some type of enrichment learning, and strong parental community. We value a great range of other things--such as diversity, additional languages, and music--but specifically in these areas, if we don't find all in the the one, right, magical, school, I would look to augment outside of school via other options. I'll be interested in how the wish list changes over the course of touring and applying.