Saturday, October 17, 2009

Leonard R. Flynn Elementary, 2009

Leonard R. Flynn Elementary

Reviewed by Marcia Brady

The Facts

This school has been reviewed before in 2007 and I encourage you to take a look – a lot in those reviews still seem quite useful.

Location: 3125 Cesar Chavez St. @ Harrison St.

School hours: 8:35-2:45

Tel: 695-5770

Principal: Sylvia Lepe (new), Assistant Principal Claire Trepanier is also new.

Web site:

School tours: 9 AM Thurs., no reservation required.

Grades: K-5

Kindergarten size: 88, with 22 in each of 4 classrooms

Total student body: 450

Odds of getting in on Round 1: 29% for GE, 11.1% for Spanish immersion. 70 1st choice requests for 44 SI slots in 2009-10 Round 1, but only 8 for the 44 GE slots.

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

A GE program on a par with the immersion program, inquiry-based learning, an international baccalaureate curriculum, and an orderly atmosphere combined with progressive values. Emphasis is clearly on community-building, social justice, etc., as well as environmental issues.

Class Structure / Curriculum: For information about the international baccalaureate program, for which Flynn is a candidate and whose curriculum they are adopting, see The emphasis is on “inquiry-based” learning: no textbooks or scripts, but instead 6 very general themes around which teachers organize projects: hypotheses, testing, journals, etc. There seems to be a high degree of teacher autonomy here.

Campus/Playground: clean 1920s (?) building, spruced up but definitely an old-style building. Separate yards and play structures for upper and lower grades. Upper-grade playground has brand-new, very fancy play structure from a Kaboom! grant, as well as the usual asphalt play area. Lower-grade playground has an older, but still perfectly fine play structure, and an oval track with an Astroturf middle, where kids can ride bikes, use hula-hoops, and other gross-motor equipment stored in sheds nearby. Kids also use a nearby grassy area for supervised play, and there is a new outdoor classroom with gardening boxes, etc. Very big, full-time library (not all district libraries are open every day or open for kids to drop in, but this one is. Kids can also check out up to 6 books a week, apparently unlike other libraries). Cafeteria also used for assemblies and Child Development Center care. Dedicated parent center and occupational theory room, dedicated cafeteria/assembly room. Facilities compost and recycle. There is supervised drop-off, so no need to park in the AM. I’m not sure about the PM.

After School programs: Mission YMCA does before- and aftercare; the figure quoted for that was $435/month. There are two other options: the Child Development Center and the free ExCEL program.

Additional Programs: An outdoor classroom/garden. PTA funds things like field trips and tree frog treks.

PTA: Large and very active. Raised $60K last year, goal this year is $75.

Language program(s): Dual-language Spanish immersion.

Library / Computer Lab: Both are very big and well-equipped (see above re: library).

Arts: Dance and drumming, Carnaval, SF ballet for 3rd grade, literary theater in upper grades

PE: Playworks. I wasn’t yet experienced enough to ask how often PE is, but coach is available at recess and after school. [See RRRROSI's informative remarks about Playworks in the comments section below]

Recess/Lunch: I’m getting savvier about this, so my answers will be better. But they get 20 minutes for lunch with recess, I think. I didn’t write down how many recesses or how long. Parents?

Tour Impressions:

We began on the playground and then broke up into 4 groups. All the tour parents seemed very well prepared and knowledgeable, and we got to visit quite a few classrooms. We finished back in the yard with the principal, who spoke to us at length, though it was hard to hear due to the large numbers on tour!

We saw a Spanish immersion 1st grade with a male teacher. I thought things looked bright and cheery as well as orderly; the classrooms were extremely well organized. The classroom had a cosy loft with a ladder and a reading bookshelf, and a kitchen play area – two things I hadn’t seen in any classroom thus far. The kids were learning the days of the week in Spanish, clapping out the spelling with Spanish letters. We also saw a Gen Ed classroom (not sure what grade, K or 1) with a female teacher reading to a book about plants and seeds to the kids, pausing for questions, asking questions of her own, etc. And we saw a GE K classroom with a male teacher: there seems to be a lot of reciting in unison in SF public schools, but this teacher also incorporated a lot of body movement, hand gestures, and visuals into his teaching of the ABCs. Kids were writing in the air while reciting, for the letter T, something about a vertical and a horizontal bar, and then looking at a picture of a tiger and saying t-t-t. Talk about integrated learning! The teachers all seemed young and dynamic.

The parent tour guide said Flynn was a hidden gem, but I think it’s on the trophy radar now in this part of the city—and it’s worth a drive for others. What is a hidden gem is the GE program: it seems extremely savvy of them to work on the IB program to get GE and SI on a par. GE requests are rising sharply, said one of the parents, but there is still room to get in on the ground floor. I would recommend Flynn for parents who want both order and experimentation for their kids, and/or for themselves, a vibrant school in which they’d be welcome participants but not starting from scratch. Also, do take a look at the other SFK review.


  1. good review; thank you for being so thorough!

    amazing how much this school has changed in the last 5-6 years.

  2. Great review. Interesting about the BAC process. This school has gone through alot of change. That's great!
    I think SF Community has a loft in one of the younger grade rooms -- it did several years ago.

  3. I'm looking forward to your other reviews! I think you are not getting many comments here because it is very complete--and also not hugely controversial like the Waldorf post just put up by Claire, yow. But you are doing a great service even if it is not inspiring correction or controversy, so thanks.

  4. Didn't a lot of families leave the school this year? We had heard that a lot of the more actively involved families had abandoned the school.

  5. Is there still a lot of tension between teh "old" families and those who joined the school when the Spanish immersion program started?

  6. "Didn't a lot of families leave the school this year? We had heard that a lot of the more actively involved families had abandoned the school."

    I'm in the neighborhood, but haven't heard anything to that effect.

    There's been a change in principal, though, and the API scores in the past two years have been on a slight downward trend - nothing radical, but not the direction you'd hope for, especially given the first cohort in the SI program should have reacheds 2nd grade now, and so be being included in the API scores.

  7. "Didn't a lot of families leave the school this year? We had heard that a lot of the more actively involved families had abandoned the school."

    One family left and one family moved one child and one child stayed - but yes they were both very active and we were sad to lose them. That being said, the district has made some changes and had they been made last year I believe these families would have stayed.

    The first immersion class is now in 5th grade.

  8. Thanks for such a great review! One slight clarification, Playworks is a new program at our school, and Coach Nicole, from Playworks, is assigned to Flynn full time, from the start of the day all the way to include after school. She coordinates games during recess and provides physical activity sessions for each classroom once every other week. The program also incorporates some character building techniques, which help teach the kids conflict resolution skills that transfer into the classroom. For more info, please visit

    Lastly, Flynn not only got a new principal this year, we also got an amazing Assistant Principal, Claire Trepanier, with lots of experience under her belt. The AP and new principal make a great team and will go a long way in helping us to implement the IBO (called PYP at Flynn) program and improve our scores.

  9. Is the Flynn GE program the only one in the city that offers daily exposure to a second language? This seems like a huge benefit to those of us who are committed to our kids learning a language but not necessarily to everything that an immersion program involves. I'm intrigued!

  10. I'm amazed to read this review and not see any mention of the big problems I saw on my tour (and have heard repeated by others who visited on other days). Obvious disrespect in the upper grades. A 4th or 5th grader walking down the hall alone screaming curses. And a fifth grade class in which multiple students were openly disrespecting the teacher. These are big problems, in my mind. I wanted to like the school, as it's walking distance for us, but it's not the kind of environment I want my child in (or anyone else's, for that matter).

  11. I really want to respond to the note about what the last poster said she witnessed of Flynn's upper graders during her tour.

    The concern is a valid one, for sure, but please know that it is a more complex issue than "Saw kid swearing = bad school." For some perspective: We are a high poverty school: 78% of Flynn's students qualify for free or reduced cost lunch. Kids coming from poor neighborhoods, from poorly educated parents WILL have issues, and in some cases serious issues that they do not always have the tools to cope with. (Kids from any background can act out in class in any school - but kids from poor homes do deal with more intense realities.)

    I have friends who didn't consider schools with higher than 50% free lunch kids for this very reason. (And that's okay! We all have our own comfort level as to what we think is okay for our kids.)

    Flynn takes behavior very seriously and we tackle these issues head on, with extra staff, with our "Wise Choice" program, in trying to address our achievement gap, in acknowledging the whole child, in being ever mindful of equity issues, and with the new International Baccalaureate program (and probably other ways I don't even know about.)

    I lead tours and have the opportunity into go all the classes. I was not sure what to expect - uppergraders are a different species than 4 year olds! - and I am consistently impressed with the kids' behavior, the teachers' relationships with them and control in their classrooms. Our upper grades have almost entirely children of color and I can say that even the kids who are the "problem" kids have their sweet, studious sides as well.

    I was in the office yesterday and an upper grade, African American boy was in the Assistant Principal's office. He was very agitated and two adults were with working with him. I don't know what had happened but it was clear that it was an intense moment. Later there was a school performance where half of the classes before for the other half. I was standing beside the teacher of the same boy I had seen in the office. At one point she beckoned to him and guided him to stand in front of her, both of them facing the stage. For a few minutes they stood together watching the performance, the teacher's arms wrapped around him with her hands resting on his upper chest.

    He was a completely different boy than I had seen in the office an hour earlier. The gesture by the teacher was both calming and loving and the boy looked so sweet there, like the ten year old boy he still is.