Saturday, November 22, 2008

SF K Files Top 20 Hidden Gems

Last year, when I was searching for a kindergarten, I focused on the most popular schools, where the test scores were high and the PTAs were raising lots of money. I wanted a school with a sound-proofed gym, a garden overgrown with vegetables, and an art room stocked with supplies. I dreamed of getting into Alice Fong Yu, West Portal, Rooftop--those schools where the tours were packed with 40, 60, even 100 other parents hoping to get in as well. My SFUSD enrollment form was filled with these sorts of school in Round I--and of course I didn't receive an assignment at any of them. My husband calculated that we had something like a 1 percent chance of getting our first choice, Alice Fong Yu.

In Round II, I started to look at some less-popular schools, the hidden gems, and I was pleasantly surprised. I didn't find as many fancy facilities but I did meet principals and teachers who were equally exceptional as those at the rock-star schools. And I discovered small groups of parents who were planning fund-raisers, planting gardens, hiring reduction teachers. They had the passion and dedication of a grass roots movement. These schools tended to be smaller and more intimate. The communities were close-knit like a family and the children were thriving in these nurturing environments. I was so lucky to eventually end up at a hidden gem. Now that I'm at Jose Ortega, you couldn't pay me to go to anywhere else.

As you finish up your school tours and finalize your list of seven, I'm hoping you will consider some of the hidden gems in the diverse list below. Nearly all of these schools had fewer than 20 families list them as their first choice in Round I. Last year, 238 families put Rooftop at the top of their list, 268 listed Alice Fong Yu, and 284 wanted Clarendon.
  1. Bryant GE
  2. Cesar Chavez GE
  3. Cleveland GE
  4. Cobb GE
  5. Daniel Webster GE and SI
  6. Garfield GE
  7. Glen Park GE
  8. Harvey Milk GE
  9. Hillcrest GE
  10. John Yehall Chin GE
  11. Jose Ortega MI and GE
  12. Junipero Serra GE
  13. Leonard Flynn GE
  14. New Traditions GE
  15. Paul Revere GE and SI
  16. Rosa Parks GE and JB
  17. Sheridan GE
  18. Sunnyside GE
  19. Sutro GE
  20. Visitacion Valley GE
This is not a final list. Rather it's the beginning of a conversation. I hope that you will add more hidden gems in the comments section. And please if you're a parent at any of these schools feel free to share your experiences.

Please keep this string focused on hidden gems. If you would like to bring up other topics, email and I will start a new thread.




  1. Yeah! for the hidden gems. So many of these schools are so close to becoming the next Miraloma or West Portal or Buena Vista. It often just takes one to two years for a major turn-around. Look at what happened to the Leonard Flynn Spanish immersion program. The more top-notch popular schools this district has, the easier the enrollment system will become for parents.

    Also, the teachers and principals at these schools are just as good as those at the others. Sometimes they're even better. At that's what really matters. What kids most need are adults who care about them.

  2. Really, this list is optimistic. Do you really think with the budget cuts coming THIS school year and certainly next that all of the schools on your list are even going to make it?

    The district is going to have to do some consolidating and shifting around, and layoffs and/or moving around of teachers are coming our way as well.

  3. I think Sheridan is a real hidden gem. Amazing principal and lovely kids.

    Here are two more: Sanchez and E.R. Taylor.

  4. I appreciate what you're trying to say/do, but I think you're really stretching. Glen Park was being held hostage by a defunct Principal until this year, how do you justify calling it a hidden gem?

    I think this list should be called: schools you can get into, and make gems with 5 years of hard work.

    I don't think this list of schools are close to becoming the next Miraloma. Some don't even raise money (no Parent group/PTA.)

    With the exception of Sunnyside, which I do think has a fantastic Principal. She's been there 5 years and has been able to put excellent Kinder teachers in place, as well as upper grades.

    It takes YEARS to turn a school around.

  5. Shouldn't Malcolm X ES be on this list as well?

  6. I love that we're talking about the hidden gems...finally. The best way to make this a better schools district--actually city--is to make all of our schools top notch. Of course, not every parent is up for going to a school where they have to start a PTA, and that's fine. If you're not up for it, don't even consider it because you'll just be frustrated and disappointed and the last thing these up-and-coming schools need are complainers. And some parents simply don't have time and that's fine. But some families do want to roll up their sleeves and help turn-around a school. So let's encourage them to do it!

    And this isn't all about the parents. Kids learn important values through this whole process.

    This is a very diverse list. Some of these schools are truly hidden and as other commenters have pointed out, don't even have PTAs. But some of these schools won't be considered a hidden gem next year. They're well on their way. Flynn GE, Jose Ortega CI, Sunnyside--they're on the map and they'll probably be relatively hard to get into this year.

    We all have to consider that more parents applied to public school than in years past. More families are wanting to stay in the city. Where can these families go? These hidden gems. Many of them have been under-enrolled in years past so there's actually space.

    Yes, the budget cuts ahead are a huge bummer but we can't let that stop us because there's a tremendous movement in this city to improve our schools. There's a wonderful regained interest and we need to keep that movement going. And as a parent who has written a lot of grants for a hidden gem, there is A LOT of money out there that's quite easy to get. Yes, the economy sucks but there's still money, especially for greening and garden projects.

    Another commenter suggested adding Sanchez and E.R. Taylor to the list. I second that!

  7. Does anyone know about the new Glen Park principal? I had heard the old one wasn't that open to parent involvement and I've heard about past Glen Park parents trying to get involved and it didn't go well. But I've heard the new principal might be a different story. This school is in a fantastic location for families. It has a great old building. So many families could walk their kids to school. We live in the neighborhood and our kids are younger. We have our eye on this school.

  8. Cobb? Anyone going to this school? We live in Pac Heights. The location is certainly great, and the school is tiny. It has under 200 students, which is so appealing. I was thinking of it as a backup if we don't get anything in Round I but maybe it's something to put on my Round I list...hmmm...I want to be involved in a school and I worry that even if we did get into a place like Clarendon that it would be harder to do that.

  9. Sutro! Sutro! Sutro! The principal is a dream. Teachers are wonderful. Check out this school. Our family loves it.

  10. Did anyone attend the community meeting over the weekend? It gave me tremendous hope. Parents like to bag on the district but they're actually quite on top of things. I was blown away by all the principals at the meeting. These people are dedicated to our kids. They really are. And lots of teachers. The superintendent spoke and he's putting us on the right track. Times are tough but we have good leadership in our district.

    There was a lot of talk about how the number one thing these kids need are adults (i.e., teachers, principals) who care about them. And I think that really ties in with the hidden gems. These schools are all run by amazing educators. They love kids. They're dedicating their lives to children, so they must. What some of these schools are lacking is the parent involvement, which brings in the extra fluff. The gardens, field trips, extra teachers, and so on.

  11. I did presentations in both Harvey Milk KG classes a few weeks ago and met some great kids and teachers. It seems to be a very sweet school with a close-knit community.

  12. 9:04am -- Cobb is starting a Montessori program next year, no?
    That should be a big draw. They've already had a preschool in place using the Montessori technique (so I guess it depends if one subscribes to that method of teaching).

    I'd add Starr King, Mandarin Immersion. It is definitely on the upswing. Its language program is similar to Ortega's Mandarin program (Ortega also has a Cantonese bilingual)

    And yes, it does take a few years to turn a school around and ongoing energy the years after (go to Clarendon blog -- one of the last posts if from a current JBBP K parent who advises NOT to go there if you do not want to ROLL up your sleeves and put in a little grunt imagine if a rockstar school (who came up with that term?) needs you to roll up sleeve... the hidden and slightly polished gems will require more than just sleeves rolled up... but its a great energy because you are in on the beginning and see instant results for your input).

  13. Yes, Starr King Mandarin definitely but it's not really a hidden gem. It seems to be much better known than Jose Ortage.

  14. I would encourage folks to check out Lafayette in the Richmond. My child loves his school and we have been thrilled with the teachers, principal and parent community. Probably not such a hidden gem anymore, but it is not really mentioned on this blog.

  15. When are the tours at Lafayette? I'm interested. Please, tell me more about your school. Thanks!

  16. At my youngest child's dance class, I talked with a KG parent who also loves Lafayette, and I believe she said there is an after-school Mandarin program. (Maybe daily... anyone know?)

  17. I also hear good things about Lafayette, please share....

  18. I hope to hear from general ed parents at Flynn. I liked the overall feel of the school but it seemed like the immersion program is where most of the involved parents are putting their kids--and I don't want immersion. Someone please debunk my assumption. I really like the school. What's the inside scoop?

  19. You should check it out for yourself, but a Flynn parent told me that one upside of the Flynnarado fiasco, if there is an upside, is that something like 6 of the families kicked out of SI chose to remain at Flynn in GE. They are apparently very involved families who had fallen in love with the school and wanted to stay even without SI.

  20. I have a child at Starr King in Mandarin Immersion and think the GE strand looks great. Devoted, talented teachers. Please check out the general ed program with an open mind. I think the school will soon follow the Alvarado and Flynn trends of families going to the immersion program first and then to gen ed.

  21. Good to hear about Starr King GE. I'm in the neighborhood. What's the latest on the after-school program situation?

  22. I thought of a couple more: Tenderloin and Bessie Carmichael. Both are in gorgeous new buildings and have lots of cool stuff going on.

  23. I'm not the original Starr King poster, but I agree about the teaching in the General Ed program. As far as after school care - there are a number of current options, and parents are working on creating more. The (currently free) on-site program is maxed out, but everyone who applied before school let out for the year did get in. School buses take kids to a Rec & Park program at Jackson playground (kids must be 6 by end of school year to enroll) and a small program at Urban Recess (no minimum age). We're exploring additional options at other Rec & Park sites and at other venues. There are handouts on all the programs available at school tours.

  24. Kate, what a great service you are doing for the school community with this thread and list of 20 schools You are giving parents a lot to think about. It sounds like the recent community meeting with principals and administrators was great too. If I had one wish, then I would wish that the SFUSD would update all the school home pages on their web site. When parents go to the school pages, they find a wonderful picture and a touching message, but when you navigate around the school web sites, the test scores are outdated (some as old as 2002!), names of new principals have not been added, etc. It's a mess!

    Hey SFUSD. Shame on you! Show pride in your schools by keeping information current. The process is hard enough without misinformation. All the great publicity and updated information for our schools is coming from Kate, PPS, and others. It's about time the district took pride in these schools too and updated the information on the SFUSD web site.

    OK. Deep breath. Step off of soap box. Good day!

  25. 2:36 I sympathize with you and wish the SFUSD info were more current too. But, when people talk about trimming "waste and bureaucracy" often this is the type of service that gets cut. It's not directly related to education in the classroom, so it's first on the chopping block.

  26. As one who has been around through the big scary cuts in the early 2000's and again now, and also having served on a school site council, I think this last comment is pretty accurate. To their credit, SFUSD leaders have worked hard to keep funds at the sites and in the classrooms, and as a result there have been lots of cuts to central admin. Not that I don't have complaints sometimes (often?) about the bureacracy, but I think staff cuts have had an impact--and were made in the face of not cutting in the classrooms. Keeping school site funding intact has been so important, as rarely is a dime wasted at that level.

  27. PS: Great list, Kate!

  28. to 2:36PM

    Recent school score number can be found on Here is the link to the SFUSD public elementary schools:

  29. Just wanted to comment on the observation that it takes years to turn a school around. I think it CAN take years, but it can happen surprisingly fast too. Miraloma was unspeakable when we were first applying to K in 1996, for example, but was looking promising when our younger was ready for K in '99 -- we were already part of the Lakeshore community, so we put her there instead. Just a couple of years after that it was oversubscribed, and now no one can imagine that it was ever shunned.

    A key to the rapid turnaround was a new principal -- the one who was there in '96 was not inspiring, to put it mildly, but then he retired.
    Dynamo parents took that and ran with it. This makes me wonder about the potential for Glen Park Elementary.

    Aptos Middle School's change could be tracked too. It was shunned by "aware" parents until about 2000, when a few neighbors decided to give it a try. It was still viewed as "dirty and dangerous" in some circles when my son started there in 2002, and most of his fellow Lakeshore alumni still flocked to Giannini Middle School. By the time my daughter started Aptos in 2005, Aptos pickup looked just like Lakeshore pickup. Now it's just one of the schools viewed as a decent option.

    Balboa High School has been on a similar trajectory. It was viewed as a scary, failing school 7 or 8 years ago. Now lots of my kids' GATE classmates from Aptos are there, and when I was volunteering at a PPS table at a high school fair that was almost entirely aimed at private school parents, quite a few asked about Balboa.

    I know it doesn't always work fast or perfectly, but I've seen so many turnarounds by now. It really can happen quite fast, or at least it seems that way at the time. And the list of wildly popular schools now includes so many that were viewed as unthinkable not only back in our time but far more recently. And what's interesting is that I've hardly seen any schools fall OUT of popularity. I can think of two small high schools, but honestly that's about it.

  30. A Visitacion Valley teacher was featured in today's Chronicle for winning a big award:


  31. 10:27 AM, about Flynn GE

    I'm at Flynn SI, but your question can really be answered as, ALL our teachers are wonderful (REALLY) and the kids all play indistinctly between themselves, getting mixed with both groups. The school is always referred to as one school, and the difference in programs is hardly ever mentioned in the day-to-day. Really, the biggest difference that I feel is in getting more parent involvement from the GE parents from 2nd grade on up, but since all of the programs go across the board to all of the kids, then regarding programmatic access, it's all equal. When you join Flynn GE, you really are getting the same as SI gets, just without the Spanish immersion in the classroom.

  32. Hi,

    For those asking about Lafayette, tours are on Wednesdays @ 8:30am and you need to call to register. Plan on setting aside at least 2 hours as the Principal brings the tour group into each and every classroom in the school and this is a large school, followed by a sit down meeting with the PTA. I've toured 7 schools (all of richmond district, and beyond) and this was the second largest tour I went on, and I was on the very first tour - at least 25 parents were there and this was before their official tour dates opened up. Not a hidden gem, but the principal was wonderful and the PTA and parents I know of who have kids there sing praise.

    I been pleased that I've found some really positive aspects to each of the 7 schools I've toured (schools I've toured - not all hidden gems of course, but some: sutro, mccoppin, alamo, argonne, francis scott key, peabody, lafayette). 4 more to go. Any parents wanting to bounce feedback on schools in the Richmond (this side of town does not get much review on this site), more than happy to share.

  33. Thank God for the indications of interest in Flynn GE. I love the buzz in the Spanish strand, and I hope my daughter eventually learns Spanish, but we just finished three years of French immersion preschool and I think the switch may be a little much.

    Are we all aware that the city gave Flynn the go-ahead for the International Baccalaureate program?

    Flynn GE will be among my top three, and possibly my first choice. The start time, the uniforms, the exploding PTA, the IB's perfect for us.

  34. Hip! Hip! Hooray! For Flynn GE. All this talk about up-and-coming public schools is making me giddy.

  35. The article about Visitacion Valley ES is on the front page of the city section of the Chron today. It highlights first grade teacher Mindy Yip getting the Milken Award (one of four in CA this year) and a $25,000 check. The pictures are great and she does seem like a wonderful, creative, loving teacher. She was totally surprised to receive the award. Congrats to her! The article also notes the high test scores at the school. Do check out the article--it'll brighten your day to read it. I'm pretty sure VVES is not on most parents' radar here on this blog, so I'm glad Kate included it on her list of hidden gems.

    Would like to say too that the MOST important aspect of school success is the people--teachers, principals and parent community. Especially teachers. I would take a teacher like Mindy Yip over fancy facilities or special programs any day or any year. I mean, I like the other stuff too, but if I had to choose, that's what really matters.

  36. It's all about the teachers and the principal and the families--those are the three keys to a successful school. When you look at schools, that's what you need to focus on. If you tour a school and you like the principal, you get along with the parent tour guide, and the teachers impress you, then your kid will do great there. If the principal rubs you the wrong way but the school has this amazing garden, then it's not the right fit. Because what do you do when your child has a problem and you have to go talk to the principal for help? Principal, teachers, families. That's what you need. And actually there are very few bad eggs in terms of teachers and principals in SFUSD. Most of them are top notch. My child's school doesn't have a single bad egg.

  37. Glen Park does NOT have a new principal this year. The same principal has been there for like a thousand years. Maybe next year? I'd hold my breath and look elsewhere until that transition has been secured.

    No McKinley on this list? Are they not "hidden" anymore?

    Junipero Serra has a wonderful principal, I definitely recommend taking a look.

    Cobb I'd look at very closely, just because they have Montessori Kinder doesn't mean it's a good bet...

    Sanchez is still a "dream school" and their long days may be less than ideal for many kids.

  38. I proudly send my kid to SF public schools, and I'm not talking Clarendon or Rooftop. I support your point here. But get real about some of these schools. Your top four are jokes. Caesar Chavez? Come on. Cobb? Bryant? Horrible! There are five or six on that list that are acceptable, but no way can you call Bryant and Chavez gems of any sort. Sorry. You are making the rest of the argument unbelievable.

  39. I toured Jose Ortega this morning, and all I can say is -- I doubt this place will be "hidden" for much longer. I wouldn't be surprised if it's oversubscribed this year. The only reason I toured was because of the buzz on this blog. It really opened my eyes as to why people should tour schools that aren't on everyone's radar. Kate (and the others who went to the MI program in its first two years) really got in early on an exciting program in a great school -- one which I don't think many people would have previously considered. It's too bad I don't have the time/energy to "discover" more schools on my own. They are out there.

  40. @7:23 -
    When was the last time you toured Bryant or Chavez or Cobb? Do you know anyone who has a child who attends any of these schools? Maybe what you think you "know" about these schools is what other people used to "know" about Miraloma or Sunnyside or even Jose Ortega. The whole point is, unless you have up to date personal experience with a school, you can't and should not reject it out of hand. It's one thing to tour a school and find that it's not a good fit for your family - it's quite another to call another family's school "horrible" with no recent personal experience of that school.

  41. I toured Bryant because I live right down the street. I wanted to be prepared if we got assigned to a school near us that is supposed to be bad. It was one of the best tours I've been on. The kids seemed engaged and happy, all the staff we were exposed to were friendly and energetic with us and their students and the physical facility was colorful and newly updated. My opinion walking away was that I'd just seen the next McKinley, which indeed is no longer hidden. Just because test scores are low and/or there are no white kids at a school doesn't mean it's necessarily a Bad School.

  42. Is Starr King MI no longer hidden? I agree with the other posters re SK GE. The teachers are great and the principal knows how to get things done. The school is changing by leaps and bounds. There is a commitment to small class sizes school-wide, through 5th grade. There's music in the lower grades in addition to the district-wide-sponsored upper grades' music. There's acrosports. There's a fabulous library and librarian. There are
    several grants to break up some blacktop and put in a garden, install a solar panel and reclaim rainwater.

    Re aftercare: there are plenty of options and there will be more next year. We had heard that there would not be spaces in the on-site program for our incoming class this year but it turned out we got in to it, as well as the Rec and Park program at Jackson playground. We opted for the small, flexible, fee-based program instead. It was created by and for this years' K families. Next year, there will be another fee based program for the upper grades.

    Tours are Thursday mornings at 9:30.

  43. Does anyone know what the number of first choice picks are for Starr King Mandarin? Clarendon JBBP?

    Is the choice more for general programs than the alternative program in most of these schools? Or vise versa?

    Wouldn't it be easier to go for the lessor and then switch?

    I know quite a few people who took this strategy i.e. Claire Lilienthal Koren program,and switched over the next year.

  44. The Junipero Serra principal who welcomes parents who want to be involved with open arms. She's really interested in turning her tiny little school into something big or so it seems. I heard that she did try to get an immersion program so that says something right there. This school is small and some kids really benefit from a cozy environment. It's right across from Holly Park so they probably utilize that.

    Also, I really don't think it's fair to call any school in this district horrible. Shame on you. Every school has educators who have dedicated their lives to children behind them. How can any school be that bad? I know someone who toured Cobb and liked it and saw great potential.

  45. So no one has mentioned Paul Revere here. Now talk about a hidden gem. The facility is absolutely gorgeous. This is like a real school. The principal is smart and sweet. They have Spanish immersion. Have you seen the computer lab? Amazing. Any families going there want to speak up?

  46. We go to Paul Revere and absolutely love it. The school is beautiful, the teachers and staff are amazing. The kids are great. The parents are great. There's some work to be done (greening and a new play structure for instance), but the it is totally doable in the big scheme of things, and already we are getting a start on it all. The community at this school is outstanding.

    The immersion program is excellent. My son has thrived in his class. There are plans to extend the SI program all the way through Eighth Grade.

    Did I mention that it was K-8? Imagine, you won't have to go through this all again in 5 years...

    I could go on and on... but I won't.

  47. Clarendon JBBP is NOT a hidden gem. It is a highly requested program and almost impossible to get into.

    ROSA PARKS JBBP is a hidden gem for sure - reviewed on this site and worth looking into (lots of involved parents to talk to there!).

  48. 10:15

    Language immersion is the more popular program at most, if not all schools.

  49. 7:49

    Indeed!! I think Rooftop and Clarendon had the most applications BY FAR. In the 900's!! Most schools get maybe 50.

    Don't quote me on the numbers--you can download the exact numbers from SFUSD-EPC website.

  50. 10:15pm (nov 25) -- I'm not sure how it works with switching in 1st grade if there are spots...

    technically,the district is supposed to run a lottery for the 1st grade programs too if there are more apps than available spaces...

    as for the K year, technically, the school is not supposed to switch anyone into the K program during the year if the program had Waitpool kids when the waitpool period officially closed. But some of this stuff is so loosy goosy -- like, how many parents go back to the school they waitlisted for but didn't get to see if any opening came available during the year if it got filled and someone got transferred in against the "rules"? And what if someone did, what can parent do, sue? (for example, says Alvarado has a K opening because someone moved -- can the principal just fill with someone who want to get in from the gen ed? and no one the wiser?)
    Just using Alvardo as an example, not saying they do this at all.

  51. One school that never shows up on these hidden gems lists, or the top schools lists, is Yick Wo Elementary. Even though it fits the bill perfectly, with very high test scores, a great principle, a dedicated teaching staff that is stable. It's an amazing school, with great art and poetry, a spotless facility, a very tight parent community, and one of the more racially diverse student populations. I don't know what the stats say, but my daughter's class is equal parts asian kids and white kids, with a few other groups too. It's in Russian Hill on a gorgeous block. But if you ever see the classrooms or the teachers, you'd totally want to send your kid there. Why doesn't it get the props? It seems to me a neighborhood school, even though it's open to the whole city. I'm glad we found it. I honestly think it's on the same level as Clarendon or Miraloma. But better, because the parents are more urban, city dweller hipster types.

  52. @9:53
    Yick Wo YES! I went to the auction last spring, and talked to the principal, several teachers (Ms. Susie rocks!) and lots of parents. I haven't looked up their request numbers so I don't know how hidden Yick Wo is but it is a gem for sure.

    ALSO there is not a lot of discussion about middle schools yet on this blog but one of the Yick Wo moms told me she thinks Francisco Middle (the local middle school, widely scorned in North Beach conventional wisdom) is on the verge. She's planning to send her kids there.

    If you live in North Beach/Chinatown/Telegraph or Russian Hill I think Yick Wo would be a great school to check out.

  53. I think Yick Wo doesn't turn up on this list of hidden gems because it is an established, well-regarded school in its neighborhoos, and has been for some time. Probably because of its location it doesn't have the draw of Clarendon or Rooftop, which are convenient to large parts of the city.

    But no need to put down the hipness of other parents to make your point! Even though our school is west of Twin Peaks we do our best;>

  54. If there is a "hidden jewel" within walking distance of your home, go for it. You have no idea how much more wonderful your life can be with the convenience of a neighborhood school. We never toured our school until the second round. Now we're hooked and we wouldn't change either.

  55. 11:33: indeed. as far as i'm concerned, your neighborhood school -- or schools -- is the one to beat. caroline's comparative citation re: public vs. private is apt: "private may sometimes be 'better,' but is it $1 million better?" same with distant vs. nearby schools. having now spent nearly half the school year shlepping up twin peaks to clarendon when all our choices were down here in the flatlands still has me fuming (and sweating, and aarghing and -- did i say shlepping?).

    true, sometimes i think i aggrandize the neighborhood school experience and undervalue the "trophy" one -- like when i'm working on deadline in our local cafe and the fairmount kids cruise in with their parents after school, on foot, relaxed, and i'm gearing up to cut my workday short by 1 hour to start the shlep -- but then i think about all the things our family values as much (or more) than academics: socialization, connection to your community, relationships with people from different walks of life, friends in the 'hood, spontaneous visits, an artistic/creative sensibility, limiting time spent in cars, more walking, more biking, etc. -- and i think, nah, i'm not totally crazy.

    to this year's K applicants, i would say, spend the most time on the circle of schools around your home and focus on reasons *not* to attend one of them. you may not find any good ones.

  56. one more thing (realized this after a jog): being part of something that's changing or that feels like a work in progress, instead of something baked and done. this really gives people -- kids -- a sense of belonging and agency in their school, i believe, especially if it's in their neighborhood. as i write this, it sounds unbelievably amorphous and psychobabblish, but having seen about 25 schools and been registered at -- and gotten to know -- four in our search for a school, i have seen this phenomenon in action more than once.

  57. one more person defending bryant. we live nearby and a friend who subbed there liked it. i checked it out, was given a personal tour and found it sweet with engaged kids and some cool projects going on (especially science with the older kids). it was one of those schools where i felt annoyed with myself for caring that there didn't seem to be enough middle-class (looking) kids for ME to feel comfortable. not a bad school at all.

    in my mind the only schools to be really wary of are the ones in the district where there are lots of stories about a bad teacher. you know, a really mean or nutty teacher who could make your child's life crummy for a year.

    and i absolutely agree that being at a walkable school is a huge plus.

  58. I agree 100% w/ Kim. Unfortunately, the schools closest to us are (in order of proximity): West Portal, Miraloma, Rooftop, Commodore-Sloat, Dianne Feinstein. I realize there are other fantastic schools out there, but it is really depressing that there is very little chance of getting into the schools closest to us...

  59. That's a tough geographic area, but I might consider Sunnyside or Jose Ortega as within the same area. Neither is that far from Miraloma or CS, and both are a far better bet than the school you've identified.

  60. 4:02. point taken, man. we were in the same boat, smack in the middle of fairmount, flynn, alvarado, and rooftop...but also j. serra, glen park, revere and sunnyside not too far. but there's always something...draw the circle, check it out and spend more time getting acquainted with the outliers.

  61. For 4:02 -- every school in the Sunset District is highly regarded -- not that that means every one of them is to everyone's liking, of course, but still...

    I know they all fill up on the first round, but they're not all super-well-known, so at least worth checking (both the schools and the number of requests last year). Are Ulloa, Robert Louis Stevenson and Francis Scott Key on the A list? Sounds like Sunset and DiFi are now.

  62. draw the circle, check it out and spend more time getting acquainted with the outliers.

    Good point, Kim. Seems like last year, the "outliers" like Sunnyside or Paul Reveres suddenly became acceptable in Round 2 when most people didn't win the lottery and get Rooftop or Clarendon or Alvarado. That was the point when many people turned to Sunnyside and found they liked it! was also all of sudden hard to get into--whereas you could waltz in there in Round 1. I'm not saying that will necessarily be the case this year for Sunnyside, but you'll probably still stand a better chance than at Rooftop....

    I think the point is, for a good Round 1 strategy, it's important to include one of the "outliers" if you can, even if you are still shooting the moon with Rooftop in your #1 spot. Check out the "hidden gems" NOW, and take them seriously. Don't wait to do this until the time between Rounds 1 and 2, when you have found out that your list of seven popular schools did not win the lottery. Put one or two of hidden gems (at least) on your list somewhere, and then hopefully you will get something that is acceptable to you, even as a backup.

    If you check out a hidden gem now, you might even be surprised and find yourself putting it higher on your list, due to walkability, or a great principal, or a genuine and warm and small community, or whatever else. Definitely check out the schools on Kate's list, especially the ones that are more accessible to you in terms of neighborhood (where you live or work). It's worth it, very much so, to include at least one on your list.

    And if you don't do this, well, you might win the lottery, but chances are better you'll be checking out these schools anyway, with no acceptable backup, and with less chance to get into one of them in Round 2, and you'll be one of the dreaded 0/7 or 0/15 cohort until August or the 10-day count. I don't mean to sound dire, but this is how it happens.

  63. My search has been enlightening. There are hidden gems -- at least they were hidden from me.

    Of the 10 or so schools I've toured so far, I can honestly say that I wouldn't run away from any of them -- and they're not just the 'popular' ones. I'm not going to name them for now for fear of someone taking my spot!

  64. Good advice, Kate. Since private school wasn't an option for us, I took my Round 1 picks very seriously and had "gems" in my #4 and #7 spots. I got #4, and didn't bother with Round 2. We've been very happy with this school.

  65. 4:02 here again. Wow -- thanks for all the feedback. Yes, we looked at Ulloa and really liked it. The start time is not ideal for us, but it's a great school. Jose Ortega has a better start time, and it's convenient to a commute to the peninsula even though it's more of a trek from our house. We have not visited Sunnyside yet, but I've also heard what people are saying here about it. As a close follower of this blog since last March, I know everyone has been around and around the bend on the neighborhood preference thing, and I don't really have anything to add on a global, policy level. But when it's all personal -- like, my husband and I both work full time, don't have lots of time to tour schools, and we live walking distance from a fabulous school (West Portal) that is right on my way to my morning Muni commute -- it's hard not to want to just whine and say, "All the policy reasons for they current system are great, but whhhhyyyyy can't we just go theeeere???" Sorry, just had to channel my inner 2 year old!! But seriously, thanks for all the tips.

  66. We have been at Robert Louis Stevenson now for four years and our family just loves it! It seems to be a bit forgotten -- most of the "buzz" out in the fogbelt seems directed at Sunset, Lawton and Feinstein. And while I think it gets a healthy share of requests, it is not so "known" as to be impossible to get into. Worth checking out.

  67. Interesting that no one has mentioned Marshall Elementary. Established Spanish Immersion program, very involved parents, cohesive staff -- oh well, I guess it'll stay our precious little secret!

  68. Sheridan is a great nearby alternative to Sunnyside and Jose Ortega. It's REALLY under the radar, and the principal is wonderful.

  69. This may also fall in the same category as Yick Wo (established and not considered under the radar?) or maybe it is just a low key school, but wondering what the deal is with Jefferson, another Sunset district school that seems to get no buzz.

  70. Jefferson is a popular school. It's one of the many highly regarded westside schools. Not a hidden gem in that sense, but would be a fine pick among the seven--as long as you include at least one, if not more, less popular up-and-comers to be more likely to Round 1. Some place to sit and rest while you waitlist your #1 choice (or, alternatively, discover that you really love your assignment after all and take your name off the waitlist).

    Jefferson probably isn't mentioned here much because this blog has tended to be overrepresented by Bernal/Noe commenters(this may be changing as it is more widely read), and because Jefferson is popular on its own and hard to get into and thus not worth touting as a "find."

  71. Jefferson isn't a hidden gem, no. But Lafayette is! It isn't an over subscribed school, and yet it's a great, safe place. My friend is a teacher there and after working at Mission/Bernal/Excelsior schools, feels like she's in a different world.

    Check it out. 7:50 start time, Richmond Dist.

  72. Glen Park - I toured it and was confused. It has all the bells and whistles, but yet the comments about the principal left me wondering.

    In fact, the tour was led by the principal (a first in the dozen schools we've toured) because the parent volunteer had "a task" that day. (Is there just one parent volunteer?)

    My gut said that a school with a full time computer teacher, librarian, PE teacher, and performing arts, artist in residence, etc., programs, must have inspired and efficient leadership.

    What am I missing?
    By the way I was blown away by the wonderful Kinder teachers, and the fun PE coach...

    If you're a Glen Park parent, would you comment on whether there is an active parent community, and whether that works/does not work?

  73. Has anyone heard anything about or toured Drew in Bayview-HP?

  74. I toured Glen Park today. Again, it was led by the principal, who has been there 26 years. While not super-"dynamic", I thought she was credible. I gather from what I have read that she is not everyone's favorite, but when you see the facility, solid test scores, etc., she must be doing something right, no? The school is neat as a pin. The K teachers seemed good (hard to tell in 4 minutes on a tour). Like many in GP, i dream of it being a school that can draw more and more families in from the immediate neighborhood. It seems a shame to have such a great resource right there and not use it, and help it grow. And why not? That's what i don't get. I guess because is it not the "safe" choice vs more 'popular" schools - i struggle with that as well. We all want what is best for our kids and it is so hard to know what to do...

    More insights on GP, please!

  75. What I have heard from other parents who have toured the school over the years, but ultimately gone elsewhere, is that current principal is great, but not open to parent involvement. Most of the type of parents who tour schools want to be actively involved in their child's education to some extent, whether it be volunteering in the classroom, participating in social events for the PTA etc. I don't think there is any question that the kids at GP are getting a sound education. I don't know anyone who has actually enrolled their child though, so I am only reporting hearsay based on people's tour impressions. So take it all with a grain of salt.

  76. Regarding Glen Park - I too had heard the rumors and decided to check out the facts for myself. I think it's obvious that they are trying to get more parents involved. They have a new parent/teacher organization, a parent liaison, the parents points programs with rewards for the classes, and some good tools for encouraging parent and teacher communication. The principal was very open at the enrollment fair about how she's trying to encourage more parent involvement. I think it's got a ways to go, but it has forward momentum. Actions speak a little louder than rumor for me, so welcome to my list Glen Park Elementary.

  77. RE: Glen Park.

    My EPC counselor admitted that Glen Park is "held hostage" by the current Principal. The Principal won't allow a Parent Group or PTA, so how do they fund raise? There is little parent or teacher input,etc. The District seems to be waiting for her to retire/leave.

    Perhaps Principal has gotten enough pressure to now allow some parent involvment, but how can she be a good/effective leader in the environment she's created there?

    Also, since it's never a widely sought after school, the kids who's parents don't "work the system" get assigned there. Not sure what the diversity make up is like...comments?

    Talk with a counselor at EPC and see what they say.