Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunset Elementary School

Reviewed by Meredith
(toured 10/23/08)

Location: 1920 41st Avenue @ Ortega, Sunset map
School hours: 8:40a-2:40p
Tel: 415-759-2760
Fax: 415-759-2729
Principal: Sophie Lee
Web site:
School tours: Wednesdays, 9:00a - 10:45a
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 60
Total student body: 324

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

Sunset has a small-school feel with a balanced curriculum with respect to emphasis across the subject areas. There are a variety of arts programs, science both in the curriculum and through multiple in-school and after-school programs, and opportunities to do multimedia-supported interdisciplinary projects and supported by a full-time consultant. The school has two mobile laptops of computers, the best type of model for full integration of technology into instruction. The principal is a caring, involved person who has been at the school for 6 years and knows all students in the school by name.


The building is older and in modest condition, but on this particular sunny day, felt airy and awash in light. There are large play areas that include a new play structure that the PTA spent several years raising the funds to buy. One of the most striking aspects of Sunset's classrooms were how bright and colorful they were, a wonderful blend of organization and displays of student work. There are two large gardens on campus that are the focus of the science activities. Older grades are in bungalows; one classroom this year is having to use the library as a classroom while the district builds a new bungalow. The library will be restored as a library next school year. The cafeteria is smallish, requiring the school to have three separate lunch periods.

After School programs

Sunset has multiple options for after-school programs. A full-time (5-day) pay program is available for $428 per month through the Stonestown YMCA (that is offered onsite). Excel offers free afterschool programming that is somewhat more academically focused. In addition, there is a science program called Tree Frog Treks that one parent I talked to really loved. A highlight is the programs for language; Mandarin and Spanish are offered 1 day per week. There is currently also a program in Chinese instrumental music offered afterschool.


The PTA's presence was felt immediately on the tour, with touring parents being greeted by a group of parents numbering about the same as the touring parents. They were friendly and enthusiastic about the school, if not particularly informed about instructional matters or things like the cost of different afterschool programs. The PTA raises over 100K per year. Their fundraising helped the school purchase its big play structure and consultants in science and art. In addition, the PTA gives out minigrants to teachers for different projects.

Language program(s):

Though the school is not an immersion program, it does offer language after school, one day a week. Mandarin, Cantonese are popular; Spanish was not offered this past semester due to lack of interest among the parents/children.

Tour Impressions

Instruction observed in the school was varied. In the very first class we visited, we saw the technology consulting presenting a KidPix multimedia story the students had collaborated to produce; the kids were mostly listening, but clearly excited, and the work they had done impressive for this group of kindergartners. The topic pertained to the outdoor gardens, so this project was a great example of integrating language arts, science, and technology. In the other K class, students were practicing creating tallies, an activity from the new district math curriculum, Everyday Mathematics. This was the first math lesson I've observed on a tour, though this may have as much to do with the time of day of the visit. The second graders were also working in the new math curriculum. I was impressed with students in fifth grade doing character sketches as part of a response to literature lesson. In another classroom, though, students were working in centers on worksheets focused on drill and practice with letter recognition. And in the third grade class, we saw students taking a test, for which the teacher simply used the textbook test.

The approach to discipline used in the school is called "Caring School Community," which emphasizes the need for all teachers to hold class meetings, where issues may be discussed related to getting along, making and keeping friends. The program also includes cross-age buddies and something called "star students." Every student is recognized for a positive quality at some point during the year. This approach seems like a positive approach to discipline; the principles emphasized in the program seem like good fundamentals for character education, such as honesty and responsibility. There wasn't a strong, explicit focus on diversity and justice in how the community was conceptualized; however, the extracurricular programs really are quite responsive to the diversity of the school community.

The principal provides for common planning time for teachers to work together. She provides them with focal topics (a good structure, to ensure that there is focus to the meeting times) and across the year, this year will focus principally on mathematics, since there is a new curriculum. I thought the principal had a quite realistic expectation about common planning time, that it would focus a lot on instructional planning but also that teachers needed to use some sessions to coordinate logistics for field trips, etc. Though one could not tell, I had the sense that there was a good relationship between the principal and her faculty.

The members of the parent organization in attendance were quite enthusiastic about the school; the amount of money raised by the association was impressive, and it seems like that the organization's ability to raise funds will continue to grow as the school becomes popular. The parents seem particularly involved in the garden projects in the school.

1 comment:

  1. ^^Thanks!!