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.


  1. Nice review, thanks, Claire.

    Just a note that my public school kid's class did the thing at Fort Ross with the costumes, taking on roles, etc. It's a program run by the state parks that many schools do--though it is a commitment from the teacher as she/he has to attend a "preview overnight" in addition to the field trip itself. Point being, this 4th grade trip is not a distinctive feature of Live Oak--though other aspects of this description may be.

  2. Yes, thanks Claire, that was really helpful, though it is hard to read about all these resources without feeling a pang for the kids who don't get them including, probably, my own.

    I couldn't help but laugh, though, at the complaints about a 40-minute lunch period, when the kids at Buena Vista get 10 minutes and the other publics generally give about 20 minutes. But that's just for lunch, not recess. Do the Live Oak kids mean the lunch/recess period is too short?

  3. Yes - at Live Oak the lunch and recess period is combined. 40 minutes isn't just for eating.

  4. I loved Live Oak school--it seems a quirkier, kinder, and smaller SF Day.

    they really seem to try to understand their students, and teach those students to motivate themselves.

  5. Live Oak sounds a lot like Friends (where my kids go) in terms of the academic approaches at various grade levels, but Friends is a bigger school, which changes the dynamic in my view. I think one really good question to ask other parents as people look at schools is how the school size affects things, in their perception.

    When we were considering schools, we felt like the limitations of having just one class per grade started to be apparent for the 3-5 grade level. Many schools add kids in 5th or 6th grades so for middle school they were more comparable to the larger private schools.

    I didn't even look at Live Oak because the way they presented the parent involvement requirements made them seem too onerous to us as a 2-working parent family. I can't recall exactly why I felt this way, since both my husband and I are plenty involved with the school now, but at the time the way the requirement was spelled out made it seem really unworkable for our situation. Have others felt the same way?

  6. Live Oak and SF Day are becoming more and more alike. The vibe is a little different though. Live Oak is like Patty, while SF Day is like her identical cousin, Cathy (for those old enough to have any idea what I'm talking about!)

  7. 2:13,

    We also felt our 2-working parent family wouldn't fit in with the level of parental involvement required at Live Oak. Our kids ended up at a very different kind of school (Adda Clevenger) which is working out well for us. It is also a tiny school which remains small through 8th grade, graduating 12 to 14 kids per year most recently. Our now middle school-aged kids continue to love it, and independent testing says they're doing well, so we're content.

  8. I loved almost everything about this school but it did have a fatal flaw in my eyes: the lack of their own outdoor space. Even a small space with a little greenery and a play structure would have made a difference. Reserving time at the park across the street only partly makes up for this in my mind.

  9. Volunteering is one of the main ways they create a school/family/community connection. It's also a monkey see, monkey do example for the kids. Even though it may be more onerous to some than others, as a requirement, it helps people mix it up rather than stratifying into self-defined roles.

  10. "I loved almost everything about this school but it did have a fatal flaw in my eyes: the lack of their own outdoor space. Even a small space with a little greenery and a play structure would have made a difference."

    No greenery in SF schools, save Burke's.

  11. The last post's references to "SF schools not having greenery except Burke's" must have been a reference only to PRIVATE SF schools. There are public schools in SF with gardens -- I certainly know that's true at Commodore Sloat with its outdoor gardens and outdoor classroom areas. I'm sure there are others as I have heard about public schools planting vegetable gardens etc.

  12. Many private schools in SF have outdoor play space and gardens. Playfields are few and far between, but they do have play spaces.

  13. People who are likening Live Oak to SF Day - could you elaborate? SF Day has a reputation of not dealing well with kids who have different learning styles whereas Live Oak is considered one of the best for it. And I'm not sure that SF Day's loading on of learning specialists really gets to that issue, as it seems to pathologize issues that are tolerated as lerning style differences in other settings.

  14. Live Oak figured out a long time ago that kids have different learning styles, and there's no way to select for a particular outcome. The obligatory siblings, if nothing else, are there to prove it. Seems like SF Day is finally getting around to the concept. Might the learning specialists be a bridge between the former tutors and an integrated program?

  15. We loved Live Oak, and our daughter was accepted there.

    But we weren't offered any financial aid, so we had to decline.

    Still, I was impressed with the nuturing philosophy there, and the more laid back approach than at many other independents.

  16. My impression of Live Oak was that there was very little diversity there. When we toured, they trotted out two kids of color who were from BV/HP to ask them what they liked about their school. As far as I could see, they were the only African Americans in the entire school. Everyone gave them a round of applause. It was a cringeworthy moment, IMO.

  17. I think it's probably Bay View / Hunter's Point.

  18. The kids said where they live?

  19. Yes. They were introduced as kids from Bayview/Hunter's point. There were about 4-5 students who introduced themselves and said where they lived.

  20. Our family is at Live Oak. We considered Jackson Park, which is across the street, to be priceless when we were considering which school felt right for our child and our family. We imagined our child running around the field across from Live Oak with friends. Now we see it all the time. PE is three times per week for each grade, so whenever I drive by the school during the day before or after volunteering there, I see kids of every age running free around the enormous, green field which is one city block wide and long, playing games which are based in social-emotional learning, exploring team sports of every type. It is an idyllic setting for them, truly. At morning and lunch recess the younger kids clamber all over the climbing structures, and the older kids lounge on the grass or under the trees. At this urban school, the kids are fortunate to have access to this huge green space directly adjacent to the school, and they help to take care of the space by having clean up days where they comb the field and sand for litter.

    As to the volunteer commitment, every family finds a way to do whatever works for them. If both parents are working, they volunteer at weekend or evening events, or help out at one of the myriad community events throughout the year. Some working parents in our class took time off work to attend Fort Ross as a parent volunteer, and they really enjoyed the opportunity to role play an historic person alongside the kids.

    The families in our class represent many kinds of diversity: racial, religious, socio-economic, sexual preference.... Live Oak kids are proud of who they are, and they have no problem sharing their identities. I can assure you that no student feels as though they were "trotted out," as the poster on November 19th at 6:39 pm said. It is treading on dangerous ground when you begin stereotyping a school and its students, as so many comments on this blog have done about Live Oak and many other schools.

    Perhaps this thread should be seen as an opportunity to learn more about the school from people who have experience there, rather than from parents from other schools who are writing comments full of subtle snipes and negative comments in order to make themselves feel good about their own school choice.

  21. Live Oak parent - Why does Live Oak make the volunteering a requirement and make it seem so inflexible and hard to manage? It's kind of a turn-off to the school; are they trying to present this in a way that makes people self-select? Without this requirement you would probably have at least 90% of the families truly "volunteering" their time anyway, and the other 10% are the ones who are probably not really pulling their weight even with the requirement.

    I'd like to learn more about the thinking behind the way Live Oak handles this.

  22. OK,

    Question from a parent who toured Live Oak last year, but did not apply.

    Live Oak's obviously serving a need for Potero/SoMa, which is underserved for both publics, parochials and privates. It's also to be commended for catering to kids with learning or socialization issues that get kicked to curb by other privates (based on the conversations I had with parents with kids at Live Oak during the tour).

    However, when I toured the school last year, I noticed that the work by kids on the walls for at least the K-1 grades was markedly below that I'd noticed at McKinley, which I'd toured a few days before, and some other publics, in terms of fine motor skills shown, in terms of writing and word mastery

    Is this a function of Live Oak catering to kids with learning issues so I was seeing kid's work who were dealing with learning issues, or is it part of the pedagogy generally to deemphasize the 3Rs in favor of socialization/arts/other enrichment in the early grades?

    It put me off Live Oak (and independent privates generally), and I just want to check if I was jumping to conclusions re. how challenged the average-to-good student would be.

  23. There are public and privates with green space. The San Francisco School has large out door yards, Childrens Day on Dolores has some, including sheep and a garden.

  24. Live Oak does not cater to kids with learning issues or socialization issues. Perhaps you are confused about the definition and purpose of differentiated instruction.

  25. We had a choice for SF Day and Live Oak last year. We loved both schools and think they are actually pretty similar in their approach. We chose SF Day for a variety of reasons related to our particular kid but would have been fine at either school. Dr. Jackson at SFDS has identified differentiation as a significant area that needed improvement at SFDS since he took over. There is paper about the schools efforts and plans on the first page of the website for those who are particularly interested.

  26. Really, the volunteer requirement should be a non-issue for anyone who expects to volunteer at a school. Requiring everyone to do it is a way to make sure, in a diverse community, that an uber-helper posse doesn't take over and intimidate those who have something to contribute but don't plan on making a career of it.

  27. Groves - I like that...

  28. 9:48 pm here with a reply to the questions about volunteerism, as well as 9:36 am's questions about what he/she saw on the walls in K and 1 at Live Oak.

    Volunteerism... well, there really is no way that the school could function as it does without the support of the parent volunteers, and this is something that is openly stated by the school to the parent population. We would still have phenomenal teachers and staff, and an amazing curriculum, but the web that surrounds the program and teachers would be missing. There are hundreds of jobs, big and small, to sign up for... you can volunteer to serve hot lunch, to serve on a committee, to help set up before or clean up after an event, to work a weekly shift in the art room or library (which has thousands of books, but because it is a thirty foot high room, it just doesn't look like it), and thousands of volunteer hours go into creating the yearly auction, all of whose proceeds go to the tuition assistance program. Through our participating and being involved, it shows the children that we value their education and our school community.

    The emphasis in K is very experiential, with social-emotional learning and academics woven throughout every aspect of the day. Math and science and reading and writing are explored in everything from play to field trips to small and large group activities. Homework doesn't begin until the second grade, and when it does start, it is thoughtfully constructed. It gets more challenging with every year! The curriculum matrix on the website has a lot of information. You can click on any one of the dots to get a feel for what is happening at every age. The social-emotional component carries all the way through to middle school in a significant way via myriad curricular offerings, including advisories. As a lower school parent at Live Oak, I am continually impressed with how respectful and kind the middle schoolers are to each other, the younger kids, and the many parents they encounter at school. In terms of the question about "average-to-good" students and whether or not their needs are met, I can only say that I have seen students of every type learning well at our school because at the core of the philosophy is that students get to know themselves well as learners, and the teachers to know them well. Okay, I know I said this before, but the teachers at Live Oak are really amazing, and I cannot say enough good things about them. Now here's that matrix I was talking about:

  29. Live Oak is seriously crunchy. I hated it.

  30. 10:00 pm, you sound like you had a really strong reaction to Live Oak. What specifically rubbed you the wrong way? And what are some schools which you have liked so far?

  31. 10:00 I didn't like it either. But it really just didn't fit our family. That being said, I think it would fit very well a more "granola" family or a quirky child. I thought it was very innovative it just wasn't for us.

  32. That is so funny, because we had the reverse negative impression in that we found the school vibe to be a little stuffy. Maybe it was just the touring group, though.

  33. Toured. Not a good fit for our child or family. Funny is the comparisons with SF Day, which we really liked.

  34. Neither my husband or I are "crunchy",nor is our child "quirky... nor do I know people at the school who fit those description. I find those adjectives a little off in describing the school. I actually thought it was a breath of fresh air after visiting other independents where it was much more uptight and filled with a crowd that thought they were superior.

  35. Live Oak's reputation for being crunchy changed when it got a director -- some number of years ago -- from MCDS. Since then it seems to have really upped its game, leaving some of the other private schools in the dust. My impression is that the school is a bit more hip and self-assured than the others, kind of like the "cool kid" that doesn't worry about what others think. (By the way, all kids are quirky.)

  36. What do you mean by "seriously crunchy" and "granola"? Please elaborate.

  37. "Live Oak does not cater to kids with learning issues or socialization issues."

    That's not what two sets of parents, who had kids with learning and socialization issues (and hence got dinged for other privates), told me at their open house last year.

  38. "Homework doesn't begin until the second grade, and when it does start, it is thoughtfully constructed."

    Bloody hell. That is lenient. I'm barely keeping up with my kinder's homework as it is.

  39. Gosh, you have to do your kinder's homework? Gotta hand it to a school that waits until they're old enough to do it themselves.

  40. This comment has been removed by the author.

  41. "Gosh, you have to do your kinder's homework?"

    No, silly, just finding it hard to remember on Thursday evening whether the spawn of my loins has done everything they need to do.

    "Gotta hand it to a school that waits until they're old enough to do it themselves."

    Sure. And hey, you can always hire a tutor if they've fallen behind.

  42. Lovely school! My husband (on a tour) had the opportunity to observe the 8th graders analyzing "Animal Farm," and came away very impressed by the depth and breadth of that discussion... which was facilitated by the students, themselves. (The teacher sat outside the circle taking notes, but not participating.) He found the 8th graders to be quite articulate, with excellent critical thinking skills.

  43. Live Oak is a great school--thats the end of it.

    We ultimately choose SF Day because of issues of location (too far of a drive for us), but this school gives every child a great. individualized education, whether your child has learning issues or not.

    Don't get put off by whether people like it or not--tour the school, ask questions and decide for yourselves. I know several families there that are so happy and feel blessed to be there--and we would have too.

    And they have plenty of diversity there, so thats such a non-issue.

  44. We loved Live Oak. We didn't get in. It was our first choice.

    Our son is at another private now, Town, but if we could transfer him to Live Oak (or Friends or SF School) we'd do it in a heartbeat.

  45. Give it another try, you never know!

  46. Hi All:

    I'm a Live Oak parent of a first grader and have to chime in re. "how challenged and average to good student would be." My child is a very good student and excelling at Live Oak (we had three private school options and chose Live Oak.) The instruction at Live Oak is truly differentiated for students of all abilities and they make learning fun. My daughter is on fire with reading and writing because the school got her excited about academics. As far a "crunchy" -- I can't think of anyone in our class who fits that description. Maybe "interesting," "diverse," or
    "fun" would be more accurate. The fabulous diverse and involved parent community is the school's strength in my opinion. You know the saying, "it takes a village.." Live Oak has a great village which makes me feel secure in my child's future.