Friday, October 9, 2009

George Peabody Elementary

Reviewed by June

Location: 251 6th Ave
School hours: 8:40-2:40
Tel: 415-750-8480
Principal: Willem Vroegh
Web site:
School tours: Principal guided – Tuesdays and Fridays 9am, no apt needed
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 2 classes of 22
Total student body: 244
You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:
A small school (244 students total) with good API (844) scores, safe school setting, young enthusiastic principal and a very involved PTA.
Campus was rebuilt in 1970 to meet earthquake standards and like Sutro does reflect buildings of that era – boxy building built around courtyard with no halls, light coming from shuddered windows and not too much overall personality. Despite this classrooms are very lively and decorated with student work. They are installing outdoor bulletin boards to display photos and artwork and liven up outdoor areas. Brand new playground situated towards back of yard next to the green garden the children planted. A nice mural is painted on the back of the building in the yard area adding personality to that side of the building. The multipurpose room is in a portable building to the side of the yard.

After School programs
On site free afterschool program run by Richmond District After-School Collaborative from 2:40 to 6:00pm. The ASPIRE program offered off site and there is a bus to the JCCSF.
The PTA sponsors a wide range of after-school enrichment programs, from Spanish to lion dancing. Each is offered for a semester fee, though limited scholarships are available.

Very involved PTA organizes events, fundraisers, after school programs and parent volunteers. Trained parents also lead the Jr. Great Books Program for 2-5th grade and the Fun Fit Friday program for kindergartners.

Language program(s):
After school Spanish offered 1st-3rd grade through PTA sponsored enrichment programs – fee per semester.

Library / Computer Lab
Library with part time (2 days a week) librarian and small computer lab.

Arts curriculum offered K-5th grade. K & 1st grade focus on dance and movement, 2nd & 3rd grade visual arts and 4th & 5th performing arts. Arts curriculum taught by outside consultants with teachers also doing art projects in class. Bi-annual Art Showcase to display student work. Music offered 1 day a week for the first semester, the focus is singing with older students (4th and 5th grade) able to choose an instrument. Peabody is a charter member of the Opera Aria Network and students in 2nd, 3rd and 5th grade learn about Opera through an artist in residency. 2nd and 3rd graders participate in the SF Ballet sponsored Dance in the Schools program.

Garden/Green Yard
Recently built learning garden for students in all grades, with gardening integrated into science curriculum. A garden teacher is on site 2 days a week.

Tour Impressions
There has been much talk in the Richmond district the last year about Peabody Elementary, the no longer so hidden “gem” on 6th avenue. Since it is so local for us I was very interested in seeing what all the talk was about.

Upon arriving I saw much what I did at Sutro, a small school built in the typical 1970’s style. I often wonder what architects were thinking in that era, but I will not hold it against a school :-). The yard was situated in the back and as we drove around finding parking I again watched parents dropping off their children for school and kids playing in the yard. The diversity seemed to represent not just the neighborhood, but also SF well.

There were more parents on this tour than my last, but nothing like I have heard about the crowds of parents at other schools. Willem Vroeg the principal is a young and enthusiastic. He started the tour by telling us about his teaching history (years in elementary and a few at a k-8) and that he has been principal at Peabody since 2005. Not long, but long enough to get a vibe going around this little school. Since being principal he has hired 8 teachers for openings both due to expansion and retirements. Both Mathias and I noted this as it likely means they share the same vision as him for the school.

We then headed to see the one of the kindergarten classrooms. Peabody has 12 classes total, 2 kindergarten, making 44 slots for next year before siblings. There are no class aids. As we walked towards the class we saw the kindergarteners on the yard with a number of volunteer parents and a coach. They were taking part in the Fun Fit Friday program (a gross motor skills program for kindergartners, sponsored by the PTA). They seemed happy and all involved in various movement activities. All classes receive 1-2 game sessions per week with the organization Playworks. Additionally the Junior Coach leadership program (4th and 5th grades) students are trained to help the coach lead games during recess.

The kindergarten class was lively and displayed lots of student work. Mathias was happy to see they had been learning about the solar system. Both kindergarten classes follow the same curriculum and the teachers work together to plan at weekly planning days (all teachers have this and Willem attends the planning sessions). Kindergarteners days are split in two, with mornings being primarily academic and afternoons more for social and free choice time. For homework they have 20 minutes of reading time nightly with a reading log. Parents are discouraged from helping in the class for the first half of the year in order to aid the transition for all the children in the class (this sounded very reasonable to me), and after that it is up to the teacher. Usually there are 2 room parents per classroom who help outside of the class. I also liked that each kindergarten class had their own restroom in the room. Kindergarteners have morning recess with 1st and 2nd grade and then lunch and lunch recess alone. Willem pointed out that this is a good time for parental volunteers.

Next we headed to the multi-purpose room where the 1st graders were singing. They seemed to be enjoying it, though our group was certainly a bit intimidating! Willem lead us back into the yard where he discussed the arts programs, after school programs and after school enrichment programs sponsored by the PTA. I outlined this all above so I will not do it again, but I was VERY happy with all the arts offered to the children and all the enrichment programs also offered after school.

The playground is less than a year old and looks like most of the playgrounds that are being rebuilt across the city. It was built through funding from Kaboom, the PTA and the district. Behind the playground was the learning garden planted last school year.

Willem then lead us further around the school and explained about the Splash awards to reward good behavior, the zero tolerance policy for 4th and 5th graders and physical violence. Students in 4th and 5th grade would be suspended, while younger grades are dealt with through education. There is also a half time counselor on staff at the school.

Finally we visited the library and computer room. I found it quite small, and there were few computers but it seemed well stocked and they have a librarian on site 2 days a week. Willem told us about the school paper which is run by 4th and 5th graders in the GATE program, and the Junior Great Books program for students in 2nd-5th grade who are chosen by their teachers to have some extra reading time (they are ahead of their peers). This is lead through parent volunteers.

Willem ended the tour telling is about the literacy specialist they have 2 times a week for children (usually in 1-2nd grade) who need extra help to get up to speed in reading as well as the two special ed classes for children with speech and language delays. He then proceeded to answer parent questions. I needed to leave at this point, but I felt that the tour answered all that I could want to know about Peabody.

I was very pleased with Peabody, and although I have only toured 2 schools at this point I cannot imagine it will not be on my list. It is a wonderful small school with an enthusiastic (though thankfully not a cheerleading) principal not 10 minutes driving from our home. I loved all the arts programs, the sports and learning garden as well as the many after school enrichment programs. I felt like I could dive right into the established and active PTA and be involved in Maddie's school. As an added bonus there was the reasonable start time which would mean no rushing in the mornings. I would be glad to send Maddie there next year. (Hell I debated not posting this just to keep you all from listing it too!!!)


  1. I think that the principal of a school really matters. I have known a couple of teachers at this school and the person who ran their Sports4Kids program (for which I think they no longer qualify) and everybody has spoken very highly of the principal in particular.

  2. Thanks June. We were on this tour with you today, and your comments are spot on. It will definitely be in our top seven, especially as we live within Peabody's neighborhood zone.

  3. Hooray, June!

    It's definitely not hidden, although it may be far NE enough to discourage many families. Five-year demand trends show it jumping last year from 177 to 306 overall requests, but only 33 first-place requests. Back in 2005 it had only 85 requests in total, so you can see the rise.

    I expect demand will continue to go up, so this is no shoo-in school--lower risk, if you lived nearby, would be Glen Park, Milk, Moscone--but it's better than Jefferson or Clarendon. Sort of middling odds, I guess, about the same as with Lafayette.

  4. I absolutely loved this school when I toured it two years ago. The principal seemed fabulous. It was just a little too far from our house to make the list but if I lived nearby this would have been a top choice.

  5. We truly lucked out in the lottery and Peabody was our first choice on the list and we got our first choice, first round (yes, I had to read the letter 3 times...could not believe it myself). As anxious as I was with kinder starting, our daughter loves it - everything from the principal to her wonderful teachers. We toured 12 schools and there were many reasons this school was our top choice (we had a lot of positives about many other schools, too). The Sports4Kids program is still ongoing and the coach is wonderful, the garden, play structure, academics, fellow parents, welcoming PTA - the entire community has been terrific. We like that it is a small school and feels like a small community where everyone looks out for our child.