Sunday, September 27, 2009

June’s Story – The touring list

As I mentioned in my previous post, Mathias and I have made our list of schools we want to tour. I know that touring (as many of you told me) is not always the ideal way to judge a school, and may seem like a big waste of time when we go 0/7; however right now I know nothing about these schools besides the numbers and word of mouth, I want to see them in order to feel I make a good choice of 7 schools that will work for us (even if in the end we get none). This means that I do have quite an ambitious touring list.

We narrowed down the schools by looking at proximity to our home as well as special programs (I want arts, Mathias wants science), diversity statistics and test and API scores (I know this is often more indicative of teaching to the test rather than learning, but it was important to Mathias). I plugged this all into a spreadsheet alongside the historical demand so we could measure our chances at each school. Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the west side of SF has mostly popular schools. I hope that I get a good feeling at a few less demanded ones so I can decrease the odds of going 0/7.

So here is the list in no real particular order – as time goes on I may add or take away some.

Schools we will tour together-
  • Alamo
  • Argonne
  • George Peabody
  • Grattan (a bit of a haul and high demand but have heard a lot about the sciences and arts there)
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Sherman (slightly out of our way – but this was my elementary school so I have to see it now!)
  • Sunset

Schools I will tour alone-
  • Alice Fong Yu *
  • Creative Arts Charter
  • Sutro

Other schools that I may tour, but I have reservations about
  • New Traditions – (I don’t really like the split K/1st grade class)
  • Claire Lilienthal – (I know this is a great school but the 7:50 start time coupled with the split campus means lots of stress when Noah starts K and Maddie 3rd grade – I don’t think I could do it!)
  • The Montessori program at Cobb (OK, I never even considered this before the responses to my last post. We are currently looking into the Montessori method and trying to decide if it will even work with Maddie, but I may go to just take a look. It will be a hard sell for Mathias.)
  • Dianne Feinstein (may be too far for a 7:50 start time)

I would love to hear from parents who send their kids to these schools, what do you love about your school? Additionally what should I look for when touring? What is not important?

* update - I had initially listed Alice Fong Yu as an option for me to tour alone, assuming wrongly that they had both a GE and an immersion program - thanks to the commenter that pointed this out to me. Since we are not looking for immersion program this is one less school for me to tour. See how new I am to this?!? I did not even know it was a complete immersion school. So since I will not be touring them this week my first review will should come late next week.


  1. I would work on getting detailed feedback from people that have children attending various schools, rather than focusing the discussion here on why people ruled out particular schools.

    Unless someone's child attends a school, they really don't know it. I have read scathing remarks about schools on this blog that people wrote based on their 1-2 hour tour. It would be a shame to see you or others write off a school because someone else had a bad tour guide or was in a bad mood the day they visited a school. Or, because they are just plain looking for something different than you are and decided that X was a "bad" school, whereas your family might find it excellent.

    Also, as interesting as reading people's thoughts here is, nothing is as useful as meeting and talking to people in person about their schools.

  2. We are at Miraloma now, but my twins went to Montessori preschool and I can only say excellent things about it. My kids were so well-prepared for K. If Cobb had not been so out of the way for us, I had definitely taken a look at it. I hope this will be a smashing program.

  3. Hi June -- Regarding API scores, especially in San Francisco, it's not so much that they're indicative of teaching to the test.

    It's an awkward issue to discuss, but academic achievement correlates very, very closely with demographics. That's why wags refer to the API as the Affluent Parent Index (I first heard this from veteran SFUSD school board member Jill Wynns).

    The closest correlation is socioeconomic status, then parental education level, and then ethnicity -- all of this is overall, on average. Asians tend to score highest, then whites, then Latinos, then African-Americans.

    Schools with high numbers of English-language learners tend to have lower scores, for obvious reasons, since the law requires that limited-English speakers be tested even in a language that they haven't mastered.

    Overall on average, Chinese students tend to confound some of these generalizations, because schools with a lot of Chinese students still tend to have high test scores even if there are a lot of low-income students and English-language learners.

    San Francisco's westside schools, as you'll see if you look up the demographics (or visit), are almost all heavily Chinese, so that tends to mean higher test scores, which tends to mean they're more popular. And the converse is true of many eastside schools. SFUSD has been working to increase interest in some challenged schools by putting new immersion programs in them -- and it seems to be quite successful. Today's generation of young parents seems especially eager for language immersion -- even more so than mine (it is a little tough to acknowledge, but I'm now the older generation of parents, with a college freshman and a 10th-grader).

    Anyway, in general, veteran educators and observers will tell you that it's very much about the children who attend the school and the issues they bring with them. So if you picked up the entire student population of, say, Malcolm X Academy and switched it with the entire student population of Alice Fong Yu, or Old Mill School in Mill Valley, or Town or Brandeis or Live Oak, for that matter -- the students' achievement results would most likely not change -- neither the more-advantaged students plunked down in Malcolm X nor the higher-need students plunked down in Old Mill School.

    So that's just the quickie version of some basic background that's useful in interpreting APIs and other school achievement markers.

  4. Based on the locations of the schools you will be touring, I highly recommend checking out Rosa Parks JBBP. I have been so pleased so far with my daughter's kindergarten experience there. The teachers and families are wonderful. It truly is a hidden gem!

  5. I'd suggest addng DeAvila to your touring list. Since it's so new, it may not be as much of a challenge lottery-wise as some of the others. Also, if you end up happy there, it looks like they are trying to (eventually) make it K-8, as the kids move up through the grades. (And I believe there is supposed to be some Mandarin instruction along with the Cantonese immersion...) There's no API score for this new version of the school, yet... but I can't imagine it won't be high, once the kids are old enough to test.

  6. Test scores don't necessarily reflect "teaching to the test". They reflect the student body's composition (that's why many call API's the "Affluent Parent Index.")

    What you want to do is IGNORE the school averages and look at the test scores by sub-group. You'll find that the white kids tend to score around 900 (some higher, some lower) throughout the city, regardless of the school.

  7. The *real* reason Alice Fong Yu has such high scores? It is the *only* school in the entire district that tests kids and will *NOT* admit English Language Learners. They get to PICK the kids most likely to do well. No other public school gets to do that.

  8. If you're interested in Alice Fong Yu, you should definitely check out De Avila.

    And if you like Grattan, check out Harvey Milk.

  9. "...when we go 0/7". How do you know that? Of course I won't be surprised if it does happen to you, its a self fulfilling prophesy. Chin up!
    You could be like me (and 3 other families from our preschool) who got into our #1 choice "trophy" school on the first round (we all speak english, no siblings, language issues, etc, etc, etc) I know 1 person who waited for the 10 day count (for same trophy school) and guess what, she's in too.
    I'm posting this because I think the majority of people on this site are those who have gone 0/7 and they make those like you who are starting the search think that 0/7 is the only option. You've already decided your fate!
    My advice, talk to people who say they DON'T read this blog. You might get some different perspectives and some more positive feedback.

  10. Yes DeAvila will have the advantage of a lower sibling request rate, at least.

    June, you have some fine schools on your side of town. Unfortunately, some of them are quite popular (Alice Fong Yu, Alamo, Jefferson), with multiple hundreds of requests, including 1st-place requests. Peabody surged onto people's lists last year. Sutro fortunately has been only moderately popular with 150 or so total requests for 22 seats and most of them not 1st place.

    I urge you to look very carefully at the numbers in the 5-year demand document, take note of the trends, and calculate your odds:

    You say you can't afford private school, and don't want it anyway, so a high-risk strategy that uses private or parochial as backup may not be possible for you. That's fine. But you might want to think yourselves into a lower risk strategy in that case.

    Fortunately if you like CACS you can apply to that through a separate lottery, so that's another possibility beyond the list of seven.

    I'm glad you will at least look at Cobb Montessori. Looking doesn't mean you have to put it down on your list! But it *may* turn out for you. The Montessori program is so new that you can't go by what anyone says here--this is one you have to see for yourself. I hope you will also look at Rosa Parks JBBP. Again, looking doesn't mean you have to put it down. But it is these kinds of schools, where you may have your doubts, that are well worth touring. Lots of people have been surprised by what they have seen there. At the very least, stop by their table at the enrollment fair in November.

    Finally, I don't know where your husband works (or if you work) but you might consider the Chinatown/Polk/Russian Hill schools if they are on the commute route.

    The thing is that other than Sutro, which is no shoo-in either, it would be very easy to go 0/7 with a combo of many of the schools you have listed up top as both of you touring.

    Good luck!

  11. New Traditions is only moderately popular, like Sutro, and very well worth checking out. It's a sweet community and from what I divine, is well-located for you.

    Also, if you don't hate the K-1 split with every fiber of your being, don't get hung up on one aspect like that or another if you like the school overall. A better-odds school you like is better than all bad-odds schools you love. Bird in the hand and all that.

    In any case, kids did well in a 4-5 split, and a friend's child did well in a K-2 split at SF Community--such a great thing for an early reader to be able to move into a higher reading group, and for the older kids to help the younger kids. It can be a good thing, really.

    Please, please tell Mathias not to get hung up on API. It reflects the demographics overall (not the method of teaching either). As others have said, check out the sub-group scores if he is worried about how his kids will do. To an almost extreme point, kids from middle class and supported backgrounds do well on their tests almost anywhere. Really.

  12. I'm confused. I thought you weren't interested in immersion, but now you are listing Cantonese programs?

  13. "The *real* reason Alice Fong Yu has such high scores? It is the *only* school in the entire district that tests kids and will *NOT* admit English Language Learners."

    Not true. Check the stats. ELLs make up 13% of AFY.

  14. Um, 13% is a very low # for this district.

  15. Kids have to pass an English language test to get in to AFY. So while their families might speak a language other than English at home, the kids were well on their way to mastering English when admitted.

    And that is NOT the case with ELLs at other schools.

  16. 4:07 - thanks for waking me up to the fact that Alice Fong Yu was ONLY immersion. I had assumed (wrongly obviously) they had both immersion and GE. One less school to tour :-)

  17. FYI, Grattan starts at 7:40 too.

    Also, what is your neighborhood school? Remember that you get chosen ahead of others for this school (where you add diversity). Are you in the old Cabrillo neighborhood? If so, I was told by SFUSD that you would get the neighborhood advantage for the first school on your list of 1-7, that had an attendance area (so not Argonne, etc.). I don't know if this is true though. A child at our preschool in that area had a bad experience in last year's lotto. Probably due to several things but that this could have contributed. Anybody else know anything about the old Cabrillo area?

  18. correction, Grattan is the 7:50 start

  19. Yes, if you are in an attendance area that doesn't have a school anymore (Cabrillo, Edison), then your top non-citywide school will count as your neighborhood school. A small advantage, perhaps, especially if you have a chance of adding diversity to the school.

  20. Feinstein is a gorgeous, well organized school with a dedicated staff. Take a look!

  21. Rechecked the numbers, and AFY is 19% ELL compared to 31% in the district, 24% statewide.

    My kids at AFY, and was not tested for English proficiency.

    I think testing may have been the case when AFY was one of the eight- alternative schools, but it's not the case now.

  22. About Claire Lilienthal and the split campus - FYI, you can drop both kids off at the K-2 campus and the older ones can get on a bus to go over to the Scott St campus.

  23. The odds are stacked against you at most of those schools, though that's the case with west side schools generally.

    The previous posters' comments about looking at the API for your demographic are well-taken, though if a school does not have enough of a population in your demographic to report scores, you would not be alone if you feel uncomfortable pioneering.

    The advice to talk to as many parents with kids at the school as you can is excellent. Tours are of necessity superficial. I've met a lot of parents who tell me about their schools at my kid's weekend soccer class and at the playground.

    If you need before- or after-care, don't forget to check the available programs before you expend time and effort on tours.

    Don't dismiss split classes out of hand. If they're done well, they can present good opportunities for your child to accelerate where s/he's able.

    Good for you for looking at Cobb, the one school on your list that struck me as "available"--and good luck.

  24. June - thanks for taking on this task. One thing I would like to know for the schools you do tour is about homework. How much by grade per night on average. Thanks.

  25. Out of curiosity, why are posters so certain that De Avila is going to be such a great school? What is it about the school? I can't find any information about it (and I know it just re-opened last year).

  26. One suggestion is to find back up aftercare (if you need it) that is not at the school. I know the JCC has a very good program but it's very popular. I believe you may need to sign up as early as November. But, there must be other programs out there too. If you end up at the program on site, great, but knowing you have aftercare figured out and give you some flexibility with school choice.

  27. "Out of curiosity, why are posters so certain that De Avila is going to be such a great school? What is it about the school? I can't find any information about it (and I know it just re-opened last year)."

    Immersion programs are very attractive, plus the Cantonese Immersion programs in the city (AFY and West Portal) have been academically strong.

    Plus, getting into the first or second year of an immersion program has been a good bet.

  28. I don't understand why you are touring Sunset but not touring Robert L Stevenson. Stevenson is barely two blocks away from Sunset, and it just received a federal "Distinguished School" award that only one other school in SF (and barely 21 in the staet) got! How can you not tour that school? Or, to put it more directly, why has this website yet to tour RLS?

  29. Why are people so convinced DeAvila will be great? It just opened last month with only K and 1st grade in Cantonese immersion. We got assigned there. Although we decided not to attend for other reasons, I was very impressed with the principal and the parents I've spoken with are highly motivated themselves and have told me that the Anglophone and Chinese-speaking families are very much committed to working together for the good of the children. They've already started fundraising. The reasonably affluent, child-filled upper Haight/Cole Valley area is desperate for another school since Grattan is ridiculously over-subscribed, the parents we know don't seem crazy about New Traditions (it may be the 9:30 start time is too late for them, since they all work), McKinley has become a pretty long shot, and John Muir is, well, John Muir. I would say DeAvila has the principal talent and parent commitment to build an excellent school from the ground up. Also, at the risk of being screamed at, I would bet that if you looked at Chinese immersion programs in isolation, they draw a far larger proportion of their kids than average from socioeconomically advantaged backgrounds and education-focused Asian immigrant families.

  30. RLS (Stevenson) is not very diverse.
    68 % Chinese. That is why some people do not tour there.

  31. So???

    It's a nice school and worth checking out. And these are American kids....they all have more in common than they don't!

    Anyway, 68% is hardly overwhelming. I've seen lots of summer camps with at least 68% white kids and no one seems to find it remarkable or worry about how the "minority" kids are faring. It can be a great learning experience to be a minority if that is not your usual experience--an interesting perspective. The times I have lived abroad have been life-changing for that reason.

    Bottom line, RLS is a fine school that provides a great education. That's the point of this, right?

  32. Hi RLS parent,

    We are one of the non-asian parents that would have loved to be at RLS or Sunset. I toured and loved both.

    Perhaps because we don't live in the neighborhood, and didn't score any diversity points, we didn't make it into either of these schools.

    Were not interested in chinese language immersion(don't most Asians speak english?), but the college focus of both of these schools would have been perfect for us.

    Anyway, it did work out.

    Both Sunset and RLS are great schools.

  33. Thanks, 7:33.

    And yes, the vast majority of Asian AMERICAN kids speak English.

  34. June, I'm glad you will be touring Argonne. My daughters have had a great experience there. There are some great schools on your list! And to everyone who is gearing up to tour this year, I was at a Marin Day Schools event last week to talk with prospective public school parents. As the presentation was going on I was making a list of SFUSD elementary schools I would be happy to send my daughters to -- I stopped at 30 schools but have since thought of at least five more.

  35. "Thanks, 7:33.

    And yes, the vast majority of Asian AMERICAN kids speak English"

    It was a facetious question, so I hope you didn't take that as an insult. Both my husband and I work with a lot of Asians. My husband has travelled on business frequently to Asia. As you know, everybody speaks English.

    Sometimes there are people talking away in their native language(in the work place or in a university setting, for example), but I find Asians quite polite in this respect.

    I guess it is still up for grabs as to what the lingua franca is going to be in Asia. Mandarin? English? Something else? Any thoughts?

  36. Actually, I didn't think you were being insulting at all. I didn't realize you were actually talking about Asians--people born and raised and living in, you know, Asia. As we all know, Asia is itself a vast part of the world with a huge % of the world's population and many, many, many cultures. Add to that that "Asia" as such is more a thought construct than reality--it's the eastern part of the huge land mass called Eurasia, but geographers wanted to separate "Europe" from "Asia" so they named it two separate continents. It isn't, really.

    Yes, it will be interesting to see how English fares against Mandarin in the upcoming century, especially across "Asia."

    Anyway, that is all different from our Asian American kids, who themselves come from different nationalities--although many in SF are of Chinese descent. Some actually do come from China or other countries, some are 2nd generation kids whose parents come from there and speak Chinese or another language at home....and

    ....many, many, many are third or fourth or fifth-generation San Franciscans who are thoroughly American and very much English-speaking. Just as American as the Irish and Italian and Greek and Eastern European Jewish and African American and Puerto Rican kids I grew up with. Lots of kids in the Sunset fall into this latter category.

    I am amazed that anyone wouldn't look at RLS because it is too "Asian." It's simply a great school full of American kids. Not that being full of any other kinds of kids would be bad either. They're kids! They play games, they read books, they sing, they laugh. they play....

  37. Sherman is a great school. Worth the drive even if it is out of your way.

  38. "RLS (Stevenson) is not very diverse.
    68 % Chinese. That is why some people do not tour there."

    So what? AFY has similar demographics, and there's plenty of non-Asian folks who have AFY on their tour lists.

    The Asian demographic is 41% of SFUSD students: it's the largest ethnic group (Latino's are the next largest at 26%), so it'd be hard for some SFUSD schools not to have a large majority of Asians.

  39. RLS has an 8:40 start time. If you work downtown, you can park on the street and catch the N-Judah. It does one of the best jobs in town getting socioeconomically disadvantaged kids to score high on the standardized tests while serving a population that more than 1/2 disadvantaged. It's a general ed program, not immersion. Maybe the performance is the result of an approach that some parents would find too rigid, but I don't know why it does not get more requests than it does. Students of all backgrounds at Grattan (another general ed only school) do not test nearly as well as RLS students, but Adams Spreadsheet said it got 508 requests for 60 spots while RLS got 299 requests for 80 spots. Well, maybe there is some racism at work there, since Grattan is one of the two whitest schools in the district.

  40. Grattan is more centrally located. N Judah is slow, slow, slow. Enough with the racism trigger-finger already.

  41. Thank you so much to the Robert Louis Stevenson parents for telling us about your school.

    Many of us (non-Asians) know how diverse the Asian community is, here in the city. It is appreciated that you are reminding us. We may even have moved here partly because of things like the thrill of the Chinese New Year celebration in the city or the chance to have great dim sum and barbequed pork.

    I know that some parents are concerned about a "too rigid" approach. I put up the post from the Economist on the "school year length" thread. Needless to say, here in the city, we are in no danger of being too rigorous in our teaching approaches. Rigor is a great attribute, not something to be apologized for.

    Contrary to what some people think, rigor does not come at the expense of creativity. It complements creativity.

    Also, congratulations to your school for bring up the test scores of socioeconomically disadvantaged kids. That is a sign that the teaching there is exceptional for everyone.

    In RLS, test scores in science and math increase in the higher grades, a sure sign that there is something very right at this school.

    For anyone who is looking for a school with a decent start time, off-the-charts test scores, and a committed parent community, it sounds like Robert Louis Stevenson is it.

    A true, very rare, "hidden gem."

  42. I wouldn't necessarily say it's "trigger-finger." I've commuted on the N for the last 7 years. It may be slow, but when you board out at 34th, you can get a seat and get some stuff done on your way to and from (unless you have a very inflexible employer or a job that requires your physical presence all day long, in which case it's a wonder you can manage with children at all and I salute you--sincerely). Also, if you have to drive your kid to school and then take transit to work, you can park quickly out there and don't need a residential permit. You can drive around for a long time looking for parking near Grattan, and good luck finding parking at all if you don't have a J sticker. If you live within walking distance or the parking permit area of Grattan, sure it would make more sense to request Grattan than RLS. But we're looking at a "Great Schools" ranking of 10 for RLS versus 7 for Grattan, and almost 20% more kids scoring at or above proficient in both English in Math at Stevenson than at Grattan. White kids do 8% better in English at Grattan than they do at RLS, but white kids do 19% better in math at RLS than they do at Grattan. Asian students do 14% better at English at RLS than they do at Grattan, and a whopping 30% better in math at RLS than they do at Grattan. The difference is almost off the charts for socioeconomically disadvantaged students: At Grattan 29% are at or above proficient in English and 34% are at above proficient in math; at RLS it's 72% English, 93%!! math. (RLS does not have enough Latino or African-American students to report data on those groups.) If people are at least vaguely rational actors, and if the more privileged are as serious as they claim about wanting to be involved in schools that serve the less privileged, it makes very little sense that Grattan is more than twice as popular as Stevenson, unless either (a) Stevenson is a lot less pleasant than Grattan, which I have not heard, or (b) a significant number of people feel that RLS is "too Asian." Cole Valley is a cuter neighborhood, but RLS's neighborhood does not pose any concerns. This is not to put Grattan down--it's a lovely school--only an expression of befuddlement. Or maybe I'm missing some other compelling reason why objectively lower-performing Grattan has so many more requests than RLS?

  43. Great points, 2:20. I have always wondered why Grattan is so popular. Clarendon is a no-brainer because of its API but Grattan doesn't do nearly as well. I toured last fall and fell in love with the charming atmosphere and the film program... but that's really the only things that stood out to me from other schools. Even though it's our neighborhood school, we didn't pursue Grattan because of a few things that didn't work for our family, including test scores and start time. It seems like it should perform better given its demographics.

    I must be missing something important regarding the popularity of Grattan.

    That said, I didn't tour RLS. One of my friends did, though. She mentioned something about the school lacking enrichment programs but that can be changed with enough parental involvement and, of course, fundraising.

    RLS is definitely a school worth looking into.

  44. I'm glad to see a good discussion about looking at hidden gems here. I hope the newbie parents out there are listening here, because, with the low odds of getting into the schools with "buzz," it is going to be important for them to take a serious look at good, solid hidden gems like RLS. I'm also a little surprised at the reference to RLS being "too rigid." We have not seen any of that. The kids have a great time, there's lots of music, dance, art and PE. Yes, there are even teachers who do morning yoga in the class. But the teachers who are there have solid expectations for their students, and work closely with parents to see that those expectations are met. My only wish is that RLS went through middle school!

  45. RLS is one of the ugliest schools in SFUSD. It looks like a mental hospital, inside, endless sterile corridors. It is charmless.
    Yes, it has good test scores. With the kids staring at worksheets all day, I guess it doesn't matter what the school looks like.

  46. 5:52, you have no idea WHAT children are doing all day long at RLS. Why not spend a day there instead of making things up?

  47. Is it true some classrooms at RLS have no windows at all?

  48. It's the troll again from the other thread, determined to piss all over everything and especially the public schools. Ignore her (or him). Don't feed it.

    Instead, focus on what actual RLS parents have to say. I would love to hear examples from there (and any school) about what goes on during the day, what the arts program looks like, what is the kids' favorite part of the day, and stuff like that.

  49. "It's the troll again from the other thread, determined to piss all over everything and especially the public schools. Ignore her (or him). Don't feed it."

    Aha. I think I've spotted her. It's the same one who freaked out in a thread a few months back when I said I'd visited Live Oak and McKinley within a few days of each other, and that I'd noticed the kids at Live Oak were behind the kids at McKinley academically. So probably Live Oak is the private school she was boasting about in the previous thread.

  50. I'm not a troll. My kid goes to a public school. I just heard from another mom that some classrooms at RLS have no windows at all, and wondered if that was true.

  51. Kindergarten homework is part of districe policy. It doesn't vary THAT much from school to school.

  52. Live Oak kids make it through Lowell and University High School, so they must be doing something right academically.

    Also: Live Oak prides itself in differentiation. So within the same class they might have kids who are working on VERY different levels.

  53. "Live Oak kids make it through Lowell and University High School, so they must be doing something right academically."

    So? I know of a kid who won a scholarship to University High, and then on to Columbia U. after attending Cesar Chavez elementary in the Mission.

    "Also: Live Oak prides itself in differentiation. So within the same class they might have kids who are working on VERY different levels."

    Acknowledged, and Live Oak is to be commended for not dumping special needs kids on the kerb like most privates (admittedly some, like the parochials, will admit they just don't have the right resources to address special needs).

    But I'm talking about the class as a generic whole, looking at the work the kids were doing, and what was displayed on the walls. The Live Oak kids were behind, albeit not severely, their equivalents at McKinley.

    Maybe it's a product of McKinley having a laser-like focus on the 3Rs, and Live Oak having more focus on enrichment, but anyway, after touring Live Oak, I was done with looking at the Independent Privates: I didn't see the added value, and even more than the ideological warm-and-fuzzies going public gives me, not forking over 200 Benjamins a year in tuition gives me an even fuzzier feeling.

    Plus, it's not like the publics don't have special needs kids either, is it?

  54. If you're kid is gifted, your much better off at a small school like Live Oak where they pride themselves in differentiation.

    Kids at Live Oak can get different homework depending on their strengths, weaknesses, learning style and where they stand in terms of mastering the material. I've only met a couple of public school teachers willing to do that. Most insist all kids do the same homework regardless.

  55. Kudos to the posters who analyze test scores on a demographic level, but I'm guessing most people don't do this.

  56. A teen-ager I know well transferred from Live Oak to Commodore Sloat at 4th grade and says she was embarrassed at how far behind she was when she arrived at Sloat.

    That's just the kid's-eye view, for the record.

    Of course parochial schools claim they don't have the resources for disabled students. They would manage to find the resources if they wanted to accept disabled students.

  57. To the 9/30 10:42 am poster

    Regarding Live Oak being better for gifted children then public schools. Any good teacher is going to assign work in class and at home that is geared to the individual student. We got that for my GATE child who went to Grattan (and btw, has 2 friends at LO).

    To the original poster - Grattan is an excellent school, I am not sure what you mean by interested in sciences and the arts. The school starts at 7:50, so if that is an issue for you at some of your other choices, you should keep that in mind for Grattan too.

    You also might want to check out McKinley too, although they start at 7:50.

  58. A teenager I know who went from (public Blue Ribbon) Stanley Middle School in Lafayette to Convent High School in San Francisco said she was embarrassed at how far behind she was compared to the kids who'd been at Convent all their lives. Anecdotes are fun and fascinating, but they are specific to individuals and situations, not universal truths.
    A school that one family finds academically underwhelming might be another family's happy escape from the performance pressure cooker.

  59. "Kudos to the posters who analyze test scores on a demographic level, but I'm guessing most people don't do this."

    Test scores are pretty meaningless unless you do this, frankly.

    It's also a good exercise for your mental health. When you find out Asian kids and low SES kids do better at Monroe than Rooftop (which was the case in 2008, although Rooftop improved in 2009), for example, you're more sanguine about leaving Rooftop or other trophy schools off your application in favor of ones with better odds or logistics.

    Basically, when you look at demographic groups, the differences between the public schools narrow.

  60. "Of course parochial schools claim they don't have the resources for disabled students. They would manage to find the resources if they wanted to accept disabled students."

    No, I think they really don't have the resources for special ed kids.

    Remember, they have larger classrooms, and are operating at a much lower $/kid than either the independent privates or SFUSD.

    I'm a fan of the parochials, but if you've got a kid that needs extra resources because of a learning disability, etc., you'd be better going for either SFUSD, or an independent that's accepting and supportive like Live Oak.

    Just for reference, are there other independents, or parochials for that matter, that have good programs for special ed kids?

  61. "If you're kid is gifted, your much better off at a small school like Live Oak where they pride themselves in differentiation."

    I've heard principals show their use of differentiated instruction at publics and parochials.

    I'm even seeing a version with my kindergartener's (public) class, where the teachers grade the homework based on what they know the capability of the child is and whether the child adequately used that capability or not.

  62. They don't give Kinders GRADES, do they?

    They didn't a few years back, in my son's public Kindergarten.

  63. "They don't give Kinders GRADES, do they?"

    Not letter grades, but at our school they get marked with happy/indifferent/frowny faces. Rather cute, really.

  64. Definitely tour New Traditions. The split K/1 is a great asset, in my opinion. I went to an elementary school that did split grades. I was in a split 2nd/3rd classroom and a split 3rd/4th classroom back in the 1970s and had a great experience. I think it's fascinating how the teachers split the curriculum.

    I was loving the idea of sending my son to the K/1 split classroom at New Traditions this year because he really looks up to and idolizes older kids so I thought this would be a great way to get him even more excited about school.

    As for science, this school does AWESOME in science - check out the most recent 5th grade science scores: 89% scoring at Proficient or Advanced. Wow!

    I also loved the arts-integrated curriculum. They have an arts studio with a kiln right on campus.

    New Traditions has a 9:30 start time and a good on-site after-school program (YMCA). It is a TINY school... I believe the smallest in the district. Very charming. The only downside I could see is the difficult neighborhood parking.

    I am not a New Traditions parent but wish I was. We listed them as #1 on Round 2 but didn't get in. Lesson learned: If you really want New Traditions, list it in Round 1 or waitlist after going 0/7.

  65. 2:14

    I think it is awful to judge their work like that in kindergarten. Which school is it?

  66. I don't know of any SF public elementary school that gives kindergarteners grades.

  67. re: New Traditions

    The principal there is terrific.

    Please don't be put off by the mix of K and 1st grade. It is a quite a common teaching approach. Montessori schools have tried it with great success for decades.

  68. Please spare us the "gifted" thing.

    The vast majority of "gifted" children have simply benefitted from teaching at home.

    Let us not go off on some tangent about grading kindergarten kids.

    My kid got a report card in preschool. I didn't mind at all and it told me what I should be doing at home.

    A school cannot compensate for a parent who does not read to their child, does not pose word problems to their child and does not help them with basic arithmitic. And that doesn't even touch upon things like music.

    A "report card" is simply there to help a parent know where the gaps are in a child's knowledge. Get over it!

    Kids really do not learn by osmosis.

  69. To the poster who said that RLS has classrooms with no windows and the person who referred to RLS as having "sterile" hallways: all patently untrue! The hallways are filled with kids' artwork -- every corridor is filled with artwork. The classrooms all have windows just as with every other public school. Of course, as with nearly every elementary public school, there are some classrooms in bungalows and those do have smaller windows. This kind of stuff is patently untrue and really reflects some of the garbage floating out there about schools.

  70. To the person who asked about other private elementary schools that handle special needs kids -- Laurel (K through 8) is a good alternative with a mix of both special needs and non-special needs kids, although its location in Inner Richmond can make it difficult to get to. In addition to the mention of Live Oak, I also hear that Synergy has got a good program going in this area. I believe they have a specialist on site now (someone correct me if I'm wrong), and I know they help parents connect with off-site programs like Slingerland. I know one poster mentioned that parochials don't usually handle kids with special needs, but I believe St. Phillip's in Noe has been advertising that it does offer some help (check directly with them). Also, you may want to look at summer and afterschool private programs that have programs geared to special needs kids -- Sunset Learning Center is a great one with a very charismatic teacher; and Slingerland (although the summer program is pricey).

  71. I think that Laurel takes kids who are autistic (higher functioning?), ADD, ADHD and dyslexic – to my knowledge no non-special needs kids.
    Synergy – I know a child with dyslexia who had to leave this school because of the ridicule he faced from the other children. This was 2 years ago, so maybe the extra assistance you say they might be offering was a result of this wakeup call (well hopefully they saw it as a wakeup call).
    Sunset Learning is really good (and very reasonably priced), as is the pricier Slingerland program. One on one tutoring given at the Literacy and Language Center in the Inner Sunset is fantastic, but expensive. Many parochial school kids with learning differences go there

  72. "I know one poster mentioned that parochials don't usually handle kids with special needs, but I believe St. Phillip's in Noe has been advertising that it does offer some help (check directly with them)"

    I was the one who said that parochials don't usually handle special needs kids, but I think you're right about St.Philip's.

  73. Re grading in kindergarten: Kindergarten has changed since the days when we learned the alphabet, did jumping jacks to the "Chicken Fat" record, listened to the teacher read "Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel," had graham crackers and milk (wheat allergies? lactose intolerance? never heard of 'em) and took naps. It's academic now. If you let mistakes pass, kids will keep making them. We may be nostalgic for the days when school was more mellow and college admissions were not like trying to qualify for the Olympics, but our kids have to live in the world we've got. They may as well have academic performance be part of their routine. It's one of the downsides of an increasing store of human knowledge that there's a lot more one has to learn.

  74. I feel sorry for HER kid. Jeepers.

  75. It's too early ...

    in Norway, Sweden and Finland, kids do not start school until 7.

    They get a childhood.

  76. Wow, 5:07. hardcore.

    I guess my naive hope is that my child actually enjoys school and wants to learn for the sheer joy of it.

    I can't think of a worse way to kill that joy than drilling Kindergarteners in a rigorous academic environment where mistakes are not tolerated.

  77. ACTUALLY, in Scandinavia they start school earlier, but it is play-based until they are 7.

  78. Do SFUSD schools give kindergarteners grades?

  79. We haven't gotten grades and our child is in 3rd grade. Not even percentages!

  80. I have a child at Lafayette and I have been very pleased. I can't say enough about this school!

  81. "I think it is awful to judge their work like that in kindergarten. Which school is it?"

    AFY. Like I said, it's relative to what the teacher knows the kid is capable of and where they're at. So it's based on the effort and care they put in.

  82. Just to close the loop on Robert Louis Stevenson, getting to that school is very easy. I would not use the N Judah -- too far a walk. RLS is at 34th and Quintara. The L Taraval is just three blocks away. Also the 48 goes right by the school. If you go through the underground streetcar, you can wait at West Portal (the 48 goes by that station) and catch whichever comes first -- an outbound L or an outbound 48. I find that I can get to the school in 40 minutes from downtown that way. Another option is taking the 16AX or 16 BX express buses from Powell and Market -- the 5 pm 16 AX leaves me off at 34th and Noriega (just two blocks away) and I'm at RLS at 5:35. Driving times are 12 minutes from Twin Peaks and 15 minutes from Sunnyside/Westwood -- not so bad as we've been doing that for 5 years with no problems.

  83. but no windows in some classrooms.

  84. My kids are at Lafayette and I could never understand why no one on this blog had toured it before. It's an excellent school with a great staff, joyful learners and a terrific parent community. We had over 70 people attend our first PTA meeting and we just had our bathrooms and auditorium redone so the school looks beautiful. I encourage you to come and check it out. Most of the families there will tell you what a great place it is and our kids enjoy going to school every day (even though they may not like the early start time)!

  85. You should put Argonne high on your list!

    Great school, involved PTO, strong community of parents involved at the school, terrific new computer lab, new russion language and culture program, chorus and dance, newly built building...

    I was impressed on my tour. VERY impressed.

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