Sunday, October 18, 2009

Daniel Webster Elementary

Reviewed by Marcia Brady [additions and corrections in brackets]

The Facts

Location: 465 Missouri St. (Potrero Hill)

School hours: 8:40-2:40 (new for this year!)

Tel: 695-5787

Principal: Moraima Machado

Web site: via SFUSD portal [addition: new school website to launch shortly]

School tours: Fri 9 AM

Grades: K-5

Kindergarten size: Listed in 5-yr. comparison sheet as 22 GE, 44 SI

Total student body: 180 [corrected] with room to grow about another 100.

Odds of getting in: GE 53.6%, though the 5-year data says only 1 person put it as first choice for this year. SI is new, so everyone who wanted it got it. For next year, I’d say the odds are great, given that they have room to expand both in terms of enrollment and space.

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

Lots of parent and community momentum, Spanish immersion, a sunny and sweet neighborhood with good parking!

Class Structure / Curriculum: Looks fairly standard – the principal said that they are accountable to No Child Left Behind, and to having their test scores rise, but trying not to just teach to the test. But I saw some evidence of “inquiry-based” learning and some more free-flowing stuff. They had a poster about voting labeled “What I know,” “Questions I have,” and “What I learned,” for example, and samples of kindergartners’ pretend and real writing on the walls. The real good news is that whatever the curriculum, DW has first pick of all applicants to the district, as a “hard to staff school” due to its previous incarnation, and has a very rigorous interview process.

Campus/Playground: 1960s or 70s breezeway-style building (no hallways, just stairs and a shaded sidewalk). Two bungalows for the preschool. Kids in the main building do have to go through classrooms to get to other classrooms, which wasn’t as disruptive as I would have guessed. Fresh exterior and exterior paint, new floors throughout. There’s also new “greentop” in the playground that the preschool bungalows are on, with painted game templates (hopscotch, etc.). The courtyard has an edible garden that looked great, and other nooks and crannies in the breezeway were filled with plants – and had some shade. DW has a lot of space – there’s a dedicated parents’ resource room, a library, the biggest computer lab I have seen yet (with something like 35 stations), a cafeteria/auditorium, a dedicated room for dance and movement classes, and apparently room to add classes.

After School programs: Child Development Center.

Additional Programs: There is a private preschool on-site, Potrero Kids at Daniel Webster, and the big and little kids are brought together for assembly. Lots of emphasis on social skills here: they have a therapist, a counselor, and a behavior specialist, and issue “white tickets” for “random acts of kindness.”

PTA: Dedicated, growing. Core is people who started by saving DW from closing 4 years ago. Fundraising small ($7K last year) but they’ve been great about getting private [correction: not all private] funds in there: the Potrero Hill Residents Education fund, [a 501(c)3 nonprofit], has been instrumental.

Language program(s): Dual immersion Spanish

Library / Computer Lab: A small library, with books in the process of being unpacked after the new floors went in, so it was hard to tell anything about the collection except that it was bilingual. Librarian available only 1.5x/week but they hope to expand. Computer lab is huge (35-40 terminals?); kids go 1x/week for 35 minutes with a specialist.

Arts: They have the usual 1x/week dance, art, and music. John Calloway, I a well-known SF jazz musician, does the instrumental program.

PE: 2x/week, Playworks

Recess/Lunch: Three 20-minute recesses. They keep the principal plus paraprofessionals at each recess. 20-minute lunch, grouped by age.

Tour Impressions:

We started outside and then proceeded to several classrooms. We saw a first-grade Spanish immersion program where the teacher was miked, apparently a pilot program to see if that increases comprehension. Kids were talking about the weather in Spanish, with some unison and some Q and A. We also saw the 1st grade GE, where they were doing small-group writing work and seemed distracted (probably by us). I was pleased to see some emphasis on the traditional language arts: on the walls there were materials on complete sentences, proofreading marks, etc. We also saw a Spanish immersion Kindergarten that seemed quite dynamic – a young Teach for America teacher who was moving through counting to 38 in Spanish at a good clip, joking with the students in Spanish, etc., while gently keeping discipline in hand. Lastly, we saw a cool music/art class where kids were drawing to Peter and the Wolf and learning about bass and treble clef.

Overall? Wow, these people have done a lot in record time. I really didn’t want to drink the “hidden gem” Kool-Aid, but I have to concur that it deserves that designation. The “before” pictures the tour guides showed us showed a dilapidated set of sheds, whereas now the physical plant is cheery and green: not an architectural wonder, to be sure, but made into the best version of itself. And I think that’s true for the new Spanish immersion program. For this year, 75% of the preschool kids’ parents apparently chose DW, which says a lot, and there are more coming from the preschool, bringing parents who have been very active with that project. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for the Flynn of 2-3 years ago--the elevator has left the ground and is going up—and/or to anyone who is looking to become part of a vibrant parent community. I would not recommend it to anyone who hates uncertainty, because there will undoubtedly be changes in the next 5 years.

Other DW parents, please speak up. How is it going?


  1. I'm putting in a plug for DW now that I know John Calloway does the music program! My 15-year-old is in his Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble (an outside-school activity, and John is fantastic.

    (In fact, see the LJYE free at Salsa Night this Wednesday, Oct. 21, in Union Square, 6-8 p.m.! It's mass salsa lesson with the youth Latin band playing for the dancers. Sorry, totally off-topic, but what a great asset to DW.)

  2. And just to clarify -- the parent tour guides said that John Calloway has been there for quite a while, and specifically requested to keep working with DW despite other opportunities in SFUSD. So it doesn't sound like he's just passing through.

  3. Daniel Webster's Spanish Immersion Kindergarten was my first (and second) choice and my son is thriving in his class. The teachers and support staff are wonderful, the principal, Mrs. Mochado, is phenomenal in getting the kids motivated, and the parents are a wonderful network of support, ideas and dedication. yes, I'm biased because I'm seeing this all first hand and I am constantly amazed at the community this school is creating.

  4. Just to correct some facts...
    DW currently has 180 students with a capacity for 280.

    The Potrero Residents Education Fund is a stand-alone
    501(c)3 non profit;

    New school website will launch shortly.

  5. Thanks, 3:21. I put corrections in brackets in the original post so people who don't read comments get the right information. Always happy to do that for factual errors, though I'll leave other people's impression-changing opinions for the comments.

  6. My daughter graduated from Potrero Kids at Daniel Webster preschool ( and is now a kindergartner in one of DW's SIP classes. I'm leading this Friday's 9 am tour and encourage anyone interested in DW to please join me!

  7. I wish I had been on such a tour at DW. Unfortunately, the teachers and principal were very lackluster and even admitted to teaching to the tests. She kept emphasizing the Spanish immersion aspect, which I agree is great and seemed to be worrking well but I think what they are learning needs to be explored a bit more. Plus I witnessed the amazing Jazz musician teacher in action and he spent 7 minutes with 4 students and was condescending--hardlly inspiring. The principal also mentioned that budget cuts were coming down thepike and the arts would be the first to go. The good news is that the parents are an amzing and dedicated group, and if they stay on top of the principal, it could become a great elementary option.

  8. Correction - please note that our tours are at 9:30am on Fridays, not 9am.

  9. Are there any parents of primarily English speaking children in the SI program at DW who do not speak much Spanish themselves? How are their children coping with the immersion, and how are the parents handling it? How is communication between teachers and parents in SI at DW?

  10. I am sorry that 7:15 had such a mediocre impression, as I had just the opposite response when I posed the question about teaching to the test at DW, and was told that the SIP teachers have extreme latitude to teach outside of the test-driven curriculum, and do so regularly and in creative ways. About budget cuts, every shool in SF will be struggling to keep any and all enrichment with the severe budget crisis we are facing. Even if the funds were raised through grants, most foundation's investment portfolios have been diminished if not erased alltogether. Just like the city budget, the coming year will be a time of hard choices for every School Site Council. Currently the Arts program at DW is funded through a combination of STAR school funding, private donations, volunteer arts instruction and city-wide art alliances that SF Schools have with the Opera, Symphony and Ballet. As to the question by 9:36, ours is an English (and Japanese)-only speaking household with a k-SIP student at DW. So far we are comfortable with the language divide. Both my husband and I are eager to learn Spanish--for me, I am trying to dredge up memories of 10 years of middle, high and college academic spanish (since supplanted with Japanese); my husband attends Spanish class organized by a fellow KSIP parent that is taught by a former k-SIP instructor for beginning spanish. Both KSIP teachers speak fluent English and are available via email, as well as private moments, if need be, at school, although they try to keep to Spanish-only with the children within ear-shot. I have wondered what it will be like when our daughter surpasses our knowledge, but we've observed many neighborhood friends with older children in SIP programs who are now in 3rd grade and developing bilingual fluency with no in-home reinforcement, so we have great hope. We have also read extensively about graduates of SIP programs being grateful for the opportunity to become bilingual and biliterate. Clearly each child will have different experiences and thresholds for the target language which may require tutoring or extra help, but we'll address that if and when the time comes.

  11. I am very impressed with all that the DW group as done! My heart did sink a little when I heard the principal at the end of the tour though - I failed to see a clear vision. Could one of the DW parents weigh in with their thoughts on the principal?

  12. To respond to Anonymous' post regarding the principal, I'm a DW parent, but speaking for any school tour you attend, if you feel that the principal did not adequately answer your questions, you should call them to set a time for further discussion. Every parent will have their own opinion of their principal -- I wouldn't recommend relying on a parent to interpret/communicate any principal's vision.

  13. Well, OK, 1:41, but I ask at every tour, "What's your vision for X school during the next 5 years?" As a user of the English language I feel quite competent at interpreting their answer. It seems entirely fair to be impressed or not impressed by what they say: if you can't answer that question coherently and specifically, what are you doing in a leadership position?

    No slam on DW here, though. Just a generic comment about parents intepreting principals' visions.

  14. We just launched our new website - check it out at

  15. Regarding the principal, you're right. She lacks in leadership, though I know she's trying. I'm struggling at that school with bullying issues and lack of response regarding my son's sensory processing issues. It seems all the emphasis is towards the bilingual progam with a fledgling foundation. The principal is struggling with managing her teachers and a very urban environment. She's not from the US and doesn't know what to do with the problems she's facing with some of these urban families. If you have lots of time to volunteer and partially home school, I'd say you have a much better chance at success. Otherwise, I strongly recommend skipping this school. Their special ed. advisors are horrid and non-responsive, except the speech rep.