Friday, November 14, 2008

Commodore Sloat

Reviewed by Meredith
(toured 10/21/08)

Location: 50 Darien Street @ Juniperro Serra, St. Francis Wood/Ingleside Terrace) map
School hours: 8:40am - 2:40am (supervised yard duty starting around 8:25am)
Tel: 759-2807
Principal: Dr. Deborah Faigenbaum (4th year)
Web site: www.sloatparents.org
School tours: Tuesdays at 9am, call for appointment
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 60
Total student body: 360

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:

a strong gardening program; a spacious campus with separate play yards for K, lower elementary and upper elementary; an innovative team teaching approach in 4/5; and a strong and focused principal.

Campus/Playground

The school campus is striking in its spaciousness. The large, expansive blacktop wraps around two sides of the school. The lower yard has a separate play yard for the K students, and an area for the upper (4-5 students). The upper yard is used by the 1-3 graders. The school is built as several clusters of buildings with most of the openings facing the building exterior; windows line all of the classrooms. As a result the feeling is very open and bright, in comparison to some other schools. The K classrooms are all in one cluster and each have their own bathroom (used for emergencies only, according to the parent tour guide). The other grades have clusters and each cluster has a shared common area with a kitchen facility and a small patio.

There are several gardens in the school as well. The upper yard garden was built to create a path and soft scape in through the blacktop, and includes an outdoor classroom (basically a seating area). There is a learning garden in a courtyard, where many of the plants are California native species, with herbs, and some vegetables in evidence.

While the 70's style of architecture does seem to infuse the campus layout, it's not unpleasant and the school does seem to have a lot of light and airiness.

Link to school site map.

After School programs

The on-site after school options are the fee-based program run by the Stonestown YMCA (cost $392/$428 for 5 days/week depending on YMCA membership) and the free Excel program (2-5) for students who qualify. The parent tour guides had praise for the YMCA program though specifics were a bit lacking. The program has both before school care (starting at 7;30am) and after school in the cafeteria until 6:30.

There did not appear to be any enrichment options other than the Y program, though a few are mentioned on the Sloat Parents website.

Parents' Club

Commodore Sloat does not have a PTA but rather a Parents' Club. The tour guide felt this was largely established due to state PTA dues and bylaws. The PCO is very active and raises in the range of $50-60k per year through activities including a straight cash appeal, eScrip and a few smaller scale events, as well as grantwriting.

The parents' club provides support for the gardening program, a PE specialist, poetry, vocal music in the lower grades (now paid for by Prop H monies). The school is very open to parent volunteers both in classrooms and otherwise. The parent community feels like it is really trying to create a whole school community.

Language program(s):

None - probably one of the biggest deficits at an otherwise very strong school.

Tour Impressions

The Commodore Sloat tour started in the auditorium/MP room, a large spacious room with a stage. The principal, Dr. Deborah Faigenbaum, addressed the parents for about 30 minutes to outline what she felt were the schools vision, strengths, and to answer questions. She appeared to be a very genuine, smart person with a very calm demeanor and a no-b.s. delivery. You felt like she was someone who would give you real answers and not sugar coat anything. For example, I really appreciated her noting which program features are available at ALL SFUSD schools (e.g. instrumental music in 4/5, and the SF Symphony's Adventures in Music program) where some schools either claim these as special features, or at least don't point out that they are not distinguishing features. She said there was extremely low turnover in the teaching staff, something to be very proud of. The school has about 45% students who qualify for free/reduced lunch, and has a healthy ethnic diversity (about 50% asian, 15% white, 15% latino and 25% everything else).

She spoke quite a bit about the science and gardening/environmental focus at Commodore Sloat. The school has implemented the FOSS science curriculum, which is a district wide curriculum, but again at Commodore Sloat it seemed like the principal actually knew that this was being used (where at some schools the word FOSS is just a buzzword). In the 4th and 5th grades each have 2 teachers per class. One teacher focuses on language arts and the other focuses on math and science. The rationale is that at these grades, the material is becoming deeper and more complex, and allowing teachers to become experts in fewer subjects will allow them to be better teachers. It made sense to me.

An artists in residence program offers an art rotation in each grade. The disciplines offered include Drama (K, 1, 5); visual art (2, 3, 4), music - vocal in grades K-2 and instrumental in 4/5, and poetry in 3, 4, 5.

The library is centrally located and fairly nice, with the same 70's architecture resulting in an interesting amphitheater-style group reading area. The library is in the process of having the card catalog digitized. The librarian is part time and all classes visit once per week.

Areas for improvement she identified technology - there is not a separate computer lab at the school though they recently acquired a mobile mac lab which is used in the 4th and 5th grades. This is an area that Principal Faigenbaum is interested in investing in with input from the School Site Council in the next few years.

Visits to the classrooms revealed quite a few of the lower grades participating in "centers." The K classrooms were very large, though also crammed with a lot of stuff which made it feel perhaps a little more cramped than it might. There were a number of play areas in evidence. At CSS, K students still have a rest/nap time and are encouraged to express themselves through play. In the upper grades the students seemed engaged in a science lesson, alert and attentive to the teacher.

Commodore Sloat has a lot going for it, from a diverse student body to a spacious facility to experienced and dedicated teachers, with a healthy amount of extras thrown in. The program doesn't feature every bell and whistle out there, but the ones it does offer appear to be really solid and thoughtful in the choice of how and where to use the school's resources. All in all, a very nice school.

6 comments:

  1. A big problem I had with Sloat was how there is no fence around much of the school, and anyone can walk onto the campus easily. It is also a big problem if you have a kid who wanders ...

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  2. Elizabeth (who has yet to write a full review!)November 25, 2008 at 8:13 PM

    I visited CS recently and think the review is spot-on. I really liked it and felt that the parents who led the tours were totally into the school and dedicated to its success.

    I do want to add that Dr. Faigenbaum said that in May, the staff will want to meet with families with incoming kindergarteners who are definitely going to the school that fall. They do this to ascertain the best mix for each of the three K classrooms and to get an idea of the children's traits and needs. I'm not sure if this is a common practice with SFUSD, but it seems like a terrific idea.

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  3. 8:13

    It's not a common practice, although more schools are doing this. I like that idea as well.

    My tour last year scared me away. We went 0/15 and are in private school for Kinder.

    We are considering CS again for 1st grade and I'd like more opinions about it...

    Our tour guide unfortunately talked about free lunch kids in a separatist way (and i believe the way they are called out to get lunch, and when/where they sit left a bad taste in my mouth too.)

    The other snafu with out tour guide referred to the meeting before school this way:
    "...we try to balance the classrooms so that all the smart kids aren't in one class, and the stupid kids in an other..."

    I kid you not.

    If anyone can offer up more gut feelings, impressions, or know friends here, please feel free to post!!

    Thank you.

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  4. Elizabeth (who has yet to write a full review!)December 21, 2008 at 7:13 PM

    Ugh! That is unfortunate that you got such a tactless tour guide. My understanding about lunch is that because there is limited space, the Ks go to lunch first and then the subsequent grades (three lunchtimes total, I think). If it's nice, they eat outside. If not, they eat inside. I don't remember hearing about separation of the free lunch kids. That would've sat poorly with me too.

    I've grown up with people who went to CS. They're all nice kids who lived nearby; it's more of a neighborhood than a destination school. That's as much of a recommendation as I can honestly give. :)

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  5. ^^Thanks!!

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  6. Hi: Though it is now 2009 and many things about this review need to be updated/refreshed, I wanted to chime in as a parent whose son started K last year off the wait list after the 10 day count. We had a wonderful kindergarten experience here. My general sense is that CSS is on an upswing - we have a wonderful, energetic new principal (came from Fairmount) with 15 yrs experience and fresh out of Berkeley Principal Training Institute. We have a great critical mass of energetic and committed parents of K-2 students (and we can use more!!) as well as some really great mentor parents from students in older grades. We have an unparalleled physical environment - old, big trees and open, green space, and a district-model school gardening program. Finally, as the review highlighted, we have really good teachers who are deeply committed to the school and our students, and because our principal also taught for many years, all seem to be working well together. I encourage you all to come again and visit us - we'd love to show you around this fall! (By the way, did I mention the wonderful kids at this school? We have a buddy program across grades, and so many times last year I witnessed older kids playing so nicely with my son and going out of their way to be nice to him, which was not what I was expecting.)

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