Friday, September 18, 2009

Hot topic: Tell me about the hidden gems

An SF K Files visitor asked me to start the following thread:
I'm starting to look for schools this fall. Many parents have told me that it's better to go to a smaller up-and-coming school that's not as established. Apparently, these are easier to get into, but also there can be a lot of community around rejuvinating the school. Can anyone point me to these sorts of schools?


  1. * Rosa Parks JBBP
    * Jose Ortega (Mandarin or Gen.Ed)
    * William Cobb (Montessori)
    * Glen Park
    * ER Taylor (great school that a non-poor family could get into)
    * Moscone--same
    * Parker--same
    * Daniel Webster Spanish immersion
    * Paul Revere Spanish immersion
    * Redding

    Wonderful schools on the bubble in terms of popularity:

    * Harvey Milk
    * Marshall Spanish immersion

    Maybe also look at

    * Sheridan
    * Longfellow
    (but I don't know so much about them.)

    Also, not exactly hidden or a sure thing but maybe a better bet on the west side are

    * Peabody
    * Sutro


    * Yick Wo is a terrific school in North Beach with a bus from Bernal and the Mission

  2. Another one on the bubble in terms of popularity (was a very hidden gem just 2 years ago) is Sunnyside. Would give you better odds than Clarendon, Rooftop or Miraloma though.

  3. I would consider the General Ed English program at Leonard Flynn a "hidden gem" (as opposed to their Sp Imm program which is very popular).

    We did not get any of our sp immersion choices but were assigned GE at Flynn and we really love it. The K teachers are amazing and the community is incredibly involved.

  4. Rosa Parks Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program is a hidden gem!

    Central location off of Webster and right near Japantown, beautiful well maintained Beaux-Arts building, lots of funded greening plans in the works using bond money and a grant won from EcoZone, a warm community, great diversity...

    The Japanese program is very strong. The entire school starts the day with Japanese stretching exercises on the blacktop to music. The teachers are bilingual and in addition there is 1 hour a day taught by a native "sensei". There are also many Japanese cultural events. I really think this is a GREAT alternative to the immersion programs. Supposedly at the end of 5th grade the students have the language level of a 3rd grader in Japan.

    Rosa Parks also has a new principal this year who seems poised to do great things.

    Come visit!

  5. I'd like to second the comment on Flynn General Ed. We went 0/7 (twice) and were assigned to Flynn GE. We were a little bit apprehensive about Flynn GE because we hadn't heard much about it. But, the experience so far has been really great. Our daughter is learning a lot and has made some good friends. We have also been very impressed with the teachers and the parent involvement.

  6. Monroe in the Excelsior probably not really a hidden gem any more, but we are very happy with our rising test scores and brand new trees :)

  7. id like to add Jose Ortega to the list. We were not at all sure about this place, but since it was close to the Sunset and we were aged-out of many privates we gave it a try.

    WOW we could not be happier. Our teacher is fantastic and the principal and staff are first rate. We went to well known pre-school with a diverse, inclusive culture and JOES fits just like a glove with that experience.

    Im guessing many people wouldnt give this one a look given its on the other side of 19 from Stonestown. We find it safe as can be, and the parking is a synch.

    I'd encourage anyone to at least take a look and see for themselves

  8. Starr King mandarin imm (but truth in advertising we're biased - we got this in R2)

    New Traditions which we only discovered in R2 but would totally have listed in R1 had we toured it first round

    Neither of these schools is a shoo-in but also not impossible.

  9. we love starr king school. if you are not up for mandarin immersion check out the general ed program.

  10. This year our daughter started K at Ulloa which has a terrific principal that I admire a lot. FWIW Ulloa's API score has risen steadily to one of the few schools over 900 in SFUSD or anywhere. Very quiet, safe, and convenient location in the outer outer sunset. Lots of dedicated, young teachers.

  11. We just started K at Sunnyside and really love it. It was our seventh choice in round I. The teachers are warm and enthusiastic, and the principal seems very capable. The PTA is on the ball getting fundraisers organized, greening the schoolyard and welcoming new families. They have a lot of afterschool programs for kids (art, Spanish, sign language) and a big mosaic mural project slated to start this year. API scores jumped 60ish points to 818. Sunnyside is located in a beautiful old building and parking is easy. I know it has only been a month, but we are impressed.

  12. New Traditions, SF Community and Creative Arts Charter are wonderful schools with a more progressive, hands-on approach to education. Their scores aren't as high as other schools, but that is because they refuse to teach to the test, which is a good thing. Real learning goes on there, not just rote memorization to increase the school's API. They are all worth a closer look.

  13. I can't get over the changes at Daniel Webster. I live in the neighborhood and love the energy surrounding this place. It's reborn - looks great, tons of energy from new parents and the new preschool next door, and lots of community interest and support.

  14. If I was applying for my child this year I'd also give Daniel Webster a look. The parent group is really motivated.

  15. Check out Glen Park Elementary.

    It wasn't on our radar for Round 1, or even Round 2, because we had "heard" that it was a "rough school". We did ourselves a disservice by dismissing it without even seeing it in person, even though it's pretty close to us. After Round 2, I actually went on a tour, and liked it a lot. Like they say, after Round 2, a lot of schools will look like rock stars compared to what you get assigned to when you go 0/7.

    But really - it was clean & orderly, the kids were well-behaved even the older grades we saw. The kinder kids were engaged with the teacher & doing what to me seemed pretty advanced comprehension. And had the best-equipped computer room of any school we saw except for Sherman. And seems poised to improve as more local families are now going to it.

    It might not have been a top Round 1 choice for us. But if we had actually toured it before dismissing it, it would have been a top Round 2 pick for sure, and would have taken it over our actual Round 2 assignment (which was one of our choices).

    So the lesson is - get out & see the schools, especially the close ones that may not be citywide popular, but would be convenient and acceptable to you even if you don't get one of the top 10 in the city.

  16. Does anyone know what is going on at Clarendon? We got a spot this morning - almost a month after school started. I know of three families myself who got spots at Clarendon after school started and am wondering if this is normal or there is something different about this year.

  17. As far as I know, it is normal. Clarendon receives more requests than most public schools from families that are also looking at private schools. The private school shuffle is also still going on--as families get calls from SFUSD and open up spots. So Clarendon has more movement than most after school has started. Also, Clarendon is huge, so it makes sense that more spots would be shifting in absolute terms.

  18. Another plug for Glen Park. A fair number of Glen Park neighbors began this year, and I'm starting to hear that playground buzz that means it's just on the edge of being a known school. Definitely worth visiting.

    And Starr King's English program is also starting to attract Potrero Hill residents who a few years ago wouldn't have thought of it. Last year was the first time I had anyone tour who wasn't only interested in the Mandarin Immersion program. The school's really great, wonderful teachers, engaged principal and a really active parent community. I have a feeling its General Ed program is going to become a lot more popular this year.

  19. Peabody and Ulloa had triple digit increases in total demand last year (both had b/w 125-130 add'l applications than the year before), so I wouldn't consider either "hidden gems" anymore. For those of you on the NW side of the city, possible hidden gems include Sutro and McCoppin.

  20. It's so hard to wade through the factoids and figures presented on the SFUSD site. Can anyone tell me whether I should pay any attention to the CST results when I'm looking at the SARC documents?

    For instance, I thought McCoppin might be a good one to put on our list, but the CST results show only group (Asian) and, unless I'm reading them incorrectly (totally possible), those figures are terrible: 57 for language arts, 69 for math, and 42 for science.

    Pointers on what to really pay attention to? We're able to tour only 6 schools, so we have to choose wisely and I was hoping some Web research would at least help us narrow our choices

  21. Test scores: They list only "significant" sub-groups. SARC is fine, but you might want to start with user-friendly They break down sub-groups into a very usable format, including ELLs, low-income, etc.

    I would say those scores are actually okay in the larger context, considering 72% of kids participate in the free lunch program, and 58% are English language learners. The English-proficient students seem to be scoring much better--85% for second graders. The school's API is over 800 and they met all their growth targets for sub-groups. They have a somewhat challenged population. That doesn't mean your kid would score under proficient; it doesn't reflect the teaching so much as the demographics.

    My kids have attended a diverse K-5 (older one now in middle). Test scores have never risen to the level of Clarendon--too many ELLs and low-income kids arriving every year. That's okay. The school has improved its teaching, and the kids' scores improve over time. My kids always had stellar scores and certainly learned a lot.

    Anyway, I would look at McCoppin in part because it is a better-odds school--102 total requests for 44 General Ed spots. In other words, you'd have a shot.

    To get the real picture, try to find some actual parents to talk with. Test scores provide some clues, but do not tell the whole story. They tell more about demographics than anything.

  22. I think Creative Arts was a hidden gem for me because I was put off by the separate application process and didn't know much about charters.

    Sutro has great scores and was underenrolled this year.

  23. William Cobb. A hidden-hidden-hidden gem. It is being discussed over on June's thread.

  24. Does anyone have any feedback about New Traditions?

  25. Our child has been going to New Traditions for four years now. The school has been a great fit for us. It is a small school by design and has approx. 160-180 students. Because of it's small size it feels like a village and there is strong sense of community. Teachers and staff know all of the students and visa versa.
    We find it to be a very friendly and nurturing enviroment for our family. The school is diverse in ethnicity, socio-economic levels and culture.
    Test scores are currently 807. All API and AYP were met. The PTA is strong and is welcoming to any parent that would like to get involved. We were 0/7 on the school lottery and had never heard of New Traditions when it was assigned to us. Eventhough it's not our neighborhood school, we wouldn't dream of leaving it for a school closer to our home (in the avenues) and many of those schools are popular and highly coveted.

  26. If you live near Longfellow and are looking for a school, it has an all-star principal, Phyllis Matsuno. Truly the best.