Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sutro Elementary

Reviewed by June

The Facts

Location: 235 12th Ave
School hours: 8:40-2:40
Tel: 415-750-8525
Principal: Andrew Poon
Web site:
School tours: Principal guided – call for Apt Tu & Th 9:15
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 22
Total student body: 260

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

A very small school (only one k class) with good API (836) scores, safe school setting, plenty of opportunity for parental involvement and a school with “better 1st round chances”


There is a newly paved yard at back of school with brand new attractive playground equipment. Campus was rebuilt in 1970 to meet earthquake standards and 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. Almost completely retrofitted with ramps for handicap accessibility. The small cafeteria also doubles as multipurpose room and is used for the after school program. New plants growing around campus.

After School programs

Sutro CDC (onsite) has afterschool hours (2:45-6:00pm) and serves both children from Sutro ES and neighborhood schools. There are also buses to afterschool programs at JCCSF, St James and the Golden Gate Christian Reform Church.


Small but active PTA who raise 20-25k a year, most of which goes to the PE Consultant (100% funded by the PTA). They also sponsor other events and activities including picnics, festivals, a holiday craft fair and movie night. Numerous fundraisers throughout the year.

Language program(s): Bi-Lingual Chinese (for ELL)

Library / Computer Lab

Cute welcoming library well stocked with books. Books were recently all electronically tagged for tracking. Through prop H funding the school has a librarian 2 days a week for 2 hours. Attached to the library is a computer lab with new Dell desktop computers. There is no computer consultant, though this may change if the PTA decides to reallocate funds from the PE consultant. Teachers sign up for 1 hour blocks for library and computer time.


Sutro is a Dance and Movement school. They also have a music teacher funded through Prop H. Lower grades have singing, 3rd graders recorder and 4th & 5th graders general music (with choice of instruments).

Tour Impressions

I gave my self plenty of time to find parking prior to the tour (not knowing what to expect that close to Clement) and ended up finding a spot directly behind the school. Since I was early I spent some time sitting in the car watching the parents drop off their children. The first thing I noticed was how cute and clean the campus looked from that side. Sure it was in the typical boxy 70’s style, but the school looked well kept with new blacktop, fairly new paintjob, seemingly brand new fencing and ramps and a very attractive play structure. The children reflected the neighborhood well, a rainbow of colors as I like to call it.

Since I had time, I walked around to the front of the building (I could have gone through the back too), and again I was surprised by the well-kept outward appearance. As I was walking through the gates a class of children were leaving on a field trip to the nearby Academy of Sciences. I was greeted by the friendly office staff and soon was being led on the tour by Andrew Poon the principal. It was a small tour, only a handful of parents, perhaps reflecting he limited popularity of this small school. After describing the new retrofitting (for handicap accessibility) we peeked into the tiny cafeteria, which echoed to me how small the school really is – only 260 students - my high school graduating class was that size! Andrew explained that the majority of students do eat school lunch, with a minority bringing their lunches with them. The kids have a 45 minute lunch time broken into 3 slots, kindergartners, the lower grades and then the upper grades.

Next we went to the kindergarten class. There is one GE kindergarten class with a capacity of 22 (there is also a bi-lingual class for ELL). Andrew said there were 3 siblings expected next year, which means 19 open slots for new students. The kindergarten class was colorfully decorated with student artwork and the children were engaged in station time. The teacher, an aid and two 5th grade students were all helping the children with different projects. They all seemed to be enjoying their work and were barely distracted as we peeked our heads in. I found the classroom warm and welcoming and could see Maddie there.

After that we went upstairs to the library and computer lab. Through prop H funding they have a part time librarian, though no computer consultant. However it sounded like if there were parents who wanted to volunteer in this or other areas they would be more than welcome.

Next stop was the 5th grade classroom, empty since the students were on the field trip. Much like the k classroom it was warm and welcoming with plenty of student work on display.

Finally we returned outside to the yard. I was disappointed to hear that the green garden was removed to make way for the retrofit (ramps) and was unclear if it was being replanted elsewhere. Andrew explained that the playground equipment was recently replaced in favor of the new structure with more area appropriate for the younger children. On the blacktop the PE consultant was busy with a class. The PE consultant is 100% funded by the PTA and it seemed that since it took up a large percentage of their budget there was talk of whether the consultant would be dropped in favor of other programs. Andrew was unsure if they could get $ for a PE program (from the district or state I forget which) since it depends upon the ratio of overweight students at the school.

All in all I was happy with Sutro, and would feel comfortable sending Maddie there, certain she would get a good education. I would have loved to see more extras, but being a small school the funding and the PTA budget was not there. I do like the idea of a smaller school, and how personal it is, yet also wonder if the transition to a large middle school would be especially hard.


  1. First, I want to commend June for writing an informative review.

    Second, I am appalled that the district ties PE funding to the number of overweight children. How typical of our "sick care" (as opposed to "health care") system.

  2. First of all, thanks June for what is indeed a thoughtful review.

    Second, I have never heard of this funding directive re PE, and I've been an active parent in the district for a number of years. Are you sure that's what was said?

    My middle school kid gets PE everyday taught by certified PE teachers--as do all middle school students. My elementary school kid gets PE taught a few days a week by the classroom teacher. Perhaps not as ideal as having a dedicated PE person, but it works fine. They use the school's equipment and do a number of different elements including conditioning (running, jumping jacks) as well as skill-based games. We also have a few organized sports teams at the elementary school, and of course the full complement at the middle level.

  3. The link to Sutro's PTA site actually directs to Jefferson's PTA. The correct link seems to be
    however I noticed when I googled that there seems to be more info on individual teacher blogs than the pta blog. But THEN it kind of weirded me out that I could read about kids by name in the classroom, so I'm not linking to those blogs.

  4. I was on the tour yesterday. Andy told us that the "state mandate" for PE is 200 minutes every two weeks, and that the PTA pays for the PE teacher or else the regular teachers would need to to PE. Not that I was on a different tour than June and heard the same thing as she did.

  5. Edit to my comment above. I was on the tour on Tuesday.

  6. I know this has been said about a billion times on this blog, but I'll repeat again for newbie parents:

    * 4th/5th grade instrumental music is provided to all schools through the district. They get one lesson per week and they participate in the all-elementary district music festival in the spring. There are some instruments to be loaned out to kids who need them, and many of us rent them for our kids; but the lessons are free. It's a great way to jump start the kids on a musical instrument before they move onto daily band or orchestra in middle school.

    * Lower grade music (and other arts) programs are provided out of site funds, PTA, outside grants, or the wonderful Prop H funds.

    Apparently, Sutro uses Prop H money to provide dance and movement as well as singing and recorders in the lower grades, which is great!

    Thanks for the good review, June. I look forward to reading more.

  7. That should be a Prop H funded librarian is there two days a week and I believe a para spends at least an hour a day in the library all week.

  8. There must be a degree of flexibility in how the prop H money gets spent. We use prop H for a PE teacher, once a week for each class, and we have a prop H art teacher, but the pta pays for our k-3 weekly music and maybe the spring dance program as well?

  9. Thanks for the great review June!

  10. having toured 25 or so schools and actually attending THREE sfusd public schools so far, i would say they are more similar than different.
    1. curriculum is the same.
    2. all have good and so-so teachers.
    3. all have the same basic bells and whistles.

    instead of worrying about PE and music etc., i'd focus on:
    1. program (immersion vs GE)
    2. principal and the school vibe he/she creates
    3. location

    the rest is a wash, in my opinion. i wish i'd realized this and saved myself the over-analysis of the minute differences between, say Grattan and Miraloma.

  11. I think the Sutro principal is correct in his comment. I heard on another tour that there are not enough credentialed Elementary P.E. teachers in the District to go around. Priority is given to schools with limited funds and low P.E. scores.

  12. Thanks for this review...possibly the only one for Sutro on this blog. My child is currently in kindergarten at Sutro. It was the only school on my list that I had not toured. I put it down going mostly by good words heard about it here and there and thinking it is a safer bet and is close to home. And then we got it and i toured it. I have mixed feelings about this school and am not sure if I will go for the lottery for first grade to have other options. On the plus side, its fledgling PTA shows promise and there is opportunity to do something for the school. The third grade teachers seems pretty awesome. Other teachers are a bit too strict and no-nonsense for my taste. And that is my major gripe about this school...teachers seem trained in an "old school" style. my child is tough enough to weather this and hopefully still retain humor, imagination and playfulness ( i hope!)... but i would have liked to see more sensitivity in the teachers. so my warning to others is that tours don't let you get a good sense of teachers' personalities. if i stick around, i will find some ways to express my reservations to the principal as it seems few people step up to do that.