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)
Principal: Dr. Deborah Faigenbaum (4th year)
Web site: www.sloatparents.org
School tours: Tuesdays at 9am, call for appointment
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/PlaygroundThe 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 programsThe 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' ClubCommodore 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 ImpressionsThe 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.