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 (http://www.sloatparents.org/). 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: http://www.sloatparents.org/
Tours: Tuesdays, 9-10:00am, call to register
School day start/stop: 8:40am-2:40pm (yard supervision starts at 8:20am)
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 greatschools.net), 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.