Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marin Preparatory School OPEN HOUSE

Saturday, January 9, 2010 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Please join us and bring your children to meet our teachers, tour the school and ask questions about our program. Applications for Jr Kindergarten, Kindergarten and 1st grade for the 2010-2011 academic year are being accepted through Saturday, Jan 9. Please RSVP at 415-865-0899. We are located at 117 Diamond Street/at 18th in San Francisco.

Why I love Clarendon

I love Clarendon (JBBP) because when I drop my daughter off in the morning I leave with 100% confidence that she is getting an excellent education.

She is in kindergarten and my expectations have either been met and more often exceeded pretty much since day 1.

I love that the school is a well oiled machine that knows how to fund-raise and provide so much more than what the state budget allows for. I love that there is a full-time librarian, art teacher and gym teacher.

I love that my daughter and our family is being exposed to Japanese culture and language and as a kindergartner already talks about the day our family will visit Japan.

I adore her teacher who is smart, confident, experienced and committed. I love that she provides regular opportunities for parents to be involved in the classroom. I love the active parent community.

I love that while I am financially unable to give anything to the annual fund that I am given plenty of opportunities to give with my time instead. I love that there are parents who give a lot (time &/or $) and parents who give nothing and that nobody seems to care or talk about that.

I love that in our kindergarten class we have a diverse group of families who all go out of their way to talk with each other and get to know each other (even with language barriers).

In my opinion, the staff is very approachable, the school has such a positive vibe and nothing is taken for granted.

I just asked my 5-year-old if she loves Clarendon ("yes!") and then asked her why she loves Clarendon. Her response: "Because everyone is so kind in it....that's it"

—Mother to a JPPB Kindergartene

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

¿Por qué amo a mi escuela (Monroe)

(I thought I'd let my first-grader at Monroe write her own.)

Me gusta mi escuela por 3 razones. Primero: tiene mucho proyectos divertidos. Después: me gusta mi maestra. Por ultimo: me gusta todos mi amigas. Ahora se que Monroe es un escuela buenissimo.

(For my part, I love the school community - the principal, the teachers, the support staff and the parents. I love the other kids. I love the library and the organic garden. But I mostly love that my bright, funny daughter loves her school.)


Saturday, December 26, 2009

June's Story - Our List

I have to apologize for my disappearance. Due to some personal family issues, writing up school tours became a low priority for me. I am very sorry if anyone was looking forward to my promised write ups. In the end Mathias and I toured way less schools than we had planed to, and found that we were very pleased with the vast majority of what we saw.

I already posted my list anonymously in the "Round One Lists", but after a few readers had asked what I and the other bloggers had listed, I decided to come back here to apologize and let you know what we decided and perhaps a few insights into why.

I turned our list in before Thanksgiving, and while we did debate our number one and two slot (this was a very close call), Mathias and I found it a pretty easy list to make in the end. It was as follows:

1 Peabody
2 Lafayette
3 Grattan
4 Jefferson
5 Sunset
6 Argonne
7 Claire Lilienthal

We did not have any real strategy for this list. We put them in the order we liked them, using Claire Lilienthal as a filler in number 7. Peabody won out in the end over Lafayette for number one mainly because of the later start time, and a little because of its more progressive feel. Everything else was just pure feeling, and some logistics. Since we have no attendance area school (we fall in the old Cabrillo area) our number one school will become our attendance area school as I understand from Parents for Public Schools.

I am feeling semi confident with our choices and hope to get a school in round one for Maddie. We do not have any backups as we do not want Private or Parochial and we did not find that Creative Arts Charter was a good fit for Maddie or our family. This means that if we do not get something in round one, or in the wait-list shortly there after we may be forced to look into leaving SF. I know many people say that it will all work out if we can wait, but I also know I do not have the stomach for that stress.

I will keep you posted in March when we get our letter. I hope many of us will be celebrating good news then.

A brief note from Marcia

Hi everyone! I posted my "virtual list" in the comments thread for "SFUSD Round 1 Lists" (the list is virtual because we are going to K in 2011 after the system changes, so feel free to borrow it). My list has some explanatory notes. There's also an explanation of why a few schools never got a visit from me this year, despite my intentions.

I am really hoping the other reviewers, June, Claire, and Debbie, will post ranked lists, even if they mix in privates or just went for private schools. Every little bit of information helps someone out there. In the meantime, this is a goodbye for now: thanks for all the comments, encouragement, corrections, and critiques. And good luck to all!

Marcia (and Jan and Cindy)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why I love Fairmount

First and foremost, it is a place where my child is getting an excellent education, AND is learning a second language. I am amazed at the level of instruction she has received. The teachers are smart, loving, devoted, and motivated. My kid is a science and spelling nut and she has gotten her fill of these. She may know Animals and their genus in Spanish, but she knows them. Yes, I never really thought about what makes a mammal a mammal, but you will get an earful of these and many other wonderful facts if your child gets lucky enough to enroll at Fairmount.

Secondly, the school has an amazing shadow support team. I was approached by teachers and the school social worker to enroll my daughter in several programs that I didn't even know existed and that have assisted her greatly in her parallel social development. These include SST (Student Support Team), a social skills class, and a play group. I have had more meetings (SST, formal and informal parent-teacher conferences, parent-principal conferences, parent-aftercare teacher conferences) than I care to mention. That being said, this school is ON IT. I am so very grateful that they have guided both my daughter and this reluctant parent into advancing her behavioral/social/emotional needs along with her educational needs. Kudos to Fairmount.

Thirdly, I love the community. We came from a formal, Catholic school pre-school that was wonderful, but that focused entirely on the kids and left us parents out. After three years of Fairmount, I am amazed that our circle of friends has expanded dramatically, and that our lives are richer because of it. We have completely connected to these families. Just two days ago, I needed someone to watch both my kids for 3 hours who are at home on Winter Break. I shot out a handful of e-mails and got THREE offers to take them. We love both the on-site events like Baile and FiestaVal, as well as the off-site events, like an annual camping trip over Memorial Day. I think this year, families have booked more than 30 campsites for that weekend. If you are looking for a community school, you have found it at Fairmount. I feel lucky to be a part of it. I had NO IDEA that my social life would become organized around an Elementary School. But, so be it. We are having a blast.

Lastly, I love the potential of Fairmount. Fairmount has not yet "arrived" on the public school scene. There is a lot of work to be done, and I see that as an opportunity to shape my Children's education and to be involved in the community. All hands are invited to participate, and no ideas will be turned away. The new Principal has a vision for Fairmount and is creating a roadmap to get there. She is very aware of the cultural and economic diversity and is working closely with the teachers, the PTA, ELAC, the School Site Counsel (SSC) to integrate the Spanish Immersion model with the children's education needs, state mandated educational standards, and Fairmount's on the ground resources. We need and welcome motivated families.

Lauretta Komlos, mother to 2nd grader and incoming kinder

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why I love McKinley

I love McKinley Elementary because it is a great community! It's on the small side for the public elementary schools and while far from perfect, there is a wonderful combination of teachers, parents, school staff, and community members that support EVERY child.

Parents are involved in the school through class projects, tutoring, and other volunteer
opportunities. The teachers are experienced, patient, and compassionate and, most importantly, love their work. My sons see a broad section of cultures, economic income levels, and learning levels, and learn everyday about the value of each person, without a specific
lesson on the subject. It's one of the few schools that represents the mixture of the City population.

My sons are challenged to learn new things and I am pleased and amazed to see their growth. They learn the subjects and they learn respect for others and common values. McKinley
has enrichment in arts, music, environmental science, and Spanish. We have a cozy school environment thanks to 1970's era design with the library as a central focus. McKinley has a great enrichment based After School program that provides great care and learning opportunities for every child, regardless of income level. Most importantly, my kids love
their school too. McKinley rocks!

Patricia McFadden
Mom of boys in 2nd grade and K

Why I love Grattan

I love Grattan because it’s convenient. It’s a 10-minute bus ride from the Inner Sunset and then I can take the N-Judah to work. I love the Montessori preschool that picks him up after school and gives him little things on trays to play with. I love the morning assembly — if I blow the 7:50 a.m. start time, I can sneak my son into the kindergarten classroom afterwards.

I don’t know the other parents very well, but they seem nice. I hope to talk to them more someday. I plan to donate money to the school as soon as I can pay my bills without freaking out and donate time as soon as I manage six hours of sleep on a regular basis. But I try. I’ve brought Purrell for field trips and socks for snowman dolls and if anyone needs some used 11x17 office paper, I’m there.

Grattan has opened up a whole world of letters and numbers for my son. He wants a desk for Christmas, that’s how much he loves the schoolwork. Every day I notice new skills. I know little about his school day — it baffles me how other parents talk about how “engaged” their children are in the classroom. How do they know? I ask my son, but he just says “nothing” or “I couldn’t open my milk at lunch.” One time he really shared and said “We talked about algae.” I was very excited.

He does talk about the “Caught in the Act” program, where the principal calls children’s names during assembly and talks about good things they’ve done. I really love Mrs. Robertson. I’ve never spoken to her, but if I were one of the students, I would try to follow her around all day. She has that kind of aura.

When we learned of our son’s assignment to Grattan, I cried. That assignment meant we didn’t have to move, buy a car or pay tuition. It meant the family could be together at dinnertime (no long commute or second job). Grattan makes me feel secure. These are not secure times — heaven knows I feel like I live on a cliff in Pacifica these days — but Grattan has this family’s back. And they teach my son about algae.
Christine Kilpatrick

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Can't make up your mind? Have questions about a school?

Are you undecided about which school to list first? Still wondering about the culture at a certain school? As you develop your Round I lists feel free to pose questions in the comments and other parents can try to answer your questions

Spam control

I apologize for the abundance of spam that has recently hit this blog. If you look up any of the old posts, you'll find a myriad ads for Viagra and Propecia. I'm trying to delete them all--but it takes hours! I have introduced "word verification" to help with the problem. I hate word verification when I come upon it on other sites so I apologize, but now I understand its importance. Thanks! SF K Files

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why I love my school: comments

Thank you to everyone who is submitting "Why I love my school" essays. We're still accepting essays and you can send them to Again, we're looking for 375 words on why you lover your school.

Some readers have mentioned that they'd prefer to not allow comments on essays. When you submit your story, just let me know whether or not you want the comments function enabled or disabled.

Why I Love The Laurel School

Not every child needs what The Laurel School offers, but it's a welcome treasure for the students who do need something extra (and for their parents).

Here's the school's official, accurately-descriptive blurb: "The Laurel School serves students with learning differences and students who benefit from a small class size. In a community that nurtures mutual respect and compassion, we cultivate the academic potential of each child through multimodal, differentiated instruction. By teaching learning strategies, self advocacy skills, and social competence, The Laurel School prepares students for the next level of education."

And here's our story: Our son attended Kindergarten at a progressive San Francisco private school that we hoped would meet his educational needs. He has a vision impairment that we knew would require some accommodation. During the school year, we also learned that his difficulty in focusing and staying on task was a type of ADHD. Though the school meant well and welcomed a variety of supports that we put in place, it just really wasn’t set up to meet his needs.

We had applied to the Laurel School the year before and, throughout that Kindergarten year, had many of what we called “maybe Laurel?” moments – maybe we should have chosen the Laurel School, maybe we should apply again for next year, maybe we should call and see if they have a spot available right now. Hindsight is easy, and there was some reason to believe the relatively small, progressive private school would work for him. But he wasn’t participating much with the class, he was standing out as somehow different, and we could see that it was beginning to affect how he saw himself as a student and among his peers. It became clear that he needed a school with more built-in supports and with experience teaching children who, for whatever reason, need something extra.

Our son switched to Laurel School for 1st grade and we’re confident that he’s in the right school for him. Everything about the school has made a difference, including the much smaller class size. Our son is now participating academically and is feeling like a succesful student. More intangibly, we think he feels a greater sense of belonging at this school. The unexpected bonus of the school year is that we, as parents, feel less anxiety and feel our own sense of belonging – not only are we at ease dropping him off every morning (as opposed to last year’s daily anxiety and fear of what the day might bring), but we know that our fellow Laurel School parents have been on some similar journey with their children and that the teachers understand.

The best advice we heard last year, in thinking about whether to change schools, was this: it’s not really about what we want for our son, it’s about what he needs. He started in a perfectly fine school that we liked very much, but it didn’t meet his needs. Some kinds of school work may always be challenging for our son, but now we can feel sure that the Laurel School is actually teaching him.

SFGate: Redshirting: When should children start kindergarten?

A recent SFGate blog post on redshirting:

In California a 4-year-old can enter kindergarten at the end of the summer as long as he is turning 5 years old by December 2. But many parents, especially the well-educated middle- and upper-class, opt to hold their children back a year, so their child starts school when he is 5 or 6. Parents particularly opt to do this if their kid was born in August, September, October, or November.
Read the full post by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Join the San Francisco Advocates for Multilingual Excellence Yahoo Group

This from an SF K Files reader:
Not to steal visitors from the blog, but parents considering immersion might be interesting in joining the Yahoo group for the San Francisco Advocates for Multilingual Excellence, which is the public school immersion group. It has a discussion going on right now about "What I wish I'd known before I started immersion."
Subscribe at:

Why I love Adda Clevenger

We San Franciscans might just have the most stressful school admission process in the United States, but we are rewarded with some truly unique and outstanding public and independent schools.

The Adda Clevenger Junior Preparatory and Theater School in Noe Valley, certainly falls into the unique category. The word parents at the school use most often to describe it is “magical,” and so it is, for an energetic, outgoing child who thrives on variety.

Like many San Francisco schools, Adda Clevenger offers solid academics, a small-school environment, committed teachers, and a friendly, diverse community of families. Of course we love those things, but let’s focus on what sets Adda Clevenger apart.

That would be the musical theater program, which is just as much part of the core curriculum as reading and math. From kindergarten on, Adda Clevenger students receive extensive daily training from respected professionals in singing, dance and acting. Each year, every child performs in two major musicals, a dance show, and a graduation concert. We continue to be astounded by the professional polish of the shows and the technical progress of the children, most of whom arrive at the school without any visibly remarkable talent. After nine years, an Adda Clevenger student will know vocal music, acting, ballet, tap and every social dance you can name. No other K through 8 school in San Francisco, public or private, offers such an in-depth theater arts program.

This would be of questionable value if Adda Clevenger let academics fall by the wayside, but most graduates are admitted to top public and independent Bay Area high schools. Also unique is the practice of having subject teachers at all grades, even kindergarten. Teachers teach subjects they love. No child spends a whole year in a classroom with a single teacher with whom he has a less-than-ideal relationship.

Students also enjoy possibly the best school fitness program in San Francisco, with PE and gymnastics 45 minutes daily.

Adda Clevenger is all the more remarkable for accomplishing what it does on an open-enrollment basis. There are no auditions, academic evaluations, or lotteries. If there is space and the family can pay, any child who can keep up with the curriculum may attend. Most children will excel. It is magical.
—Susie Allison

Why I love Fairmount

I think I'll let my daughter tell you herself before I chime in. she says, "I love...
  • that there's spanish
  • that Ms. Laura's my teacher and she's really nice
  • I have lots of friends
  • the first graders get to play in the second grade yard sometimes at lunch
  • I like everything about it."
Now, for the grown-up perspective. Why do I love Fairmount? because...
  • My kid is happy there. As a first-grade transfer leaving a school she was happy at, that meant a lot to us.
  • There are so many caring, hardworking and talented educators and administrators there; they are everywhere! I've never seen a school staffed with so many professionals. It just seems overflowing with staff all the time.
  • It seems to attract families who are smart and motivated and fun.
  • The people there have a clear and balanced view of the place's strengths and deficits. Also (not unrelated) there is usually consensus around budget and goals.
  • It strikes a great balance between having enough THERE there in terms of parent support, fund-raising and infrastructure and not being so bloated or rigid with "tradition" that it decries new ideas.
  • It is a great, warm community. When there are cultural or language barriers, people talk earnestly and seriously about how to address them, and put in the work, mostly without relying on tired identity politics.
  • It's a place that puts people before dogma. the culture there is inquisitive and concerned with fairness, but it does not seem to encourage or attract zealots or people who want to get on the soapbox all the time instead of putting nose to grindstone and getting to work. This leaves people free to work.
—Kim Green

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Parent essays: Why I love my school

The SF K Files is inviting parents to write essays about their children's schools. The stories should be no longer than 375 words (and of course they can be shorter) and should answer the question: Why do you love your school? You can talk about your school's community, special events, teachers, gardening program, whatever you like. We will run all essays on The SF K Files. Please email submissions to:

For those who are interested, we could submit your essay for consideration as a Perspective on KQED radio. Here are the guidelines for submission.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sign-on letter in support of school food – for 12/15 Budget Committee Meeting

This from San Francisco School Food Coalition founder Lena Brook:

The SFUSD Board of Education Budget Committee is meeting on Tuesday 12/15 at 5pm (555 Franklin St.) to discuss the Student Nutrition Services department budget, among other items. I highly encourage those of you who are able to make it to voice your support for SNS. Comments will be limited to 1-2 minutes and talking points can be found in the letter below.

This item will be heard between 5:30-5:45pm.

For those of you who will not be able to attend the 12/15 meeting in person, please consider adding your name to this sign-on letter. My goal is to gather as many signatories as possible by 12pm Tuesday, so please circulate this to your school communities as well. I will send this to the entire School Board and to Superintendent Carlos Garcia on Tuesday afternoon.


Download of copy of the letter HERE.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hot topic: Cobb Montesorri program

This from an SF K Files reader:
I'm sure you've read the article on the front page of the Monday Chronicle about the Montesorri program at Cobb and alleged tension between the GE program and the Montesorri program. The article didn't seem to present both sides of the story and I wonder if families from Cobb might shed some light/truth on the complexity of the situation if you posted it as a topic. Schools that share a similar construct -- where the District has planted a magnet program such as language immersion in an historically underperforming school (particularly with a core African American population) -- and similar issues, might benefit from the sharing of information and best practices as well.
SF Gate article:

Montessori program at S.F. school stirs clash

Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Monday, December 7, 2009

When San Francisco school officials opened a public Montessori program in an under-enrolled elementary school adjacent to the city's low-income Western Addition neighborhood in 2005, it sounded like a good idea.
It meant that poor, mostly African American students would have free and convenient access to what often is an expensive private program, out of reach and relatively unknown to inner-city children.
Instead, the effort has turned into a major headache for district administrators who now are embroiled in a bitter community battle over the educational fate of Cobb Elementary School.
At the heart of the fight is a district plan to phase out the school's traditional general education program - now serving predominantly African American students - to convert Cobb to all Montessori. While the program is offered to any family in the city, the intent of placing a Montessori program at Cobb was to better serve the neighborhood's African American families. Yet few parents from the community there seem to know much about the program or want it.
"Why should you uproot those kids?" said Deborah White, whose granddaughter attends Cobb's general education program. "That's a community school."
District officials say nothing has been decided and that the school board will vote on Cobb's fate in a public forum sometime in the near future.

A large waiting list

Currently, Cobb's Montessori program, which opened in 2005 for preschool children only, now takes up four of the school's 19 classrooms, offering instruction to 81 students up to the second grade. The program draws equal numbers of white, black, Asian and Latino students from across the city and maintains a large waiting list. This fall there were 133 applications for eight open seats in the pre-K program, said district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe. Priority is given to low-income families.
Now the district wants to expand the program through fifth grade, but that would mean there wouldn't be enough room to operate both Montessori and the traditional elementary school on the site.
One would have to go - with the general education program the most likely candidate. District officials say moving the Montessori program to another school would be expensive and would leave Cobb with just 150 students - too few to be financially viable.
Supporters of the Montessori expansion say it would make sense to send Cobb's general education students to nearby Rosa Parks or John Muir Elementary schools, but opponents, who include Cobb's parents and teachers, want the general education students to stay where they are. They're willing to fight for Cobb.
Dozens of supporters for Cobb's traditional program appeared before the school board recently to argue their case.
Cobb has served working-poor families in the Western Addition for generations. Moving to a more distant school would be a tremendous hardship for many, said Cobb general education teacher Yvette Fagan.
"Nobody came and talked to the families about Montessori," she said. "If they wanted the parents to have a choice, did they ask them if they wanted the choice? Are these parents supposed to feel invested?"

Poor marketing job

School board member Rachel Norton said the district opened the Montessori program at least in part to address the relatively low academic performances of African American children across the city, but it appears that school officials haven't done the best job marketing the program to the Western Addition families they had particularly hoped to serve.
Many neighborhood parents said they thought the program wasn't available to them. Some believed it was a private institution or that they would have to pay tuition for their children to attend.
Regardless, most parents remain committed to Cobb.
In the school's traditional classrooms, the teachers teach and give homework and tests. In Montessori classrooms, children teach themselves and each other. There are no tests or take-home worksheets; the teacher is a guide who monitors their progress with very specific visual and tactile tools.
Some studies have shown Montessori students, including low-income and minority children, perform better academically than those in traditional schools - although the research overall offers a mixed bag of results.
The Montessori program at Cobb is too new to determine how successful it is at raising its students' performance. The program's lone second-grader will be the only one eligible to take the state's standardized tests this year.
"(The Montessori method) actually has a really good track record with a group of kids we haven't done so well with as a district," Norton said. "We're not just doing the same thing we always did; we're putting programs in the targeted communities to help close that gap."

Enrollment dilemma

Cobb has long been the school of choice for Corinne Pope's daughter, Savannah, who will enter kindergarten next fall and would be interested in either program at the school.
Yet, at the district's enrollment fair she was told that because her daughter didn't attend Cobb's Montessori program as a preschooler, it would be nearly impossible to get into the program now.
If she enrolls her in the school's general education kindergarten, she wouldn't have any assurance that her daughter would be able to continue in that program through fifth grade.
"I don't know what we're going to do," Pope said. "I don't want to put her in the wrong school."
The school's Montessori implementer Emily Green acknowledged there will be few spaces for incoming kindergartners in the Montessori program and spots for upper grades would also be rare in the future.
In addition, it's not a good idea to transfer older elementary students into the Montessori method, Green said.
"I guess the moral of the story is this is hard," Norton said. "Change is hard."

How Montessori works

The first Montessori school was founded in 1907 by Maria Montessori in Italy, based on the fundamental idea that children teach themselves.
The method includes a "prepared environment" in which children can choose the activity they want to do.
Teachers don't give homework or tests.
Children work at their own pace and are placed in groups with a three-year age span, allowing them to learn from each other.
Teachers are considered "guides." They instruct students in how to use the specific Montessori learning tools and then let them learn and master the concepts.
"Everything is called work," said Carol Husbands, site manager for the Cobb Child Development Center, which includes the Montessori preschool program. "The teachers are trying not to interrupt their work. It's a children's house."
At San Francisco's Cobb Elementary School, each Montessori classroom contains a seemingly identical rack with strings of colored counting beads and a stackable tower of pink blocks. These are the same tactile tools one would find in a Montessori classroom in Hong Kong or Kentucky. The beads and blocks look like toys, but have order and purpose: to teach children individually and often subconsciously.
On a recent day, Cobb first-graders Lamariae and Eve, both 6, sat at a table huddled over a pile of words printed on cards.
"We're working together on singular and plural," Lamariae said.
Their teacher never interrupted or checked their work.
The girls put orange, key and kite under singular and then considered patio, cellos and donkey.
Nearby a student sat by himself and put cards with numbers in sequential order by ones, tens, hundreds and thousands.
While most Montessori schools are private, there are about 400 public programs in the United States, including those in charter schools.
San Francisco's Montessori program at Cobb Elementary School is one of about 30 in California.

A tip from Parents for Public Schools: Don't go to the EPC Friday, Dec. 11

The deadline to apply for Lowell High School is this Friday, December 11. For those of you turning in Kinder applications you should wait till next week. The lines are likely to be long at the Educational Placement Center. —Vicki Symonds, Parents for Public Schools

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Title I Academic Achievement Award Schools

State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell Announces
2008-09 Title I Academic Achievement Award Schools

SACRAMENTO — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell today announced that 200 California schools have been selected for the 2008-09 Title I Academic Achievement Award. They represent 88 school districts in 27 counties. The list of winners is attached.

Gordon J. Lau Elementary

Edward R. Taylor Elementary

Francis Scott Key Elementary

Garfield Elementary

Yick Wo Elementary

Sherman Elementary

Sutro Elementary

Ulloa Elementary

Visitacion Valley Elementary

John Yehall Chin (Elem)

"These schools deserve high praise for improving student achievement," said O'Connell. “They have addressed barriers to student success and were able to create a school environment conducive to learning. I congratulate the teachers, staff, paraprofessionals, parents, and students who all worked hard this past year to improve. I hold these schools up as models for their success in ensuring that all students without regard to race, economic status, or physical or mental challenges are given the kind of education that allows them to achieve to their fullest potential."

The Title I Academic Achievement Award may be given only to schools receiving federal Title1 funds as authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. To be eligible for the Title I Schoolwide Program, a school must enroll 40 percent or more of socioeconomically disadvantaged students. For more information about the Title I Schoolwide Program, please visit: Schoolwide Programs - Title I.

To meet the criteria for this distinction, the school must demonstrate that all students are making significant progress toward proficiency on California's academic content standards. Additionally, the school's socioeconomically disadvantaged students must have doubled the achievement targets set for them for two consecutive years. For more information about the Title I Academic Achievement Awards please visit: Academic Achievement Awards - School/Teacher Recognition.

Title I is a part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and is the single largest federal educational program for K-12 public education. Of the more than 9,000 schools in California, more than 6,000 of them participate in the Title I program.

Prior to his public announcement, O'Connell personally called the principal at each school to inform them of their selection. “They were extremely excited at hearing the news and equally proud of being recognized for their hard work and success," said O'Connell. “It was inspiring to talk to them and share in this extraordinary moment."

The 200 awardees will be honored at a special award ceremony held in conjunction with the annual California Title I Conference scheduled for April 27-28, 2009, at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel in Anaheim. For more information about the California Title I Conference, please visit Title I Conference Information for 2009 - Improving Academic Achievement.

Hot topic: SFUSD and out-of-district students

This from an SF K Files reader:
I was recently rejected from turning in my son's kindergarten application at the SFUSD because my PG&E bill was too old. With living in SF for over 10 years, working full-ime for a non-profit here in the City and paying property taxes on a small TIC I was feeling insulted and sort of entitled. I left frustrated but went back with a more up to date bill and his application was accepted. The next day at work I was venting about this and the kindergatren process to a co-worker of mine. His 2 children both go to a "trophy school" and his family lives in Marin!?! I had no idea that once a child starts school in SF they can stay for the convenience of parents who work here. This seems unfair and I am wondering if it is actually legitimate? I have no interest in getting this guys kids kicked out of school, but it does seem off that some children who live outside of the county are allowed to keep coveted spots for their parents convenience. I am wondering how common this is, families who live elsewhere but the parents commute in to SF for work and send their kids to public school here?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Guest Blogger: Elementary school teacher and prospective kindergarten parent Lisa Borah-Geller

Why Should I Look for Schools That Develop Children Socially and Emotionally?
By Lisa Borah-Geller

I am a San Francisco parent of a prospective kindergartener, an elementary school teacher, and a curriculum developer for a non-profit organization called the Developmental Studies Center. Like some of you, I have spent a lot of time touring elementary schools. I have noticed that many parents look at test scores, facilities, program offerings (i.e., language or art programs), and principal leadership to judge the quality of a school. While these school characteristics are important, I encourage parents to also consider the school environment and how it fosters children’s social and emotional development. This is equally as important.

Touring the schools has made me reflect upon what kind of school environment I want for my daughter and how that environment can help her develop into the kind of person I hope she will become. I would like my daughter to treat others in a respectful, fair, and caring way and take responsibility for herself. I also believe that if my daughter feels happy, supported, safe, and engaged in school and learns to work well with others, she will feel comfortable enough to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn more deeply.

I am looking for schools that foster a sense of community and teach children these values. Research shows that creating a strong sense of community at school increases students’ academic performance and has a positive influence on students’ behavior. When students are in caring school communities, they are more likely to like school, enjoy challenging learning activities, and help others ( In addition, data from a study on adolescent health, found that students’ sense of connectedness to school (and family) were linked to a decrease in a range of problem behaviors, including: the use of alcohol, violent behavior, emotional distress, and early sexual activity (

When I walk into the classrooms on school tours, I observe how the teachers treat the students (teachers must model respect and kindness for students to act in these ways) and how happy and engaged the students are in their work. I look to see if children are working collaboratively, which fosters a genuine interest in and concern for others. I ask about programs the schools have to promote caring classroom and school communities and students’ social and emotional development. Fortunately, many of the SFUSD schools implement either the Tribes Learning Community® or Caring School Community® programs. Both of these programs help create a positive classroom and school environment. My non-profit employer developed the Caring School Community program.

Recently, as part of my work, I had the opportunity to observe a class-meeting lesson in a kindergarten classroom at Sunnyside Elementary School in San Francisco. In class meetings, children get to know each other, discuss issues, identify and solve problems, and make decisions that affect classroom climate. The teacher was very kind and caring and also had excellent classroom management. The children seemed very happy and eager to participate. The teacher engaged the children in authentic discussion with each other as they talked about how to act for substitute teachers. Talking about how to treat substitute teachers and committing to positive, helpful behaviors prevents problems and makes the classroom run more smoothly when the regular teacher is absent. Ultimately, a child who discusses and learns why she should treat everyone respectfully (including substitute teachers) is beginning to develop into the kind of person I hope my daughter will become—a good, caring, and responsible one.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hot topic: Claire Lilienthal

This from an SF K Files reader:
Would it be possible to start a topic on Claire Lilienthal? There aren't any reviews of the school on the blog and unfortunately, we can't make it to any of the tours due to work conflicts. I know it's one of the oversubscribed trophy schools but the parent comments on's site puzzled me - some reviewers claimed the middle school doesn't offer AP classes, several bemoaned the lack of arts, and several cited the high principal turnover in the last five years. I'd love to hear impressions from other parents who have either toured the school or whose children who attend it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pre-K Play Day at Zion Lutheran

Zion Lutheran School is hosting a "Pre-K Play Day" this Sunday, December 6, 2009 from 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. This event is for parents and children interested in Zion's 2010-2011 Kindergarten class. Zion is located at 495 9th Avenue (between Anza & Geary). Children will participate in classroom activities while parents have the opportunity to observe the class and to also participate in a parent Q&A panel. Seating is limited, please RSVP to Admissions Director Jillian McGuire at 415-221-7500 ext. 205. We hope that you will join us for this delightful event.

Respectfully Submitted,
Zion Lutheran Parent Teacher League

Friday, December 4, 2009

Marcia Brady's hot tips for touring parents and parent-pleasing tours

At the risk of over-posting, I can now offer a couple of hints that might help the tour process be less grueling for all parties concerned.

For parents:

1) If you are truly concerned about test scores, consider not looking at immersion schools. There are any number of good reasons why these schools show lower test scores and still do a good job educating children. I won't go into them here, but it is a drag to have tours taken over by passive-aggressive (or even aggressive-aggressive) parents with this bone to pick.

2) Leave a ton of time to find parking if you drive, because you never know how a given block or neighborhood is. You'll need to park for about 1.5 hours, as tours rarely "dismiss" on time.

3) Dress warmly as you will be spending considerable amounts of time in drafty breezeways or outside (earlier in the year, I would have said apply sunscreen as you may stand on blazing asphalt for quite a while!)

4) Keep it down in the classrooms. I am amazed that the teachers can teach through all the distractions people on tour introduce into the classrooms.

5) Take notes, as it all becomes a blur after a while. Consider sharing your thoughts in comments if a school is reviewed. It really helps balance out the reviewers' inevitable biases or blind spots.

For schools with tours:

1) Do whatever you can to have the principal present. It makes a huge difference. It signals a commitment to incoming families, and lets us see your vision for the school.

2) Make sure parent tour guides are really well-versed, and yet also able to defer questions to the principal (another reason it is good to have him/her there). Most have been wonderful, but occasionally a tour guide can really throw things: the best ones convey information succinctly, do not override things with their own issues, and have notes on the facts in their hands.

3) Please oh please make sure that whoever is answering the phone has all the relevant information: what tours are language-specific, the correct start time, and whether or not you need to pre-register. People are taking clocked time off work here, and aren't happy if they show up and find out they are there on the wrong date, at the wrong time, or not on the list.

4) Please know that we are deeply grateful for comforts and welcoming elements like music (yay, McKinley!), coffee (go, Marshall!), expressions of sympathy about this strange process (hats off to many of you), and offers to let us e-mail you (ditto).

And that is all from me. Really.

Marshall Elementary

Reviewed by Marcia Brady

The Facts

Location: 1575 15th St. (at Capp), Mission District

School hours: 8:40-2:40 (thanks for the correction, commenter!)

Tel: 241-6280

Principal: Peter Avila

Web site: through SFUSD portal

School tours: Friday 8:40 (but if you are pressed for time, skip the morning assembly and get to the cafeteria by 9:00)

Parking: Miserable [for touring parents, anyway]. If you plan to tour, take public transportation or use the garage at 16th/Hoff. Morning isn’t a problem if you are dropping off; afternoons is meter parking only, in a crowded neighborhood.

Grades: K-5

Kindergarten size: 2 classes of 20 each, full immersion

Total student body: about 220

Odds of getting in on R1: 21.7% according to the magic spreadsheet. However, I think a middle-class kid has a good chance, as he/she would add diversity: it’s a lower-income school with 75% Latino/a population mostly from the neighborhood.

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

A tight-knit, small community feel, a focus on science, and an immersion program actually situated in an “immersed” neighborhood. Not a good choice for those who want a school with guaranteed, regular aftercare.

Class Structure / Curriculum: All-school dual Spanish immersion.

Campus/Playground: Nondescript two-story stucco-concrete structure with murals on the outside. Nicely lit classrooms center on a lovely courtyard, with a circular bench built in like a well in its center. The “well” is decorated with kid-made tiles, and the courtyard also features a stained-glass wall. I didn’t get a feel for how space is there: there is a library, computer center, and café/auditorium, but I don’t know what else. There are 2 yards, each with a small play structure and plenty of asphalt, and I think I saw at least one bungalow.

After School programs: free ExCEL by invitation, space limited; Boys and Girls club with transportation, Mission Graduates serving about [OK, 120 -- but there is something serving only 15] kids. Aftercare really is limited here, so working parents have teamed up in a kind of informal co-op to take care of kids who need it.

Additional Programs: Enriched science, Chess club, Junior Woodchucks (woodworking), ArtSpan, SPARKS PE program, Visual Thinking Strategies, Caring School Community

PTA: Growing, with $50K raised, used predominantly to build up the sciences there.

Language program(s): see above

Library / Computer Lab: Did not get to see either because of time (see “impressions”), though I peeked into a small computer lab with perhaps 20 flat-screen black terminals (Dells?). The brochure lists computer classes for kids, but I didn’t get to ask how often.

Arts: Not as strong as some places, but instrumental music is particularly good there, upper grades have visiting artist program. They list ArtSpan on the brochure but I don’t know what that is.

PE: 2x/week.

Recess/Lunch: Recess and lunch are divided by grade, K gets 3 recesses and the other grades get 2.

Tour Impressions:

We began in the courtyard to watch assembly. On the one hand, this was great – it started with a boom box playing music, and then segued to school chants and cheers, announcements, and a sing-along of the school song. What a great way to get the kids focused for the day. On the other hand, it burned up 20 minutes of the tour, so the tour is really 9-10ish and I had to go too early to see the upper-grade classrooms (some of the K and 1 kids were apparently on a field trip).

Afterward, we went to the cafeteria for a talk and Q and A with the parent liaison, principal, and other parents. Amazingly, there was coffee, tea, and hot cocoa for us, and even egg sandwiches, though I think none of us dared take one in case we were taking breakfast out of a kid’s mouth. The parents seem delighted with the school, and the parent liaison clearly works hard. Principal Avila was forthright and thoughtful – he is in his second year at Marshall. There was, as always, the annoying, slightly hostile parent question about test scores. But Principal Avila and the parents rose to the occasion – I was particularly impressed with the principal’s statement that he will not have his teachers teach to the test, as he had to do so in Oakland and lost all passion for teaching. I also appreciated that he is pushing hard for testing to be done in Spanish: the big-picture data he can’t get, he says, is how close to grade level the bulk of the English-predominant students are in their Spanish reading, writing, etc. Personally I’d love to see English-dominant kids tested in Spanish and Spanish-dominant kids rising to the top of those tests. Finally, I liked that the principal spoke of parents' need to immerse themselves in the culture of the school, i.e., get to know people outside their own demographic because kids do what you do, not what you say.

Then it was off to see classrooms. The K classrooms are just enormous and very clean, immaculately decorated with bulletin boards full of kids’ work, 3 Rs stuff, etc. The one K classroom we did visit was interesting, because the kids were reading aloud in unison in Spanish – not just words, but sentences written out on chart paper. OK, what gives here that the large majority of them can already read? Are they small geniuses? The kids were also clearly engaged with and excited by what they were doing. I was really, really bummed to have to leave at 9:50, when I had thought the tour would run something like 8:40-9:50 and scheduled a 10:00 appointment nearby.

In conclusion, as they say: Marshall seems great for those for whom Alvarado and Flynn are too big in scale or have too long-shot odds. Full immersion produces an incredible cohesiveness, and Marshall is smaller and less crowded than Buena Vista (another full immersion school) appeared to me to be. It looks like a happy, energetic place. The parents all spoke of each of their children being embraced by the school, whether as an English-only or Spanish-only child to begin with. With the odds from the spreadsheet, I don’t know if Marshall counts as a “hidden” gem, but with a warm community feel and a principal who is clearly on his game, it looks very sparkly. Some people might flinch at the location—it’s in the very heart of the Mission, and the street life is pretty, um, ripe —but I consider that a plus, as it’s a neighborhood-y school and clearly counts that area as part of the cultural education students are expected to get. And hey, there are 16 security cameras outside the building and the outdoor balconies face the courtyard, so your kid will most definitely be safe. I had tossed it on my list of tours because what the heck, location. Now—with perhaps a revisit to see some classroom teaching--I could see putting it on the top half of my 7!

Commodore Sloat Elementary Tour

Reviewed by Debbie

In the past month or so my kindergarten application process pendulum-of-stress has swung from obsessing about it every day, all the way to the other side - surrendering to it, almost to the point of not really thinking about it. It has lowered my stress level quite a bit which has been great, but it also has led me to not post anything, so for that, I apologize.

True to my initial plan, I have only toured a small handful of schools: West Portal (posted that review), Commodore Sloat (this review), and Sunnyside (Marcia Brady's review is excellent so I don't see a need to post another review).

I have heard and read really good things about Commodore Sloat, but somehow it manages to stay under the radar. Like West Portal, Commodore Sloat is also close to our house. I drive and/or run by this school several times a week. When I’m running, I always slow down if it’s recess or children are out for P.E. so I can observe the kids and the teachers – I’m sure I look like some weird or nosey adult.

Commodore Sloat is an "attendance area" school, and we live in the attendance area. I’ve heard that living in an attendance area doesn’t really matter that much, especially with high demand schools. However, the Educational Placement Center rep at the Parents for Public Schools event on 10/3 said that if you put your attendance area school #1, you’re positioning yourself the best way possible for that school. So hey, if it makes even an incremental difference in the outcome, I’ll take it!

If you want all the school details and more information about the school’s programs, go to the Sloat Parents’ Club Organization’s website ( It’s a really nice and informative website. Otherwise, this post will focus mainly on the tour itself.


Date of tour: October 2009
Location: 50 Darian Way (Ingleside Terrace area), 415-759-2807
Principal: Jeanne Dowd (this is her first year as principal)
School type: Public
Parents’ Club Organization Website:
Tours: Tuesdays, 9-10:00am, call to register
School day start/stop: 8:40am-2:40pm (yard supervision starts at 8:20am)
Grades: K-5
Total Enrollment: 355 (16 classrooms)
Kindergarten size: 66 (3 classes of 22)
Language Immersion: None
Before/After school care: Fee-based offered through Stonestown YMCA, 2:40pm – 6:30pm


It was very stormy the day of the tour, and we were running late so we arrived late. Not a good start for us, but we were glad to finally set foot on this school and have the opportunity to check it out. The school takes up the entire northeast corner of Junipero Serra and Ocean Ave, but the main entrance is on Darian Way. We walked past the front office and signed in at a table where there was a parent volunteer to greet us and point us in the direction of the auditorium where the tour began. We walked into the auditorium and saw the principal sitting in a big circle with all the parents on the tour. There were about 20-ish parents, and three parent volunteers. Shortly after my husband and I sat down, the principal said, "Well, that’s the end of my spiel". What? We missed it? Darn! That’s what you get for being late. But we did catch some information: this is the principal’s (Jeanne Dowd) first year as principal. Her past experience includes being a 3rd grade teacher (her favorite grade) at Malcolm X, teaching at John Muir Elementary, Fairmount, and teaching 1st grade in Bolivia. Most recently, she took a sabbatical to earn a Masters degree at Berkeley in their Principal Leadership Program (one parent there said it is a very rigorous program). Ms. Dowd came across as being very smart and capable, and I thought, "this woman will run a tight ship!".

Ms. Dowd then opened it up to questions from the parents. The questions yielded information like: there’s usually a teacher-in-training from SFSU in all the K classes (in addition to the regular teacher of course) and parent volunteers; the staff’s goal is "aligning curriculum" – continually assessing students so you always know where the students are in their learning. The Parents’ Club Organization (PCO) is not a PTA; there are no dues, and anyone can join as long as you have a child at Sloat. The PCO rep there mentioned a figure of "$70,000 - $100,000", but I’m not sure if that’s how much they raise every year or how much they have right now. There is good collaboration between the PCO and the teachers. We also learned that there is a theater arts program (K-1), music program through the district (K-3), gardening program (1x/week in K - I had heard that they have an exceptional gardening program), choral music, P.E. program (I have observed this during my runs, and the P.E. teacher speaks very enthusiastically and respectfully to the children), library 1x/week (the parents just finished bar coding all the books), and instrumental program (4-5, where the children can learn to play the violin, trumpet, or clarinet).

Sloat has no combined grades, but they do something interesting in the 4th and 5th grades. The children are taught English and Social Studies by one teacher in one classroom and Math and Science by another teacher in another classroom. This way, the teachers get to teach the subjects that they like and/or the subjects at which they feel most competent, and it is getting the children ready for middle school and the rotating of classrooms. I liked this concept.

Ms. Dowd talked about the "Tribes Community" at Sloat. From her description, it sounded like the goal is to build a community within the classroom so kids work together. She said that it builds inclusion so kids will feel comfortable taking risks academically. Four main components of building this sense of community are: sharing, mutual respect, attention, and right to pass (if a child doesn’t want a turn at something, he/she has the right to pass). There’s also an emphasis on being responsible. A Sloat parent in the circle said that her son is currently responsible for helping children who get hurt by getting bandaids and opening them for the hurt child. They also mentioned a "buddy" system where younger children are buddied up with older children.

A parent asked about homework. Ms. Dowd said, "Kindergarten is rigorous now". Okay, that scared me, but then a Sloat parent in the circle said it’s not bad, pretty mellow, and they usually have a week to do it. It’s more about learning the exercise of homework. Ms. Dowd added that homework should not be something new; it should be just practice of what they’ve already learned in the classroom. Whew, I felt better.

Then we said bye to Ms. Dowd and the Sloat parents took us to the walking part of the tour. We saw the lunch room first – small (but it was the first elementary school lunch room that I’d seen so maybe they’re all this size) with windows overlooking a courtyard where the older children will eat lunch on nice days. The K classes eat together at the same time. The older children eat at staggered times. Monitors are present to help children open stuff up and to make sure they all eat something.

The best way to describe Commodore Sloat’s physical layout is a square divided into four quadrants or "pods" is what they call them. The southwest quadrant is where the three K classes are. The K classrooms were a good size, well lit, neat, and organized. I know the expectation is for me to comment on the level to which the kids appeared happy and engaged, but for me that’s tough because the kids seem to act like I would expect regular kids to act with 20 adults staring at them – kind of quiet, working on an activity, some talking to each other or to the teacher, with an occasional child saying "hi". I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary in terms of the children’s behavior. There are no bungalows at this school, and the tour guide said it was because the neighborhood that the school is in doesn’t allow them. I’m not a fan of the bungalows so this was fine with me.

The outdoor play area is HUGE, and is one of the outstanding features of this school. Keeping in mind the square shape of the school, the playground wraps widely around two sides of the square. It’s quite nice, and there are two very separate newer looking play structures, and the K classes have their own recess area (one of the play structures) and a separate recess time than the older children.

Then we went to the library. They are about 9,000 books, and they are now all bar coded. It looked neat, organized, bigger than I thought it would be, with lots of tables and chairs, and an area in the corner that looked like a storytime area. Every January the PCO sponsors an Adopt-A-Book event where new books are donated by the parents, and each child who donates a book gets to have his/her name in the book.

We also saw a few of the classes with older children. One of the teachers came outside and spoke to us for quite a while. One of the things that stood out about her was that one of her goals for her students is for them to type 35 wpm by graduation. She said this was to ensure they would be prepared for all the typing (on computers) in middle school. I was impressed by this goal and totally agree that typing is a necessary skill to have.

Then the tour guides answered last minute questions, thanked us for coming, and wrapped it up.

Likes: huge outdoor play area, smart and competent principal, separate classes for Math/Science and English/Social Studies in 4th/5th grades, focus on building a sense of community and inclusion among the children, active parent club, 8:40am start time, close to our house, and last but not least -–no bungalows!

Dislikes: None really, but if it had a language immersion program, it would be an even stronger school (and would probably no longer be "under the radar")

Overall impression: This is a solid school: strong and involved parents club, solid test scores (API 872 per, good sense of community, outstanding outdoor play area, smart and motivated new principal, and clean/organized classrooms. This school is going towards the top of my list.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Yick Wo fund-raising

This from an SF K Files reader:
With the holidays upon us, gift giving is at the top of our minds. If any of you are already beat from braving the store crowds on Black Friday or think that Cyber-Monday wasn't worth all of the hype, then why not consider a gift that fits every budget, requires no exchanges and has a positive impact?
The Yick Wo website is open 24 hours a day for your holiday shopping needs and accepts Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover cards.
Just visit our link at
And don't forget, a donation to Yick Wo's Direct Appeal makes a wonderful gift from Grandparents, friends and other extended family members (and it is tax-deductible). So please pass along this wonderful tidbit of holiday shopping advice to all of those who may be looking for the perfect holiday gift this year.
Happy Holidays,
Yick Wo Direct Appeal Fundraising Team

Hot topic: Attendance area, diversity and immersion programs

This from an SF K Files reader:
Do immersion programs function differently in the assignment system for determining the category of "applicants within the attendance area who add to diversity at that school?"

I understand (I think) that the lottery looks first for children in the attendance area who would add to diversity in the incoming K class, and that if your child BOTH is within the attendance area AND adds to diversity, then being in the area is helpful. Our attendance area school is an all Spanish-immersion school with a high number of English language learners, and we are definitely interested in putting it down as a Round I choice. As an English-speaking non-poor family, we might add to diversity at the school overall as compared to the initial already-formed class of younger siblings.

But I also know that the lottery run separates out English-monolingual/Spanish-
monolingual/bilingual families when assigning students to immersion programs. We presumably don't add to diversity when compared to other English-speaking families who are being considered for the English monolingual spaces in the immersion program.

So, will being in the attendance area help or not? Is "diversity" evaluated with regard to the school as a whole or with regard to just the relevant subset (English-speaking vs. target-language-speaking) of spaces?

Thanks very much for any input, and I hope this question applies to enough other people here that I'm not just asking for myself!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monroe Elementary

Reviewed by Marcia Brady

The Facts

Location: 260 Madrid St., at Excelsior (Excelsior)

School hours: 8:25-2:25 K-3, 8:25-2:30 3-5

Tel: 469-4736

Principal: Jennifer Steiner

Web site:

School tours: Tues. 8:45

Grades: K-5

Kindergarten size: 4 classes of 22 each (2 Spanish immersion, 1 Cantonese bilingual, 1 English Language Development)

Total student body: 480

Odds of getting in on Round 1: 15.2% for the Spanish immersion, according to the spreadsheet. Like most SI programs, they are in need of Spanish-speaking and bilingual students.

Parking: Not too bad; dropoff for older kids

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

A multilingual, multicultural environment, a strong focus on literacy and the arts, a range of aftercare options. Probably not the school for a kid who needs a smaller building or smaller numbers, though the feel is quite intimate given the size of the place and student body.

Class Structure / Curriculum: The GE there seems to be the English Language Pathways program; otherwise, the curriculum looks fairly standard. Kindergartners in Spanish immersion stay with the same teacher for K-1.

Campus/Playground: Big modern building, of the poured-concrete-and-lots-of-breezeway style of the 1950s or 60s, painted bright orange. Tile murals, colorful paint, and wall art abound outside. The plant has a somewhat worn feel, but is very cheerful and bright. Inside, nondescript architecture, but a spacious feel – a big bright auditorium/café, classrooms looking out onto a 1600 square foot garden or the playground, with light coming in. Large asphalt yard with big new-ish play structure, bungalow restrooms and bungalows for several classrooms. Smaller concrete outdoor auditorium. Garden has an outdoor classroom with an adobe circular bench modeled on SF’s “skyline” of hills, and a charming grotto of kid-made birdhouses.

After School programs: free ExCEL by invitation, space limited; free CDC at Excelsior/Monroe for K-5, fee-based private daycare at Buena Vista (with transportation there provided), Boys and Girls club down the street.

Additional Programs: Arts (see below), Reading Recovery program, garden used for instructional purposes by teacher.

PTA: 150 on the roster, $50K raised, mostly grants as it is a lower-income school.

Language program(s): see above

Library / Computer Lab: Big library serves as the hub for several lower-grade classrooms (K-2?). Library collection is trilingual (English, Spanish/Cantonese); the librarian is there 2 ½ days/week and kids can check out a book every other week. Library has an additional small reading room where books are kept in a grade-level tracking system, and children are assessed and then given books with 90% familiarity, to gently push them upward. Small computer lab with 18 flat-screen iMacs; computer class 1x/week with additional use of labs at teacher discretion.

Arts: PTA-funded. Dance, Visual Art, Drama, and Music in 16-week cycles, 1x/week. At the end of 2 years, kids have had all.

Science: FOSS kits, WISE program to train teachers in science instruction, impromptu botany in the garden.

PE: District-funded PE has replaced Sports for Kids for budgetary reasons. PE coach is available at lunch and recess. Unlike many SF schools (check out the recent Chronicle article), Monroe meets the state requirements for PE.

Recess/Lunch: Oops, forgot to ask!

Tour Impressions:

We began in the auditorium, where a parent volunteer was teaching auxiliary verbs to parents who were English language learners. So off to the outdoor auditorium (which is all painted in fading rainbow colors) for a briefing with the parent volunteer. Our first classroom visit was an SI first-grade classroom, where kids were on the rug, working together on some kind of question-and-answer game with questions written on cards and answers written on a wipe-erase “brainstorming” board. Another SI Kindergarten had a couch and big pillows defining a reading area, and the teacher first asked the kids to discuss something about the book he was about to read (the title? the cover? where did my high school Spanish go?). He brought them back to focus on the large group with a little rhythmic hand clap, which the kids joined in as they focused. I was struck by how attentive and engaged the kids seemed – I know that in my review of SF Community a teacher commented that you can’t assume that kids aren’t learning if they are distracted or chatty, but I still stand by my conviction that engaged, excited kids are what I want to see. Monroe had them in every classroom we saw.

We finished back in the auditorium, where we met principal Jennifer Steiner. She is in her fourth year at Monroe, having been an Instructional Reform Facilitator at Monroe for quite a few years prior. She has an MA in language and literacy, and told us that Monroe’s priorities under her watch were these two things, especially early intervention for kids not reading in first grade. We learned that the arts program (there are 4 teachers, 1 each for the four listed above) secures release time for the teachers to meet weekly in grade-level meetings, and discuss strategies for, among other things, differentiated instruction. Ms. Steiner was extremely down-to-earth and casual, with very clear aims for the school. The parent guide had said that the money Monroe controls on the SCS and in the PTA goes to “positions and people,” and this is evident in Ms. Steiner’s vision for a school that closes the literacy gap between lower- and higher-achieving students while offering rigorous academics and as lush an art program as the PTA can buy.

Monroe strikes me as a really good, slightly more accessible alternative to Alvarado or Buena Vista. While it’s working with a lower budget than these two more “buzzy” Spanish immersion schools, Monroe does a lot with a little. It’s a cheery place that attends rigorously to the 3 Rs while insisting that art, PE, and so on are not just for rich kids.