Thursday, October 23, 2008

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!


  1. I toured this as well and I liked it quite a bit. One caveat, it is a Reading First school. That combined with the hour dedicated to Japanese instruction means some areas don't get a lot of attention. e.g. Science. I was told there are approximately 18 science classes a year, even in the upper grades. If that's important to you, it's something to consider. They do have a relationship with a pharmacy school that brings in interesting science projects.

  2. Nice review, Wendy, thanks. I love the Japanese focus in JBBP. Other strong points in favor of Rosa Parks continuing to improve are the leadership of Principal Nagy and an enthusiastic parent base.

    I predict this one will attract more attention this year. Last year it didn't fill up in round 1, but this might be the last year to get in with good odds. You never know when a school will suddenly zoom into difficult odds Flynn, Grattan, et al, but this one might still be considered a decent shot.

  3. Can someone elaborate on what it means to be a Reading First school? I understand McKinley is, too.

    Someone told me Reading First is a sound pedagogy for teaching reading, but that it is being pushed on kids who are too young and not ready for it. They said not to worry about it if you happen to have an early reader.

    Does that sound about right? Any educators care to elaborate?

  4. I would like to know more about Reading First too and whether public schools have discretion in how they implement it. Our child was not quite reading-ready last year. Fortunately our school was mellow about it. Now he wants me to slow down when I'm driving so he can sound out the road signs ("uh, sorry, honey, not on the freeway").

  5. I am a parent of a happy 1st grader in the JBBP at Rosa Parks, and I am happy to talk 'offline' about the school to any interested families.
    Some of the highlights of my son's and our family's experience include: the diverse and open community, the hard working and enthusiastic teachers, the community "can do" spirit, the addition of Japanese culture and language, and the feeling that we can make a difference.
    We are very happy with the new math program which is based in real world experiences having to do with measurements and money. This practical approach makes helping your child learn very easy!
    I did not know the details of "Reading First," so I googled it.
    I volunteer weekly and tutor a small group of 1st graders on reading and comprehension. It is true that 1st graders are reading, and reading well. Here is the info I found:

    You can email me at:

  6. I am not an expert on Reading First. I am a JBBP parent that moved to Rosa Parks three years ago. Rosa Parks was a Reading First school, so my daughter all of a sudden became a Reading First student. Like many, I was concerned about Reading First. So did a little research, and have some observations. I doubt you will see Reading First very much longer as a Federal study last spring concluded that the program has failed to achieve the intended results (

    Reading First is a politically charged Federal program started by the Bush Administration. Some characterize it as a means for Bush to put money in the pockets of his cronies in the publishing industry. Regardless of the political motivation and antidotal stories, it is nothing more than a strategy to help students learn to read. Like any program, it is not magic. It comes down to the way that it is implemented. Most feel like it has failed either by design or lack of funding.

    From what I have heard and seen, Reading First is designed to aid schools that are struggling/under achieving. In other words, schools that are typically cater to the poor, minority, inner-city and English language learners. These schools are typically filled with teachers who are recent graduates, who will leave the school after a year or two.

    Reading First places specific requirements on teachers, including: displaying specified posters and learning aids, teaching lessons at the specified pace to insure all topics are covered by the end of the year, and assessing students more frequently. Reading First schools have a Reading First Coach.

    The assessment scores are entered into a computer, which provides feedback used by the Reading First Coach to inform the teacher what topics he/she failed to teach effectively, and assist him/her with strategies on how to re-teach the topics successfully. Results are also used to identify students’ reading abilities. The Coach then tutors the teacher in how to effectively teach to struggling students, and challenge students above grad level.

    Reading First equally manages effective and ineffective teachers. Some teachers, good and bad, find the program too restrictive. Others are able to adapt effectively and like the additional feedback. Most are somewhere in-between. Could the Federal money be used more effectively? probably. Does it help some teachers? definitely. Does it tie the hands of good teachers? for some yes. Reading First would be best used to help new teachers, and ineffective teachers, rather than prescribed for all teachers.

    As you look at schools, Reading First schools will typically have lower test scores. However, there are many underachieving schools that have been making large strides in improving academic performance (Rosa Parks’ General Education strand has made huge strides in improving test scores over the last 3 years). At some schools, Reading First may have contributed to these gains. If your child is struggling in language arts, a Reading First school will provide more regular assessments.

    For our family, Reading First has not made any significant difference. I do like being able to speak to my daughter’s teacher to find out how she is doing in language arts. Reading First provides regular assessments so I can keep a pulse on how she is doing.

  7. For those who don't know, there is also a JBBP program at Clarendon.

  8. Does anyone know if and/or how the JBBP program at Rosa Parks is different from the JBBP at Clarendon?

  9. From what I understand, a key difference between JBBP at Rosa Parks and Clarendon centers around who does the teaching of the Japanese Language component of the program. At Rosa Parks, the hour of Japanese each day is taught by a Japanese native Sensei. At Clarendon, that is not necessarily the case.

  10. I've visited both the Rosa Parks and Clarendon JBBP programs now. I have to say that RP seems far and away to have the better JBBP program. The teachers are native speakers. There is a lot more japanese integrated throughout the day. We saw a ton of Japanese-related artwork, signage, etc. on the walls. We saw kids actively learning Japanese at RP. You could just tell that there was intensive time devoted to it there. Clarendon had practically nothing on the walls. They had a little Italian from the second community program. The classes seemed muted there, too.

    I was very surprised that the programs would be so different. It definitely gave me something to think about.

  11. I also visited both Clarendon and Rosa Parks.. At Clarendon, I tried to talk in Japanese to one of JBBP Kindergarten teachers. She did not understand my question. I confirmed if she is JBBP teacher, and yes she was. She is third or fourth generation Japanese. She said she was exposed to japanese culture in the family, but her Japanese is not that good. This surprised me a lot..
    Contrary to this, at fourth grade the teacher was not a japanese but she had a very good command of Japanese. The children did very well, too.
    At Rosa Parks JBBP, each class has a regular teacher and a native japanese sensei. I am amazed how the children at K class could already respond in japanese in this 2 months.
    Japanese families tend to choose Clarendon. One of Clarendon parents explained that to me. She does not require japanese lessons for her children as they already speak at home. At Clarendon they get good education with some japanese cultural exposures, and this is what they want.

  12. Another parent (daughter Nora is in 1st Grade) from Rosa Parks JBBP here... in January 2009, Rosa Parks Elementary, won a huge contest for a "green makeover" estimated at about a quarter of a million dollars! You can read more about it on my personal blog, with links to the news stories. Cheers!

  13. Our daughter ahs been assigned to Rosa Parks JBBP, not one of our 7 choices, for the upcoming year. Are there other parents we could connect with?

  14. 12:57 Yes, me too. You can e-mail me at lamascus AT gmail DOT com. I believe there's also a welcome breakfast next Monday 3/23 at 8:30am (kids invited too) for parents of incoming Ks, which I plan to be at.

  15. 12:57 + deb yep! me too. let's talk. email me at deb, how did you find out about the breakfast on monday?

  16. My twins have been assigned as well. It was on our list - I really liked the school and the program. I'm excited! I will email you...

  17. 3.12 and 3.35, this is 12.47 my email is
    About the breakfast (welcome breakfast for 09-10 class mon 8.30), check out That's the school's website. There is a tour tomorrow (there's also a tour friday). I must say that I have been finding out nice things about the school and the scores don't tell the whole story. Good luck!

  18. I just created a Yahoo! Group for parent of incoming kindergarteners at Rosa Parks JBBP.

  19. Hi, I see comments from happy parents in the JBBP program. We were assigned to Rosa Parks GE - any insight into that program?

  20. Rosa Parks JBBP is always highlighted during recruitment time. Hanguage is a huge sell but the Rosa Parks GE and Special Day programs are wonderful program as well. Rosa Parks teachers are hard working and dedicated teachers. My son was in a GE kinder class and I was amazed at how much he learned in his first year at Rosa Parks. Also being exposed to such a diverse student population has been a realisitc view into today's world and being able to accept and celebrate one anothers differences in culture, traditions and real life experiences. The merge was the awaking our school needed. The only direction we have to move is up.

  21. The district has definitely decided to add another kindergarten class at Rosa Parks. However, it has not yet been decided if it will be General Ed or Japanese Bilingual. They do not know if the decision will be made by Friday, March 27, the Round II Application Deadline. However, having 22 more spaces greatly increase one’s odds of getting into one of the programs. That is 22 more spaces than most schools.

  22. Rosa Parks will have one more school tour for Round 2- this Wednesday, March 25 at 8:30am.

  23. I am the father of a 3rd grader at Rosa Parks JBBP and also a member of both the Rosa Parks SSC and on the board of the JBBP PTCC, the parent non-profit of the JBBP program. I work at UCSF and started the Rosa Parks Science Discovery Project, a model to provide role models through UCSF pharmacy students in the teaching of scientific methodology to children to get them excited about the sciences. We are expanding the science discovery project to include the 4th grade next year. I want to say that Rosa Parks JBBP is much more than just the sensei program which is excellent by the way and many of us are working to bring a really unique experience in education for all of the children of Rosa Parks Elementary. As has been mentioned, we won the SF Ecozone contest that will be $$ towards environmental infracture at the school to transform the school. A very active group is spearheaded by my wife, Barbara, the Rosa Parks Green Schoolyard Group within the PTA, to beautify the school and bring green education into the classroom and outside of the classroom. I am committed to being a parent who will be involved with Rosa Parks well beyond my daughter's graduation from the school in two years. Obviously, our commitment as parents reveals how much we think about the potential of this school. I would encourage all to take a serious look at the school. I would happy to talk directly with anyone who might be interested. My e-mail address is

  24. BTW, Rosa Parks JBBP has a Facebook fan page ( and Twitter feed ( with current news about the Japanese program, school events, etc.

  25. My concern is that all of these wonderful comments are about the JBBP program. Does anybody have anything positive to say about the General Education program at Rosa Parks?