Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hot topic: Northeast-corner schools

An SF K Files visitor would like to start the following thread:
We are out 0/7 in Round I for kindergarten and are expanding our horizons for Round II. We found a lot of high performing schools in the NE corner of the city- Spring Valley, Jean Parker, Garfield, Gordon Lau, etc but little online about them from parent reviews or information about PTA etc. When we drove by there, yes its filled with tourists but maybe something worth knowing more about since the schools are good. Main concern is how family friendly these areas are? Can this be a hot topic? I would like to know more about these schools, who goes there, where do those families live in and if anyone is thinking of these schools? Luckily we rent now and can move to be closer to a school.


  1. I have a friend, who happens to be a former teacher in the Reed school district in Tiburon, so I trust her...who had a great experience at Spring Valley this year. In fact, she loved the K teacher so much that she decided to stay at SV, even when offered a spot at a more highly sought-after school. She did say that because there are three different tracks there (GE, CB and SB) - the school is a bit divided. And almost all of the SB kids are bused from a different area.

    I have heard very nice things about Garfield, but don't have much more insight.

    Have you considered Yick Wo? Lots of families love this school.

  2. I second Yick Wo. Wonderful neighborhood and fabulous computer area and library. Sherman is also a fantastic school with an energy and veggie garden, a proactive Principal and a great PTA.

  3. They are lovely schools but I find the principals very straight and not open to change or innovation. If you're looking for a conventional education, Garfield, Spring Valley and Jean Parker would work. Lau is very large. Chin is small. Middle class and alternative people I know love Yick Wo. They are all highly functional.

  4. I second 8:09's take. All very functional schools, with some differences in style that may or may not matter to you. If any these were your only choice (in a suburban community, for example) you'd have no reason to be running for the hills.

  5. These schools seem quite acceptable, but unless you live on bus lines or in the neighborhoods, the Chinatown/North Beach/Russian Hill locations are tough commutes. I remember looking last year and the bus service seemed pretty limited.

  6. Actually, Yick Wo has bus service from Bernal and the Mission, and Spring Valley, Garfield, and Gordon Lau all have bus service from locations in the Mission.

    These also might be good options for parents who work downtown, esp those on the end closer to North Beach. Depends on your commute mode and route, of course. Would be great options for Russian Hill dwellers and not too bad either for Cow Hollow/Marina dwellers. Agreed it would be a long commute for someone from Forest Knoll area, unless you are commuting that direction anyway!

  7. Parker also offers bus service from the Mission.

  8. As I read the original post, the question wasn't so much which schools in the Northeast corner of the city are good, but who lives in that area, and how family-friendly is the area. As a long-term resident (20 years) of the area (specifically Russian Hill) with a child entering kindergarten in the fall who is in his second year at a great local pre-school,I can offer the following. Russian Hill, North Beach, Telegraph Hill and thereabouts are actually wonderful places to raise children. There are definitely less children per square mile in those neighborhoods than most other parts of the city, but there are more than most people realize. Our child has many neighborhood friends and we socialize regularly with other parents in the area. The geography of the area (i.e., steep hills and mostly apartment buildings) is both a challenge and a pleasure; it's hard to walk anywhere without a great view right around the corner, but it's no easy chore pushing a stroller up a hill and then hiking up stairs with a little one in tow (it's great exercise, though!). And it is actually a very walkable area: we often go without using a car for several days at a time, as we can walk to a number of parks and playgrounds, and there are lots of very kid-friendly restaurants and cafes in the area. There are many fun things to do right in the neighborhood, or just a short walk or ride away (e.g., the great meadow at Fort Mason, Crissy Field and the Exploratorium, Coit Tower, the Aquarium at Pier 39, dim sum in Chinatown, the Embarcadero, the Ferry Building, YMCA's in the Presidio and the Embarcadero, and all sorts of other places). The Columbus Day and Chinese New Year parades are right in the neighborhood and, believe it or not, there are scores of children trick or treating in North Beach on Halloween every year.

    While it's impossible to describe everyone who lives in the area, of course, for the most part the folks with children are renters, often with professional jobs, who have lived in other cities and don't mind the relative density. There are a fair number of folks who are from other countries (mostly Europe) and also folks who work in or own local restaurants. And of course there is a very large Asian population, primarily Chinese. Many of the Chinese people are recent immigrants (particularly the folks who live in Chinatown proper), and it's very common to see grandparents walking their grandchildren to school. I don't think it's stereotyping to say that the local Chinese population is extremely positive towards children: we had many experiences strolling our child through Washington Sq. Park in the morning (while groups of Chinese seniors did Tai-Chi) and having every Chinese granny smile and wave, even if they only had a few words of English (often "Hi baby!"). As with any recent immigrant population, they seem to take their children's education very seriously.

    As for places to live, there are definitely a lot more apartments for rent these days, and the rents seem to be flat or dropping. However, it is tough to find the right apartment (a house being pretty close to out of the question). Of course, you only need one place, and if you find that place it can be a delightful area in which to live. Parking is tight on the streets (though there is no street cleaning on the hills for the most part), so you'd want a parking space if at all possible.
    As for crime, it's not a real issue, though there are incidents in North Beach on weekends late in the evening (while we are sound asleep usually...). It's also a great place for your friends and family to visit you, as there's lots to do and plenty of places to eat, drink, etc. And of course, you can commute on foot to the Financial District (or areas nearby like Union Square).

    As the poster observed, most of the local elementary schools are good or even great. We were able to put down five schools within walking distance which we would have been ok with sending our child to (three, Sherman, Yick Wo and Garfield were really our choices...and we got lucky and got Sherman).

    All in all, we've found it to be a great place to live with a child, and most of the others in the area with children seem to feel the same way. It's not for everyone (particularly if you feel you must have a back yard), but for some folks (like us) it's great.

  9. Thanks 10:59.
    That was my question- we found the schools to be great but were worried about the congestion there and also about driving. I commute to South SF and wonder if there are any streets offering access to 101S that are not completely overrun by cars? When we drove around on saturday, it took us half hour to cross 4 blocks. We live in Noe valley now and guess are spoilt by the relatively easy freeway access to work.

  10. 10:59 here.

    Freeway access (particularly south) is a bit of a problem (more so on the weekends actually). It helps if you know the shortcuts (i.e., not right through the Financial District). The easiest way to get to South San Francisco would be to go along the Embarcadero to the beginning of 280 (past the ballpark) but there are other routes. The area definitely doesn't have the same kind of freeway access that other parts of the city have but, frankly, that's part of the charm (no one misses the Embarcadero Freeway, that's for sure!). Good luck with your search.

  11. Yes, there are shortcuts to both Bay Bridge and 280S, most of which involve going around the Financial District via the Embarcadero--for the Bay Bridge you cut over after passing Market, and for 280S you keep going along Embarcadero. It's a little crowded going through North Beach to get to the Embarcadero, but just a few blocks. I've done this commute when my kids were in summer programs in the area and once I got the timing down, it was fine.

  12. Van Ness crossing Market also takes you southbound in a hurry. We use this route when we go to the airport. Timed lights help too. We're on Filbert near Hyde.

    I grew up on the West Portal side of the city and had the same concerns about the child-friendliness of Russian Hill. I was pleasently surprised. My children and I can walk down to the Hyde Street Pier to see the ships and play at the beach. We go to Crissy field all the time. North Beach is always full of excitement especially during Summer festivals, there are also a number of great libraries and playgrounds that double as fantastic birthday party venues (Michaelangelo Playground, Helen Wells Playground, Moscone, Joe DeMagio Playground) and the best thing we've found is that its all within walking distance...and if you need a lift, there is great public transit that can take you up the hills. We love it here and also got into Sherman, which our oldest will start this fall.

  13. My son was assigned to John Yehall Chin and I would really appreciate hearing from other parents about this school! There is so little to be found on-line from objective sources. Thanks!

  14. My children are third generation North Beach natives, so to me the northeast corner of SF is THE place to raise children in the city! I think it is even more child friendly than when I was growing up. There is a fast growing population of young families in this neighborhood. Most seem interested in the neighborhood parochial school (SS Peter and Paul) or Garfield, Yick Wo or Sherman). I went to private school so I have been researching public school this past year for my oldest who will enter K in 2010. I have neighbors who have loved Yick Wo for their three boys. Garfield is supposed to be up and coming. And Sherman seems already there.

  15. My husband and I lived in a small apartment on Lombard near Polk years ago, and then bought a house West of Twin Peaks. At the time our immediate goal was to get a dog, and of course now we are raising our kids here.

    We love our neighborhood, but the notion of raising our kids in a suburban-like fashion really didn't pan out. These are not bike-friendly streets for kids, and our yard is too small and our climate too foggy for classic backyard fun. It turns out that they do enjoy the special benefits of living in the city -- but they're the same benefits they'd enjoy on the denser northeast side of town. It all worked out, but honestly, it seems like it would have been fun to raise kids where we previously lived (though the apartment was definitely too small).

    The funny thing is that it would have been fine even for the dog. Dogs just lie around when they're inside or fenced in, so they don't need a big house or yard, just a good dog park nearby for exercise.

  16. No comparison. Yick Wo is tops. Year after year, I can't believe this school is more popular than it is. It's a great even mix of white, chinese and other families--much more so than most schools in SF. The community is really tight. Everybody I know who attends, loves it, and stays there, and sends siblings and friends.

    I've heard the tours aren't very good. There is an in-joke that nobody wants the school to get too popular, because the locals want to keep it "their own".

    Highly, highly recommended.

  17. Yick Wo starts at 9:30a- no before school care, so that's a huge barrier for our family & I assume many others. Jean Parker, well the teachers are great, but the principal is a menace and there is little to no parent participation in the school community.

  18. Yikes...did we go to the wrong place. We toured Yick Wo and my husband absolutely refused to even put it on the list. There was very little light (who designs these classrooms), the teachers and kids did not seem engaged and when a kid was injured on the playground there was a very slow reaction time. The start time is also ridculous for anyone who actually works.

  19. 9:58pm- what school were you assigned to?

  20. Do not be deceived by the beautiful building and high test scores, I would beware of the principal at Garfield ES. Also, the outdoor space is extremely small and there are so many rules to just keep kids contained in that small 'yard' that it is oppressive. The overall environment at the school is oppressive for that matter. Ask a lot of questions.

  21. 11:26,
    I did a presentation in a first grade class (or maybe it was second grade) at Yick Wo about a year ago and found the school quite delightful... with very engaged kids. I had never heard of the school before that experience and I, too, was surprised at how relatively "unknown" it was for such a great school. (Felt that way at Stevenson, also...)

  22. To the March 26 930 am poster, you surely must have gone to the wrong place. Yick Wo is one of the more modern buildings. The classrooms are very bright and have amazing sunlight. It's built in 1983, faces a large playground that basks in sunlight. It's located in the very best part of Russian Hill. A bright sunny gem.

    My daughter attends Yick Wo and I can't wait for my son to follow her. We were paying for private school until our name came up in the lottery.

    Touring Yick Wo, after getting the call that our name had come up on the waitpool, and seeing the bright classrooms and happy children and involved parents standing outside in the sun--all sold me. I have been thrilled with my decision to attend Yick Wo. May daughter is thriving.

    It's not a dark place at all. You really did go to the wrong place if you think otherwise.

  23. To the 3/25 10:10, I think you are mistaken. Not only is the after care FREE and community supported, I'm pretty sure it begins early too, at 8am.

    Also the other care program for pay at Tel-Hi around the corner two blocks away feels like part of the school, because some parents prefer that program. It is popular, and the bus shuttles the kids over at 915 for the start.

    I LOVE the start time at Yick Wo. My daughter gets on the bus at 845, arrives at school at 915, gets back on the bus at 330, and is home at 4pm.

    I think it's cruel and insane for a child to arrive at school at 745am (!) and be out by 130 or whenever, only the sit and rot in a program for four and a half hours. Now THAT is a schedule that could never work for my working family. Too too too long a day. My six year old kid could never take that schedule.

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