Monday, December 29, 2008

San Francisco Magazine article

I'm receiving a lot of emails from readers about the article in the January issue of San Francisco magazine. Here's a link to the story:

The online version doesn't include the fabulous sidebar that highlights 20 of the districts public schools--most of them up-and-coming. To see this, you need to pick up a copy of the magazine.

Thank you to local writer Diana Kapp for telling my story. Also, thank you to the dedicated, thoughtful, and passionate SF K Files readers who have made this blog a success. I don't always agree with the comments on this blog but I do think the readers have created transparency within the school system--both public and private. The readers and comments are the heart of this blog.

The San Francisco magazine story is bringing many new readers to the site so I'm pasting some of the blog's most popular stories below. These are in chronological order and summarize the story of my search for a kindergarten. These posts also feature some of the site's most spirited discussions within the comments sections.

My first post: The SF K Files is born:

Public school enrollment 101:

Review of Alice Fong Yu: My top choice in Round I

Review of Marin Country Day School: My top choice private school

Review of Miraloma Elementary: SFUSD's success story

My application essay for Marin Country Day School

My fight with my husband over private vs. public: Most popular post on The SF K Files

My interview with SFUSD superintendent Carlos Garcia

SF K Files visitors share the news about SFUSD Round I assignments:

Kate makes up her mind: My husband and I decide to send our daughter to Jose Ortega

Alice's first day of school at Jose Ortega Elementary: Yeah!

Finally, a string of posts with heated discussions for those who like a heated debate:

Some people have been writing in to ask where they can find the Mommy Files blog on SFGate. Here's a link:

If you would like to donate to Jose Ortega, you can click on the Chip In button to the right. The school is currently trying to raise money for tutoring for kids who are falling behind. The school is committed to closing the achievement gap. Thanks!

If you have questions, you can email me at


Kate (Amy)


  1. Please list the 20 schools in the print version of the article.

  2. The sidebar categorized the schools -- here they are. My take is that there are no surprises here for anyone who has been paying attention.


    Alice Fong Yu
    Buena Vista
    Dianne Feinstein
    West Portal

    Leonard Flynne
    George Peabody
    SF Community
    Starr King
    Yick Wo

    NEXT UP?
    Daniel Webster
    Harvey Milk
    Jose Ortega
    Paul Revere
    Rosa Parks

    Disclaimer that I don't entirely agree with the category choices, but I'm glad to see all these schools listed. And also, Miraloma Elementary is NOT in Noe Valley (I live around the corner from it, and while I would love to live in Noe Valley, I definitely don't). Obviously an error made by some editor who commutes from Orinda...?

  3. I've been an avid reader of this blog for over a year now -- my daughter (and family) happily ensconced in her all-girls private school -- it seems this blog was really born of Kate, and her personal search for a kindergarten for her daughter, and that is where it, sadly, should lay to rest. Perhaps someone else can (and should) begin a new (read: different) conversation, these being new (read: different) times, but it seems this blog (and its time) is over.

    Kate, you need to move on beyond this blog, as kindergarten is nearly half over, and you should really enjoy this year, as it will never come again.

  4. 11:53, I still see lots of parents coming here to discuss schools and school issues, and I think Kate (are we still calling you that? :-) should be commended for keeping the blog alive, even though its personal therapeutic value has probably long ceased for her.

    In a completely organic way, this blog has tapped into a hunger for community around public school issues here in SF, and I think it still has "legs" left.

    As the owner of the blog, Kate can do whatever she likes but if we're suggesting tweaks, perhaps some new team members -- maybe a mix of old hands and new incoming parents -- could help carry the load and keep things relevant to the existing audience as well as new arrivals. However, that's just my two cents. From where I'm sitting, Kate is doing just fine managing year 2 of this phenomenon.

  5. If people are still reading this blog - then obviously there's interest.

    I personally enjoyed the writer's comment in the magazine on the contributor's page. Honest.

  6. about the classifications, how can Dianne Feinstein have "always been strong, and getting stronger" when it's only been open, what, 4 years?

  7. 11:53:
    It sounds like you no longer find this blog relevant, so why are you still reading and posting? I find your suggestion that Kate should "move on" disturbing - who are you to make this decision for her? The blog is still getting lots of traffic, lots of new posts, and yes, lots of media attention. Is there something about that which troubles you?

    I say, Hurray for "Kate" and her blog - long may it flourish!

  8. This is an email letter I received from a current SFUSD student who read the SF magazine article. She gave me permission to post this.

    Hello! My name is Celi Tamayo-Lee. I am a soon-to-be graduate of 13 years SFUSD education this coming June. I am a senior and Student Body President at Lowell High School. I attended Hoover Middle School, Clarendon Elementary School, and De Avila Elementary School (which is now... Aim High Academy) for 4th and 5th grade when the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program had a nasty split.
    Anyways, I JUST finished reading the wonderful article in San Francisco Magazine about your long and tense journey as a new parent entering the school system, and I am so thankful you were able to share your story publicly. As one of the rare students in the city who really understands the school system, and understands that incredible confusion about whether picking private or public, I appreciate you sharing your experience. My family has been in the same situations as yourself with my brother and me, with schools such as SF Day school, Cathedral School for Boys, Lick-Wilmerding (that one was a real struggle for me). My brother is graduating from the lovely Grattan Elementary school next year, and my parents and his friend's parents have been scrambling through their middle school choice lists nightly.
    I have been vice president of the Student Advisory Council, and a Student Delegate on the Board of Education. Through all of my participation down at 555 Franklin street, I know that I want to fully involve my passion for education policy in my college goals.
    In addition, I deeply encourage you to bring your passion and awareness and activism and heart to the Parent Advisory Council (PAC), if you haven't already. They, like the Student Advisory Council, meet bi-weekly to raise concerns from parents at their schools, and report to the Board of Education, and vice versa. In addition, they have the power to write resolutions and become a full power branch of the school system. For me, I've found this to be a great way to go beyond the bake-sales and school beautification, and create bigger district-wide change.
    I am also inspired by your story because I do feel that a very important, yet often underestimated, factor to improving the achievement disparity is by pulling in the middle-class professional families who are on the dividing line between going public or private. Parent involvement is key and contagious when a community involves children, and especially in education.
    On top of all that I know that the opportunity and understanding I have gained from going to public school could not have been found in a private institution. For example, I was able to travel to Israel on full scholarship through a program done through the school district, and have been able to learn about the parts of San Francisco that my parents shelter me from.
    I apologize for the essay, and I REALLY should get back to my college applications, but I think that this article will help thousands of new parents for years to come. Congratulations at finding your hidden gem. You have a lot to be proud of, and a lot more pride to come.


    Celi Tamayo-Lee

    Join the PAC!

  9. What a great letter.

    Regarding her reference about the "nasty split" involving the JBBP -- this happened way back when at Clarendon JBBP; friends were filling me in (Celi and my son are in the same grade, class of '09). The division -- basically a disagreement about the direction of the program -- resulted in a faction of the JBBP splitting off and being established at the De Avila site, then at least one other location before winding up at Rosa Parks.

    The heartening thing is that the unhappy beginning of the second JBBP is all but completely forgotten -- probably utterly unknown to those now in the program. I thought it was worth explaining that possibly mysterious reference, and also, it's really nice to see something good come of what at the time was traumatic!

    By the way, the AIM High school is no more. I'm having a mental block about what is at that site now.

  10. It seems to me that what they must be gauging is #applicants from middle-class (aka white) families. Why else would they group Yick Wo and Peabody (high API scores) with Fairmont, Flynn, and Starr King (low API scores)?!

  11. I really enjoyed the article. Having some perspective on the situation surely helps as well. Everyone gets through it some way or another. It was nice to hear a bit more of what was going on behind the scenes with your situation and how you came to make the decisions you did. I hope Alice is enjoying kindergarten as much as my daughter is. It truly is a magical year. Happy New Year to you and your family.

  12. I also enjoyed the article and thought it accurately depicted the way that the sfkfiles captured the experiences/emotions/opinions of some of the families looking for schools in SF.

    I read the blog even though my kids have moved on to middle and high school. For me, it was/is a fascinating look at a slice of the SF parenting population and I have turned a lot of people onto it. I don't think that its relevance has ended.

    As a parent of older public school students, I would love to see the blog provide a channel for discussion of issues relating to middle and high schools. There have been threads in the past, but I often had the feeling that the parents of the younger crowd didn't like to see the discussion swerving towards the middle/high school issues. Then, any parents not interested in the older kids topics could choose not to engage.

    Just a thought. Thanks for providing the forum!

  13. Celi Tamayo-Lee made several grammatical errors in her letter. If that is what Lowell's honors program produces, I am reconsidering staying in SF.

  14. Where are the errors?

  15. Oh fer the love of mike....her letter was thoughtful and overall well-written. A good editor would catch the few grammatical errors, just as my mom used to catch my dad's persistent spelling errors (though he was a terrific public speaker) and I frequently catch the grammar AND spelling errors of the Ph.D.s at the renowned university where I work. Re-reading her note, I see a singular-plural agreement issue and a few awkward phrases that an editor might rewrite. So what? It reads better than most adult writing I see every day.

    Remember, it was written as a private and conversational email. It wasn't intended as a formal piece, and presumably no one edited it. I tell my departmental colleagues that we editors will always offer a second pair of eyes for anything to be sent out. The rule is that everyone makes mistakes in the first draft. As well, most of us are accustomed to taking grammatical liberties in emails and other informal writing, including blog postings.

    Not that grammar doesn't matter, but really, other than being (anonymously) snarky to this engaged and well-spoken high school student (who used *her* real name), what's the animus behind your post?

    You say you would "reconsider" staying in San Francisco on the basis of an email. Really, you would think about moving because of this? Hah. I don't believe it. You're just being petty and mean. For the life of me I can't figure out why you would post such a petty comment, unless you are just a generic public-school basher who jumped on this student's writing to make your point.

    Actually, your pettiness is funny in an ironic sort of way, because the point of this student's letter is a call to broader activism and involvement in education--or did you miss her point entirely in your hunt for microscopic error in her interesting and reflective piece?

    I for one was glad to hear the voice of a student who has just gone through the system from K-12. You seem determined to be a nattering nabob of negativity, but what a stupid, and I'll say it again, petty and mean, way to go about it in this case.

  16. Anonymous poster at 7:14, I would take blue pen to your post:

    If [put more clear language in here--the antecedent to "that" is not very clear--do you mean the student, or the grammatical errors, in which case you might use the plural "these"] is what [weak and awkward phrasing follows here] Lowell's honors program produces, then I will reconsider my decision to stay in San Francisco.

    Overall, you need to be both more clear and more formal, in order to match the content of your comment to the high school student.

    I'm going to be charitable and assume you meant the antecedent to be the grammatical errors, not the student herself--else you would have used "who" and not "that" (I hope). Also, I will assume your decision to "stay in SF" or not is implied to mean, a decision related to where you send your own child(ren).

    Your errors include the informal use of if/then (dropping the "then"); not spelling out the place name; and using the wrong verb tense for the Type One conditional phrase "if that is what Lowell is producing, then I....AM?"--it should be simple future here. Your use of the pronouns "that" and "what" are weak in what should be a punch phrase. Generally, I think you might adhere to strongly formal usage in a comment directed specifically at a high school student's grammatical incorrectness.

    Thus a more correct and clearly written version of your sentence might read:

    If these mistakes are reflective of the quality of writing produced in Lowell's honors program, then I will reconsider my decision to stay in San Francisco.

    Or didn't you learn how to write in high school? ;-)

  17. I, too, thank Kate for this blog, and am an avid reader of its contents even though my children are upper elementaray and in 8th grade (one of SFUSD K-8 schools). A middle/high school blog would be a great resource for parents. This forum is a great public service. Thank you!

  18. Thank you 12:17. I needed a good laugh.

  19. January 1, 2009 7:14 PM:

    Picking on kids ... how low. I can only imagine what sort of parent you are. (shudder)

  20. Might not be a parent...possibly a troll....

  21. A Washington, D.C., public school activist whom I have met online through various activist efforts e-mailed to say how impressed she was with the SF Mag article -- she's passing it around in D.C. public school advocacy circles (yes, they do exist!).

  22. To 6:21: Oh grow up or go away, unless you have something more constructive to say. We've seen this provocation too many times on this blog. Okay, we get it: not everyone loves all of Caroline's comments, but the thing is, lots of other people actually do find enough of them interesting and informative. There is no overwhelming mass movement to drive her away from this forum. That's been pretty well settled by now.

    You know, you *could* argue with her actual points as a means of pushing constructive debate, or you could pass over her comments, since she does post with her real name. Why is this so hard for you? Why the unprovoked ad hominem attack? On a very innocuous comment about circulating an article in DC circles?

    Please, please, 6:21, stop it now and don't go there again. Your comment is so much troll-like than anything she has written recently. This blog is generally so great, and the application deadlines are fast approaching, and we could all use a break from the student-bashing *and* the Caroline-bashing right now so that we can focus on school questions.

    Thank you.

  23. Oh, sigh. Let's try to be disciplined and not feed this latest troll (or maybe trolls? they all seem like the same person to me, but who knows--the one who attacked the student, and 6:21 and 11:07 today, this instinct to launch personal attacks from an anonymous position, but with nothing real to say that the rest of us care about).

    Move along now, nothing to see here, keep moving....

  24. 11:07, I agree, but the best thing to do is ignore her, rather than insult her.

  25. 6:21, 11:07 and 8:50 heartily agree with you all, will be following 8:50's suggestion and just ignoring, la di dah di dah. . .

  26. Okay, okay, it's been said! Please....basta ya.

    Returning to the actual thread topic: Kate/Amy, it was a good article, and however you stumbled into this, you have provided (and continue to provide) an important forum, one that more official channels would have trouble managing given that the energy and argumentation in the comments following your provocative questions is what drives this. You do a good job!

    *Thank you.*

  27. Nice article Kate! I've been reading the K Files for quite a while now and not really out of necessity (other than middle school coming up in a few years). I didn't realize until the SF Magazine article that the MCDS spot you turned down came with such a generous financial aid package. Jose Ortega and the entire SFUSD community is very lucky to include you and your family!

  28. The only negative thing about this highly addictive blog (and something that was not mentioned in the article) was the herd mentality. Many parents did themselves a disservice by actually listing their choices.

  29. It is no coincidence that two of the schools with "spectacular turnarounds" had the same principal during their uptakes:

    Phyllis Matsuno

    I heard that Phyllis has moved on to another school. And if I had a child entering K next year, I would certainly examine that school.

  30. Yes, Phyllis Matsuno was the principal at both Alvarado and Sherman.

    I think she is now at Longfellow.

  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. Rosa Parks Elementary is on the move! We just won a huge contest for a “green makeover” estimated at about a quarter of a million dollars! Please watch the video our students made (link below). The video is priceless, and it makes me laugh and cry at the same time. I can’t wait to see what wonderful changes this brings to the school over the coming months and years.

  33. ^^Thanks!!