Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hot topic: middle schools

An SF K Files reader asked me to post the following:
Hi, I know that there have been mentions in passing of middle schools on various threads on your blog in the past, but I was wondering if you could start a thread talking about different middle schools in SF. I think there are lots of your readers who are now starting to think (worry?) about middle school -- I know I am! I also get anecdotal information suggesting that there have been recent major changes at some middle schools -- some for the better, some for worse. Any chance of setting up a thread?

153 comments:

  1. Time for someone to start sfmfiles.blogspot.com

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  2. My oldest is just finishing up a great sixth-grade year at Aptos MS.

    Aptos has given my kid strong academics, with good teaching and a focus on organization--helping the kids develop organizational skills necessary for upper grade work. The expectations have been high and I wouldn't say that good grades are just tossed out there--real work is required.

    Also, props to Aptos for the strong arts program, esp music and studio art. My kid was not in whole-year band or orchestra, which we hear is great, but did the unified arts rotation including studio art and chorus. My kid plus friends are mostly aiming for SOTA or Lowell, though not only, and Aptos seems to provide good preparation for either.

    Not insignificantly, my kid and friends have been *happy* this year. Not bad for middle school.

    That said, we know families at Presidio, Roosevelt, A.P. Giannini, and James Lick who are also happy. (And Lisa Schiff, who writes for Beyond Chron, will be sending her kids to Everett this year, so hopefully we get to hear more about that program soon.)

    Things to know: The academic curriculum is the same at each school--in sixth grade they get earth science and then ancient human cultures for social studies, for example. Everyone gets PE every day, and a chance to go out for a range of team sports.

    There are differences, such as extracurricular offerings like field trips (James Lick is very strong in this, Aptos less so I would say), and issues like library hours and afterschool programs. James Lick and Everett have 826 Valencia writing program on site. Presidio has a strong drama program. James Lick and some of the others have salad bars (though all have the beanery option at this level). Presidio offers beginning Japanese and beginning Spanish. James Lick and Hoover have language immersion programs, but at Hoover the Spanish or Chinese class comes at the cost of the elective (arts) class, whereas at JL you get an extra class (Spanish). All the schools have arts going on, but what exactly that looks like is varied--JL has rock band, studio art, and dance; Aptos has jazz band as well as regular band and orchestra, A.P. and Hoover have orchestra and regular band, etc.

    So, look for stuff like all that to help you make a decision. Plus location, including school bus and MUNI service.

    And speaking of making a decision--we found that at this level, the kids very much want to be involved in touring and helping to choose. I'm sure it will be even more so at the high school level.

    The facilities vary a lot too, btw--Aptos and A.P. Giannani have beautiful parks/fields next door that are used by the students, whereas Presido and James Lick do not. Hoover and A.P. are concrete-modern and some of the others are Art Deco. Thanks to Prop H, the libraries all seem to open for business.

    There's some good news about the MS process. One is that fewer programs overall = fewer open houses and schools to tour. Another is that (so far, for our cohort) it has been easier to get desired spots than for K; it helps that sibling preference doesn't apply to anyone outside of a two-year sibling gap; it also helps that there are at least five schools now (Presidio, A.P., Hoover, Roosevelt, Aptos) that most middle school families will at least look at, and some others, like James Lick, that are attracting families as well. Another good thing is that, imho at least, the quality of the schools, including academics, was higher than I expected, and the "scary factor" much less (helps to realize that your kid has reached that size and age too and WANTS to be with those kids). After the first week or so, my kid + friends settled right in.

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  3. Our daughter will graduate from Presidio MS on Thursday.

    She had a wonderful experience. Presidio has great extra extracurricular programs (including all major sports; a chess club; a coed wrestling team, drama; and "outdoor education" [one-week trips to Yosemite and Washington state each year] and the after-school Beacon Center run by Shawn Brown, who tailors help individually for kids on homework, cooking, debate, you name it).

    I think large middle schools (Presidio, Hoover, Giannini) are ideal for children who don't need much crutch-support from their parents, whether academically or socially. Kids are often tired of associating with the same 60 kids during their six years in elementary school and are ready to branch out and make new friends. You should be prepared to "free-range" them a lot more. Let them ride the bus alone. Let them take the bus somewhere with their friends to hang out at the cafe or juice bar. They are ready for more independence.

    Parent need to remember that kids are becoming more independent. They don't want you around school much. I believe this is the main reason that parent volunteerism drops off in middle school.

    Finally, I am very pleased to see that the movement toward greater school support and higher standards that has occurred at the elementary school level is now extending to middle/high schools.

    Five or six years ago, many parents believed there were only five or six good public elementary schools in SF (Rooftop, etc). This same narrow view still persists among many parents regarding middle/high schools (they believe only Presidio, Giannini Lowell, and SOTA, perhaps Lincoln apply)

    Roosevelt Middle School had large test score increases this year, and joins Aptos as a middle school under the radar for many. I think Galileo High School is a true hidden gem. Tour the school, check out the media center, the noontime concerts in the quad. Great things are happening there.

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  4. I second the positive comments of both 4:15 and 5:16.

    I especially want to echo what 5:16 said about independence--the free-ranging, the new friends, the advantage of a large community in terms of finding new friends and activities and trying things out (like track or band or chess club). It may be difficult to imagine now if your kid is elementary school (or preschool!), but middle school is the time when they want to spread their wings and also when their friends are all-important. They need this. A little free-ranging like going on MUNI is an appropriate developmental leap.

    Finally--YES--there are new schools on the radar. In fact, I wouldn't exactly say that Aptos and Roosevelt are hidden at this point! Scores and applications are up for both.

    One to watch, despite still-low scores related to demographics and lots of newly arrived ELLS, is James Lick. Alvarado, Buena Vista, Monroe, Marshall kids are heading to James Lick for SI, especially since Hoover cut its "zero period" for immersion so immersion kids can't take art. Miraloma kids too are now heading over to the GE program at Lick.

    One interesting thing about James Lick, for some families, is that that they don't break the kids into honors/non-honors, so if you have a non-GATE kid who would struggle in honors, it might be a better option to avoid the tracking. They do have tracked math classes, but they switch them up every six weeks--in other words, there is mobility.

    One more thought: Aptos and Lick and I think Roosevelt, at least for now, qualify for Band 3 Lowell admission. As do many private schools, but that's a rant for another day.

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  5. Another great resource is www.thecalfeeguide.com. They have information on the middle and high schools in the city. The video clips of the high schools will make you proud to be a San Franciscan!

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  6. sorry...www.calfeeschoolguide.org

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  7. "One more thought: Aptos and Lick and I think Roosevelt, at least for now, qualify for Band 3 Lowell admission. As do many private schools, but that's a rant for another day."

    What is "Band 3 Lowell admission"??

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  8. Re Lowell admission, you can read all about it on the SFUSD website under the enrollment section, but the short version is that there are three bands for admission into Lowell.

    Band 1, which includes A.P. Giannini and a few others, which are highly represented at Lowell, requires very high test scores and grades from 7th-8th grade. It is getting tighter every year. Top grades and scores only, close to the maximum points possible. 70% of admissions are Band 1. Band 2 (15%), with recommendation of middle school principal and staff, takes into account test scores but also other factors for success, including extenuating circumstances, socio-economic status, school-based leadership, etc. Band 3 (15%) is under-represented schools and has a (somewhat) lower threshold for test scores and grades. Principal and middle school staff also play a role in ranking Band 3 students based on grades/test scores, personal essay, and factors such as leadership. It's basically a more forgiving way to get in than Band 1 which is pretty unforgiving in terms of GPA and scores, though students ranked high on those lists are expected to be able to "cut it" at Lowell.

    Hearsay is that as a result of these bands, it is a lot easier to get A's at A.P. Giannini than at Aptos. Teachers know that B's will certainly keep an A.P. kid out of Lowell, whereas a few B's may cut it for Aptos kids. So an A at Aptos may be harder to get, ironically given A.P.'s top reputation. [Hearsay only! And you thought K admission was bad, wait till high school :-) ....]. Some say the same for some of the private school grades....teachers go easy on kids applying not only to Lowell but to private high schools. [Hearsay!]

    Anyway, there ARE good high schools for kids who are not a good fit for Lowell. Galileo, Balboa, Washington, Lincoln, and of course SOTA for the artist types are great places to start.

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  9. What are the class sizes at James Lick middle school?

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  10. Our daughter has had a wonderful 6th grade year at James Lick. I was initially interested in the school because it doesn't track students into honors and GE strands. Although our daughter is GATE-identified, she does better in a less competitive atmosphere. (I have witnessed the middle school honors track first-hand, and my impression is that the curriculum is the same, it's just the expectations that are higher.) James Lick also offers much smaller classes (25 versus 33 or more) and an additional period every day, so students who are on grade level can take two electives and those who need an additional academic period (such as a remedial reading class) aren't penalized and also get to take an elective. We've also been extremely impressed with the staff at James Lick. The adults there know the students and really care about them, which is not always evident at other middle schools. I think part of this is because the school is smaller than some others (about 600 students versus 1000 or more). And the arts program is great--an afterschool theater production ("Bye Bye Birdie" this year); 100 kids dancing in the Carnavale parade; chorus, dance and rock music offered as electives, etc.

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  11. 10:52, class sizes have been smaller at James Lick than at the other ones mentioned here. They have more money than the others due to their demographics (higher poverty), so they get more class time and smaller class sizes. Actually, I think the class size reduction comes as part of a 5-year grant (?) won by their principal, who is now up at SOTA. That's the long answer.

    Short answer is something like 25 kids/class.

    James Lick is also over a smaller school (not only smaller classes, but fewer classes). It's one-half to two-thirds the size of some of the others.

    Other thing I would say is that there is a palpable sense of community there among the kids, parents, teachers.

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  12. Re: Lowell admission - agreed that Band 1 is tighter every year!

    This year's Band 1 cutoff was 86 points - last year was 85.5 - a perfect score is 89 points

    The information is all at sfusd's website, but in a nutshell:

    Grades in 7th grade (both semesters) and 8th grade (first semester) are counted, along with 7th grade composite test scores in English and Math - the only grades counted are those for the 4 academic classes (Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, Science)

    In 7th grade, each A is worth 4 points, B's - 3 points, C's - 2 points - total possible - 32 points

    In 8th grade, each A is worth 8 points, B's - 6 points, etc. - total possible - 32 points

    A maximum of 12.5 points is given for each of the tests, for a total possible of 30 points

    800 students were admitted this year, and there is no waitlist (comprised of Band 1, Band 2 & Band 3)

    For Band 1, one needs to pretty much get all A's - you have room for 1 or 2 B's at most, and/or a slight blip in test scores

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  13. Lowell commenter here - made a mistake in my math - total possible test score points is 25, not 30 as stated - my apologies! So, 32+32+25 = 89

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  14. Yep, competition for Lowell is stiff. It hits you the first time you see the science fair projects in the fall of 6th grade that you used to think your kid was gifted, but .... wow, there are some bright and super-motivated kids out there!

    That said, most kids I know you actually WANTED Lowell got in; and there are other options for kids who don't. SOTA for the artsy set; Balboa has some interesting programs including playwriting opportunities; science at Lincoln including some really high-level work for those who are motivated; etc.

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  15. Regarding Lowell addmissions, I found a list of 2009 Band 3 schools after a bit of digging on the SFUSD website, but not Band 2. Does anyone have a current list?

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  16. 2:43--I believe Band 2 does not relate to a list of specific schools. It is a category of admissions, 15% of the total, that allows some consideration to be given to high-potential kids from challenging backgrounds. The Band 2 kids are nominated by a committee at their middle schools, and admission is granted by a Lowell committee.

    Band 3 does relate to a list of under-represented schools. Band 3 kids are also nominated and ranked by a committee at their middle schools, but it's not so much about extenuating circumstances, but slightly relaxed standards in terms of points and higher value on some other factors, in order to admit kids from schools besides A.P. Giannini (basically).

    As noted, that can create some anomolies in which a school like Aptos has a more rigorous grading practice than A.P. because the kids at A.P. are truly sunk for Lowell admissions if they don't maintain a solid 4.0 GPA starting in 7th grade. So this whole Band 1, Band 3 thing does not mean that the A.P. honors kids are necessarily getting a better education than the honors kids at Aptos.

    This is all a creation of the settlement that ended certain racial quotas at Lowell, btw.

    And yeah, agreed there are some amazingly smart and driven kids in this town. Not sure I could compete at Lowell if I were that age again. I got good grades back in the 80's at my small-town high and took AP classes and all, but I don't remember working as hard as some of the kids I see today.

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  17. Thank you, 3:03, for your very helpful explanation. My child is currently in 4th and I'm just trying gather info at this point.

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  18. I had a specific question about foreign language classes. So if your kid was not in an elementary immersion program and thus cannot do middle school immersion, is there any public middle school where they can still take a language class? Reading the posts above I'm getting the impression that the only one you can do that at is Presidio, am I right?

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  19. I want to ditto 4:15's posting. I, too, have my oldest finishing up a great sixth grade year at Aptos. In 5th grade I was personally leaning towards Lick, but Aptos was his first choice and he's loved it and grown tremendously this year. He has exceeded my own expectations - I wouldn't have been able to see it last year at this time how much he has changed and grown in just a year!

    The advice I'm giving friends on middle school based on our own experience:

    1. I don't think middle schools in SFUSD are all that different. I was very pleasantly surprised when touring schools and felt we had lots of good choices.


    2. Because of #1, my own son's choice became a big factor. He really wanted Aptos, and as a result, feels quite invested in his choice.


    3. Also because of #1, I encourage families to weigh proximity heavily. That my son can take the MUNI to and from school has been a large part of his personal development and growth this year. Giving him just that much more independence has boosted his confidence and provides lots of opportunities for proving responsibility and trust (which, so far anyway, he has!) Also, having a cell phone to let me know when he's leaving school and when he's arrived home has been a huge help - yay for technology!

    Happily I can report that all the kids in his 5th grade class got their first choice of middle school and they get together regularly to see each other. Other good news - everyone is very happy at their school and is doing very well (several that were struggling in elementary seem to have hit their stride and are doing better than ever in middle school!)

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  20. Another thing on Aptos and GATE/Honors - This school is moving away from the historical tracking system. This means that it won't be just GATE/high potential identified kids in these classes and that any kid interested (or parent who wants their kid)in honors classes can opt in.

    Even this year, the classes were opened up. Also, they are moving teachers around so that all teachers will teach some honors and some general ed classes.

    With a kid in the honors program, I think this is a good thing. I also know that there is a misperception that Aptos is great for honors classes but not for general ed - this is absolutely NOT the case.

    I've been extremely impressed with the teachers at the school - my son is crazy about all his teachers. He had fantastic teachers in elementary school but I never heard him rave about them like he does for Aptos Middle School!

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  21. You're welcome, 4:18. My older kid is in middle, so I am starting to get very focused on the high school search.

    The good news I would pass to you as the parent of a 4th-grader is that there are some fine options out there for middle school. We had no problem listing six options when my kid applied, and no problem getting one them (indeed none of our friends went 0-fer anything our year). I suppose if you list only Presidio or A.P. it could be a problem--though we do know kids that got into these as their top choices.

    Also, echoing 4:40 who posted just now, I would recommend that you DO involve your kid in the search next fall (tours, open houses, attend arts events and so forth). One of the benefits of the preference lottery at this level is that it does invest the kids in their choices--a very good thing in middle school, believe me! We also found that we overall liked several schools, and were weighing a combination of relatively minor differences and logistics, and while I leaned toward one based on my preferences, my kid's preferences went the other way. We went that way and could not be happier.

    Does your current school's PTA have a middle school night? This can be a great chance to talk with alumni kids currently in middle school, and their parents. It made it easier to imagine my kid making that transition to a bigger school with bigger kids, having watched some of those alums growing up since first or second grade.

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  22. Aptos has afterschool (or before school?) Italian and Spanish classes.

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  23. Do these middle schools have room to grow? I think it's great that most people seem to get their top choices for middle school right now. Do you think this will change over the next few years?

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  24. I think James Lick is going to get more crowded as the SI schools that have been added in recent years, such as Flynn, start graduating more kids. This is an issue that the SF_AME@yahoogroups.com folks (language immersion group that originated with PPS) is trying to address. So, that's an issue. They may try to target another school, such as Everett, perhaps? to incubate another SI program if demand rises.

    Aptos has already added more kids this year as the apps have increased.

    I would say that the big three of AP Giannini, Hoover, and Presidio are at capacity.

    At least at the middle school level, because it is only three years, sibling preference is not as big a factor as in elementary. You have be two years apart or less for it to count. As more middle schools are increasing in popularity -- add Aptos, Roosevelt, and James Lick in recent years -- that has reduced the pressure on the Presidio/Hoover/AP Giannini westside grouping.

    What I don't know is what will happen when the current baby boomlet that is currently entering K-1 heads to middle school. Will there be enough "improved" schools to accomodate that growth by then? What about language programs? Where are programs actually expandable (where is there physical space to do so)? I don't know the answers. Perhaps someone from PPS can chime in--is this on the radar?

    As for my cohort of parents--those of us with kids in MS now--it seems like a pretty happy group, I'm glad to say.

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  25. It's fascinating reading this as a lurker. (My son is entering K next year.) Everyone seems so nice and, well...not hysterical. My mom (who raised three kids) says that parents of infants to elementary school students are basically hysterical w/ the stress of raising small children, but that by the time parents have middle schoolers and high schoolers, they finally can relax a little. Have to say that's true for me -- I basicall live my life in a high state of anxiety with my two little ones, often not even realizing it. It's nice to get a little peek into my future -- people being nice and helpful, and relaxed and realistic about their children and their options.

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  26. I read through this thread and someone commented that the middle school search is low-stress compared to the high school search. (Now I can't find that comment again.)

    I have two high-schoolers, and I want to reassure you that it's not so bad after all. About six years ago there was a big frenzy because parents seemed to view only Lincoln and Washington as safe, acceptable alternatives to Lowell and SOTA. But now Balboa and Galileo have shot up in quality and reputation, which really helps take the pressure off. Wallenberg has gone up and down in reputation but is worth checking out too, and the 4-year-old Academy of Arts & Sciences at SOTA has had a disorganized start but is looking really promising. Once you know you have good alternatives, it's a much more positive process.

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  27. 8:01, I believe you are right. I used to be a more anxious person when my children were smaller. Now that they are older, I am more relaxed. I think about our social patterns: when we get together with other families, the kids head off to their own world (we adults are the kiss of social death when other kids are around), so we get a lot more adult time now, and we talk about adult things (as well as collectively roll our eyes about our children's habit of rolling their eyes at us....a sense of humor is imperative during these years!).

    Also, I don't know for sure, but I'd bet at least a few of the upper-grades parents posting here are the very ones who have worked hard to improve the likes of Miraloma, Alvarado, McKinley, Grattan, Fairmount and others over the last 6-10 years or so. Not a group that gets freaked out by the ups and downs at this point, and one that *is* very committed to public education in this city.

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  28. "science at Lincoln including some really high-level work for those who are motivated; etc."

    IIRC, didn't a team from Lincoln beat a bunch of Ivy Leaguer universities to make the finals of a global competition on synthetic biology, which is a pretty cutting-edge field of biotechnology?

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  29. 8:01 - true that. ;) i thought it was just me that was a stress bucket. i am so high strung. while i like the growing independence of my 5 year old and 1.5 year old i fear i will miss the babies in a painful way.

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  30. 12:57--Yes! There is a biology teacher at Lincoln High School who has a connection with researchers over at UCSF Mission Bay. Through that connection, some of the top-notch science students at our own Lincoln High School ended up working with a UCSF team that scored very high in a collegiate-level competition at MIT some months back--beating out teams from Cambridge University in England and other prestigious labs from around the world. These same high school students also scored summer research jobs at UCSF. There was an article in the NY Times about it. I think Kate even posted a link to it.

    And yes, this is Lincoln HS, not Lowell. :-)

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  31. Heather, we've all been there. The fortunate thing about adolescence is it makes that inevitable separation a little less painful, lol. They certainly have their moments good and bad, but I enjoy the conversations we do have very much, when they actually let me in on their world. Also, they are wickedly funny sometimes.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the elementary years. They are the best. The kids are more independent so you don't have to watch every move they make, but they are still close to you. My youngest still gives me spontaneous hugs....I am treasuring these as I know they will fall off a cliff in a few short years, if that.

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  32. 8:01 - I had to laugh as I agree with you mom! As my best friend from college noted, once you become parents you see death lurking around every corner! (It really DOES taper off, though.)

    One thing about my kids getting older (and also from being a public school parent in diverse schools that weren't top picks for many of my peers) is that I realize how much our family priorities and values, an my own parenting, makes a difference (and, of course, there is scads of research that backs this up.)

    Even among my own friends and kids' friends who have different values (i.e. they may be the same demographically as me - middle class, educated, white) I see where parent expectations really make all the difference in outcomes -- ESPECIALLY behavior, manners, academic focus, etc.

    Anyone heard about the "marshmallow" study and kids learning how to self manage themselves? I'll have to post a link - fascinating stuff!

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  33. One the marshmallow study - a few links:

    http://blogs.timesunion.com/drkari/?p=54

    http://www.parents-choice.org/print_article.cfm?art_id=164&the_page=consider_this

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  34. “Hearsay is that as a result of these bands, it is a lot easier to get A's at A.P. Giannini than at Aptos. Teachers know that B's will certainly keep an A.P. kid out of Lowell, whereas a few B's may cut it for Aptos kids. So an A at Aptos may be harder to get, ironically given A.P.'s top reputation. [Hearsay only!]”
    JUNE 2, 2009 11:47 PM

    “As noted, that can create some anomalies in which a school like Aptos has a more rigorous grading practice than A.P. because the kids at A.P. are truly sunk for Lowell admissions if they don't maintain a solid 4.0 GPA starting in 7th grade. So this whole Band 1, Band 3 thing does not mean that the A.P. honors kids are necessarily getting a better education than the honors kids at Aptos.”
    JUNE 3, 2009 3:03 PM

    Yikes! In just a few posts, admitted “hearsay” ("it is a lot easier to get A's at A.P. Giannini than at Aptos") became conventional wisdom!!! I'm sure this wasn't intended, but Is it necessary to call into question the A’s earned by hard working Giannini students in order to promote/defend Aptos? You really don’t have to take a dig at AP students in order to prove that Band 3 doesn’t equal a lesser education (or lesser students). Presidio (highest MS API this year, right?) is Band 3, as is Hamlin. And I'm not sure what grades have to do with the quality of education, anyway...

    It seems to me that Band 1 status has a lot to do with how many Asian kids are in the school. Band 1 includes AP, AFY, Lawton, the largely Asian Catholic schools, CAIS, plus other not so Asian K-8 and middle schools … but with seemingly greater Band 1 representation from the schools with more Chinese and other Asian kids. (Which is why I was surprised to find Roosevelt is not in Band 1, yet…) I don’t think this is just because (on average) Asian kids tend to get better grades and higher achievement scores (although they do tend to do that), but also because Lowell is the school greater numbers of Asian families seem to be shooting for. (Band 3 schools Francisco and Marina also have a lot of Asian students, but more ELL students than the others, plus proximity could be an issue.)

    In the interest of fairness, to balance hearsay with hearsay (since, you know, its all hearsay, but people often form opinions- and develop strategies- based on it), our “neighborhood school” is Aptos, and I have “heard” that it is easier to get A’s there than at AP Giannini because “some say” that AP is a more academically competitive school, especially given its majority Asian student body. Also, to provide some balance to the Aptos fans who appear to be a little defensive about the school's Band 3 status, I’m sure we could find many AP parents who feel it's unfair that their kids missed out on Lowell specifically because of the very high bar set by AP’s Band 1 status.

    In my own experience, grades are based (at least in part) on how the student does in comparison with how other students in the class/school are performing… and Asian kids have a well deserved reputation for high performance. My (white) adult daughter went to AP with a plurality (still had caps then) of Asian kids, and my (white) son goes to CAIS with a large majority of Asian and biracial (Asian/White) kids, so some of this is based on personal observation. (And these personal experiences and observations lead me to strongly question the "Easy A" at AP hearsay...)

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  35. “Some say the same for some of the private school grades....teachers go easy on kids applying not only to Lowell but to private high schools. [Hearsay!]”
    JUNE 2, 2009 11:47 PM

    We have already (previously on SF K Files) had a discussion about private schools grading easier (more admitted “hearsay,” but hey, let’s just keep repeating it until it becomes conventional wisdom, too!) as a strategy for competitive high school admissions. I actually think there is likely to be less of that with private schools, since most of their students are not trying to get into Lowell, but into other private Catholic and independent high schools. There is more accountability under those circumstances since the admitting private high schools would soon learn how accurate those grades were once a student started attending the school. Which is to say, inflating grades might work as a strategy for a couple of years, but after that, transcripts from the offending school would be considered unreliable. (Which would, naturally, negatively impact admission rates from the offending school…. so what would be the incentive to inflate grades?) I mean, I could see the possible effectiveness of that strategy with a private two year (7th and 8th grade) “Lowell Prep School”- where the grades are inflated (to straight A’s) and all studying is directed at achieving 85% and above CST scores. That could work as long as kids are only trying to get into Lowell.

    [“Some say”…? What is this, the Washington Post?!]

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  36. "I had a specific question about foreign language classes. So if your kid was not in an elementary immersion program and thus cannot do middle school immersion, is there any public middle school where they can still take a language class? Reading the posts above I'm getting the impression that the only one you can do that at is Presidio, am I right?"

    June 3, 2009 4:34 PM

    AP will have four levels of Mandarin (including Beginning) next year, every day before school, from 8:00-9:00. (This year, they had three levels.) Spanish is also offered before school, but I don't know the details. These classes have been arranged by PTA parents (I think) and cost something like... $400 a semester... or $400 a year? ( I can't remember, but definitely a GREAT deal!)

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  37. Presido offers beginning Spanish and Japanese. I believe these are curricular electives. Presumbly this means giving up other electives? They do seem to have some extra-curricular music and drama offerings, so maybe that's how you do the trade-off.

    AP Giannini offers Mandarin as an extra-curricular option at several levels (beginning, intermediate, advanced).

    Aptos offers Spanish and Italian as a an extra-curricular. I believe the Spanish, at least, is offered at two levels, beginning and advanced.

    Hoover offers curricular immersion Spanish and Chinese (available to ELLs and to kids who have gone through immersion programs).

    James Lick offers curricular immersion Spanish, same deal as with Hoover, but as one of their TWO electives, so kids in this program do not have to choose between it and art. This is one BIG advantage of James Lick over the others.

    Not sure of language offerings at the other schools.

    In a better California, we would have funding to add an extra class to each of these schools to support curricular language programs. The extra-curricular offerings are certainly better than nothing, and kudos to the PTSAs that are organizing them, but they are stop-gap measures. They may help some children bridge to heritage language classes or Spanish II. If language is a top priority for you, try the immersion route and stick with it through MS.....or yeah, try Presido if you were not able to get that immersion spot back when.

    We found, in looking for middle school, that there were several fine options for schools. There are differences, however, too, as highlighted by this one issue, and that may help you decide. I decided that no perfect school--to get apples you might have to let go of oranges. So far, our family's had a good middle school experience though.

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  38. I wish people wouldn't describe Hoover and James Lick as offering Spanish immersion. They do NOT have Spanish-immersion programs.

    What they offer is Spanish-language classes that are advanced enough for those who graduated from K-5 Spanish-immersion programs.

    There are no Spanish-immersion middle schools (or middle school programs) in San Francisco.

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  39. James Lick does not offer Spanish for kids in General Education. Kids in SI are taught certain subjects in Spanish, but they do not take Spanish as a separate language class.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Hmmmm, that's not entirely true, either, 9:29. It's true that the kids are not immersed in Spanish for most of the day as back in kindergarten in the dual-immersion model for K-5; but then, they weren't by 5th grade either.

    What the middle school level offers is two academic classes that are taught in the Spanish language. One of them very well likely is a Spanish language arts class as you say. The other is another core academic class, for example social studies. They get the curriculum that other kids are getting in English, but taught in Spanish. Then the kids get the other core classes--English language arts, math, and science, say, plus [at James Lick but not Hoover] an elective such as studio art, music, or dance, plus PE, in English.

    In other words, you are correct to point out that "immersion" does not mean the kids are in that language all day. But it is more than an advanced Spanish language class per the traditional model of "going to Spanish class." It is designed to be a continuation of the K-5 immersion programs, and this is probably also why the name is used.

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  41. "Hot topic: middle schools"...

    ...has morphed into a discussion about high school admission.

    Typical parents here. Angling toward the next level. Gazing off at the horizon instead of scrutinizing down below, where your feet are now planted.

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  42. Thank you to the posters about foreign language options at middle school. I appreciate the information about extracurricular (and extra cost) language programs, but I take it that, boiling this all down, the only middle school that offers a language class as part of its regular class offerings to students who were not in immersion elementary school programs is Presidio. And that, to me, is really a big disappointment. I went to public schools in the East Coast in the 70's and we had a choice of Spanish or French starting in 7th grade (which was the beginning of what was then called Junior High). Now only one middle school offers language as part of its regular course offerings to all students here in SF. It seems to me -- and maybe this is fair -- that the school district has traded out middle school language classes for immersion programs. I wish I had been warned about this at the K choice -- if you don't do immersion (or don't get in) your kid has foregone language classes effectively until high school. I guess I can understand the trade-offs maybe, but wish this had been laid out in a clearer fashion from the get-go. I find it particularly unfair to those who could not get into immersion or whose kids were not developed yet (or had learning issues) such that they decided that full immersion at age 5 might not work well.

    ReplyDelete
  43. "Hot topic: middle schools"...
    ...has morphed into a discussion about high school admission.
    Typical parents here. Angling toward the next level. Gazing off at the horizon instead of scrutinizing down below, where your feet are now planted.
    June 5, 2009 7:43 AM"

    I have an adult daughter and know how quickly time flies... so, I definitely appreciate the "now" with my two younger kids. On the other hand, since I know how quickly time flies, I realize that high school is not actually that far off (sadly) for my soon-to-be 6th grader. I have also learned (through experience) that many of the transitions in my older daughter's life played out better when we had the information we needed to plan ahead effectively. Looking forward does not preclude dealing with and appreciating the moments at hand. And yeah, that makes me a "typical parent," I guess... since multi-tasking seems to be part of the job description. But really, only a few posts have been about high school admissions... and I do think this is the appropriate forum. Once a kid has been assigned a middle school, it's a little late to start weighing the pros and cons of Band 1 vs. Band 3. (To use one example...)

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  44. What is the purpose of the student essay in the Lowell application process? (It doesn't seem to be part of the points system.)

    Also.... how does Band 3 actually work? I think the info sheet said something like the student needs to get a minimum of 64 points, and identification is based on principal nomination? How does it shake out at the school level? Do teachers identify kids (that they think could do well at Lowell) to the principal? Or... if a kid accumulates enough points, does that trigger identification? Or...? And, is the 64 points a changing number... like the Band 1 number (86 this year, I think)? Are there (known) limits (for identified students) at each school? How transparent is all of this?

    Any other insights? Thanks!

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  45. "I wish I had been warned about this at the K choice -- if you don't do immersion (or don't get in) your kid has foregone language classes effectively until high school. I guess I can understand the trade-offs maybe, but wish this had been laid out in a clearer fashion from the get-go. I find it particularly unfair to those who could not get into immersion or whose kids were not developed yet (or had learning issues) such that they decided that full immersion at age 5 might not work well.

    June 5, 2009 8:29 AM"



    The district now seems committed to expanding language learning options (although, you are right, I sure wish this commitment had started earlier)... but unfortunately, I have to imagine the financial crisis will slow things down considerably. There is a group you can join, though, to try to move things along:

    "San Francisco Advocates for Multilingual Excellence", or SF AME
    (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SF_AME/)

    Description: The Language and Immersion Task Force has changed its name to "San Francisco Advocates for Multilingual Excellence", or SF AME. This group is made up of parents, teachers and community members advocating for multilingual acquisition for all SFUSD kids."

    My concern is that the language options won't happen quickly enough for many current families... thus, my effort to get out the word about the zero period classes at Giannini. I actually observed the AP Mandarin classes, and while I don't speak Mandarin (so could only glean so much), these seemed to be just like "regular" language classes you'd find within the school day... with reading, writing, workbooks, etc., not just "conversation." It appeared to me (the non-Mandarin speaker) to be like having an extra period of regular school every day. (Albeit one you have to pay for...) And as I mentioned, there are Spanish classes every day (I think) before school, too, but I didn't observe those. (Though I believe they have actually been at AP longer than the Mandarin classes.) The "before-school" aspect (as opposed to "after-school") was very appealing to me because then the kid is free for other pursuits when school is over. (It's like having an hour longer school day without "missing" anything- except extra sleep, I guess!)

    My point isn't just to promote the AP program, but the concept, itself. It seems a more quickly do-able alternative for parents who would like their kids to have the opportunity to learn another language, and might be motivated to replicate the AP model (started by parents) at other schools. The price seemed very low to me ($200 or $400/semester?), though obviously that would be too high for many families... but maybe some fundraising could done.. or the fee increased a bit to cover lower income kids who would want to participate... or a sliding scale established... or something. At any rate, it's one possibility to consider.

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  46. Tammy Radmer (of the previously mentioned SF AME) did an amazing job collecting information about school language programs by calling each school, one by one, since the language resources didn’t seem to be compiled anywhere else. This is just a starting point, though, because many school “conatacts” are not very familiar with the language programs, so provide erroneous information. For example, the information about AP is definitely dated, but it is pretty much what I was told by the principal this year at a school tour. She thought there was one level of Mandarin (vs. three in actuality, expanding to four next year) and that it was an "upgraded club" (whereas, based on what I saw of the program, I would describe it as a class, not a club... but if someone knows more about it, please correct me). If you join the SF AME Yahoo group, Tammy has also included elementary school info in the Files section.

    Middle Schools:

    APTOS:
    - Spanish: Beginner-Intermediate, Before and after school.
    - Italian: Beginner-Intermediate, Before school, Sponsored by Italian Institute, No fee.

    DENMAN:
    None.

    EVERETT:
    - Spanish Club: part of Beacon After School Program.

    FRANCISCO:
    - Mandarin Elective: Daily, Beginner-Intermediate (SFUSD Regular School Day Program).

    AP GIANNINI:
    - Spanish Language Club: Level I and II.
    - Cantonese/Mandarin Language Club: Level I.
    (Both are parent-coordinated, upgraded clubs offered before school 4 or 5 days per week, extra fee approx $200 per year depending on enrollment)

    HOOVER:
    - Japanese Language Club: Mixed level, 1 day per week, Before school.
    - Italian Language Club: Beginner-Intermediate, 1 day per week, Before School, Sponsored by Italian Institute, No fee.

    ISA:
    - Cantonese Elective: Daily, Beginner-Intermediate (SFUSD Regular School Day Program).
    (Due to high enrollment, Cantonese Seminar also offered in a double period once weekly)
    - Spanish Elective: Daily, Beginner-Intermediate (SFUSD Regular School Day Program).

    MLK:
    French 101 Elective: Daily, Grades 6-8 (SFUSD Regular School Day Program).

    JAMES LICK:
    None.

    HORACE MANN:
    None.

    MARINA:
    None.

    PRESIDIO:
    Spanish Elective: Beginner-Intermediate, Grades 6-8 (SFUSD Regular School Day Program).

    ROOSEVELT:
    None.

    VISITACION VALLEY:
    None.

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  47. PRESIDIO
    has had Japanese levels 1-2 as regular elective courses over the past few years. Perhaps this has been dropped?

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  48. Actually I thought the Japanese program at Presidio was still in place. Any current parent know for sure?

    So glad to hear about the regular school elective offerings in Spanish, French and Chinese at ISA, MLK, and Francisco--this I did not know. Good for them.

    I understand why the principals focus on these and call the others "clubs," because they are taught by certificated teachers to curriculum standards and the principals have oversight. This is obviously the best option! Just that over the years, as Prop 13 went into effect, the kind of East Coast education of 30 years ago referred to by one of the posters has disappeared. This is the whirlwind we are reaping, folks.

    Fortunately SFUSD has indicated a commitment to multilingual programs; hopefully we will be able to pay for them locally as we have been able to do with arts and libraries. What would be a good sytematic funding mechanism (not relying on bakesales) as we have been able to get for Prop H and Prop A?, but for language?

    All this said, the clubs aren't bad as an alternative to nothing. My kid has taken one in zero period and it is more like a class than a club. This is at least a way to hold onto basic skills and grammar until high school.

    I hate that the list provided by Tammy says "none" for James Lick and the others that have immersion programs. It's not "none," just that these are specialized programs. The ideal vision would be several language offerings at each school, including immersion classes in core subjects that can be taken by K-5 immersion grads plus ELLs from that language; combined with beginning and intermediate standard language classes. And then, perhaps, some club classes that may lead to curricular classes down the road, e.g., in German and Italian. Often these can be sponsored, as with Italian at Aptos and Hoover.

    As long as we are constructing a comprehensive list, note that AFY has the Chinese immersion, including Cantonese/Mandarin, and Paul Revere is developing a SI middle school program as that program takes root.

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  49. Presidio definitely had Japanese classes in the 2008-2009 school year.

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  50. "I hate that the list provided by Tammy says "none" for James Lick and the others that have immersion programs. It's not "none," just that these are specialized programs.
    June 5, 2009 12:56 PM"

    I'm sorry I didn't make this clear, but the list was just intended to document "Before and After School" programs and "Regular School Day Electives," since that's the information that families have had trouble finding. (And I see now that Tammy got this information by speaking to staff representatives from the various schools at the Enrollment Fair in November, so I was misinformed about that.) I apologize (including to Tammy) for the misunderstanding, and for inadvertently leaving off the (explanatory) heading when I was cut and pasting:

    "2008-2009
    Not an official SFUSD document
    Elementary & Middle Schools with Extracurricular (Before & After School) Language Programs
    (As of November 8, 2008)

    Middle School Language Programs (Extracurricular and SFUSD Regular School Day Electives):

    As described by school site staff at Enrollment Fair 11/08. May not be complete.

    Does not include other SFUSD regular school day programs (Immersion, Biliteracy, Newcomer). See SFUSD Enrollment Guide for those."

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  51. "Presidio definitely had Japanese classes in the 2008-2009 school year.

    June 5, 2009 2:20 PM"

    So we have three "votes" for the continued existence of this class! These options should really be documented somewhere "official" (SFUSD-wise), so Tammy (and others) don't have to shake down site staff for the info. It would also be nice to know what books are being used.. and other pertinent info. (Plus, phone numbers or email addresses for program "contacts" who are actually familiar with the programs.)

    I found out about the existence of Mandarin instruction at AP by accident (maybe it was on Great Schools, or something).... and I was really looking hard since we were considering leaving CAIS for financial reasons. I found out there were actually three levels of Mandarin (including the advanced class I was looking for) when I called the school, and asked the student answering the phone about the Mandarin program. Later, on a tour, the principal thought there was just one level... so I visited the program before school one day to find out for sure.

    But a former CAIS family and a family leaving CAIS this year were both unaware of the programs until I told them. (And one family is even assigned to AP!) These are families who are very interested in trying to maintain their kids' Mandarin. I found out about the planned addition of a 4th level (for next year) when I ran into one of the parent coordinators (someone I had met when I dropped in on the Mandarin program) at Borders a few weeks ago.

    Is there a district language coordinator or some other person the schools could keep updated regarding language options?

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  52. I have to respond to earlier posts about "its not so bad" at the high school level. A bunch of Sunset families are now dealing with being sent across town to O'Connell after not receiving any of their nearby choices. This isn't my family nor are these any friends, but I know about their situation through friends. Although a large number of families are distraught and would likely leave the district if they are able, this doesn't seem to be getting much play. Maybe that's because many of the parents don't speak English and don't know the system. But I felt like I had to put it out there that the high school assignment system is definitely NOT working for many families.

    Middle school does seem to be working better.

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  53. 3:15, do you know if they applied for Galileo in addition to (I assume) Lincoln and perhaps Washington? There is a school bus provided from the Sunset to Galileo and that has turned out to be a pressure release valve for several years. Putting Lincoln only is not a great idea....not saying that's what your neighbors did, but I know some who did and are now very unhappy campers. I also know some who did put several choices and didn't get any, so yeah, it was a tough year, for sure, at the high school level.

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  54. to 3:15/3:21

    among my child's friends(according to their parents who went to the EPC), the only students admitted at Lincoln or Washington were siblings or those who entered either school as a first choice - quite a few sunset/richmond residents were assigned John O'Connell, Burton and Mission (these were students who selected Lowell as a first choice)

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  55. There is a big difference between activities that happen before and after school and classes that are held during school hours. That's one reason they are called "clubs," not "classes." The middle school administrators often do not organize or manage them and they are not necessarily official school programs.

    By the way, Tammy Radmer has a child in the immersion strand at James Lick, so she knows what she's talking about. I also know that James Lick did offer one quarter of beginning Spanish to some sixth graders as an elective during the school year.

    I have been told that a major obstacle to offering language instruction in middle school is a shortage of qualified teachers. Since high schools must offer foreign language, middle school teachers are often hired away by the high schools.

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  56. "There is a big difference between activities that happen before and after school and classes that are held during school hours. That's one reason they are called "clubs," not "classes." The middle school administrators often do not organize or manage them and they are not necessarily official school programs."

    Yes... the AP classes have definitely been initiated and coordinated by parents. The Mandarin classes did seem to my (untrained) eyes and ears to be operating on a serious level, though… with a specific curriculum (with simplified, not traditional characters, for those who are interested), and the kids were expected to keep up their progress. When they finished one workbook, it was on to the next in the series, and there were specific expectations for where they were to be by the end of the year. The beginning and intermediate classes were pretty full, but just a handful of kids were at the advanced level. (I’m not sure where the new “4th level” will fit in- like, if it is more advanced than “advanced” or elsewhere on the continuum…) Apparently, many kids are sticking with the classes through the years, and gradually advancing through the program. I think a lot of Chinese parents who would previously have had their kids go to after-school or weekend Cantonese classes are finding Mandarin more and more desirable, and most of the kids in the Mandarin classes seemed to be Chinese… but then again, there are also a lot of Chinese kids at Giannini. (Tammy’s sources mentioned Cantonese instruction, too, but I didn’t see or hear anything about that… so that might be outdated.)


    "I have been told that a major obstacle to offering language instruction in middle school is a shortage of qualified teachers. Since high schools must offer foreign language, middle school teachers are often hired away by the high schools."

    That’s another situation that makes a daily zero period (extracurricular) language program like the one at AP more easily replicable at other schools (than electives, for example): the teachers don’t have to be credentialed. While that might not be the ideal situation, it’s a way to more quickly and easily secure teachers who are native speakers of the target language - native speakers who might have even worked as teachers in China or a Spanish speaking country, but don’t have a credential here.

    I’m just trying to think of options that could happen relatively quickly… practical options for the near future, not just “best practices” that will only be realized at some distant, ideal time… and too late for current students. Although, of course, we should still be pursuing more ideal scenarios, too. I just don't want the current crop of students to miss out on the opportunity for language acquisition in the meantime.

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  57. Many Presidio students who applied to Lowell and were not admitted were automatically assigned to Mission or O'Connell.

    Naturally, a lot of grumbling resulted. Fortunately, most of the kids I spoke to this week got into Wash or Gal on appeal. (60+ Presidio kids were assigned to Mission.)

    Still, the lesson is this:

    Don't apply to Lowell unless you are certain your child can gain entry.

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  58. 3:15, undoubtedly those families applied to Lincoln and/or Washington, period. Someone like that called me for advice too, and that's what they had done.

    There's the same understandable issue there that we see with K applicants who want guaranteed access to their neighborhood schools. We all know the complexities around that.

    On the other hand, sorry if I sound unsympathetic, but it's really easy to learn that there are, what, 8 applicants per seat at Lincoln and Washington, and that Balboa and Galileo have both become really good schools yet are not hard to get into (and there are other good options too). That information is out there in multiple languages. Parents for Public Schools has everything translated into Chinese and Spanish. This information is not hard to come by, and there's a point at which parents need to take SOME responsibility for informing themselves.

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  59. As a veteran, I would disagree about not applying to Lowell unless you're sure. But apply to "safeties" too. Disappointment and stress are the likely result of just listing Lowell, Lincoln and Washington. Safe bet that those Presidio families who got Mission and O'Connell didn't list Galileo, Balboa or Wallenberg but just (there it is again) shot the moon.

    Because Lincoln and Washington are so huge, they do tend to fill many openings after Round 1.

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  60. Well, I have a lot of sympathy for any kid who lives in the Richmond and gets assigned to O'Connell.

    That's three bus rides with two transfers.

    You try it. Get up at 6AM and weave your way across town on MUNI... at the tender age of 13.

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  61. In other words...

    Maybe not hard to get into.

    But hard to get to

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  62. 10:32-10:34 -- assuming you're correct about the bus lines, agreed.

    But the point is that it's extremely unlikely that a Richmond District student would be assigned to O'Connell unless the family listed only highly oversubscribed schools.

    It's unfortunate that this disadvantages a student who has poorly informed parents. Parents who make even a small effort to get information should be clear on this situation -- that small effort would include talking to the middle school counselor or other reasonably well-informed parents.

    But the good news is that Washington and Galileo are both big schools that are likely to have openings after round 1.

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  63. I don't know, 10:37. The #33 bus is one line that goes straight from the Richmond to a few blocks from O'Connell, a 28-minute ride on one bus from Arguello and Geary. Also how many high schoolers can there possibly be at the tender age of 13? Hardly any, and they all turn 14 by December 1.

    It's notable that no one ever mentions the long bus ride when they are trying to send their kid from Chinatown, the Mission, or Viz Valley over to Lowell or Lincoln....only the other way.

    Note too that Galileo is very accessible (via school bus from the Sunset or relatively fast buses from the Richmond) to west side kids as an alternative, if they chose to put that school on the list as an option, or Wallenberg which is practically in the Richmond. But you have to list those to get them, or risk being assigned even further away. If proximity is important, and there are 6-1 odds at your top school, Lincoln, better to find a safety.

    NOT saying there are not issues with being assigned across town to a school you don't want. It's just that a lot of issues get blown out of proportion in this discussion. It's a better discussion when we don't do that.

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  64. "But the point is that it's extremely unlikely that a Richmond District student would be assigned to O'Connell unless the family listed only highly oversubscribed schools."

    23 kids from Presidio were assigned to O'Connell this year.

    And, okay, make that the tender age of FOURTEEN instead. No difference.

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  65. Also, I know many of these kids who were assigned to O'Connell. Their parents are not "uninformed."

    They listed five or six schools--all the west side ones plus Galileo and Wallenburg, in at least three cases I know of.

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  66. As an elementary school teacher, I'm extremely relieved to read the positive comments about SF public middle schools. Families at my school are terrified: they think their children will be bullied by their peers and ignored by the teachers. Keep spreading the good news, please!

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  67. 8:49, I'm in the southern part of the city, but I know many, many 8th-grade families on this side of town who were assigned to Balboa or the Academy of Arts & Sciences, which they requested. I haven't heard of a single one who was assigned to Mission or O'Connell except the kid of the mom who called me to ask advice (a friend of a friend) and who acknowledged that they had requested only Lowell, SOTA and Lincoln.

    I'd bet that families who claim to have requested Galileo and not gotten it are not telling the truth, having learned that people (like me, admittedly) will point out that they were uninformed or made poor decisions to list only oversubscribed schools when there are fine options available. I'm saying that without looking at the figures, so I'm open to being corrected if it turns out that Galileo now has 8 applicants per opening too.

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  68. Galileo: 575 total 9th-grade openings, 300 1st-choice requests, 1732 total requests.

    Balboa: 360 total openings, 233 1st-choice requests, 1131 total requests.

    Even without doing the math I can see that this is roughly comparable. Yet I don't know anyone who had Balboa on their lists who got Mission or O'Connell, and I know many, many students assigned to Bal for next year.

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  69. My daughter is 12 and takes two buses to get to middle school for sixth grade. She started when she was 11. Sorry, but I'm just having trouble feeling sorry for those 14-year-olds for taking the bus, and also having a *really* hard time thinking of them as tender-aged! Most of them are taller than I am and they are perfectly capable of getting around. Certainly, they are capable of getting to the mall and the movies on the weekends, no matter how many transfers that takes :-). Learning to get around a city, and taking responsibility for doing so, is a great way to begin to grow up. Kids love it when they realize they are capable in this way. This is something to be encouraged. No need to coddle.

    But this is all cover anyway for people who are unhappy with their assignments. There are no complaints from families on the other side of town putting their kids on two or three buses to get to Lowell on the far SW edge of the city.

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  70. 23 kids at Presidio assigned to O'Connell--that's not a high number at all considering there are, what, 400 graduates? What's that, 5%? What % were assigned to Lincoln, Washington, and Lowell?

    ReplyDelete
  71. Back to middle schools: to the teacher @ 11:38, please do spread the word. Our elementary school's PTA hosts a "middle school night" and invites back families, including kids, that are now at middle school to talk about their particular schools and the experience in general. We've had representative families from Aptos, James Lick, Hoover, AP Giannini, Kipp, Presidio and Marina that I can recall. It goes a long way to see familiar faces and hear that things are going well.

    Also, I know of at least one 5th grade teacher who arranged for some special tours for the whole class to visit some middle schools. This could be really helpful for kids whose parents, for whatever reason, are not touring the schools. Finally, PPS tries to post the lists of open hours and tour dates for various middle schools; it would be great if 5th grade teachers would print these out and send them home as a resource.

    --another happy middle school parent

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  72. 1:42

    I think you have hit on it. I think it is an issue that people are unhappy with their assignment to O'Connell. O'Connell is in a different category in terms of offerings and academic environment than Lincoln, Wash, Bal, Gal, and to some extent Wallenberg. So yeah they are unhappy. The district needs to hear that, and do what it takes to improve it by adding certain programs (as they did with Gal). And families for next year need to step up and realize they can't count on getting Lincoln, and they really should put some safety schools down on that list (I'm sure there are some families that did that and went 0/6 or whatever, but I'm skeptical that most who got O'Connell put more than Lincoln & Washington plus Lowell and/or SOTA).

    Meanwhile, this is NOT an issue of transportation and that issue is obscuring the real issue, which is that people think O'Connell doesn't cut the mustard. THAT is the real issue to be addressed. If the district offered a direct school bus from the Richmond as they do to Gal from the Sunset, I can assure you those families would still unhappy. Please, let's focus on the real concern.

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  73. I sure hope things change when my K child is ready for high school. I live in the mission and I would love to have more options, on this side of town, for high performing students. That is, a school that offers enough AP classes for those that want them.

    I don't see why high performing kids need to leave the neighborhood to find a HS that meets their needs. btw.. I obviously don't know if my child will be high performing or not but it would be nice if there were some great schools here too to serve these students. Mission High School magnet program anyone?

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  74. I agree with other posts. O'Connell is a vocational school and should be assigned only to families that request this track

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  75. SOTA is often identified as an option or southeast residents. NO WAY. As someone who didn't realize that he/she had no artistic talent until High School, I would never advocate for sending my child to an arts focused school.

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  76. As a Mission resident and middle school parent, I agree it would be great if there were more options for high-performing, academically inclined kids on this side of town. I hope that schools continue to improve through whatever means, including magnet programs, to encourage this.

    That said, I hope we NEVER go to neighborhood assignment for middle and high school. There are few enough of them, offering in some cases different special programs including language, arts, AP classes, vocational classes, sports, etc., that kids should be able to seek out the one that best meets their needs. The particular schools should be open to all kids. Kids seeking high-level science classes are not all living the Sunset near Lincoln, nor are Chinese language kids living in Chinatown or on Russian Hill or near Ghiradelli Square by Galileo.

    That's why I find it upsetting that some would use the transportation or neighborhood argument to avoid speaking to the *real* issue with the overflow O'Connell assignment. Kids of high school age (and middle, imo) are old enough to commute to the program that works for them. I know kids in NYC who commute much farther to the magnet schools there--SF is a small town by comparison. I would be very upset if that became a reason that my kids could not travel across town to a school that worked for them.

    That said, I totally understand why people are upset about the O'Connell assignment. Its offerings are simply not geared toward the high-performing, academic kid. Those in the district or school board (Jane Kim) who want to say otherwise are kidding themselves. If the district is serious about developing a more equitable set of high schools, then they should examine what is driving change at the schools that are improving, like Bal and Gal. I would suggest starting with magnet programs for language and other academic--and perhaps vocational as well !-- subjects as a start. Perhaps student assignment needs to be a part of that, but as part of a package. At the high school level--and I do think this is different than elementary--it has to be driven by the focus of course offerings.

    Meanwhile, families do need to look beyond Lincoln, too. If not O'Connell, then look at the others as safeties. It is folly to expect to get Lincoln when so many are applying.

    Hopefully by the time the families whose kids are now entering kindergarten get to 9th grade, we can hand you a larger group of improved schools!

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  77. I would just like to point out that one of the reasons for the crisis in Lincoln admissions this year is that they admitted fewer kids. Why? Because of the crisis of severe overcrowding over there that has been going on for years, in response to previous waves of parents begging for spots for their kids. Well, the overcrowding has created serious problems in a number of areas, and the teachers among others have been complaining, and with some good reason. So this year = fewer admittances, and some kids getting assigned across town.

    Ironically, even as they have created fewer spots at Lincoln, the district is facing a happy problem that we are actually graduating more and more high-performing middle school students into our high schools. This is cause for celebration! But sending 23 kids from Presidio to O'Connell will not solve the problem.

    The district needs to create supply to meet the increased demand for rigorous academic classes for these kids, within a college-going culture of achievement. I'm a committed public school parent who was truly willing to send my kid almost anywhere for elementary, and with fine success at that level, but sorry to say, O'Connell is not that culture nor does it offer those classes. The stakes are at a different level for high school. The district needs to step up here as has been happening at the middle school level (thankfully).

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  78. Well, I can only speak for Presidio here...

    Far fewer Presidioites were admitted to Lincoln and Washington this year than in the past. And around 90 of the 400 grads were given either Mission or O'Connell, far more than in past years.

    Also, almost all 8th graders who applied to Lowell and failed to gain entry were assigned Mission or O'Connell.

    I suspect this is all part of the district's grand plan to achieve "equity", by removing the neighborhood/geographical angle entirely from school placement.

    In turn, Lincoln and Washington (and all the other schools) are going to become like Lowell and SOTA over time in that the student's home address will not be part of the equation at all.

    I'm not entirely against this. For example, Mission High School is located almost smack in the center of SF and is fairly easily accessible from anywhere. The school has great potential, so why not make this the next Galileo/Balboa (the next gem on the rise)?

    But geography has to be taken into extent to some degree. 14-year-olds should not have to get up i the morning at 6AM and spend three hours a day on the bus.

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  79. Apologies in advance to those not wanting to discuss high school issues...

    Having several kids go through Aptos I can say from our experience it is inaccurate to generalize that it is "easier" or "harder" to get A's there than at other middle schools. It really depends on the teachers they have, some are hard graders, others not so much and I suspect that the same holds true at other middle schools. Since admission to Lowell can turn on getting one or two B's, being in the class with the teacher that doesn't hand out as many A's can impact their chance of getting to Lowell. It is luck of the draw. It doesn't seem fair or productive to put so much pressure on 7th and 8th graders to perform, especially when the difference is so razor thin.

    But all is not lost, going to a school like Balboa really does work for many of the kids that don't end up at Lowell. Less competitive but still academically challenging classes, much smaller size (1000 vs. 2700), supportive community, more diversity, more opportunity to play on a sports teams or to get involved in student government and a beautiful building to boot to name a few of the advantages. There are good comprehensive high school alternatives to Lowell and when looking beyond high school to college, it just might be a little easier to shine if you are not in a school comprised of all those 4.0 students...

    I'm just saying, don't fret if your middle schooler doesn't make the Lowell grade...there are good options.

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  80. Thanks, 10:22! I appreciate your reassurances as a middle school parent.

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  81. Regarding high school, we're back to the same issues that come up in the K discussion -- should neighbors have guaranteed access to their local high school and should choice be eliminated?

    Any parents who don't realize it's tough to get into Lincoln are so out of touch that it's almost hard to feel sorry for them. But that said, there's no "crisis" in Lincoln admissions this year -- far, farless than in past years, by the way. That's because Balboa and Galileo are now considered acceptable alternatives by the equivalent of the families who in 2002 made news with mass protests demanding access to Lincoln. As a Westside high school parent, I've heard really almost no complaints this year. In 2002, protesters were camping on the steps of 555 Franklin and making news for storming the superintendent's office, shoving and threatening her.

    Be aware that Balboa and Galileo were as feared and loathed not that long ago as Mission and O'Connell are now. We are seeing turnarounds in the reputation and achievement of high schools and middle schools, just as at elementary schools.

    10:12, the district is not using geography any less this year than in previous recent years. I all but guarantee that those Presidio students who applied to Lowell and got O'Connell and Mission didn't list any safety schools, which is the whole point. Also, it sounds like the high school application counseling at Presidio may not be quite up to par.

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  82. Did you see the Chron today?

    Interviews with a kid from Mission who got into Georgetown and one from Washington who got into MIT.

    A girl in my neighborhood attended Reed College from Washington.

    In other words, you can gain enrollment in leading universities through Washington, Mission, and other normal high schools.

    Also, I second all the parents above whose children had great experiences in large middle schools.

    Relax. Your child will be fine in a large school environment. They want to face new challenges and will handle the chore nicely.

    Also, all the advantages of urban living become increasingly apparent as kids get older.

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  83. Wow, 1:42 and others who suggest the transportation issue is a smokescreen- I have children in high school, and if kids do any school activities and are serious about their classes they are lucky if they can squeeze in 6-7 hours of sleep a night. Mine get to school in ten minutes but with no TV or other entertainment they are still lucky if they can get to bed by 12 in order to get up at 6:30. Even though many of the "best" high schools are on the other side of town, we did not consider them. My kids just can't make it on any less sleep.

    I can't believe how people can't see the difference between spending an hour commuting to a school you want and choose to go to versus being forced to spend an hour or more commuting to a school you don't want to go to. The first is your choice and its your decision to make the REAL sacrifice because you think its worth it. The second just sucks. Period. If I were going to get sent to a subpar school, I sure would hope it would be one that was close to us.

    And beyond just transportation, sending kids into a completely different community and different neighborhood is clumsy social engineering that doesn't focus on the best interest of any the kids. Aside from gang clashes and such that have happened, I have known kids who were just alone, alienated and scared for their whole times at far away high schools. I think almost all of them will tell you it is harder to make friends when you come from out of the neighborhood.

    My families fine, but personally I think you've got to be pretty blinded by political correctness not to see how bad it is for the kids.

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  84. I agree with you, 1:34.

    Wanting to attend a school all the way across town is completely different from being forced to attend a far-away school.

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  85. "And beyond just transportation, sending kids into a completely different community and different neighborhood is clumsy social engineering that doesn't focus on the best interest of any the kids."

    I love the idea that allowing kids to attend any school in the district is social engineering but limiting schools only to neighborhood kids isn't.

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  86. Actually that's just the opposite of engineering. No one said anything about "limiting" but allowing kids to stay in their neighborhood is pretty much letting them be (whether or not you think its best).

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  87. Just today, a friend who is homeschooling her extremely gifted son told me that their homeschool group is doing a math class with AP students at Mission High. She was extremely impressed with the kids and the caliber of learning. She felt that it was absolutely an option for academically ambitious kids.

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  88. 9:52 and others, thanks for sharing that. Mission HS is an interesting case and there is some interesting stuff going on there. Add a magnet program or two and I bet it could do really well. Not sure the same is true for O'Connell as currently constituted. They are not at all the same, though they lumped together in casual conversation, as in "X number kids got assigned across town to Mission and O'Connell."

    5:42--neighborhood assignment, or giving preference to westside kids for Lincoln and Washington, would indeed be "limiting" the choices for the rest of us families who do not live in the avenues, no matter how you cut it. I absolutely do not deny it is a drag to be told to commute across town to a school you don't want. However, the key point there is "school you don't want." Let's create more success stories as indeed has been happening, so that there are enough spots that kids actually want to meet demand--and in the meantime, open access is a must. Shutting out the kids from half the town doesn't solve the unhappiness problem, just shifts it eastward.

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  89. Back to the middle school discussion...

    What is the take on Marina MS?

    It is a large school, yet I never hear a word about it in discussions of middle schools.

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  90. 7:12, my take on Marina, having looked around at about 2/3 of the middle schools last year, is that it is an okay, even fine, school but under-performing. Test scores almost 800 and Great Schools gives it an 8 (fwiw) but I didn't get a sense of strong direction or focus. This compared to Presidio, whose soft-spoken principal I liked a lot, or AP Giannini, where they have a strong sense of themselves (the culture not to my taste, but I recognize they do it well), or James Lick with its warm and art-filled community. Or Aptos, which is driven to improve itself recently and to support an academic environment.

    Of course I could be wrong! I went on one tour, but as neither I nor my child loved it enough to justify the distance, we passed up further study. There is a relatively new leadership team, so a lot could be changing. By raw numbers it is well in the top half of the middle schools, and if you live on the north side of town it is definitely worth a look.

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  91. The reason I asked about Marina is there are a lot of very good elementary schools nearby (Yick Wo, Sherman, John Le Ho Chinn (sp?), Garfield, and Lillenthal that could potentially feed into it (maybe they already do so).

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  92. "However, the key point there is "school you don't want." Let's create more success stories as indeed has been happening, so that there are enough spots that kids actually want to meet demand..."

    Yes, and also in the meantime, why don't you select your neighborhood school (even if it is bad) so that you don't have to elbow your way into the West Side and squeeze us out of our local schools.

    THAT is the best way to create success stories.

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  93. 7:51
    One problem with no neighborhood schools is that no schools really feed into any other schools anymore. This is a big deal for middle school because I know the most important thing for my daughter is that she has friends going to the school. Especially for a shy kid, its not a trivial thing.

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  94. Right, 9:13, approach a complex challenge as if it were so simple: "Why don't you guys just send your kids to "X" eastside school and all will be well.....Oh, you guys have a way higher incidence of poverty and ELLS over there and so many more challenges? Oh well, sorry about that....sure must suck to be you."

    Sorry, westsider, but they are not "your" gated schools over there. We all contribute to them in this town and they belong to all of us. The only way we succeed overall [and that's what we're talking about, right, not just about our own kids?] is if we believe that and act on it. There are programs at Lincoln and Galileo that are appropriate for the eastside kids, and surely we can create ones over here that you will want to send your kids to as well. But this cannot be based on who can afford to live in Laurel Heights versus Forest Hills versus the Bayview versus Valencia Gardens. We can do better than that in this town.

    It is not through neighborhood-based segregation that we have created success stories at all levels in recent years, such as Flynn, Starr King, Alvarado, Aptos, James Lick, Balboa, and Galileo. It's been a slow process, yeah, and a tough one for those who have had to share the toys in the sandbox, but mixing it up is working. Neighborhood assignment would be a disaster, especially on the high school level. We cannot return to the 1950's era.

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  95. 9:45

    I can only report on my kids' experience, but middle school has been a time of breaking out of past patterns and trying on new roles, new friendships. Actually, there are patterns where kids go from most schools (Clarendon to Hoover or Aptos, etc), so the likelihood is your child WILL go to a middle school knowing some kids, at least, if not quite a few), but there are chances to join new clubs, new activities, and meet new friends. At the big middle schools, there are so many different kids that (perhaps counter-intuitively) even the shyest kids can find their niche and other kids like them, in the band, in chess club, etc. At least, that is what I have seen among my kids' friends. And they LOVE having choice, going on tours, being part of the process of choosing that school.

    Alternatively, the K-8 model does offer continuity, although we know people who switched out to bigger middle schools as they just got too small for some kids. But we know kids who are thriving there too.

    Guess I'm saying, of all the things, neighborhood proximity and class continuity were just not the priority factors at that level. Not NOT factors, but by far not the overriding ones.

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  96. As a parent of a middle schooler at a large-ish school, I'm really glad we didn't end up at a K-8, despite my desires seven years ago. My current middle school kid is thriving along with a group of his friends from his elementary. He has added to his group of friends a whole new group - all of whom I've met and have met their parents. Best of all, it's a diverse group of really great kids and families. He has loved all the extracurricular and afterschool activities and really feels he picked the best school for him (similarly, all his friends who are at the other middle schools seem to feel the same way about THEIR school!)

    I think he would have had a much more limiting year had he been at a K-8. I think they may be necessary for some kids, but not nearly as much as most kindergarten or even 5th grade parents typically think.

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  97. Re 9:47
    I see plenty of East Side middle-class white and Asian kids enrolled at West Side middle and high schools.

    Why don't their parents make the commitment to staying at home and improving their East Side schools?

    You imply that West Siders are entirely to blame for re-segregation.

    One reason little West Side Janes and Johnnies are (unwillingly) getting on the bus at 6:30AM to ride MUNI across town is because East Side middle-class kids are going in the opposite direction (but willingly).

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  98. Rhetorical question, 8:09, why do YOU think it is that kids so willingly travel in one direction and not so much in the other? Because we are trying to steal "your" spot, because we eastsiders are lazy and selfish?

    No. It happens because most parents and kids perceive that the educational offerings are stronger in some of the high schools on the west side, and because most parents want the best for their kids? This is not blaming anyone, just stating the facts that that is what motivates many of us, wherever we live, to want the schools with the AP classes and higher test scores.

    It's not wrong for you to want this. So why is it so wrong for eastsiders to want that, too, just because we can't afford to live where you live? Is there a gate with a magic password that we have to provide when we cross into the avenues? Is there some magic language in the deed of trust to your house that entitles you to a certain school within the district?

    No. There is not. That is not how we have organized this school district. We all live here and pay taxes here in San Francisco. We all pay the sales taxes and income taxes, and many of us pay property taxes right here as well. San Francisco is our community. San Francisco UNIFIED is the school district. We haven't (thank God) gone the way of Piedmont and carved out a separate-and-very-unequal school district within the heart of the city to guarantee that privileged kids get ever more privileged. Like it or not, we are all in this together. That is one of the great gifts (real diversity) and also challenges (opportunity gaps) of an urban school district. If you don't like that fact, you should probably look at private, parochial, or suburban schools.

    Yeah, supply and demand. Too many of us want the perceived-to-be-good spots that are scarce at the high school level. Of course one important strategy to address the demand needs to be building up more acceptable spots, in places like Balboa and Galileo--and hopefully beyond.

    Here's the take-home point for me. I just don't see why the burden for doing that should (or CAN, as a practical matter) fall on the neighborhoods that are the most challenged in terms of poverty and language ability. High concentrations of poverty and ELLs are not a great predictor of success. Thus, mixing up the demographics, which is essentially what has been happening with Galileo, is a reasonable strategy.

    As a current middle school parent who is now looking at high schools, I am willing to keep an open mind re eastside schools, IF there is an approach to improving them that is not based on neighborhood segregation, but rather, on building up all-city programs that attract kids from all over town, with the various gifts and talents and perspectives that they bring. Put in magnet programs, and provide some west to east school buses (both of these strategies used at Galileo in recent years). I'd suggest Mission over O'Connell. But it will require mixing it up.

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  99. What I really do not understand, given the demand, is why there is not a push for another Lowell-like school either on the Eastside or Civic Center area?

    As an Eastsider whose child will willingly make the long commute to Lowell in the fall, she did not think that Galileo, however improving, would be a good choice.

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  100. I want to put in a plug for Burton and Thurgood Marshall high schools too. Among other things, they have amazing views of the bay. I'll definitely look at them for my current 6th grader when the time comes.

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  101. Point of fact--I doubt many, if any, kids are getting on the bus at 6:30am. Okay, maybe the kids on Treasure Island (anyone here who lives there?).

    My middle schooler belongs to a zero-period club that starts at 8am, and has it down to a science to catch the bus to go across town (cross-town bus with transfer at West Portal). She is out there at 7:15 to catch the bus at 7:20. That is a different reality from 6:30am.

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  102. 1:01pm
    What I stated earlier, and you didn't seem to catch, is that West Siders should welcome low-income folks of all colors into our schools. That's DIVERSITY.

    But why are middle-class WhiteFolks making the trek across down as well?

    If you are so interested in promoting diversity, why don't you diversify the schools in your own neighborhoods first?

    Why are middle-class whites and Asians trekking across town early in the morning in opposite directions to fill schools across town with other middle-class whites and Asians?

    That's a zero-sum diversity game.

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  103. Since when has the westside of San Francisco been seen as "privileged"?

    Last I looked, it was a bunch of boxy homes, sharing walls with their neighbors, that were built shoddily on sand dunes just after WWII.

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  104. well said 2:50 and then the east side people do not want west side kids coming over to take spots in immersion programs on the east side! also, aside from some places, there are many places in the avenues that are cheaper to live than Bernal Heights/Noe Valley which are considered east side so enough with the "gated community and you are all so rich". There are also many, many people whose poverty is similar to the Latinos in the Mission and who also do not speak English, but they are Asian immigrants. What I'm trying to say is be careful of your stereotypes of the "west side" schools

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  105. 2:50

    Point taken, but you make it sound so simple, when it is not.

    First of all, Lowell is unique. It is by definition an all-city school. Unless another Lowell (with academic standards-based admissions only) is placed on the east side of town, then kids of all races for whom Lowell is a good fit will be trekking across town to go there, and understandably so. Same with SOTA and the arts. Are we agreed on that?

    Specific schools also may have special programs, such as language or science or playwriting, that are attractive to some kids. So that is also a factor.

    But let's be honest. The main factor for the GE schools is the reputation for academic support. Lincoln and Washington historically have better reps. And like I said, all parents want the best for their kids. People don't want to be the pioneers. They especially don't want to be the pioneers if they don't perceive support from others in their community, or from the district. As Harvey Milk said, you gotta give em hope. In this case, hope that the school has chance of offering something better if everyone pitches in.

    If you are serious that lower-income folks from the east side should be granted a chance to attend the west side schools, then you have to know that means that west side kids will be sent to the east side. Right? Are west side parents ready for their kids to be the ones that are sent? I'm willing to be a pioneer, but are you also? Because it will take more than those of us on the east side to do this.

    When west side parents are asked this I tend to hear a lot of complaining about long bus rides and the unfairness of non-neighborhood placement. In the past when we had racial caps and mandatory racial desegregation that assigned kids across town by zones, we saw a lot of white and generally middle-class and upper-middle class flight (of whatever race).

    I take seriously what you say about staying in my 'hood and making change. I'm in the process of looking at high schools, and I would absolutely consider east side schools if I saw a commitment from the district to improve them academically (offer courses that make sense for my child) and through economic desegregation--meaning, some kids will surely be taking the bus in order to achieve that, going in both directions.

    I hear you asking, why don't you guys just roll up your sleeves and do it over there? Why put this on us west siders? Simply, because there are not enough middle/high income families that attend public school over here to be a critical mass such that we can, for example, lower the free-lunch rate at the schools over here to the district average instead of overwhelmingly almost everyone being free lunch.

    Yes, there are ugly boxy homes on the west side, and there are serious pockets of affluence on the east side (though mostly not with kids, and even fewer with kids in sfusd). We have a lot more poverty over here. Really, we do. We also have a lot more kids living in poverty. And again, schools with high concentrations of poverty combined with ELLs tend to be very "challenged" schools.

    So okay--if we could guarantee through zone assignements or income-based caps that the folks "taking" "your" spots were lower-income and not the likes of my middle-class child, would that make you feel better about joining us over here to build up the better schools on the east side of town? Serious question.

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  106. Could we get this discussion back to middle schools? There were a couple of commenters saying that Lick is starting to turn around. The 25 max class size really appeals to me as I have a kid who tends to get lost in crowds. But I also hear the usual horror stories of folks who live near Lick -- of course, you never know whether they are talking about things a year or two years ago that are no longer relevant. Some people seem to think that the school's immersion program is the only thing turning around, but others think more than that is improving. And I hear that a group of parents who were part of the effort to turn around Miraloma are now setting their sights on Lick. Anyone care to comment on the current situation at Lick? Has it turned around yet or is it in the midst of a two or three year process of change? Is the principal on-board with changing the school? What gives?

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  107. "So okay--if we could guarantee through zone assignements or income-based caps that the folks "taking" "your" spots were lower-income and not the likes of my middle-class child, would that make you feel better about joining us over here to build up the better schools on the east side of town?"

    Absolutely. If middle-class kids in the East Side stayed there, the schools in the East would improve appreciably and become much more attractive.

    Also, I grasp your point about "pioneering."

    Not many people have the courage to do it. We are all mostly followers, rarely leaders.

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  108. 3:54--sounds like we are not far off from each other. It's not really an issue of transportation, but an issue of school quality. Question is how to create more higher quality schools all over town. Not a question with easy answers in diverse urban district.

    Note that the newest report on parent "conversations" about the assignment process is now posted on the Parent Advisory Committee website and the PPS website. One of the first points it makes is that the primary parent concern is not location / transportation, but school quality.

    None of us is wrong to want quality schools! Talking about unfair (however you define that) distribution of quality schools that do exist can only be the beginning of the conversation here.

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  109. 1:59

    Are you aware that most SFUSD high schools have a 730-735 start time? That's half an hour earlier than your zero period. Given bus routes (near us at least)that veer off their schedules, 6:30 is quite a realistic assessment of when you'd need to be at the bus stop to go across town and arrive at school on time. I'm glad your daughter can do it in 45 minutes (and frankly I don't envy her), but getting to the bus stop at 6:30 is not hyperbole. I know kids that do it.

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  110. 4:56, well I was aware that Lowell, Lincoln, and Washington start at 7:30am. Is that "most"? I believe the rest start at 8am or even as late as 8:15am in the case of Balboa and June Jordan.

    This is a small town....even with the MUNI we all know and love, it does not take 1.5 hours to get across town. So those kids you know who are standing at the bus stop are probably going to Lowell, Lincoln, or Washington....poor things, I'm sure their parents are complaining mightily about that ;-)

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  111. I am an east-side parent that could afford to send our kids to private schools but don't for various reasons, one big one being that we have money put away for college, which will not be free. Our child has found great success at Balboa and has made friends with a group of like-minded college-bound kids. My kids went to elementary school in the sunset and I have to say I love being so close to the high school.

    Don't bus your kids over to the west-side schools until you have checked out what there is to offer over here. Come join us. You are likely to be pleasantly surprised.

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  112. 3:52

    re James Lick

    * tight, warm community
    * devoted and excellent teachers, several with impressive backgrounds in their fields
    * arts-rich
    * extra period as part of the school day, so SI kids get to take electives
    * smaller school than the big MSs
    * smaller class sizes
    * 826 Valencia on-site
    * rockin' afterschool program
    * nice location
    * salad bar
    * no permanent tracking
    * rock band
    * famous grad = Carlos Santana

    Demographics = many free lunch, ELLs and a growing anglo, highly educated population. The kids I know have done / are doing very well there and most have gone on to Lowell or SOTA. It's a Band 3 school.

    Yes, more and more Miraloma parents are heading over there for the GE program. SI parents from Alvarado, Fairmount, Buena Vista et al are already going.

    Absolutely worth checking out, and talking at length with parents. The test scores do not begin to tell the story of James Lick.

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  113. One attraction of the Westside high schools is that because they're larger, they can offer more choices -- more languages, more AP classes, more arts options etc. The smaller schools just can't offer as many options.

    That said, as a veteran high school parent, I perceive two currently-non-sought-after schools that seem worth keeping an eye on right now: Mission and Burton.

    1:26, Thurgood Marshall was originally created as a Lowell-like high school, intended to have similar admission standards. It was before my time, so I'm really not sure what happened.

    3:52, the turnaround at Lick has happened; it's no longer in the beginning or even middle stages.

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  114. "Demographics = many free lunch, ELLs and a growing anglo, highly educated population. The kids I know have done / are doing very well there and most have gone on to Lowell or SOTA. It's a Band 3 school."

    I asked this before, but could someone (in the know) please explain Band 3? (My original questions below...)

    How does Band 3 actually work? I think the info sheet said something like the student needs to get a minimum of 64 points, and identification is based on principal nomination? How does it shake out at the school level? Do teachers identify kids (that they think could do well at Lowell) to the principal? Or... if a kid accumulates enough points, does that trigger identification? Or...? And, is the 64 points a changing number... like the Band 1 number (86 this year, I think)? Are there (known) limits (for identified students) at each school? How transparent is all of this?

    Also... what is the purpose of the student essay in the Lowell application process? (It doesn't seem to be part of the points system.)

    Thanks!

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  115. Since when do people think MUNI is reliable? Our kid went from the Haight to Convent in Pacific Heights for HS. Her choices were N-Judah to 22 Fillmore or 43 Masonic to 38 Geary to 22 Fillmore. Either way the 22 Fillmore went through the projects, and she saw a lot of fighting and drug dealing, and had some very strange guys following her. We could not count on MUNI to get her to school on time (she told us it DID sometimes take her an hour and a half to cover the short distance home due to inability to even get on overcrowded buses or trains or buses not running) so we drove her in the morning. We left her on her own in the afternoon, and after enough bad MUNI experiences, she took to walking home with many pounds of books on her back rather than take MUNI. Maybe she was just too much the squeamish princess? Maybe it was pampering of us to want to let her to sleep until 7 after she'd been up until midnight or 1:00 a.m. with homework?

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  116. To supplement the above, our daughter asked me to ride home with her on the 22 Fillmore one day to verify what she told us she was experiencing. She was not exaggerating. This was not kid hijinks going on, it was scary. Every other word out of those kids' mouth was a high-volume obscenity and they were hitting to hurt.

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  117. Yours, mine and ours the schools in SFUSD are open to all city residents, so let us stop talking about one side of town invading the schools on the other side of town, taking away "their" spots.

    Each family has to take into consideration there own needs/issues/challenges in getting to and being successful in any one of the schools, there is no one size fits all. A long and somewhat challenging bus ride might be worth it to one family, but not another. Figure out what your kids needs/ablilities are and go from there.

    So, look around, open your mind, and do not follow the crowds.

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  118. I have heard that Horace Mann is going to be converted to at least partial Spanish Immersion. Anyone know anything about this?

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  119. I haven't heard, but I do know they will be needing more SI spots in the future as they have added more elementary programs that will be graduating, natch, more kids.

    JL is at capacity now unless they decide to switch over their GE spots to SI, and I think they do not want to do that. Hoover is less attractive these days because they are not offering up the zero period for immersion--so SI and CI kids have to give up their electives to take it.

    Horace Mann is also getting a new principal (Mark Sanchez).

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  120. Re James Lick and the GE program:

    * Because of their built-in zero period, if your kid is in the GE program and is not in a remedial learning program, he/she could get two electives. Fun!

    * The lack of permanent tracking makes James Lick GE a nice option for kids who are not GATE-identified or have some learning issue that would make a honors program difficult. I should say that Aptos is beginning to experiment with creating more porous boundaries between honors and GE tracks too, but James Lick has the experience of providing differentiated education. The teaching staff had a professional day focused on it last year, I believe.

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  121. Aptos has always had a porous boundry between the GE and GATE programs. A non-GATE identified student with high potential has been/can be put into the honors/GATE classes if parents/teachers believe that the student will be successful in that type of accelerated learning environment.

    What Aptos is changing next year is to enlarge the pool of teachers that teach the honors classes. I believe that this is being done as a matter of fairness to the teachers to allow more of them to teach those classes. As long as the GATE students are still provided instruction that encourages them stretch, it shouldn't change the experience at Aptos.

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  122. ---
    Clarifying this point:

    Aptos has always had a porous boundry between the GE and GATE programs. A non-GATE identified student with high potential has been/can be put into the honors/GATE classes if parents/teachers believe that the student will be successful in that type of accelerated learning environment.
    -----------------

    Note: You don't have to have even been identified as 'high potential' to go to honors clases ('high potential' being an official SFUSD designation of student that has 3 of the possible 4 points to be ID'd as GATE. GATE kids have qualified for 4-5 out of 5 points.) But you are correct that if the student and parent want to participate in honors classes, they can at Aptos. This has been the case increasingly for the past several years.

    ---------------
    Clarifying this point:

    What Aptos is changing next year is to enlarge the pool of teachers that teach the honors classes. I believe that this is being done as a matter of fairness to the teachers to allow more of them to teach those classes.
    ------------------

    Note: This is being done not for teacher 'fairness' but to prevent tracking, open up student movement to provide more challenge and help teachers broaden their perspectives about students and expectations. It's really more about improving teaching and providing better, more flexible teachers (i.e. more individualized instruction!)

    For example, a teacher who has only been teaching GATE for years, needs to see if they are expecting enough of students, just as much as a teacher that has only been teaching GE. It allows teachers to get out of the 'tracking' mode themselves and collaborate across grade levels to ensure that they are viewing all students on a macro level.

    As a parent with a kid in the honors program at Aptos, I think the whole GATE identification process is bogus because it labels kids. Happily, the staff and administration at Aptos are moving in a direction that current educational thinking supports, and that I happen to fully support.

    It must be working - Aptos, I was told, improved more than any other MS across all subgroups. That's a big deal considering that it is the most diverse school in SFUSD (with no overwhelming majority of any subgroup.)

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  123. Thanks for all the wonderful posters here. I had one question about class size at the various middle schools. One person posted that Lick has a 25-per class max. Is Lick going to be able to keep that max next year with all the budget cuts? Also, what are typical class sizes at the other middle schools? Does anyone know how much bigger they might get next year because of budget cuts?

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  124. To 5:36.
    ....
    Note: This is being done not for teacher 'fairness' but to prevent tracking, open up student movement to provide more challenge and help teachers broaden their perspectives about students and expectations. It's really more about improving teaching and providing better, more flexible teachers (i.e. more individualized instruction!)
    ....

    When you say "open up student movement to provide more challenge" are you saying that Aptos is moving towards having no separate honors classes? Have the teachers received any professional development to improve their "individualized instruction" and become more flexible teachers or are they left to learn it on their own as they go? It doesn't seem to me that students able to move along at an accelerated pace would benefit from this arrangement if the teachers aren't prepared to address a class with a wide range of abilities.

    In my kids 4th and 5th grade classes the most successful teachers were those that had mastered that skill, but they were the exception and not the rule. As the academic demands in middle school increase, honors classes allow students to move along at a faster pace, or to delve more deeply into a particular subject. This does address the needs of students capable of doing more challenging work. Otherwise, these students become bored or disinterested in school.

    From my observation, some of the kids coming from smaller middle schools that do not have separate honors classes, like James Lick, SF Community or even Rooftop, that go on to Lowell struggle there. In talking with families in this situation, it seems that one reason is that these kids have not experienced the academic rigor and competition that larger middle school honors classes provide and they struggle when they are faced with this at Lowell.

    I'm not sure what the solution is, but the district does need to have programs in place in the middle schools that address the needs of all kids, including high academic acheivers, like Lowell does at the high school level, rather than creating classes with students with a huge range of abilities and hope that the teachers are able to individualize their instruction to meet the needs of all of the students.

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  125. 9:46 re class sizes,

    I believe the class size reduction at James Lick is based on a grant. I think I remember a 5-year grant? Perhaps someone there can confirm or deny. I don't know what effect the budget crisis will have on that--I assume it is structured to pay for additional teachers but I don't know how the calculations for base # of teachers will change with the crisis, or how SF will overall be affected by the crisis given our Rainy Day funds, Prop A, Prop H and so forth. If class size is raised, I'm not sure if there would be an impact on the middle schools or just elementary. Rachel Norton, are you there?

    The bigger middle schools have had about 35 students. It's been okay, but hard to see how many more would be workable.

    10:01, you raise good questions. I can see both sides of this, and I would love to see a forthright discussion of the pros and cons of tracking and offering honors classes and their impact on kids of all academic abilities.

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  126. 5:36 here:

    There is no plan, or desire, to get rid of honors classes at Aptos. From what I can tell, neither the students, parents or teachers would want that to happen.

    Instead, the plan is to make it so that it's not so firmly decided to can participate in honors classes going into 6th grade, and a desire to move kids that are performing at higher levels into classes that challenge them throughout middle school.

    And yes, teachers are getting training on this. I understand Aptos applied for and just was awarded a grant from the SF Ed Fund to focus on professional learning communities to help with individualized instruction.

    We have a friend from elementary school that was really struggling K-5 and received a great deal of intervention and tutoring. He was not identified as high potential or GATE at that time. However, he really hit his stride at the end of 5th grade, suddenly leaping forward on his standardized tests and grades, and the first part of 6th grade it was decided that he should be moved into honors classes (this happened to be at Hoover.) Because of the more flexible approach, he moved into honors classes and has done better in 6th grade than he ever did before! This is the approach SFUSD is taking for honors classes for middle school and Aptos is going that way as well.

    To me, this is a great example of how we should avoid the tracking of students assuming they are locked into a 'level' or ability at any point in their schooling.

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  127. Thanks for all this info! So helpful.

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  128. 5:36
    So how will Aptos (and Hoover or AP or Presidio) determine which kids enter into the 6th grade honors classes?

    I understood that at Aptos the GATE identified students would be placed in honors classes, and kids not identified need to advocate to a GATE coordinator to have their kids in these classes. Is this how it will continue to work?

    What about other middle schools? How do the honors programs work in those schools?

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  129. M, my understanding is that Band 3 means that schools on the list have a certain number of spots reserved for them at Lowell, and it's a combination of principal recommendation and decision by Lowell selection committee to determine who gets them. They would presumably go to applicants who were just below the Lowell score cutoff.

    You're right about the essay. Presumably it's used in Band 2 and Band 3 decisions.

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  130. No mention of FRANCISCO MS here.

    I know some parents at Yick Wo made a push to get kids to enroll there two or three years ago and wanted to improve the school.

    Anybody know anything about the place?

    I know they have a great track team. Other than that, nothing.

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  131. ------
    I understood that at Aptos the GATE identified students would be placed in honors classes, and kids not identified need to advocate to a GATE coordinator to have their kids in these classes. Is this how it will continue to work
    --------

    That is generally my understanding. That, and teachers making recommendations for kids to move into honors classes (they do it all the time.)

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  132. These posts have been very helpful. But I'm wondering what advice posters might have for someone whose kid has focus issues, is terribly disorganized and has some learning issues. Is there any public middle school in the city that is doing a better job with kids like that? Or are the big public middle schools too overwhelmed dealing with discipline issues and, consequently, would a smaller K-8 like a Rooftop or SF Community be a better option for such a kid?

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  133. The big public middle schools do not have serious problems with discipline.

    However, I do feel that children who have learning and/or behaviour problems sometimes get lost at sea at the large schools.

    I think a K-8 may often be best for kids who need a lot of crutch-support academically or socially.

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  134. A few here have mentioned K-8, but no one has talked about the specific schools. My son is about to begin at SF Community. We love the vibe there, but also know that about 1/3 of the kids move to other schools in 6th grade because of better offerings, etc. Anyone here have experience with K-8 - positive, negative, advice?

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  135. I know two kids who were absolutely bored in K-8 schools by the time they got to 7th grade. Their parents got them transferred to Gianinni and Hoover, respectively (from Rooftop and Lillenthal).

    Kids are itching to get into a bigger world as they approach teenager-hood.

    I've heard complaints from parents at both Rooftop and Lillenthall about lack of options for GATE kids, etc.

    Still, the nurturing atmosphere is great at both of those K-8 schools. And if that is what your child needs, they are good fits, in my view.

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  136. I'm surprised at the comments about how kids are "absolutely bored" by 7th grade in k through 8's. Nearly all the Catholic schools in the city are k through 8and a good number of privates are as well. Are you telling me that kids at those schools are bored too? When I look at the studies done on middle schools, there is a growing body of literature that is questioning the large warehouse-type middle schools that SF is so fond of. And when I look at the number of openings for the few sfusd public k through 8's in sixth grade, they are far outnumbered by the number of kids applying to get in. So my guess is that there must be something good going on at those places. I'm a little surprised at the SF Community number of one-third -- I think that it is out of line with other k through 8's and wonder if it might reflect on a particular issue at SF Community. I'm also getting a little tired of the poster who keeps talking about how their kid thrived in the large warehouse middle schools. I hear lots to the contrary -- and I know several families who left the city for suburban public school systems rather than subject their kids to the warehouse middle schools in SF. I think the parents with their brilliant little Einsteins need to be cognizant that not every parent's kid is similarly situated -- their kids will do well everywhere, but, for many of us, the warehouse middle schools are not for our kids.

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  137. "I'm surprised at the comments about how kids are "absolutely bored" by 7th grade in k through 8's. Nearly all the Catholic schools in the city are k through 8and a good number of privates are as well."

    When I toured SF Day and Live Oak, I asked the middle-schoolers there at panel discussions what they thought the disadvantages of their schools were.

    The uniform response was:

    They want more faces around school, more people to interact with.

    So, I do believe many children want a larger school environment, a much larger pool of potential friends when they reach the middle school level.

    Although your point is taken. A large school is not advantageous for children who need a lot of coddling and crutch-support.

    But, in my view, large schools are absolutely perfect for children with a strong sense of independence. For kids who don't need hovering parents and hand-holding from counselors.

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  138. Sheesh. I was going to criticize 8:27 for the term warehouse school, which clearly is meant to be derogatory, but then 11:04 stooped much lower with all the talk of coddling and hand-holding. You two deserve each other.

    My kid is in a small, private K-8 and it would be nice for her to have access to a greater array of electives, which can only be managed with a much bigger class size. I can also see that there would be advantages to having a larger pool of kids to socialize with. We'll check out some of these options in the fall. Thanks to those who have managed to keep their snark at bay.

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  139. No snark was intended.

    Sorry if it came accross as such.

    There is nothing wrong with getting hand-holding from counselors if needed.

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  140. Though kids definitely do not need HOVERING parents.

    On that topic, see Madeline Levine's excellent book "The Price of Privilege".

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  141. While middle school kids do not need hovering, they do need nurturing, and I think that is more difficult to find in the larger middle schools. I know the dedicated professionals at these schools work hard to see that kids don't fall through the cracks, however, there are so many kids who have so many needs in the larger schools (English Language Learners, for example) that an "average" kid may feel lost and not get the attention he/she needs to thrive. Just my opinion.

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  142. Our kid was definitely lost at sea in a big middle school, "blue ribbon" Stanley Middle school in Lafayette. There is only one middle school for that entire community and it's a big, bleak institution. When I got involved with her and her dad and went to open house I was appalled by I saw at open house out there. Nobody seemed to care whether the teachers or the kids got the work correct. Based on friends' experiences, it was an acceptable school for very confident, independent learners who didn't depend on teachers for information, but not for our shy kid. She experienced a couple of caring teachers and a lot of benign neglect.

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  143. Sorry that post was not typed very well.

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  144. My child will be entering the 8th grade at Presidio MS, which is an AWESOME public middle school at
    30th and Geary. When we were touring schools we also totally fell in love with Roosevelt MS. James Lick is definitely coming around too. So don't feel too nervous about middles schools in SF there are many good ones out there. The first few months of 6th grade are intense, as the kids are juggling more, but it evens out soon enough. Most 5th grade teachers spend the year getting the kids acclimated to life in middle school which does help. The public middles schools all have the 6th graders assigned to 2 core teachers, one for English Lang Arts/Social Studies, and the other for Math/Science. These teachers work as a team and much of the curriculum between the subjects coincides nicely so there is alot of reinforcment across subjects. The kids get to choose electives, which also prepares them for High School.

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  145. This is 8:27 again -- I deliberately used the term "warehouse" because I think it really reflects an abdication by SFUSD for teaching a good chunk of the kids at these schools. I too know many teachers at these schools and I hear uniformly the same thing: the smart kids do fine (as they would anywhere), the kids in the set-aside serious special needs programs do OK, but everyone else in the middle, from kids with some special needs issues to average kids are generally lost in the system and liable to fall through the cracks. The teachers are overwhelmed with 33 to 35 kids in a class (except for Lick apparently) and, no matter how hard they try, there's just not enough of their time to go around. And I'm a bit frustrating because I read articles about other public school systems on the East Coast experimenting with smaller middle schools or more K through 8 and, in SFUSD, NOTHING IS GOING ON on this front. No discussions, not even some studying of why so many kids start to fail in the middle school years.

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  146. My son has autism with an inclusion IEP. He is very bright (all 3s and 4s on report card and reading two years above grade level), and he is kind and outgoing. He loves to be with adults, who converse with him in a mature and loving way and who accept him for who he is.

    His age-appropriate peer relationships are another story. He struggles with social cues and expressive language. When engaged in a conversation or a game, he has flat affects, which make him appear disinterested or of diminished mental status. Eye contact is improving, but not optimal. He easily becomes the target of teasing and bullying. Luckily, our elementary school controls bullying admirably, but in public places (like playgrounds), he gets singled out quickly. One day at GG Park, he was called a "monster," and all the children ran away from him. I comforted him with unconditional love, then cried myself to sleep that night.

    Which middle school is the best for my son? Location is not an issue. Naturally, I will work closely with the Special Ed. and resource staff when the time comes to make our MS request; however, I would appreciate insights and first-hand experience for inclusion students, particularly autism. I'd like to get some appropriate schools on my radar screen.

    Thank you.

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  147. Hey, "warehouse" guy.

    There are many K-8 schools in San Francisco.

    Its hard to find funding for "small schools" or small classroom size when California ranks 48th out of 50 states in school funding (just ahead of Mississippi).

    Our wealthier citizens leave the "warehouse" and opt for the "boutique."

    There, in the the air-conditioned and fenced-in "boutique" climate, children can be adequately cloistered and kept away from the common riff-raff.

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  148. Why do people keep turning this into class warfare? California's legislature and taxpayers have given the public schools an impossible mandate to meet all needs of all children while depriving them of adequate resources to do so. The vast majority of people who choose private schools are not "avoiding riff-raff," they are trying to get their kids the support they need to get a good education. Put it this way: Assume Marin Country Day (just as an example, I've never been there, but most people seem to like it) offered what it does, along with services for special needs kids, and it was free in your neighborhood, would you go there or choose Willie Brown? Public schools COULD offer all the same cool stuff that Marin Country Day offers without depriving special needs kids, if they had the resources, but they don't.

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  149. Agreed with 10:32.

    California is cutting back its education budget even further in the current financial crisis, lifting the requirement for no more than 20 kids in K-3.

    Call them warehouses if you like, but our middle schools are doing the best they can, given the total lack of support from the taxpayers and the state.

    Almost makes you want to (cringe!) move back East.

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  150. I'm somewhat in the same category as you -- I have an inclusion kid in a public elementary school. I'm also worried about middle school, and, I'm particularly worried about these large middle schools in SF. I know a couple of well-meaning teachers at some of the bigger ones, and the occasional anecdotes about inclusion students scare the hell out of me! And I finally read the brochure about the process for enrollment in middle schools for middle schools, and, guess what, only a limited number of middle schools offer inclusion. I don't know what grade your kid is in, but if he's managed to survive multiple grades in your elementary school, then you've got yourself a great place. I know a couple of other families whose kids had similar issues and they were hiking it to private by the upper elementary grades because of the relentless teasing. If your special ed folks are great, and it sounds like they are, I'd consider pulling them aside and asking their opinion in confidence. They may know special ed folks at some of the middle schools. Otherwise, I would probably suggest that, all else being equal, he's going to do better in a smaller middle schools. That would normally mean a K through 8, but some of the better K through 8's -- Rooftop -- do not have inclusion, so that knocks them out for you. Ditto Aptos, another relatively smaller middle school which, as you'll see on this blog, is coming in for positive reviews. Lick, which does have inclusion, seems to be getting some positive reviews here, it has a grant limiting class size to 25 kids, which has got to be a plus for an inclusion student, so that may offer an option. There may be some other K through 8's that are inclusion (other than Rooftop), and, again, I'd suggest they'd probably be a better option for you. But I would love to hear others with positive experiences in special ed at the middle schools in SF too!

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  151. "The vast majority of people who choose private schools are not "avoiding riff-raff," they are trying to get their kids the support they need to get a good education."

    Read this about Tim Johnson, the former had of Marin Country Day School:

    In 2003, Marin Country Day head Tim Johnson chose to leave the private-school realm entirely...He decries the fact that Bay Area private schools are the essence of possibility, where the only limit is what can be dreamed up—while a few miles or blocks away, public schools are struggling to succeed at the most basic tasks, like helping kids read at grade level and keeping them from dropping out. The result, he warns, is an ever-more-gaping canyon between the haves and have-nots.

    “Opportunity exists for such a small slice of students,” he says wistfully. With much of the public system gone to pot, and the richest and most promising able to opt out of the mess, “We’ve absolutely trashed the American dream.”

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  152. "The result, he warns, is an ever-more-gaping canyon between the haves and have-nots."

    So true. California now ranks below Mississippi (meaning, 50th, dead last, in spending on education per pupil).

    The Trust-Fund-Babyocracy sends its kids to private/boutique schools and let's the working folks fight over scraps...

    ...just like in Mississippi.

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