Friday, October 30, 2009

Paging Buena Vista parents

By Marcia Brady

Kate wrote a very thorough review of this school two years ago for her search. You can find it here at:, or by clicking the name under "Schools Reviewed." You'll find the basic facts about the school there too.

The thing is, I visited too, and I think it was a not-so-good tour day. We didn't see any classrooms because the teachers were out on professional development (which I take to be good), and our tour guide was honest to a fault about the flaws. I appreciated that, but it also potentially underplayed the school's strengths. I liked *many* of the things that impressed Kate, so please see her review. Buena Vista continues, to my eye, to be a school with a first-rate Spanish immersion program, a creative and progressive feel, and a dedicated and well-organized parent community. There's a strong LGBT parent presence there, which is good for us, and the emphasis on the arts fits our family's strengths and interests. As I understand it, it's one of my area's "trophy schools."

But I also had a few concerns, and rather than assuming that my impression of the place was the sum total, I thought I would ask parents what they thought. I know it's a well-loved place and probably deservedly so. So:

1) Space. Does Buena Vista feel overcrowded to you?
2) Recess seemed loosely supervised, compared to many places with Playworks, game coaches, etc.: has this been a problem? Or is the school cohesive enough that bullying and kids getting isolated aren't issues?
3) How are those 10-minute lunch shifts working out for your kids? Do they care, or would they rather go play anyway?
4) The price of that lovely nearby park, fenced grass/garden area, and spiffy playground is an almost deafening amount of noise from the 101, 280, and Cesar Chavez. Do you worry about noise or air pollution, or are the room to run around on grass and the expanded gross motor opportunities in the park worth it?

I'm feeling hesitant because it seems that any hint of concern isn't well-taken on this board, and I know parents, staff, and administrators have poured their hearts and resources into these schools. At the same time, it feels disingenuous to post only positives and no negatives. I hope that putting my concerns in the form of questions will allow Buena Vista parents and staff to respond constructively.

McKinley Elementary

Reviewed by Marcia Brady
The Facts
Location: 1025 14th St. (at Castro)
School hours: 7:50-1:50
Tel: 241-6300
Principal: Rosa Fong
Web site:
School tours: W and F, 8:15
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 67 (1 class each of 22, with 1 extra this year)
Total student body: 275

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:
A warm and intimate feel, racial and class diversity, and a great PTA committed to funding lots of enrichment.

Class Structure / Curriculum: GE with Spanish classes K-5 (note: not an immersion school), Special Ed. All students K-5 write daily, and each child’s writing is put on the wall on a clipboard, so they can riffle back and see how they have progressed.

Additional Programs: Adventures in Music, Harvest of the Month (native plant gardening and eating fruits and veggies), music and theater program, Environmental Science Education program at Marin Headlands (field trips for the kids, including overnights, prof’l development for the teachers). Each classroom has a planter box for gardening projects.

Campus/Playground: Modern building, exterior a bit shabby. Interior has a ski-lodge feel to it, with rough wood panels on the wall and brand-new dark red linoleum on the floors. The classrooms are arranged in a hub-and-spoke formation around a central library – the library has no walls, and is large, beautiful, and well stocked. The effect is that the library seems the center from which knowledge beams out into the classrooms. I would like to have seen more natural light coming into the interior (the windows are rice papered), but the school did feel very warm and cosy. Artwork on the walls included a ceramic mural of Victorian houses in SF, with each house done by a child. There is one bungalow for a second-grade classroom; principal says they are hoping to move that class into the main building and use bungalow for other purposes. Safely enclosed upper and lower playground protected by the hill McKinley’s on top of. Upper playground has new, beautiful Kaboom! play structure. Lower playground has one big dome-shaped jungle gym. Parents have been “greening” the facility with terraced gardens, plants, etc.

After School programs: After School Enrichment Program (ASEP), 1:50-6:00 PM for $250/month. Scholarships available, space not guaranteed but they have accommodated all this year’s K students.

PTA: Has grown from 15 to 200 strong. McKinley has just phased out of Title 1, so the PTA has taken over the funding lost. They raised $110,000 last year including playground, goal this year is $100K. PTA is split into committees for grant-writing, “passive” fundraising (e-scrip, etc.), special events, and annual outreach. Right now their priority is to maintain the enrichment programs that will be cut in all SFUSD schools next year (science, art, library, etc.)

Language program(s): Spanish language and Latino culture enrichment classes, coordinated with the rest of the curriculum.

Library / Computer Lab: See above for library. Lots of computer terminals – couldn’t get close enough to count, but I’d say at least 25. Kids have library with a librarian 1x/week, computer class 1x/week beginning in 3rd grade. Teachers and parents can come to library anytime with kids to check ou book.

Arts: Artist-in-residence program

PE: 2x/week, coach on site MWF, emphasis on teaching teachers new skills and games to do with their kids.

Recess/Lunch: 20-minute AM recess, 30-40 minute lunch/recess in PM.

Parking: New street drop-off program to replace use of a playground for drop-off. Parents and 5th graders escort dropped off kids to school. Neighborhood parking is tough.

Tour Impressions: We met in the “Cafegymnatorium,” a large multipurpose room, where we were serenaded by a parent trio of piano, clarinet, and violin playing “All of Me” and other songs. This is apparently a parent-run extra for every Weds. morning, not just to impress those of us on tour! But it gave a welcoming and festive feel to the tour. Principal Fong ran the tour, and showed us almost every classroom from K-5, so we could get a feel for the whole school.

We began with the K rooms, which were large, with individual desks clustered in work stations. (“Who are these people?” asked one child. “They’re crowding us!”). Both K rooms had a kitchen play area, Legos and other manipulatives, and a wooden dollhouse among other toys. Each K teacher spoke for a bit, which is unusual for a tour – one talked about using the writing time to allow kids to socialize a bit and to pull kids to work on special skills. In another K room the kids were doing worksheets, tracing letters and coloring art. In a third one, the principal asked the kids to tell us what they are learning (“Halloweens stuff!” “Family!” “How to Write”). Interestingly, the SFUSD kindergarten Content Standards were posted on huge poster board outside of each classroom. In the 2nd grade classroom, a teacher had cut a paragraph into sentences and mixed them up, asking students to put the paragraph back together by finding the topic sentences, transitional sentences, etc. Also, for whatever it is worth, these were the most racially diverse classrooms I have seen on a tour: about 1/3 Latino, 1/3 white, and the other third split between African American and Asian. The upper grades looked a bit less mixed, with more Latino and African American kids. Since I know some people are concerned about their kid being in a small minority, I include this info. at the risk of sounding like it's my pet issue, which it isn't. I'm more concerned about alternative family structures, which are well represented there.

Among the many things we heard about was discipline – here they use red, yellow, and green cards (blue for excellence). The teacher moves the cards out from behind each other, so a new color peeking out indicates where behavior is headed. While I am not a fan of “evaluative” discipline, I found the principal’s explanation thought-provoking: she said that this was actually less shaming than reprimanding a student in front of others, as students were keenly attentive to their own cards but tended not to notice those of others. So I guess I am learning a bit about classroom management!

There is a strong LGBTQ parent community at McKinley, not surprising given the location in the Castro, and they meet regularly and do their own outreach. We also heard about staff retention – 100%, and about student teachers who begged to stay on. This principal offered something others have not: her e-mail address for questions (,

Overall: I found McKinley to be a vibrant, cohesive school with a principal who clearly has vision, and a very committed PTA. Obviously, it’s not the school for you if you are dead set on immersion, but it looks like a great GE option for those who are OK with just Spanish enrichment. McKinley appears to be very much up-and-coming, and both the parents and principal were extremely welcoming and generous.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Town School for Boys

Reviewed by Claire

The Facts

School tours: by appointment – 415-921-3747

Location: 2750 Jackson Street

Grades: K-8

Total Enrollment: Approx. 400

Start time: 8:30 a.m.

Kindergarten size: 2 classes of 24 boys

Library: Huge and lovely with over 24,000 volumes

Tuition: Grades K-5: $23,710.00 (plus laptop fee for grade 5); Grades 6-8: $24,650.00

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: a challenging and rigorous education supplemented by a focus on fine arts, a single-sex environment, a community which emphasizes and communicates the values of responsibility and respect, a high teacher to student ratio(1:11)

Playground: Another land-locked city school but they’ve done a lot with what they have. The play space and play structure are on the roof and they have a nice indoor gym.

After-school program: Extended Day until 6:00pm also offer an “Enrichment Activities Program” providing interest-specific classes after school.

Language: Latin and Spanish

Financial Aid: Tuition Assistance is awarded based on need (calculated through SSS and adjusted for SF cost of living.) Tuition Assistance and Admission are considered separately.

General Information:

The Tour:

We began in the Head’s office. I was late and so stood outside the room and had a hard time hearing what was happening. My bad. A parent docent led the tour and several other parents were along to answer questions and shepherd us along. We visited both Kindergarten classes. The teachers wear an amplification microphone that projects their voice around the room. It was explained that these were tools to help auditory learners. The boys in Room A were sitting in a circle and taking turns saying good morning. The boys were focused and delighted as they practiced politely saying hello to their neighbor and then turning so the next boy could have his chance. Room B was transitioning from one task to the next and the boys were having a bumpy time getting from place to place. The teacher was patient and clearly not rattled by a lot of energy in the room.

We saw an empty first grade classroom. The class was spacious, bright and cheerful with lots of art and children’s work up on the walls. I noticed there were many posters here (and around the entire school) emphasizing being a good citizen, being respectful, etc.

They use the Chicago Math system and talked about the concept of “Spiral Learning” which aims to strengthen students' understanding of basic concepts by revisiting the concepts periodically with different contexts and with increasing sophistication throughout the curriculum.

We briefly met the Coach in a spacious indoor gym. The docent showed us the outside play area – there are upper and lower Astroturfed “fields” on the rooftop. It’s a great solution for a city building. There is a play structure for the younger boys. The sports program has an emphasis on character building and every boy who wants to play on a team has the opportunity. The Coach’s motto is “A team for every boy. A league for every team.” There is daily PE along with two recesses.

We visited the large, bright, lovely art studio. The artwork the boys produce is all over the school and clearly a well-deserved source of pride.

All upper school boys have their own personal laptop (a cost in addition to tuition.) Upper school has a focus on media literacy and character education. We visited an upper school science class and peeked in a few other classrooms. Again there was a lot of wonderful student art on the walls along with examples of work. The docent pointed out a math activity using sports statistics and talked about how great the teachers were at engaging boys utilizing their interests.

We met the lower school head who explained that the boys are divided into “Family” Groups which include one boy from each grade along with a teacher. Together they work to do community service types of activities. The groups stay together throughout their years at Town.

Claire’s Impressions: The facility is top-notch and there is no doubt that the education they deliver is excellent. The boys and teachers looked happy and focused as they went about their day. The docent didn’t talk much about the single-sex aspect of the school but the literature they gave me a bit more information. A letter from the head explained that their teaching is differentiated as much as possible to meet boys’ learning needs. On the tour I saw a consideration for boys’ needs for movement and engaging their high activity level. I heard talk of “competitive spirit” and quite a lot about sports. All good things but I walked away feeling that the definition of “boy” was slightly narrow and very traditional.

I considered not mentioning this since it probably says more about me than about Town but it’s honestly my most lasting impression from the tour. We were taken though the cafeteria and the docent mentioned the locally sourced organic offerings for the boys. On the tables were loaves of white bread, jars of Skippy peanut butter, individual packs of chips and juice boxes. One person pointed and said “What’s that?” and we were told that the “family groups” were packing lunches for the homeless. Now, I don’t shop for fresh produce at Whole Foods and then hand it out at the Civic Center so I’m the last person to throw stones here but the juxtaposition of the healthy food for the kids and the crap being given away was startling to me. What was even more startling was the palpable wave of relief from the rest of the tour group and the docent’s nervous laughter as the question was answered– I felt like the only one in the room with mouth agape. I left wondering how often I might find myself in that position.

Glen Ridge Coop Auction

It's Auction time! Mark your calendars, book your sitters, and come to a wonderful night out. Some of the amazing items you could win include getaways to Tahoe, Sea Ranch, Mendocino and Sonoma; dining at Chez Panisse, Firefly, Lime, Zuni and Foreign Cinema; passes to Disneyland; private wine tasting at the Wine Club; tickets to the theater, Smuin Ballet and SF Symphony; jewelry; classes; merchandise and so much more! Visit for a complete listing of auction items.
With silent and live auctions, live music, fabulous food, and bottomless wine and beer bar, Glenridge Cooperative Nursery School parents know how to throw a party! Get a jump on your holiday shopping, connect with old and new friends, and support a great San Francisco institution.

Tickets at the door or contact Tersh Barber, Glenridge Parent (and Paul Revere Spanish Immersion Kinder Parent), via email

Glenridge Cooperative Nursery School Benefit Auction 2009
"Our Magical Canyon"
Saturday, November 14, 2009
The Janet Pomeroy Center
207 Skyline Blvd., San Francisco
$20 admits 2 people! (tickets available at the door)

Attendance area preferance

PPSSF asked me to post the following:

There has been a lot of discussion and confusion regarding the attendance area preference in the Student Assignment System and where you should rank that school on the application I just received confirmation from the EPC that the statement below is how the Student Assignment System treats attendance area schools.

In the technical description of the SAS it states that for attendance area schools, attendance area kids within the applicant pool will be selected as long as their demographic profile increases diversity. Further it states, that once attendance area kids no longer increase diversity and all kids within the applicant pool are considered, if there are multiple kids within a selected demographic profile than the kid who lives within the attendance area will be selected for assignment. It does NOT state that this attendance area preference is only considered if the attendance area school is the applicants first choice. The technical description of the SAS can be found at

Bottom line is that attendance area preference is given regardless of the school rank on the application and it does not require the applicant to place their attendance area school first on their application.

Vicki Symonds
Parents for Public Schools-SF

Hot topic: How much do school PTAs and foundations raise?

An SF K Files reader asked me to post the following:
Would it be possible to start a topic about PTAs and school foundations? I know it may be controversial to ask this but I'm wondering if anyone has a list of how much money each school's association has raised and how it breaks down per student?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Student assignment presentations are posted!

(This originally appeared on the blog of Rachel Norton, commissioner on the SF Board of Education)

I promised I would post electronic copies of the two presentations we heard at this week’s Ad Hoc Committee on Student Assignment, and here they are, thanks to the diligence of Orla O’Keeffe. I am quite interested in what people think of the presentation from the researchers at Stanford — but I suggest you look at it while watching the webcast of Monday’s meeting (click on the “Video” link for Oct. 19; the researchers are on about 17 minutes in) to get the most out of this information-rich document. Additionally, I’m posting the presentation Ms. O’Keeffe delivered during the meeting, which summarizes the work done to date, the proposed options for a new assignment system, and the measurements that are being proposed for evaluating those proposed options.

Enjoy! And please let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Creative Arts Charter School's Fall Fair

Everyone is welcome at Creative Arts Charter School's Fall Fair

Saturday, October 24, 2009
11:00 am to 4:00 pm

In the school yard : 1601 Turk St @ Pierce

Games, prizes, Cake walk, bouncy houses, dunk tank, food & drink, and... if you dare... a haunted house!

New this year: Fall Bazaar
Do your holiday shopping with our artisans, providing one-of-a kind handcrafted treasures.

Lafayette Elementary

Reviewed by June

*I am already starting to tire of school tours (mainly all the parent questions – wow!), but do find them helpful as I seem to get a definite feeling by meeting the principal and looking around the school. Mathias and I have definitely got a yes or no feeling from each school. I have revised my list somewhat, dropping a few “trophy” schools (including my old school – Sherman) that may not be convenient for us and adding more less talked about schools including New Traditions and Francis Scott Key. I hope to have all tours done before Thanksgiving so it is going to be busy as my list is 11 schools long (4 down 7 to go!!). Anyways here is all about Lafayette:

The Facts

Location: 4545 Anza Street
School hours: 7:50-1:55
Tel: (415)750-8433
Principal: Ruby G. Brown
Web site:
School tours: Principal guided – Wed 8:30, call for Apt.
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 4 classes of 22
Total student body: 513

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:

Large diverse school with strong principal, established and active PTA as well as many extras. Lower demand school with less than 70 first choice requests last year. Lafayette is also a magnet school for the deaf and has a full inclusion class.


Large building from 1927 with indoor hallways, large windows and high ceilings – no 1970s remodel like other Richmond dist schools. There is a beautiful auditorium with stage on first floor and separate cafeteria on the “basement” floor. The bathrooms were recently redone and the one we went into (just off cafeteria and yard) was HUGE!

Large yard on 36th Ave side of school building with play structure and garden.

After School programs

On Site – Richmond District After-School Cooperative 1st-5th grades. Richmond District YMCA program.

Busses to – JCCSF, Havurah Youth Center, Presidio CDC, and Alamo Elementary

Enrichment Programs – Mandarin afterschool class. Also various afterschool activities from science to art – visit website for full list.


Lafayette has a very active PTA that produces the school play, organizes volunteers and fundraisers and hosts school events. Look at the website for an idea of the many PTA organized events and programs.

Language program(s):

Mandarin after school program.

Library / Computer Lab

Large library staffed by Pro H funded librarian 3 days a week. Each class gets 45 minutes – one day a week in the library. The librarian has a piano in the library as well that he sometimes plays with the students. Computer lab has been recently re-located and is currently not fully operational – the school is currently looking to hire someone to run the lab. Classes also have a computer in the classroom


Annual school play produced by the PTA and includes all students. Lafayette parents teach art to grades K-3 through a program funded by the PTA called Art in Action. There are 12 lessons for the school year that use famous masterpieces as teaching tools. Artists in residence program.

Garden/Green Yard

Garden located at back of school yard, watered using rain water collected in large tank.


20-30 minutes a day for Kindergarten, gradually increasing to 1 hour 15 minutes or 1 hour 30 minutes for 5th graders to prepare them for middle school.


Lafayette is currently hiring a new PE teacher (their beloved teacher just left them after a long tenure and they are currently trying to fill his very big shoes). The PE teacher works with students 35-40 minutes a week (2x a week) and the teachers work with the PE teacher to be able to supplement the other days.

Tour Impressions (I have tried to outline all the details above so I can focus here just on my impressions)

I had a good feeling the minute I walked into Lafayette. It was a purely aesthetic feeling -the older building is charming and large windows and high ceilings give a light and airy feeling to the inside. Art and photos were thoughtfully displayed on large bulletin boards in the halls, with each class displaying their work on their own board. There were also boards with class and teacher information, PTA events etc. It looked exactly like one would expect a school to look like. Mathias was a bit overwhelmed by the size, commenting that it felt more like a middle school, but it did not feel machine like in its size (unlike the feeling I got from Alamo). While we waited for the tour (snacking on the snacks and coffee provided! Thanks Lafayette!) we watched students in groups of two as they brought (presumably) attendance sheets to the office, and others went in class groups down the hall. I was pleased to see that Lafayette was a very diverse school; representing the rainbow of the city we live in.

Their principal of 12 years Ruby Brown charmed me instantly. She was a strong personality, definitely in strict control of the large school she heads. But at the same time she was cheerful and animated. She interacted happily with children, teachers and volunteer parents as we passed them in the halls. She seemed to expect a certain order and manner of behavior from the students, and they knew it. I had to laugh as two students came running around the corner in the hall and the minute they saw Ms. Brown an “oh oh” look flashed over their faces and they slowed to a orderly walk. Not a word said on her part - no voice raised. I know to some parents they may not like this, but for me I think it is necessary in such a large school. And it was not like she was mean, cold or unfriendly, quite the opposite, she felt warm and motherly, but at the same time in complete control. A parent asked her if she was able to get to know most students since it was such a large school, and she said she makes a point to try to get to know all the students, especially those who do not make themselves known to her. I also felt that she was the type of person who would make sure things got done if she wanted them done, whether dealing with her staff or the district.

Our first stop on the tour was the auditorium, and the minute I walked in the familiar smell hit me over the head and took me back to my school auditorium. It was beautiful, with wood on the walls and a big stage where the annual school play and Opera in the schools are held, as well as other events.

After the auditorium we entered one of the kindergarten classrooms via the yard. This had to have been my favorite of all the classrooms, though they were all very nice. It had high ceilings and big windows and a wonderful reading nook with pillows and tons of books. The teacher was young and lively, though she seemed a bit taken aback by the size of our group. The teacher was helping students as needed as they worked on worksheets and there was a class volunteer filling paint pots in the corner.

Besides parent volunteers some classrooms also had senior citizen volunteers through a school wide program. All the kindergarten classes had tons of artwork and academic work on display in their rooms. One had a pet snake (Maddie would LOVE that!) and all had book nooks, though all in different set ups. They all seemed warm and welcoming, full of life yet not over cluttered or full of distractions. The upper grade classrooms were also welcoming and displayed student work. All the teachers seemed friendly and enthusiastic, and the children happy and involved.

We got to see recess in action while we were there too. The lower grades go out together, and then the upper grades. It did seem a bit chaotic, but about what I remember of recess! Get the energy out there, and not in the classroom. I found the small garden tucked in the back of the yard charming, and loved the bench area next to it - no kids were there, but it was a nice quiet spot if a child wanted to sit on their own or in a small group.

Both Mathias and I left with a great feeling about Lafayette. It is a definite on our list, I loved the principal, the teachers I met, the community vibe and the school itself. The fact that it is a 5-minute drive from our place is a definite plus, especially with the early start time.

If you have toured Lafayette and feel I missed something please put it in the comments - I am sure what stands out to some does not to me and vice versa. Also if you have kids there let us all know what you like about your school.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

SFGate: S.F. schools' lunch money cut off; rules broken

An excerpt from a story on SFGate:

School lunches have long been the butt of bad jokes featuring mystery meat and plastic-wrapped bean burritos, but in San Francisco, feeding more than 30,000 children every day - while following strict federal rules - is no laughing matter.

Since April, the school district has had to pony up the $1.5 million monthly cost of the lunch program for low-income students after state inspectors on a surprise visit found violations they deemed so serious and recurring that they cut off the flow of federal reimbursements.

Monroe Elementary School Fall Fun Festival: This Saturday

This Saturday, Oct. 24, from noon-5p, Monroe Elementary School in the
Excelsior District is holding its seventh annual Fall Fun Festival.
There's a haunted house, a cake walk, a bike rodeo, a lollipop tree and
lots of other activities and fun. Come in costume if you like! Admission
is free.

Monroe Elementary is a three-strand SFUSD school, with Spanish
Immersion, Chinese Bilingual and General Education programs. We welcome
everyone to our annual event and hope to see you there!

260 Madrid Street at Excelsior, San Francisco, 94112

Starr King PTA Annual Car Wash & BBQ

Saturday, October 24, 2009
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Regular wash - $10.00
Deluxe wash - $20.00

Proceeds help fund field trips, enrichment programs, school beautification and so much more.

The fun includes:
- BBQ lunch
- DJ Tony
- Bake sale

Starr King Elementary School
1215 Carolina Street, Potrero Hill

Junipero Serra Elementary

Reviewed by Marcia Brady

Marcia here, wondering if it's useful to be doing this if everyone just wants to flog the public-vs-private debate. But here goes:

Background: Junipero Serra hit my radar because a group of last year’s families were placed there after going 0/7, visited, and had good things to say. I’m not sure how many of them stayed, but thought (and still think!) the school deserved a look.

The Facts

Location: 625 Holly Park Circle (Bernal Heights)

School hours: 8:30-2:30

Tel: 695-5685

Principal: Eve Cheung

Web site: through SFUSD portal

School tours: Call for appointment

Grades: K-5

Kindergarten size: 2 or 3 Ks of 20 each (alternating years)

Total student body: 272, 82% free/reduced lunch, 62% from Spanish-speaking households.

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:

An energetic, thoughtful, and open-minded principal, an intimate feel, a focus on science and technology, and the opportunity to help a school grow.

Class Structure / Curriculum: The principal tried split grades (say, 4-5 together if there is overflow) and said it doesn’t work, so she alternates between 2 K classes and 3 K classes every other year. So the average is 2 ½ classes adding up to 40 or 60, depending on your year. In the upper grades, they’ve tried to hold it to 25 kids per class as opposed to the state cap of 32.Curriculum is GE and Spanish bilingual for English Language Learners. Their focus is science and technology, and they have a partnership with UCSF for 4th and 5th grades for science. PE 2x/week. Homework of 20 minutes reading at home plus 10 mins of review worksheets beginning in K and increasing as grades go up.

Campus/Playground: 1950s(?), quite bland building with new interior paint on Holly Park Circle, plus the Child Development Center Annex on Appleton St. The CDC facilities also house some of the K classrooms, and is made up of trailer-style bungalows. The outside of both sites’ buildings could use refurbishing. The K class(es) in the Annex walk up Appleton St. to the bigger building 2x/week for certain events, but have their own small-scale play structure and a large asphalt yard for their recess and a cafeteria for their own lunch. The Annex also has a community room. The main building has a yard we didn’t see, and the whole school uses Holly Park regularly. The main building also has a cafeteria, and computer center, and a small library with a resource specialist.

I asked about the low-income housing units across the street from the Annex. The principal said that far from causing problems, the people in the units looked out for the school, and many had kids there. She said they’d had no trouble at all and seemed very positive about the residents. The units are small-scale and didn’t seem to have the vacant or boarded up apartments that cause problems.

After School programs: Free After School Success club during school-year until 5:30, sliding scale Child Development Center year-round.

Additional Programs: Caring School Community Program, which puts older and younger kids together in buddy pairs and has kids involved in problem-solving class meetings. Principal said that they had eliminated their anti-fighting program some time ago, after eliminating that problem. She also said that each teacher had a release teacher for 1 hour daily, but that next year’s cuts would eliminate that. There is also a gardening program.

PTA: “In development.” Principal said she relies on her active and knowledgeable parents, but it is harder to do fundraising and get leadership with a larger population lower-income and immigrant families than many schools have. She does PTA meetings with simultaneous translators, though, to prevent some populations being left out: I liked that, as it speaks to her wish to serve all populations equally. I’m guessing that funds raised are minimal thus far, but Ms. Cheung wants to do more and has plans – and the 2008 mini-review of Serra mentions teachers having raised $37K.

Language program(s): Principal said they are trying to establish Spanish classes after school to draw in more English-speaking families interested in second-language instruction.

Library / Computer Lab: The kids have library class 1x/week, and the library is open 11-2:30 daily. The computer lab was especially impressive – it had 30 or so new Mac desktops, a VCR and large-screen TV, and a white board for projections. The principal said that the lab was one of her priorities.

Arts: Standard for the district

PE: 2x/week.

Recess/Lunch: AM recess of 20 mins., 1-hour lunch/recess combo in PM.

Tour Impressions:

This school has a very impressive principal – Eve Cheung is smart, down-to-earth, not at all condescending or saccharine, enthusiastic about middle-class parental involvement but aware of and solving for potential conflicts of class and culture. And she seemed to know the name of every student she spoke to – both she and the resource specialist who was shadowing her for the day’s tour interacted with kids in the halls and classrooms, gently reminding them to walk or pick up a stray backpack.

We saw more classrooms here than I’d seen on any tours, including many from the upper grades. Most were large-ish, with the freedom to move desks into circles, small work groups, etc. The teachers actually have teachers’ desks here, too. The best example was a GE classroom of kindergartners. They were working on writing letters in small groups. Some had paper-and-pencil worksheets. Some were pasting tissue paper onto large-scale line-drawings of letters. Some were building letters with clay. Some were arranging felt bars, arcs, and so on into letter shapes. The classroom was really calm, and after a while I realized that part of this was because the teacher had instrumental music playing. The kids seemed really on-task, and the atmosphere felt warm and supportive for what they were doing. The principal said that the teachers were expanding as best they could beyond the paper-and-pencil Houghton-Mifflin language arts curriculum, accommodating other learning styles with this kind of experimentation with texture, space, and sound. She also said they do pull-out groups for “focal” students – high-achieving and low-achieving – so they can offer some differentiated instruction.

In the SB and GE upper grades we visited, there was ample evidence of high-level standards. The SB kids in 3rd grade were working on commas, and the 4th grade GE classroom had wall charts about types of angles and triangles, as well as the “process-based” writing instruction used in college writing programs. The 5th-graders had had a trip to Alemany farm canceled because of the weather and were playing “U.S. States” bingo.

Junipero Serra would be a good choice for a group of middle-class southeast parents who decided to make it their Round 1 choice and help improve it, as parents did at Miraloma so long ago. Alternately, parents who find themselves placed there would do well to visit it and, again, think about teaming up and making a commitment. It’s not where Webster is yet, but it has a solid base: it’s a calm, well-run, warm school with well-kept if not yet creatively redecorated facilities, and a wonderful principal who seems ready to seize new opportunities.