My daughter will be starting Kindergarten in San Francisco in the fall of 2009 and my wife and I have been stunned by the vast differences between public elementary schools in San Francisco. We expected that private schools would seem comfy and public schools would have less advantages, but that’s not what I’ve seen. I’ve seen huge economic disparities between public elementary schools — something I didn’t expect. I thought most elementary schools would be within a range of economic advantage/disadvantage. I didn’t expect such large differences between schools.
It really makes me feel like a Real Live GrownUp to be touring and researching schools for my kid. I know I’ve been an adult for half my life already but being “grown up” is not always on my radar.
Sanchez Elementary is the school closest to our house so I went to their booth at the SFUSD enrollment fair and signed up for a tour. It’s a school with a high number of children getting free/reduced meals and a high number of english language learners. I wasn’t able to find any information about the school in a blog or elsewhere on the web (which is how I do most of my research - I should, instead, be talking with people in person!).
I asked their parent liaison if there are any gay and lesbian parents at the school. She said she knew there were some gay and lesbian parents and that she’s never heard anything homophobic or anti-gay there. She (the parent liaison) has twins at Sanchez Elementary and while she speaks spanish and english, I think she said her twins chose to speak only english.
When Moya and I showed up for a tour, there was only one other parent at the tour - such a sharp contrast from the packed tours at other San Francisco public and private schools.
The school starts at 7:50am and there’s breakfast available at 7:30am. Their after school program is free and ends at 5pm - academics and P.E. and art and music.
It’s a gorgeous building with high ceilings and a lot of light and the school in general seemed calm and quiet. There are two gardens that the kids work in - one on the public sidewalk and one in their private outdoor play area. There were some new-ish wooden planters in the play area that looked like they used to contain plants. The kids grow vegetables and there’s some involvement with Slow Food and Bi-Rite Market.
The large outdoor play area has a brand new play structure and almost all of the kids were riding tricycles around. There’s a covered area near play area with benches and large clean girls’ and boys’ bathrooms. The fence around the play area has playful wood cutouts of whales (and other things - I don’t remember what all the cutouts were).
They must have recently finished a project about Alexander and The Terrible Horrible Day because kid’s writing and art about that book were on many of the walls.
In the kindergarten classrooms kids were singing alphabet in one room and going through numbers in another room. Most of the kids (almost all it seemed) are hispanic, latino, and/or african-american.
All of the children wear uniforms with a white shirt and khaki pants or skirt.
They have a computer room with 20-30 brand new iMacs and a fulltime technology teacher who seemed to stumble over Moya’s question about diversity but then I overheard her talking with another teacher later about the No on 8 protest rally that would be happening the next day. The Mac lab is used for a reading program to help teach reading to younger grades and they teach word/excel/powerpoint to the older grades, plus they teach how to responsibly use the Web.
Sanchez is a “dream school” which, from what I can tell, means they’ve had low test scores. They’re consistently improving in past 3 years. They have a fulltime nurse and fulltime social worker and a fulltime coach for P.E. One of the teachers mentioned that she gets a lot of professional development there. It’s a “tribe certified” school.
They have a room dedicated to music and a room dedicated to art. Their art room has a new oven kiln.
Their cafeteria/auditorium have gorgeous huge paintings of children on the walls and their library has a mural painted by kids - which covers almost all of every wall - and big stuffed animals on tops of shelves.
I noticed a “women of science” poster in 4th grade classroom. The 1st grade teacher was a bit hostile to us when we walked into her classroom — the school parent said “she’s a bit strict.”
There was a discussion happening in the parents’ room that sounded tense/heated, but it was in spanish so I don’t know what it was about and it might not have been tense/heated. The parent who was giving the tour said sometimes she translates at the parent meetings for parents who only speak english or only speak spanish.
I was quite charmed by Sanchez Elementary after the tour but it doesn’t seem like a good fit for my daughter because their classrooms are only “English Plus” or Bilingual. I’m concerned that my preschool-educated daughter speaking only English would be at a disadvantage in a classroom where most of the kids are just learning English and didn’t go to preschool.
San Francisco Food Bank delivers to Sanchez for parents who qualify (my wife, Moya, charmingly compared this to a CSA, but it’s much different from a CSA — people pay to participate in a CSA and usually the people who participate in a CSA are not at/near poverty levels).
We toured Miraloma Elementary the day after we toured Sanchez. One of the first things I saw when I stepped into Miraloma was a big bin for a food drive for the San Francisco Food Bank. Do the kids at Miraloma realize that their food donations might end up in the homes of the kids at Sanchez? I didn’t pay attention to much of the Miraloma tour because it’s in a location that would be practically impossible for me to get to without a car and their bus doesn’t pickup near our house. Location is super important for a school because we have one car in our family and my wife uses it to commute to work. I rarely, if ever, drive.
We’re unsure which 7 schools to list on our SFUSD application, but we’re pretty sure that they will be schools in convenient locations for our current daily commutes. At the SFUSD Enrollment Fair I talked with a kindergarten teacher and after school teacher from Marshall Elementary School (which is also near our home) and liked what they said.
It’s really difficult to schedule tours of schools when both parents work fulltime. The tours are, for the most part, on weekday mornings and last for 1-2 hours — tour 10-15 public and 3-4 private schools and that’s basically a whole month of mornings given up for kindergarten research. I’m really thankful that Miraloma has weekend and evening tours (even if it’s not a school we’ll consider).
McKinley Elementary and Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy are also within walking distance. I’ve heard that McKinley’s after school program has a wait list that is more than a year “long.” I don’t know what we’d do if Lucy’s school didn’t have an after school program — we both work fulltime and neither of us could pick her up in the middle of the afternoon.
I’m wondering how to manage a 5pm pickup time every day because I’ve heard most after school programs for kindergarten stop at 5pm. If my daughter is at a school that takes me 30minutes to get to (via Muni or BART) from my downtown San Francisco office, then I would need to leave work by 4:30pm at the latest every day. That’s not always possible for me. What do two working parents do? Hire someone to pickup at 5pm and bring your kid home? Or do most families actually have a parent who can leave work at 4 or 4:30pm every day?
I noticed a question on the SFUSD application for Mother’s education level and Father’s education level and then it was suggested to me that leaving the Father’s information blank (my kid has two mothers and no father) might give our kid some “diversity” — I’m not sure I believe that.
We’re touring and applying to 3 private schools too, and they’ve been as I expected — very open/inclusive towards families with gay or lesbian parents (some San Francisco public schools don’t seem very open/inclusive) and almost exactly opposite demographics of the public schools. My olive skinned Irish/Italian daughter would be a minority at just about any San Francisco public school - which is fine by me and I don’t think she’d even notice — she would also be a minority at most of the public schools we’re considering because she wouldn’t qualify for free/reduced meals (but I don’t think she’d notice or care). She wouldn’t be a minority at just about any private school - and I also think she wouldn’t notice or care.
It’s a spaghetti mess of information and questions in my head. I figure we (me, my wife, our daughter) will be okay wherever she goes to Kindergarten and we can always, if necessary, switch schools for 1st or 2nd or a later grade.
Check out Leanne Waldal's blog at leannewaldal.com.
Interested in guest blogging for The SF K Files? Send Kate an email at email@example.com.