Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dianne Feinstein

Reviewed by Meredith
(toured 11/5/08)

Location: 2550 25th Avenue @ Vicente street, Parkside map
School hours: 7:50-1:50 (yard opens at 7:30)
Tel: 615-8460
Fax: 242-2532
Principal: Michelle Chang
Web site: http://sfportal.sfusd.edu/sites/feinsteines/default.aspx
School tours: Wednesdays, 10am (by appointment)
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 80
Total student body: currently 377 but will fill to capacity (500) by 2011-12

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

a state of the art facility; a Green school; a school with music and art enrichments;


The first thing to notice at DFES (as they call it) is that this is a new, new facility (newest building in SFUSD). The school and program opened in fall 2006. The school architecture features large windowpanes and a lot of natural light throughout. The lines of the 2-story building are clean and not fussy. There is a spacious gym/cafeteria that is used for presentations, with lofty ceilings and a glass window lookout from the second floor. The information distributed stated the playground area is 50,000 sq ft. There is a dedicated play structure for the K classes, and another for the older kids. We didn't venture out too far into the yard but it seemed well, nice. And new.

After School programs

Stonestown YMCA offers the paid onsite after school program. The YMCA also coordinates onsite enrichments including theater, chess, Mad Science, chorus, music (instrument) training, sports/gymnastics, fashion design, table tennis, art and drawing, and French.

Before School programs

Actually there is no before school option, the yard duty starts at 7:30. But they do have an extremely organized drop-off system on Vicente with parent volunteers who walk the children from car to yard. It seems very efficient.


A growing and active PTA is building a strong community for DFES. Activities include fundraising to the tune of $70,000 last year (the 2nd year of the schools existence). They are hoping to raise $85,000. The PTA organized the tour docents, and was extremely organized with sign in, registration of touring parents, and the only school (so far) to send a thank-you-for-touring email to me. Other community building events include family dinner nights and family movie night (both on campus). They received a First 5 grant for two years to support community building and parent leadership development. This definitely feels like a big and warm family.

Language program(s):

None during school; a French enrichment option is available (but no details)

Tour Impressions

Walking into DFES, you feel how pleasant it is to be in a clean, airy, modern building. It is a great feeling and one that permeates the feeling in the school culture. The tour started in a large conference room, which is another feature - having meeting space outside of classrooms for teachers and staff. Principal Michelle Chang shared her background, with past credentials including teaching and administrative positions at Guadalupe and Jefferson Elementaries. She spent a brief stint at Clarendon in 2004 (?) before being assigned to work on the opening of DFES. Principal Chang was personally involved in almost all decisions regarding the school from the furniture to hiring the teaching and administrative staff. She feels great pride in the school, and obviously has given a great deal of herself to building a wonderful school.

Principal Chang highlighted the active parent involvement in the school, and that it is a Caring School Community. She explained that this is a program similar to Tribes which is used by many other SFUSD schools, but with extensions to the home. She's also launching a positive reinforcement program - "Caught Being Kind" which will issue "tickets" to kids who are seen doing good deeds. DFES has an inclusion program and includes a Student Success Team paraprofessional to help with the high need students.

The school uses the district provided science and math curricula - FOSS and Everyday Math. She said that the FOSS kits at DFES are all kept in a dedicated science lab rather than in the classroom, but she said that the teachers also teach science in the classrooms. The school has a Green School program including composting, recycling, gardening, and also usese green cleaners on site. The school was recognized by SF Environment for being a green school.

While walking through the hallways to see the classrooms, we heard a 4th and 5th grade music class - some choral training by the teacher. This is taught in addition to students who take instrumental music. In the lower grades there is enrichment in the form of Orff music classes taught by an artist in residence.

Visits to K, 1, 2 and 3 classrooms all yielded glimpses at students and teachers hard at work. The 1st grade math lesson was using the Everyday math workbook, while the 3rd graders were working on a pen pal letter writing activity. One striking aspect was that we noticed male teachers in every grade, perhaps unusual (and refreshing) for SFUSD?

A garden committee and parent volunteers plant and maintain the garden, and there is a PT garden consultant who has been added this year to assist in development a gardening curriculum. A dedicated art room is used to teach art through the use of an artist in residence, Visual art in K/3 grades, Theater in 1st and 4th, and Dance in 2nd and 5th. The one odd thing was that the "art room" was basically devoid of any displays of student art. Perhaps it's a work in progress... A PE teacher is on site full time and works with all classes 2 days/week. I have heard really positive things about the PE teacher.

The library, another highlight, was unfortunately locked and we could only see through the window. The librarian is on site 2.5 days per week. The library has been supported by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Richard Blum, with large donations to purchase and restock the books. There are also computers in the library that are available for student use.

With a great facility, dedicated principal and a well established parent community, DFES is a strong school and will surely grow only better over the years.


  1. I have heard the principal is horrible.

  2. I am a DiFi agnostic and know that there are parents that came from DeAvila when it closed that didn't like her. However, most left and everyone I know at the school ( who has chosen to stay ) is VERY happy with the school and feel the principal is a big part of the school's success

  3. There was some sort of drama on one of the list servs, maybe sfschools, about the principal of DFES, but it sounded like one very disgruntled parent who was originally at a different program that shut down before being moved to Diane Feinstein, and then she eventually pulled her kids out of DFES for an altogether new program, so in the end we was not at the school long. If you search the archives of that particular list (which I think is free to join from the sfschools.org blog website) you can find the whole thing. I don't know if it is valuable to use dated anecdotal information of this sort - you probably want to do your own research. And like the person who posted above, everyone whom I know whose kids go to DFES (and I know several) love it. Like all schools, it's not 100% perfect, but you probably shouldn't cross it off your list because some people may have complaints with the principal. Just sayin.

  4. i have heard the teachers don't like her. i heard she is controlling.

    might want to ask some clarendon parents what they think. she was there a year.

  5. Again, better yet, talk with parents at the school she is AT and see where things are right now.

  6. DFES is one of the few schools that has special education for the emotionally disturbed. The principal stated that while on a school tour you may see a child in the hallway acting out physically and the children (K-5) will see this on occasion. I haven't heard how the teachers talk about this to the children in the lower grades (ie. Kindergarten, 1st grade). It can be disturbing even for an adult to see it; how does a Kindergartner work through it? I'm sure that just like other school's, DFES wouldn't include students into classes until they are viewed as being capable to be in a non-special education class.

    Lastly, in a SF Chronicle article (Monday, May 19, 2008), it was stated, "A few students can account for multiple suspensions. One school, Dianne Feinstein Elementary in San Francisco's placid Sunset District, posted the highest rate of violence suspensions among all elementary schools in the city. With 36 suspensions - including one with a weapon - the coveted, high-scoring school looks plenty scary.

    But Principal Michelle Chang said they involved about a dozen emotionally disturbed students who have been moved to special classes." The link to the article: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/05/19/MN5C10MBTP.DTL&type=printable

  7. Well that (Chron article) is troubling.

  8. Having a high suspension rate does not necessarily mean a school is unsafe. Many schools have students with these same problems, but they don't suspend them because they know it "looks bad." I worked at a school last year where a student hit a teacher in the face and was not suspended!

    The numbers don't tell the whole story, and if anything, I give Chang credit for her willingness to deal with the problems in an upfront manner, without bowing to the fear of appearances. The fact that she got these kids out of general ed and into SED classes is also a very good thing. Some schools leave disruptive and yes, even violent students in regular classrooms with apparently no consideration for the damage they do to their classmates' educations.

  9. Just a question - is special ed classes a dumping ground for children with behavior/social problems?

  10. Special Ed covers a broad spectrum. Not sure what you mean by that.
    For some of these kids, they probably do need a one on one counselor (very expensive cost to the education system by the way but no way around it).
    But for example, putting kids who are not autistic into an autism program would not serve anyone needs, so is that what you mean, that kids with behavior issues are just put into any old Sp Ed program? That would be too bad if the schools did that.

    At my school, there are social workers and psychologists who work with the troubled behavior kids. Not attesting to how effective that is, but these kids are still in the Gen Ed classroom.

    By the way, at some point the 80/20 rule needs to be recognized... if the teacher has 20, 30 kids, and is spending 80% of the time on 2 or 3 with major issues, well, what about the needs of the other 18 or 28? At some point, doesn't the needs of the majority (which is to get a decent,no, solid education to become a productive citizen of this planet important?) Or are we as a school, a nation simply turning ourselves into a gigantic social services agency, starting the experiment at 5 years old.

    No wonder people choose private.

  11. Oh, 9:36am again --

    To clarify, when kids so young act out and have behavioral issues, there are so many reasons and sometimes it may be temporary (or even a sign of some truly dysfunctional issue at home) and to shunt them off to some Sp Ed class does not seem right.

    At the school I referred to, some of the kids came from truly dysfunctional abusive homes and I am so glad that the school had resources available to help the families and the child. Some of the parents simply are not equipped.

    So in that sense, the school/the community needs to function as a "social services agency" --
    because no one else is there to defend these children.

    But from personal experience there is one child in my daughter's class that was a problem last year, and now this year. I think it is getting better now, but its just frustrating because the teacher has to spend so much time again and again on same child (and part of the problem is over protective parent, but seems the other parent is now stepping in which seems to be helping).

  12. I'm not in the market anymore for an elementary school, but DFES was on our list. Our new school also has separate SPED classrooms, as well as an inclusion program.

    I realize the emotional disturbances thing sounds, well, disturbing, but I just want to put in a plug that it is really great to be part of a community that finds appropriate and supportive ways to welcome kids/families with all sorts of needs and abilities. If the program is well-designed and effective, it will meet the needs of the kids in a way that does not impinge on the needs of the other kids. There can be separation when appropriate, and maintreaming also, when appropriate. And all the kids learn that while there are learning and behavioral differences, that we will find ways to include all the kids and pathways to education. We are not sending kids out of sight, out of mind. They are part of the community, part of us.

    I do realize that we do not do SPED programs perfectly, by far, and parents have to be huge advocates to get the kids what they need. I hope Rachel does a lot on the school board to advocate for this group. But even so, this is one of the best aspects of public schools, that we expect to include all kids. And non-SPED kids can and do learn volumes from that commitment.

    In the case of DFES they can learn that sometimes kids act out in ways that cause them to be separated from the mainstream classroom, but there are appropriate and compassionate ways to deal. They can be witnesses to that. I don't think most kids would find that disturbing but rather reassuring. You don't think they know that some kids are disturbed? Seeing an effective program to support these kids would be quite reassuring. And I've never heard of anything being out of control over at DFES in this regard.

  13. 9:46 here -- yes good point. I hadn't thought of that -- that we do learn by watching how kids who act out are handled too.

  14. There are many kinds of special ed classes. Only ED (Emotionally Disturbed) classes are for children with emotional/behavioral problems, and there are few of these classes in the district. According to the district's unfortunately outdated website, McKinley, Junipero Serra, Tenderloin, and DeAvila (which doesn't exist anymore and its ED class is now at DFES) are the only elementary schools that have special day classes for emotionally disturbed students:
    Special Ed is not a place to shunt off students, rather it allows students with special needs to get the individualized attention they need, for whatever reason. Most special ed students are NOT emotionally disturbed and do NOT have "behavioral" issues beyond not being able to keep up in a general ed class.
    Please don't label Special Education as a place to dump difficult children. Attitudes like this keep many students from receiving these services, which they desperately need, because their parents fear having their children "labeled."

  15. Thank you for the info - I'm relieved to hear this. I agree that the "Special Ed" label has made some parents really avoid those services, even when their child needs it. Really hurts the child in the end.
    Well, since the program is at DFES, its not surprising that DFES had these emotional/behavior students with issues.

  16. Does anyone have any details about the after school French program? I've been looking for French-language options for my three-year-old and have started a blog to (hopefully) get some traction with other SF parents on the same page: http://frencheducationinsanfrancisco.blogspot.com/. I'd like to know more, if anyone has any information.

  17. ^^Thanks!!