Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Alamo Elementary

Reviewed by June

Location: 250 23rd ave
School hours: 8:40-2:40
Tel: (415)750-8456
Principal: Dr Herb Packer
Web site: www.friendsofalamo.org
School tours: Principal guided – Tu 9am – Call for apt.
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 4 classes of 22
Total student body: 524
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: Excellent API scores (latest scores 913), large school with established and active PTA.

Class Structure / Curriculum

The 4 kindergarten teachers collaborate in planning their curriculum, so although they may have different teaching styles they cover the same materials at the same time. There is a very low teacher turnover and the youngest kindergarten teacher has 8 years of experience. Teachers send home letters every week about what is going on in the class as well as opportunities for volunteering. Homework is usually about 10 minutes per grade per night plus a reading component.

There is a GATE Program for children in 3rd grade and up, and individual help for children who are challenged (homework club, student study team etc). ELLs are in the regular classrooms and are separated out for 30 minutes each day of special English instruction.


Large, older building with indoor hallways – no 1970s remodel like other Richmond dist schools. Alamo is slated for a $5million plus renovation slated to begin this winter break. Kindergarden will be relocated and will be in new digs next year when school starts. The complete renovation however will continue into next year.

Yard in back of school building with play structure.

After School programs

On Site – Richmond District After-School Cooperative 1st-5th grades, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) and Russian After School Programs for all grades.

Busses to – JCCSF, Nihonmachi Little Friends, Presidio CDC, Sutro Elementary, Richmond Playground (1st-5th grades)

Additional Programs - Fun & Games with PE Specialist, Keyboard educators and Academic Chess.


Alamo has an active PTA (180 members) as well as the Friends of Alamo School Foundation that raises funds for enrichment programs. The PTA and Foundation raise normally around $150k annually.

Language program(s):

Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin) and Russian after school programs.

Library / Computer Lab

Large Newly renovated library staffed by Pro H funded librarian. No computer lab, but each classroom has comuters.


Almo offers many arts based programs outside of its core curriculum including: a vocal music specialist, visual arts specialist, ceramic specialist (2 kilns on site), Shakespeare drama, California Poets in the schools, Creative Movement/SF Ballet, instrumental music for 4th & 5th grades and SF Symphony Adventures in Music.

Garden/Green Yard

rooftop garden


Alamo has a PE instructor 2 days a week with an additional after school program (for a fee). Last year the 5th grade had the highest PE scores in the state.


Children go to recess in two groups, k-2 and 3-5. Lunch is in 3 groups, k-1, 2-3, and 4-5.

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

I went to Alamo with high expectations, it is the closest school to our home (walkable!!!) and we have heard lots about it. It is an excellent school, with a very high API of 913, always fills up on the first round and has a long waitlist with little movement. I always assumed it would be somewhere in our top 7, it was just a matter of where.

Walking into the school I peeked into classrooms as kids were still trickling into their classes. The rooms were well decorated with student work and so were the hallways (though I would say it seemed a bit thrown together). The library was NICE – big, recently renovated, with books on display and a warm and welcoming feel. I wanted to grab a book and curl up on the rug (though the storm outside may have contributed to that urge too).

The new Principal Dr. Herb Packer and the PTA president gave the Alamo tour, which was basically a question and answer session in the library followed by a peek into the kindergarten classes. Dr. Packer is in his first year as principal at Alamo, previously he was principal at Tenderloin Elementary. He was very proud of his school’s many achievements and of his teachers and students.

I did find it hard to get a good feeling about Alamo though without walking around much. The question and answer session covered many good topics, but I felt a bit confined into the library when I really wanted to be walking around the school.

When we did at the end get to walk into the kindergarten classes I found them slightly cluttered, with supplies and boxes stacked in corners and along walls. Perhaps the teachers were already preparing for the December move, more likely they just did not have enough space. I would hope the new classrooms allowed them some more storage, the stacks of boxes made me feel slightly closed in. The rooms did display the kids work, and despite being distracted by the parade of parents walking through the kids were engaged in the lessons.

I have to say I am not quite sure how to sum up my impressions of Alamo. It is a GREAT school with lots of academic achievements, though I am not sure it is the right school for us despite its location and scores. It seemed big, almost machine like in its size. I did not get an enthusiastic feeling there, though it was in no means a bad feeling. I am also very concerned about the construction. It does promise lots of new shiny classrooms, but may also be hard for Maddie who is super sensitive to noises.

This tour left me with more questions than answers. I think I am going to have to talk to some Alamo parents to get a better feel for the school. Do your kids go there? What do you like about the school, the principal, the teachers?


  1. great review! very complete.

    looking forward to more.

  2. Yes, a good review, thanks.

    I hate being the broken record, but again, the 4th/5th grade instrumental and I would mention also the SF Symphony program is in all the schools. The other arts programming mentioned is the stuff that varies somewhat from school to school (although you'll start to see common themes).

    I mention it because I remember being so impressed with the instrumental music at several schools when I toured, and it took me awhile to realize it was standard and not a point of contrast. Not that you shouldn't mention it, but it's not the reason to choose Alamo over another school.

  3. I was on the tour today, too and at the end, we did see a rooftop garden that the children get to tend.

  4. 3:22 - thanks! I must have left before the roof garden... I made the change to the post.

  5. We have friends here with two kids, one of whom is special needs. The Mom loves, loves the school because of the really good services her sp child receives, among other things. So even if it's big, not everyone gets lost in the shuffle.

  6. I have a friend whose daughter is in 5th grade at Alamo. They have loved the school. Live in the hood and walk over.

  7. i have mentioned this several times on this blog--tour impressions do not always mean very much. for instance a cluttered looking classroom may mean only that the teachers have lots and lots of good stuff for kids to engage with and that aesthetics are not the teachers top priority. we do not go to alamo but know two families who love it there. the school has a very good reputation for its inclusion program, and schools that do well by their special ed students are often very good schools.

  8. Alamo is one of the most segregated schools in SFUSD. Out of 550 students, only 4 are African American.

  9. One out of our three went to Alamo. It wasn't that great, actually. There were lots of extracurriculars, which is nice. But a the upper grade teachers were nowhere near as good as the kindergarten ones.

    In fact, our fifth grade teacher was a complete dingbat to tell the truth.

  10. Thanks for this comment about having a good kindergarten teacher, but a "dingbat" teacher in fifth grade.

    This is something I noticed on the school tours last year.

    In the public school tours, the presentation focused on the lower grades. For some reason, many parents seemed to ask questions only about the lower grades.

    In the private school tours, in was not uncommon to get a tour of the high school. There was a lot of discussion about college focused curriculum. It was assumed that the parents were applying for these schools for the long haul.

    My point here is to suggest that parents think ahead about whether a school will prepare their child well for middle and highschool. The core of highschool readiness in the academic stream consists of reading excellence, a mastery of algebra by eighth grade, and a good grasp of scientific concepts.

    In order to achieve this, excellent teaching in fourth and fifth grade is required.

    In the tours that I did, it was quite difficult in the public schools to get a grasp on fourth and fifth grade teaching. Unfortunately, the only metrics parents may have on this is word of mouth or greatschools test scores.

  11. Well, like all SFUSD schools, it is way way way less segregated than many suburban and private schools. 62% Asian, 19% white, 5% Latino. Plus 30% ELL and 34% free/reduced lunch. Compare that to *any* of the private schools people mention on this blog, whc crow if they have 25% "diversity."

    I would note that the demographics at Alamo are entirely predictive of the high test scores. I know API over 900 is very comforting for parents, but what it really tells you is who is there, and not so much about the school itself. In fact, its API rank is 10, but it has only a 7 "similar schools" rank, which is equivalent to many of the schools on the other side of town.

  12. Kate, speaking of schools on the other side of town, do you have any plans to line up a reviewer for the "hidden gems" on the SE side of town (Revere, Webster, Taylor, et al)?

    I am appreciating June's excellent reviews, but she is visiting schools way across town from us, that are relatively hard to get into anyway.


  13. To 9:44 AM - I think the reason public schools may steer parents away from 4th and 5th grade observation is that this is where there is a 50% increase in class size, and less order and control in the classroom. It's a shame that we don't have the resources to continue 4th and 5th grades at 20-22 kids per class, but we don't.

  14. My school shows an upper-grade classroom on the tour (for what that's worth--I really think the tours are not that helpful). I also don't think the kids in our 4th and 5th grades are out of control! Some of them can be a little sassy (have any you had contact recently with the tweener set?--this will be your life in a few years). But our teachers at least are well-equipped for them with that mixture of humor, authority and respect that these kids crave. Some of our finest teachers are in those grades. They do lots of field trips and hands-on projects....they can do more, and bigger, projects with this age group. My daughter's favorite math teacher, from whom she has learned the most, was in 5th grade (she's now in 7th). She also started doing longer reports/projects at this level--multipage writing with original art, bibliography, table of contents....she loved it.

    Sometimes I think this idea that the upper grade classrooms are out of control is more about not understanding how those kids are--they look so big when your kid's in preschool or kindergarten, and you kind of resent their largeness, their energy, their sassiness. Doesn't mean their classrooms are out of control.

  15. Thanks for the comment about the larger class sizes in 4th and 5th grade. It is a huge issue, even if the teacher can maintain order in the class. Don't forget that the marking load on the teacher usually goes up when their class size goes up. They don't teach fewer classes.

    My next door neighbor is a public middle school teacher. He definitely struggles with the large class sizes. Discipline is a problem.

    I know one parent who loved Buena Vista until her child hit those larger 4th and 5th grade classes. Her child was bright. She felt that the teacher did not have enough time to teach to the different abilities of the students in the class.

    These are very limited examples, but large class size and differing abilities of students may provide a challenge to teachers, just at the time that subject matter becomes more technical and demanding.

    Again, just a heads up for touring parents.

  16. 10:22 AM:

    This sounds like an interesting school. It would be nice to know what school this is.

  17. Hey, I'm over here doing those southeast schools and writing up notes for my mom's group. I've got 14 on my list: Alvarado, Buena Vista, Fairmount, Flynn, Glen Park, Junipero Serra, Marshall, McKinley, Milk, Monroe, Ortega, Sunnyside, Webster, and SF Community. Why 14? Because due to some flukey circumstances, I have leave time from work to do it, and I am in education and curious. Also, my daughter's entering in 2011, so I feel relaxed this year.

    If Kate's interested, I'm happy to post reviews of any or all. My name isn't really Marcia Brady, so I can change that or leave it.

  18. "Hey, I'm over here doing those southeast schools and writing up notes for my mom's group. I've got 14 on my list: Alvarado, Buena Vista, Fairmount, Flynn, Glen Park, Junipero Serra, Marshall, McKinley, Milk, Monroe, Ortega, Sunnyside, Webster, and SF Community. Why 14? Because due to some flukey circumstances, I have leave time from work to do it, and I am in education and curious. Also, my daughter's entering in 2011, so I feel relaxed this year. "

    Marcia, it's great you're doing all this work well in advance (I did the same), but you do know the system will be changing to Something Else Entirely for the 2011 year?

    So there's no guarantee that you'll even be able to apply for all those schools, depending on what system the district goes with. As they're probably going to go to something more neighbourhood based,

    I'd stick with touring *very* local schools and immersion programs (as the immersion programs will probably remain available on a district-wide basis) and the alternative schools.

  19. Nonetheless, those of us on Marcia's side of town would be so very grateful of reviews of the schools here if she is able to provide them.

  20. But if she has time...and knowing it may be more zone than neighborhood school (because the segregation inherent in that will not be acceptable to many), it's not a bad idea to tour somewhat regionally....if Marcia Brady lives in that general area, and she's curious too and has time--why not?

    And Marcia YES PLEASE! post those reviews. There are many on your list that have never been reviewed here, and some of them have been going through many changes, such as Webster.

    Thanks, Marcia (love the name).

  21. Hi Marcia: I'd love to have you contribute to the blog as well. You can email me at thesfkfiles@gmail.com and I'll get you signed up! Thanks! Best, Kate

  22. I know the system will be different in 2011. And I am looking at, surprise, local schools, immersion programs, and alternative schools for the most part.

    But I can't think of a way that they could eliminate the lottery and keep the schools desegregated, so I am betting that there will be some kind of combo. deal. Those of us on the SE side stand to lose the most from being barred from citywide choice anyway, so we may as well know about our nearby alternatives.

    Off to contact Kate! I think I'll stay Marcia Brady ("oh my nose! oh, my nose! oh, my nose!"). Stay tuned for my reviews of Glen Park Elementary from Tues., Buena Vista from today, Flynn tomorrow, and Daniel Webster on Friday. Thanks for the opportunity, Kate, and may the kindness outweigh the snark.

  23. thank you, marcia brady--and kate.

    any reason why you are leaving revere and taylor off the list? (not looking for negativity, just wondering since they correspond to your general geographic area and are part of the buzz these days).


  24. Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!

    I can't wait to read your review of Webster. We live 3 blocks away and I've been following the progress of the school and the amazing efforts of Prefund.

  25. oh, and starr king?

  26. My daughter is an 8th grader at an SF middle school and has met quite a few kids from this school. Overall, the kids that I've met so far that seem to be the meanest and overly competitive girls all coincidentally went to Alamo. Better dig deeper into the school attitude.

  27. 3:24 pm here again. Just wanted to say that the list you've chosen to tour is a very good one.

  28. Oh -- to answer questions. Revere should have been on my list and I do have a visit scheduled. I've been excited by its possibilities for a couple of years.

    Starr King isn't because I am completely uninterested in Mandarin immersion, and not sure enough of their GE program to visit. I can revisit that decision, though, if my 15 don't yield a list of 7 I like. Taylor looked sort of far away, but I am a geographical dummy, so am I wrong? To give you a sense of where I am, Webster is my area attendance school. A couple of the further-away schools I included, like Milk, Ortega, and Sunnyside, are there for specific reasons.

    And thanks, for the affirmation, 6:02.

  29. Marcia!! Welcome - Can't wait to read your reviews. I have been waiting for some new characters from the SE side to emerge. FYI - I called Webster today and they said they weren't holding a tour this Friday - Might want to confirm. Also - I toured Marshall last year and I loved it.

  30. "Taylor looked sort of far away, but I am a geographical dummy, so am I wrong?"

    Taylor's a lot closer to you than Ortega, Sunnyside, or Glen Park.

    Also, down the hill on the east side of Mission is Moscone, which has a good GE program. Bessie Carmichael might also be an option.

  31. Marcia--I was going to say, it's near the Silver Terrace soccer fields, but then, you probably don't have a child who is doing soccer at this point. I feel like I live over there :-).

    E.R. Taylor is located on Burrows in the Portola area near San Bruno and the 101/280 interchange, and across Bayshore from Silver Terrace. Not far from the San Francisco School over on Gaven. This would be accessible from the 280, Bayshore, or 101 from wherever you live in the Potrero Hill area.

    As you have probably read, Taylor has just been named a Blue Ribbon School along with R.L. Stevenson. Overall API of 865 with decent CST results, and this with 63% ELLs and 71% free/reduced lunch. And yes, some of this is a high Asian population, which tends to confounds the low-income correlation with lower test scores (their API is 907), but over a quarter of the population is Hispanic, and their results while not as high are not bad. In other words, very impressive--they are beating the predictive stats.

    They have a website too so you can look at photos....looks like a sweet school.

    This school has not been on the radar of the middle class set from Bernal, Noe, Potrero, but it did get 211 R1 apps last year for 44 GE spots, so is moderately popular. However, given free lunch levels I would think it is a school for which a "not-poor, with preschool" profile would be a plus.

  32. "This school [E.R. Taylor]has not been on the radar of the middle class set from Bernal, Noe, Potrero,"

    I think the building is a bit unattractive, but why it isn't more popular beats me.

    "but it did get 211 R1 apps last year for 44 GE spots, so is moderately popular."

    There's a large population of students in the Portola/Excelsior Area - about double Noe and Potero put together, despite Noe being though of as breeder central.

  33. Sure, I'll go to Taylor if I can squeeze it in. A friend of mine has a tour scheduled there, too, so I can at least pass along her impressions if she's willing and I can't go.

  34. This school seems to be for Chinese only.

  35. 11:33 a.m., do you mean Alamo or E.R. Taylor?

    Alamo is 45.8% Chinese, which is pretty close to the percentage districtwide. E.R. Taylor is 50.6% Chinese.

    If the "for Chinese only" issue is a problem for you, you sound like someone who should be checking out our city's fine selection of private schools. Our public schools are diverse, "whether you like it or not," to quote Mayor Newsom in another context.

    Re E.R. Taylor's obscurity -- I lived in the Portola District in the early '80s and have relatives who grew up there. It's a famously obscure and misunderstood neighborhood, often mischaracterized as a dangerous ghetto. The Chronicle usually erroneously refers to addresses and sites in the Portola as being in the Bayview. (BTW, Portola is correctly pronounced PORtola, when referring to the neighborhood.)

    So that odd characteristic of the neighborhood may have caused a promising school to be overlooked.

  36. Dr. Packer is the 3rd principal in 5 years. I hope he sticks around. I also heard that Sloat and Claredon have new principals. Same MO - 3rd principal in 5 years. What's going on?

  37. June did you or anyone else tour Argonne in the same 'hood? We have a place at that school.

  38. Re: 3rd principal in 5 years

    Gina Ferante left to be a VP at Balboa. She was replaced by Pamela Gire who stayed for 4 years. She left due to pressure from parents. So Dr. Packer came from Tenderloin Community and has been well received at the school. Alamo is doing well under his leadership. It has a strong staff. The school was just finishing its ADA upgrade and is looking good. My kids love Alamo.

    1. It has been awhile since this thread, but does anyone have any updated reviews/thoughts about Alamo? Considering it vs St Monica.