Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hot topic: How to rank your 7 schools

This from an SF K Files reader:
I am hearing mixed messages about the importance of the order of the 7 school choices on the SFUSD application and wonder if readers could help clarify. In a few comments on this blog people who seem like they know what they're talking about have stated that the ranking is irrelevant, and yet Rachel Norton posted on her blog that " Of the 947 families who did not receive any of their Round I choices last year, almost 800 listed one of these high demand schools as their first or second choice" which seems to imply that the order does matter. What gives?

Hot topic: Placement of students with program needs

This from an SF K Files reader:
The EPC provides details of the selection process here. In reviewing it, it's handy in that it gives details behind the diversity index selection process. But I can't seem to find any details behind the first step of the selection process, ie. the "placement of ... students with program needs." In particular, I understand that immersion programs fall in this bucket, so this step represents a large portion (20%?) of spots for Kindergartners, including some of the most popular spots.

Does anyone know the details behind this first step in the selection process? Real documentation for this step of the process, or just the guidelines, or even hypotheses as to what they are doing are welcome as far as I'm concerned, given that I'm starting from almost zero. All I've gathered so far is that for immersion programs, they strive for either 50/50 native/english, or 33/33/33 native/english/bilingual. But I haven't seen firm documentation on that, and even if I did, it leaves *a lot* of uncertainty as to the process.

Hot topic: CTY John Hopkins

This from an SF K Files reader:
My elementary school age child, because of scores of above 95% on the grade level standardized test taken, qualifies to take the SCAT for the John Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth talent search. I was wondering if any of your readers had either taken part in CTY when growing up or have a child who is participating now.

I want to stress that I am not interested in anyone's opinion on gifted education, I only want information on this specific program.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

El Dorado's Bakers' Book

The Kindergartners of Room 9 and their First Grade Buddies in Room 104 would like to share the delicious results of their Breaking Bread unit with you. Their bound and illustrated cookbook will be available 5 December for $4.00 a copy (+ $2 shipping and handling if applicable). All proceeds will support their weekly cooking projects.

The El Dorado's Bakers' Book can be purchased at El Dorado in person, by phone (415.331.1537) or by mail (Jennifer Moless/Tali Horowitz, El Dorado ES 70 Delta St. San Francisco CA 94134). Orders are also accepted by email to We can accept cash or checks made out to Jennifer Moless or Tali Horowitz.

Thank you for supporting healthy, hands-on learning in our classrooms!

Hot topic: red shirting

This from an SF K Files reader:
Kindergarten or Pre-K?

I hope this isn't considered off topic here, as we're mostly discussing various schools. We're still debating whether our son should be headed to Kindergarten next year, or Pre-K. For those of you who are on the fence like myself, could you share your thought process? And if you've made this decision in the last few years, how did you arrive at your decision? For what reasons did you think your child might not be ready for Kindergarten?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hot topic: Chocolate milk

There is a lot of momentum building right now on the issue of chocolate milk in schools. The SF School Food Coalition, a new parent advocacy group focused on school food reform, would like to learn more about how the broader SFUSD community feels about the practice of serving chocolate milk at SFUSD school lunch. Please take a moment to visit our website and vote in the poll. It will close in one week so please spread the word throughout your school community!

With thanks,
Lena Brook

Parent, Grattan School
Founder, SF School Food Coalition

Find background on the chocolate milk debate:

SFGate: The chocolate milk debate

AP: Industry pushes chocolate milk in schools

LA Times: Chocolate milk in schools: A necessary evil?

Hot topic: Inclusion and kids with IEPs

This from an SF K Files reader:

I have a son with an IEP, and it has been recommended that he be in Inclusion in the general classroom. I would love to find out if anyone knows which Inclusion schools are best, and which ones may have fewer or more spots opening up next year, and how choosing to go with Inclusion affects chances of getting in. I hope you consider this a valid topic.

Hot topic: If I knew then what I know now...

This from an SF K Files reader:

I just had the most random thought. it might be good to start a thread on your sfkfiles blog under the rubric of "if i knew then what i know now" -- messages directly from parents who went through the school enrollment process fairly recently -- say, the last couple years -- to the parents touring and applying for kinder now. it would be a great chance to share wisdom, offer comfort, debunk some of the myths, get parents more focused on the fact that there is life after kinder, how much kids change after they start K, challenging all your tightly held precepts about what your kid can and can't handle, etc. (starting to think school search is like birth -- the first time you focus so hard on this one event, you forget you have to raise the dang kid afterward.)

San Francisco Community School

Reviewed by Marcia Brady

The Facts

Location: 125 Excelsior Ave. , 1 block east of Mission (Excelsior)

School hours: 9:15-3:30

Tel: 469-4739

Principal: Kristin Bijur, Head Teacher (SFCS has a completely different leadership structure than I've seen, see below).

Web site:

School tours: Fridays, 10 AM

Grades: K-8

Kindergarten size: 3 classes of 20, going up to 22

Total student body: 275

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

Progressive values, mixed-age classes, innovative curriculum, an intimate, small-scale middle school. Not a good choice if your child needs structure or is daunted by older kids.

Class Structure / Curriculum: Mixed classes (K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 7-8), except for grade-specific math. Elementary school students have the same teacher for 2 years. Project-based learning: 2 nine-week science-based projects per year, each incorporating 2 out of 4 total themes (Human Body, Environment/Earth Science, Physical World/Design, and Community). So with each teacher, elementary students have all 4 themes over 2 years. They are repeated, but elaborated and extended for years 4-5 and 6-7 or 8. In 5th and 8th grade, students present portfolios to panels of teachers, family members, community members, and peers in order to "graduate" to the next level.

Campus/Playground: Very large brick building, with lots of light coming into the classrooms. Physical plant is, however, somewhat shabby and stark -- chipped plaster, peeling paint, not nearly enough on the walls to compensate for the large amount of wall space. 1 bungalow houses the library, another seems to be a greenhouse. Large yard divided into areas: an older-looking play structure, a sand and water-play area, and a beautiful garden big enough to walk in.

After School programs: Third Base program, was free but will cost next year, until 5:45

Additional Programs: Outdoor Education including camping trips for all grade levels every year, edible garden, extra classes in gardening, nutrition, and cooking.

PTA: no info. given on tour

Language program(s): None

Library / Computer Lab: Library has 16 Macintosh computers; each classroom has 3-4 computers. No formal computer curriculum. We did not see the inside of the library, but there is a librarian and K-5 kids have library class 1x/week. Kids must keep checked-out books in the classroom until Grade 3.

Arts: No info on tour, in brochure, or on website. Project-based learning incorporates art, though.

PE: No information on tour, in brochure, or on website.

Recess/Lunch: No information on tour, in brochure, or on website.

Tour Impressions:

This tour had only one parent at the helm. We began in a hallway, but went immediately to one of the K-1 classrooms. How do you know you are at an alternative school? Teachers are called by their first names, of course! There, the teacher spoke to the K and 1 kids about the ending sound "-ck" for a bit. Interestingly, I saw none of the dreaded behavior charts at SFCS, but these kids were wiggly and talked so much that the teacher's voice was hardly audible, and 2 kids were on "time out" chairs. One parent said immediately, "I've seen enough," and stomped out. All this left me wondering: are those behavior charts necessary for a quality learning environment after all? Or is a different focus -- SFCS's is conflict resolution and problem-solving -- going to produce less exterior evidence of "model children" while growing more socio-emotionally competent kids on the inside?

The K kids were then sent off to do worksheets, but no adults were there to supervise them, which seemed odd (SFCS has 14 credentialed teachers and 14-20 support staff members, so maybe someone was absent). In the other K-2 classroom, there were 2 adults, and kids were doing quite diverse things: some were in workgroups, others appeared to be on free play time. This second classroom had a dress-up area, a play kitchen, unit blocks, and neatly typed reading labels ("chair," "desk") on all the chairs,desks, etc. Both classrooms were large, but still seemed somewhat drab to me after Sunnyside's colorful ones. Interestingly, the 2-3 classroom we saw was equally wiggly; they were working on writing a collective letter to someone as a way of learning the parts of speech. I liked this approach, but again, was taken aback by the amount of noise and the number of kids who were clearly astrotraveling.

We ended in the cafeteria for a Q and A. The tour guide described SFCS's unique leadership structure: teachers with at least 3-4 years' experience rotate as "Head Teacher," which sounds more like a department chair, in practice, than like a principal. There is also a "Lead Team" consisting of one teacher from every grade, who meet with the Head Teacher and serve as liaisons to the other teachers. Their professional development is also internal; they do what is needed rather than attending the huge SFUSD meetings. Teachers seem to have a very high degree of autonomy here, and to collaborate a great deal. One parent asked about the effect of the mixed classes: the tour guide at first seemed to say they worked best for high-achieving kids who had older kids to work with, but then flip-flopped a bit and said that teacher attention generally went to the struggling students because, in the end, the issue was equity and closing the achievement gap, such that higher-achieving kids probably ended up achieving less than they could. Higher-achieving kids, she also said, did a lot of independent work. Remembering my own dreadfully lonely K-3 years where I was sent off to teach myself things, I wasn't wild about this news. But we did see evidence of some interesting projects, including a survey done by K-1 kids complete with raw data, methodology, and bar charts! I had to leave before the Q and A session was over, but it seemed that the Head Teacher was not going to appear, and I would have liked to hear from her about curriculum.

How does all this add up? I love the idea of the curriculum at this school, and of the possibility for teachers to collaborate and innovate: in this sense, SFCS seems like an independent school for the less well-off. In fact, SFUSD just named SFCS as one of eight "exemplary schools" that will be studied by Stanford researchers doing work on successful schools. The projects, the outdoor education, the emphasis on community "virtues" all appeal to me. And I am well aware that progressive education can look much messier in the process, but that wonderful products (both kids and what they make) emerge from it. But in the actual classroom teaching, I didn't see much going on that was different than the other public schools I've visited. And these kids seemed less attentive and eager to learn, not more. I was also more put off by the physical plant than I've been at any other school. But do facilities matter as much as pedagogy, values, etc.? So now I turn to SFCS parents with some questions:

Do the mixed-age classes work well for your kid, and why?

If you have a kid with learning difficulties, or a kid who is quite a bit above grade level, do you feel your child is achieving up to his/her potential, and how do you define that?

What is your sense of the classroom environment, and what might parents want to look at through different lenses than the usual ones they might put on for tours?

Sunnyside Elementary

Reviewed by Marcia Brady

The Facts

Location: 250 Foerster St. (in Sunnyside, between Glen Park and City College)

School hours: 8:40-2:40

Tel: 469-4746

Principal: Nancy Schlenke

Web site:

School tours: Thurs. (not Weds. as I previously posted -- sorry!!*), 9-10:30 AM

Grades: K-5

Kindergarten size: 3 Ks of 22 each

Total student body: 300

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

A strong focus on science, an intimate feel, an active parent base, a later start time and later aftercare, and a clean, bright building and grounds.

Class Structure / Curriculum: GE program only

Campus/Playground: Beautiful, clean 1926 building with freshly painted yellow interior and large new windows, and big sunny classrooms. Library but no computer lab. 2 bungalow classrooms housing 1st grade and a split 4/5 grade (1 more bungalow likely to come, and they have the yard space). Very large asphalt yard with new-looking play structure cordoned off with a low wall decorated with student-made tiles. New mural, gardening boxes, and benches.

After School programs: YMCA 2:40-6:30 3-5 days/week ($435/mo. for full-time, ExCel 2:40-5:40 PM M-F). After-school enrichment programs 1x/week from 2:40-3:40 in Spanish (Lango method), piano, art, and American Sign Language.

Additional Programs: District-sponsored artist-in-residence program, Adventures in Music, Creative Movement, SF Ballet program. PTA and/or grant-sponrosred Art Appreciation, Art Cart, p/t classroom music teacher, school-wide musical performance, Exploratorium Mission Science SWorkships, Zoomobile, parent workshop, "Safe Rides to School," school greening project.

PTA: From 7-81 in just 2 years; $50K raised last year in grants and funding.

Language program(s): After-school Spanish class available, 1x/week.

Library / Computer Lab: Small, bright, well-organized library with automated check-out (so it's always open) even with a part-time librarian. Computer terminals in classrooms, but no computer lab yet -- a parent technology committee is working on that.

Arts: see "Additional Programs" above; also partnership with Asian Art museum for visits, programming.

PE: part-time instructor + 3 PE interns

Recess/Lunch: AM and lunch recess, 20 mins. each. Play first, then eat. Kindergarteners have their own recess.

Tour Impressions:

First, Sunnyside gets the award for most comprehensive and informative brochure! If you're even remotely interested, snag one of these, for it tells you everything you'd ever want to know, including a kindergartener's daily schedule. I actually visited based on the strength of the brochure and friends' urging, because it's not exactly on my way to anywhere.

We began in the library, which was meticulously organized and featured a book fair by SF's own Barefoot Books, with proceeds benefiting the library. There were 4-5 parents there, all seemingly very informed and able to answer questions well or defer them to the later chat with the principal if they didn't know. Unfortunately, the classroom part of the tour was disappointing, as all the K students were on field trips, and as we merely meandered about the upper-grade hallways, not really entering classrooms for any length of time. However, this did give us substantial time in the empty K classrooms, which are huge, sunny, and architecturally interesting, with built-in shelving and alcoves to separate off some of the play space (note to the district: are those radiators peeling lead paint, or do you test for that?!). The classrooms were beautifully equipped with toys, math manipulatives, and so on, on a par with most private preschool classrooms I've seen -- and the tour guide said that parents had been amazingly responsive to classroom "wish lists." There were lots of pocket charts with not only lessons outlined in them, but also things like goals: for example, one labeled "Focus Wall" for reading detailed the theme, the goals for phomenic awareness and phonics, sight words, reading strategies, composition skills, vocabulary, and listening/speaking skills. It wasn't for the kindergarteners to read, of course, but was enormously informative for a parent like me.

We finished with a meeting with Principal Nancy Schlenke, where we learned why and how Sunnyside is so science-focused. Ms. Schlenke is a former lab researcher from UCSF (she left research and taught at Alvarado for 10 years, was a Teacher-in-Residence at the Exploratorum, and served as an SFUSD science resource teacher before coming to Sunnyside). She's brought in the FOSS program; science-focused field trips; Mission Science Workshops for Grade 1; SFSU science students doing hands-on experiments wiht grade 2; Science Content Specialists from WISE (Working to Improve Science) who observe teachers, then provide feedback and lesson planning help; and teacher science training at the California Science Teachers Convention. She has also hired almost all the staff at Sunnyside within the past 5 years, and was very honest about the pros and cons of a younger staff (the pros: test scores have shot up and the school is now over 800; the cons: they might get cocky and the learning curve is steep). I thought she was very impressive. This was an unusually articulate and informed parent group who asked great questions, and she answered them with aplomb (talking about standards as the "basement" for achievement, not the ceiling, describing the Balance Scorecard System, telling us about her concern that differentiated instruction led to busywork for students not being attended to). She has also brought in lots of help, using City College's "pre-teacher" program and SF State's student teachers to bring in a total of 12 other adults every semester.

Overall: Sunnyside is charming, with an impressive set of parents, lots of enrichment, and a serious intellectual in charge. The commute would be rough for us, and it's not an immersion school, but otherwise it looks great. Apparently once the sad-sack alternative to Miraloma, Sunnyside is now a real catch!

* I usually write these up late at night, so apologies for errors. I try to go back and correct them if commenters point them out, so thank you to the person who caught this one!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

SFGate story: "S.F. public schools are good"

Today, I wrote a rebuttal to an SFGate story by the real estate blogger that said San Francisco's public schools have a bad reputation. While not all of us opt for public school, I think most of us know that public schools are a viable option for many families in this city--and if anything the reputation of public schools in this city has improved over the years.

My SFGate post might seem to be a bit of a puff piece for SFUSD, but I decided to focus on the good aspects of public schools because so many people in our city are still living in the 80s and don't realize that parents are considering public schools. They're still stuck on all the negatives. While we're immersed in education issues in this city and know that most families considering schools these days are looking at public (in addition to other opttions), most people in this city don't have kids and aren't tuned into the school situation.

Also those of you who have been with the blog all along know that I tend to have a positive perspective on things.

Please comment on the SFGate story and not here--it's important for a larger community to be tuned into what's going on and to hear the arguments for and against public schools, as I know some won't agree with everything in my blog post. Thanks! Kate

After nearly 40 years of declining enrollment, the San Francisco Unified School District saw a boost in kindergarten applications the past two years. For the 2008-09 school year, applications were up by 308; for the 2009-10, they were up by an additional (and whopping) 500 from the past year. Believe it or not: Parents are sending kids to public schools in this city.

Hot topic: De Avila Elementary

This from an SF K Files reader:
I am curious to see what the opinions are of the potential mom's and dad's about this school. I am a parent at the school and love it. What gives, no chatter about the newest public school?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Live Oak School

Live Oak School

Reviewed by Claire

The Facts

Web site:

School tours: by appointment – 861-8840x220 or

Location: 1555 Mariposa Street

Grades: K - 8

Total Enrollment: 254

Start time: 8:30

Kindergarten size: One class of 22 kids

Library: Small but bright with lots of art on the walls

Tuition: Grades K-5: $21,150; Grades 6-8: $21,600

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with: Small class sizes, relationships across grade levels, a strong academic foundation with a commitment to supporting different learning styles, teachers who know children across the grades and support them in developing self identity and advocacy, bus service throughout SF, and an involved parent body.

Playground: The have a small play-yard and a small gym with a climbing wall. 1st through 8th graders use Jackson park directly across the street.

After-school program: Extended Care until 6:00pm – contracted rate of $7.00 per hr or drop in at $9.00 per hr. They also offer ”Roots and Branches” a fee based program providing interest-specific classes after school.

Language: Spanish only - French is offered as part of the after school program.

Financial Aid: Tuition Assistance is awarded based on need (calculated through SSS). Families with moderate or high need are encouraged to apply. 25% of families receive aid ranging from 10 to 75%.

General Information:

The Tour:

We started in the Library – the Admissions Director welcomed us and then the Acting Head spoke for about 10 minutes to give an overarching view of Live Oaks philosophy. We were then split into small groups and parent guides took us around. I appreciated getting a context from the Head before going into the classes.

The guide took us to the Art Room – a big space, full of light and, this being just before Halloween, full of kids carving pumpkins. We then we down the exterior stair case and got a quick peek at the play/lunch space and the gym. Both the space and the gym (which has a climbing wall) are tiny. The guide explained that grades 1-8 go across the street to Jackson Park for recess and PE. We were shown the multipurpose-room which is used for meetings, assemblies, performances, etc.

Then we saw the kindergarten room. It was sweet – a little loft play area, a guinea pig, lots of colors and inviting things to do around the room. It looked cheery and organized. The teacher was sporting a giant “NO” on his forehead and the guide explained that today was “N” day – the kids had done a guided writing project making sentences with lots of words beginning with N. Kids were in small groups around the room working on different tasks. There was a parent volunteer at one table, the assistant teacher at another and the teacher was floating between two other groups. The room was busy and happy.

We peeked in at 1st grade during a transition time, the teacher explained that some kids were doing independent exploration. We were shown the individual reading boxes – the teacher helps each child choose 3 books for the box – 1 that is easy, 1 that is just right and 1 that will be a challenge to read independently.

We looked in on an empty 2nd grade class and the guide mentioned that homework starts in this grade. The room was equipped with a smart board.

We moved on to the middle floor and found looked at the 5th grade room. The 5th graders are the “leaders of the lower school” and have the privilege of the first overnight trip w/out parents (to the Marin Headlands.) Their room had a more academic feel – lots of writing, not as much art.

There are 2 learning specialists, they are divided between upper and lower school. Upper school utilizes the specialists less for individual attending and more as a way of assisting the teacher by taking small groups.

4th grade takes the first overnight trip to Ft. Ross. They participate in a historical recreation, going so far as to make costumes and being assigned roles.

3rd grader curriculum focuses on the theme of personal responsibility – the kids had done a graph of their personal strengths and weaknesses and were then encouraged to look at their classmates graph to identify peers who could help them improve or needed a hand.

We visited the music room and heard the 2nd graders singing. The lower school has music 2 times per week and they focus on vocals and percussion instruments. The Upper school has music 1 time per week and they focus on vocals and studying various genres.

We saw a middle school Science class and a middle school math class. The math class was working independently checking their answers – they teacher was asking them to look over their work and identify their “Ah ha” moment. On the wall were photos documenting an 8th grade project measuring the slope of the sidewalk outside the school.

We visited a 7th grade humanities class – the kids were listening attentively as a boy gave his opinion about the book they were all reading. I was interested in the sign on the wall which read “What does learning look like?” and radiated out with: Independent Reading; Writing; Group Projects; Journal; Class Discussion; Blog: Presentation; Drama. The guide explained that many upper school classes have a blog where students who might feel shy about speaking up in class can have a forum.

We visited a Spanish Class – Spanish is the only language offered during the school day. 4th graders take it 2x per week, 5th graders, 3x per wk and in middle school (6 to 8) kids take it 3 or 4 days depending on which section they are enrolled in. Spanish is the only class that is divided into separate classes for the advanced level.

The docent told us that the 8th graders take a trip to Washington DC and raise funds by selling pizza on Mondays. The school offers a hot lunch on Wednesday and there is an optional (and extra cost) bag lunch program available.

We returned to the Library and three 8th grade students came to answer questions. They were composed and very open when answering questions. I couldn’t help but consider my son standing up there in 9 years and it was pretty adorable.

The kids talked about what they liked best (the small classes and the interaction between kids and teachers) and what the didn’t (short lunch period -- it’s 40 minutes, with a 5 minute passing period on either side and the lack of French as a language option.)

Claire’s Impressions:

This was one of the best tours I’ve been on. The Head and guides did an excellent job describing what is important to the school philosophically. I especially liked what the head had to say about Live Oak’s emphasis on knowing the children well and intentionally giving them a safe environment in which to take risks and grow.

The children are grouped into K to 8 mixed age groups called “Groves” and they meet monthly to build social emotional relationships around various activities and community service efforts. Many of the rooms had posters about class expectations and behaviors that the students themselves wrote or contributed to. This felt like a school where the children really were encouraged to participate and feel ownership.

Hot topic: Clarendon

This from an SF K Files reader:
I don't see a review of Clarendon here, though lots of people mention it as great. I also can't find their website (they really don't have one??). So, I'm wondering: has anyone actually toured Clarendon? What are you impressions as a prospective school parent? Thanks!

Hot topic: Sheridan

This from an SF K Files reader:

I am wondering if anyone has children at Sheridan or has toured or has any information to offer at all...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Alvarado Elementary, Take 2

Reviewed by Marcia Brady.

You can find a lot of the vital stats about Alvarado on Kate's review of 2 years ago at, or click on the link to the right of the posts.

So I will plunge into the meaty part:

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

A time-tested immersion program, enrichment galore, a creative environment, progressive values, location in a quiet, safe neighborhood. It might not be ideal for a very shy child or one easily overwhelmed, as it's a large place with 480 students.

Class Structure / Curriculum: 2 classes each of GE and Spanish immersion; each class is 20 for a total of 40 slots. By 4th and 5th, there are only 3 classes, 1 mixed (since you can "check out" of an immersion program by moving away, but you can't "check in" midstream, there is some attrition), with a ratio of 1:27 for the main classroom. Because kids are pulled out for 8-week sessions of enrichment, they have exposure to several different teachers, which is good prep for middle school as well as a nice way for a child to have role models besides his/her classroom teacher. The GE and Spanish Immersion kids are mingled for these pull-outs, too.

Odds of Getting In: Beyond low, unless you are a native Spanish speaker or bilingual.

Campus/Playground: Big, old-style building (maybe 1910s or 20s?), well-worn, with wide halls, high ceilings, and lots of light in the classrooms. The halls are filled with kids' art as well as commissioned art: papier-mache bees hung from one hallway ceiling; another stairway has two-story stained-glass windows; yet another has a giant, beautiful mobile. Dedicated art room, music/science room, motor skills room, computer lab, library, cafeteria/auditorium. Upper and lower asphalt yards. Upper yard has huge new play structure complete with rock-climbing wall; lower yard has freshly painted game markers on the asphalt. Murals and gardening boxes abound. Parking situation is wretched, but after K you can drop off (you have to walk in to pick up).

After School programs: GLO (Growth and Learning Opportunities, more requests than slots), and Excel (by invitation only). Low-cost after-school clubs (chess, clay club, theater, yoga, etc.). Motor skills classes for K, 1, and 2.

Additional Programs: 8 week enrichment "pull-outs" for special project in art, hands-on science, music, dance, etc.

PTA: Apparently hugely involved -- raised $250K including grants last year.

Language program(s): Dual immersion Spanish

Library / Computer Lab: Library is smallish, but nicely equipped, with a part time librarian; library class is 1x/week. Computer lab has 30 Dell terminals and kids go 1x/ week.

Arts: The art room is fantastic, filled with professional-level equipment including 2 kilns. Art is 1x week for 8 weeks officially, for special projects. But the school is filled with evidence of art as an everyday pedagogical practice in the classrooms.

PE: 2x week. After school club sports available, including basketball for the little ones.

Recess/Lunch: 2 recess periods/day. Lunch for who knows how long?

Tour Impressions:

The tour seemed already well underway by the time I arrived at 8:15. Apparently it had started at 8:00 even though the website says 8:15. Oh, well. We began in the playground, then proceeded to a motor skills room equipped with mats, stepping-stones, and other gross-motor equipment for the K-2 kids' special classes. We proceeded to a 2nd-grade GE classroom, where kids were working on money exchanges with little dry-erase boards. Interestingly, this classroom had a chart listing all the neighborhoods they represented. 2 kids were from Daly City and 1 was from San Pablo. I'm sure it's all very legitimate, but my heart did sink when I thought about how few SF kids get into Alvarado.

Onward to a bright, sunny SI Kindergarten classroom, where both SI classes were working together. The kids were doing small-group work and wow-- there was an adult (a student teacher, parent, or paraprofessional) at every table, for a total of 6 adults for the 40 kids present. We got to spend more time in the empty SI Kindergarten classroom, which was large and well equipped with easels, a reading area, a block play area, and art everywhere, including flags of the world created by the kids. I was pleased to see posterboard "vote charts" where kids could vote for which storybook they wanted to hear again (and later, to hear that the principal had recently promised to drink a bottle of Tabasco sauce if 50% of each classroom read a particular number of books for the annual Read-A-Thon -- and then drank it!).

We also peeked into a 5th grade SI class, where kids were doing geography with a combination of textbooks, colored pencil drawings, and inscrutable toothpick structures (topography models, I think). The teacher asked them to tell us what they were doing in Spanish, which several did. We also saw the bright, sunny science/music room and I was happy to see a large diagram/explanation of the scientific method on the wall, because I have it on good authority that UC kids don't know what the scientific method is, let alone how to follow it.

You know my thing is behavior management, right? So Alvarado gives awards *by classroom* for homework completed, clean-up, etc. This emphasis on the collective effort charmed me. Alvarado is also a good fit for us, in that social justice issues are woven into the curriculum (for women's history month last year, every class performed a rock song written by a woman, from Janis Joplin to Diana Ross). I saw just a bit of Principal Broecker, but he is young, hip, and very straightforward.

Overall? There's nothing not to love about Alvarado except, for us, the commute and the low odds: it's artsy and progressive, academically solid, and filled with opportunities for kids to learn beyond the 3 Rs. Without having had Spanish in the home and/or an immersion preschool, though, the odds are very low for getting in. Silly me for not being able to afford that Spanish-speaking nanny so we could get an immersion preschool so.... blah blah blah. But you see what I mean. It was also interesting to see a trophy school in action, and the very real difference in enrichment opportunities and facilities that such a school can offer. Yet as I understand it, Alvarado was once in the untouchable caste of schools, for middle-class parents: a friend of mine got her kids in when it was about where Daniel Webster is now, i.e., under the care of a first generation of "take back the schools" parents. Which leads me to a burning question. The commute aside, is it better to shoot the moon for a trophy school at #1, with other more attainable choices below? Or if a more attainable but still oversubscribed school like Flynn or McKinley isn't your #1, are you doomed not to get those either? I am a bear of little brain when it comes to the lottery. And then there's the question of whether it's better to meet up with a school at the beginning of its ascent, or to get onto an already-built bandwagon (to mix a metaphor).

SFUSD Student Assisgnment System redesign town hall meetings

The San Francisco Board of Education is changing the way students are assigned to schools for 2011. Learn about the options under consideration and share your questions and ideas.

You can attend one of the meetings below or take the survey at the bottom of this post.

November 18 (Wednesday), 6pm to 8pm
Mission High School, 3750 18th Street (Castro/Mission)

December 2 (Wednesday), 6pm to 8pm
Washington High School, 600-32nd Avenue (Outer Richmond)

December 15 (Tuesday), 6pm to 8pm
Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, 2550 25th Avenue (Parkside)

January 7 (Thursday), 6pm to 8pm
Drew Elementary School, 350 Girard Street (Bayview)

January 14 (Thursday), 6pm to 8pm
Francisco Middle School, 2190 Powell Street (North Beach)

Can't make it to a meeting?
Complete an online survey:

Hot topic: SFUSD Immersion

Tonight PPS-SF hosted an event for parents interested in SFUSD's language immersion programs. Did anyone attend? What did you think? Do incoming kindergarten parents have any questions about immersion?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

San Francisco School

Reviewed by Kortney

Please note that my daughter attends The San Francisco School (SFS).
We made the difficult decision to abandon our public school
aspirations after our second disappointing year with the SFUSD
lottery, and managed, somehow, to get accepted into SFS for 1st
grade. I thought I’d share my impressions of our new school with the
SFK_Files community.

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:
Community. Resources. Beauty. Warmth. Diversity. SFS is all that
-- mac laptops for middle school students, digital white boards,
organic home-cooked hot lunches, and impressive academics—all in a
friendly, down to earth culture. It’s the best of both worlds. An
apt mission: “Cultivating and celebrating the intellectual,
imaginative and humanitarian promise of each student in a community
that practices mutual respect, embraces diversity, and inspires a
passion for learning.”

Consider SFS if you want a welcoming, spacious green, outdoor garden
and playground with a ‘summer camp’ feel, progressive values, a strong
academic program, a truly diverse student body and staff, and a world
class music program (Orff-Schulwerk method) that is fully integrated
into the academic program. Consider SFS if you want an incredibly
vibrant educational community that has a wealth of enrichment classes,
and strives to model what they hope for their students, as adults.
Consider SFS if you want a school that is preschool through 8th grade.

The Philosophy
SFS focuses on teaching its students how to learn, rather than simply
what to learn. The goal is to nurture a love of learning. In
addition, SFS dedicates fulltime staff and a room to its art program.
The art room is full of impressive supplies, but is also neatly
organized. The walls are decorated with vibrant masterpieces, but it
doesn’t stop there. All the school’s classrooms, hallways, library
and office display the children’s artwork. Creativity is nurtured

From preschool on, there is an emphasis on learning through hands-on
projects (even in middle school geometry, students were using
manipulative); curriculum focused on thematic units/project-based
learning (for example kindergartners study apples for several weeks,
making apple pies, singing apple songs, reading apple stories); A
preschool program that is Montessori based goes through Kindergarten.

The elementary program (not Montessori) begins in 1st grade, and goes
through 5th grade. Middle School (6th-8th grades) split again into
two classes of 16 students. New, incoming students enrich the middle
school social life.

The Facts
Web site:
School tours: sign up online for a space. Elementary tours are
Mondays 9am, with preschool tours on Tuesday & Wednesday mornings.
Location: 300 Gaven Street near San Bruno Ave in the Portola neighborhood.
Grades: Preschool–8
Start time: Elementary 8:30 a.m. – 3pm. Middle School 8:15am, and
Preschool 9am.
Kindergarten size: Kindergarten is part of the Preschool. Each of the
two pre-school/K classes has 37 students with 4 teachers, their own
play yard (that’s two separate yards), and access to outdoor space
most of the day. The kids get to move and play, focus on projects, and
be kids! They also move out of kindergarten reading in most cases.
The two kinder classes join to become one 1st grade class, with 20-22
students, and 2 full-time teachers.
Total student body: 272
Tuition: $19,950
Financial aid: 35% of families receive some aid
Playground: two sizable, nicely landscaped play yards for preschool &
kindergarteners. One play yard for elementary and middle school kids,
along side a paved basketball court, picnic tables, and bunny hut.
There is a large “adventure playground” below, that can be accessed by
stairs or long slide. It offers space to explore, build forts, and
play. It is beautifully done, with a gazebo, organic garden, and duck
house. Golf and other extra curricular activities are practiced in
this space.
Before- and after-school program: 7:30am – 6pm. You buy “1.5 hour
blocks” of time for a little more than $10. Free playtime on the
yard, with plenty of supervision. You can also purchase affordable
classes (edible art, break-dancing, fencing, academic chess, golf,
violin, etc.)
Language: Spanish begins in preschool and continues through elementary
school. In middle school there are 3 classes, beginning, intermediate
and advanced. Students are placed depending on their Spanish level,
not by age, so classes are mixed.
Highlights: students have music and P.E. twice a week; art, music, and
drama is regularly integrated into the curriculum; large campus:
building - 22,560 sq. ft.
land - 1.3 Acres; incredible library; lots of field trips, including
overnight camping and a trip to Mexico for middle schoolers; an
organic kitchen provides daily snack with healthy home-cooked hot
lunches for preschool and elementary schools. The San Francisco School
is the most racially diverse independent school in the Bay Area.

Enrichment classes range from sports teams, to instrument classes
beginning in 1st grade, theatre and dance, hapkido, chess, cooking,
etc. SFS really shines here. New classes are offered all the time,
depending on interest. I love the after school program!

There is a school counselor on staff to offer families support. Also,
learning specialists work with teachers inside of the classroom to
support kids, without making a student “stand out.” The learning
specialists have their own resource room near the lovely library.

Kortney’s impressions
My first impression of SFS’ physical space was that it reminded me of
summer camp. The natural wood structures, the ever present green
(trees, gardens), and a sign post (hand painted by kids) that told me
which way to the office, or adventure playground, gave me an immediate
warm feeling.

We were greeted by friendly, down to earth staff who were open to
answering all our questions (on the tour.) Truly this school strives
for transparency. Perhaps because we applied after the admissions
deadline, we were able to track our chances of getting in here. Other
private schools shut us out after admissions. The SFS' honesty and
transparency was a relief!

SFS has the best of both worlds for our family. It has progressive
values, a diverse student body and staff (families of color, single
parent families, gay/lesbian parent families, economically diverse
families, etc.) right along side a strong academic program. In other
words, these kids get a high class education, without the stuffiness
of some private schools. Plus, The San Francisco School is the most
racially diverse independent school in the Bay Area, an impressive

Culture, community, and diversity are important words at SFS.
Environmentalism (compost bins are part of the recycling and trash
systems); being a good citizen (neighborhood volunteerism is
encouraged, and a walking bus gets families out of their cars on
Thursday mornings); encouraging independence, while advocating for
fellow students; and developing a strong sense of self are important
values. The graduating students get into the best High Schools, and
are often seen as very creative, grounded and organized learners.

Children learn through hands-on projects. In the classroom, I observed
fully engaged kids working collaboratively. The first grade room
splits the class in ½--one group getting the full attention of both
teachers for reading or math (for example) while the other group
attends a specialized Spanish, music, art or PE class. The
individualized attention is impressive. The classroom reads and
writes poetry, has student of the week, and conducts food experiments
in the classroom kitchen.

On the yard I observed children playing, swinging, and organizing
games with various balls and hoops. Amidst the typical joyful chaos
was true cooperation. I have yet to see a discipline issue.

As mentioned earlier, the music program is world class, bringing
visitors from around the globe to both observe and contribute. The
students perform concerts throughout the year and sometimes they play
at venues off campus.

If you’re interested in The San Francisco School, this is what they
are looking for:

They're looking for parents who want to get involved, become a part of
the close knit community, and give time to the school. SFS is looking
for families who fit with the philosophy of the school. They
encourage you to tour, and register your first impressions.

I will leave you with a quote from the SFS website:

The San Francisco School is committed to ethnic and cultural
diversity, with 55% students of color and an inclusive ethos. Family
economic diversity, also an important goal, is achieved through a
moderate tuition, the school’s location in a modest neighborhood, and
a strong indexed tuition program which supports 35% of students on
reduced tuition. Through all of this, the entire SFS community is
committed to creating a school where students and families can live
and learn with confidence and joy.