Friday, December 4, 2009

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!


  1. Marcia, as always, thank you.

    I just wanted to add, as this may be important to you and others, that I think Marshall has had a "rainbow" group bringing together the LGBT families there. Also that I have heard it is a lovely community.

  2. Any transport for aftercare to e.g. Buena Vista, like at Monroe?

  3. After-transportation goes to Omega Boys and Girls club on Guerrero by school bus.

  4. Buena Vista aftercare is very open to taking kids from other schools, and even working with parents to set up transportation, if someone gets a group together. I would imagine, with the changing demographic, that there might be takers... but it would take some work and organizing.

    WE LOVE MARSHALL. So far, it has completely met our expectations and then some. I have to laugh at how little the school has been discussed here.

  5. I assume it's mostly the location. But it's a neighborhood in transition (one that Friends just moved into, and there's now a lovely cafe on the near corner). I love the convenience of it--Walgreen's right there, BART right there for my downtown commute, good taquerias up the street for an easy, affordable dinner when cooking is not in the cards--my life is easy compared to if I were schlepping to Clarendon or even Alvarado. My kid is bilingual. And it is a WONDERFUL community.

  6. As to location -- I know it well. That section of the Mission is home to a very mixed population. There are artsy white kids and junkies of all colors and stuffy Anglo church-goers (a historically gay Episcopal church is 2 blocks away) and drag queens and Latina grandmamas and homeless folks and, really, the works. It's colorful and noisy. But if you are walking your kid to school or dropping him/her off (as opposed to, say, making a $300 ATM withdrawal at 2 AM), there is no danger whatsoever. And Marshall is like a little oasis of charm and quiet in the midst of it, which I didn't really expect!

  7. Thanks Marcia for taking the time to visit our school, I’m so happy that you got to see and feel the strong “Marshall Community” on your tour. I wanted to add a few points of clarification for other readers:

    Afterschool Program: Main program is run by Mission Graduates,, and serves 120 students (out of Marshall’s 240 students). It is a 5-day/wk academic enrichment program and acceptance is based on teacher referrals and need for academic support. Other options include Arriba Juntos on Mission/15th, they pick-up Marshall students and walk them to their facility. And as noted in a previous post, there is also a bus that takes kids to the Boys and Girls club.

    Computer Lab: It has 23 Mac computers and is just a year old. It was remodeled as part of major renovations done on Marshall during the summer of 2008.

    Parking: As a parent who drives, parking is not an issue. There is plenty of metered street parking on 15th Street. The parking challenges touring parents have had or will have over the next few weeks are due to construction of a speed-reducing sidewalk extension on 15th that is part of the “Safe Routes to School Program.”

    Hours: 8:40 am – 2:40 pm

    There are lots of exciting things happening at Marshall, including a
    $150K Green School Yard initiative, which will soften and green the school and turn our small back yard into a large outdoor classroom.

    If you are interested in Spanish Immersion, Marshall offers a true immersion experience. As a parent of a first grader, we have been very happy with Marshall and I am more impressed each day with the dedication of the staff, as well as the school community. We are happy and thankful to be part of the Marshall community.

  8. As the parent of an current 5th grader, I'm happy to report that the education my son received at Marshall has left him not just bi-lingual but also well prepared in Math, Science, Social Studies and interpersonal relations. We've had a great experience at Marshall and found the teaching excellent, the community outstanding and committed to the welfare of all our kids. We're sad to be leaving this wonderful school.

  9. To Anon on Dec 4th: I am a parent at Marshall & to my knowledge there is no rainbow anything or any attempt to bring together the LGBT families. We have never experienced outright homophobia from the school staff & only once from another parent. On the other hand, our "different" family is never reflected in any classroom content/assignments, teaching, etc. Despite new principals lofty goals, there has been no celebration of Gay pride month, no seminars on family diversity, etc. There are a couple of pink posters around saying it is "safe space for LGBT kids" (std issue by SFUSD).

    To Anon on Dec 7th, there is no possibility for bus to BV. I have this directly from director of BV aftercare program.

    The fact that the aftercare program excludes kids like mine (non-Latino, higher income) is divisive. Much that is done at the school is by & for the aftercare program. School resources go to that program, even though it does not serve all the kids. The fact that some kids are not allowed in to that program is often forgotten.

    I suspect those who are posting here have been fortunate enough to have their children in one of the better Kg or 1st grade classrooms. The sad thing is that there are some wonderful things about Marshall. But there are also HUGE disparities between teachers at the same grade level. A defensiveness and insularness that makes it hard to affect change or even discuss things that could be done better.

    As for safety: Marcia, "no danger whatsoever"? Please. This is one of the highest violent & interpersonal crime zones in SF. The other day I was walking my kids to my hair salon on 15th & Mission at 3pm, right up the corner from school, where we encountered a violent take-down by the cops w/guns drawn etc. My girls were TERRIFIED. Very bad stuff happens in that hood ALL THE TIME at all hours. Needles are everywhere.
    WE deal with it, but it is absolute foolishness & irresponsible to say there is no danger whatsoever.

    Lots of "icky" stuff happens too. The other day, just a few yards from school on the sidewalk, a homeless man bent over, naked from the ankles to chest, with penis fully exposed - and proceeded to defecate right in front of me, on the school sidewalk. This was at 8:40 am.

    Kids deal with this stuff better than we adults do, but it a REALLY unpleasant way to send your kids to school.

    It's important to be realistic about the environment you are sending your little loved ones into.

  10. Recess is only 1x/wk not 2x/wk, for only 30". No Woodchuck's Program this year. PTA funding a few field trips is the "enhanced science" focus though my kids' teacher has not taught any science yet this year b/c she claims no time to do so. Larger parent body did not list "science" as a priority, so this focus may very well die a quick death. Alot of what was great about the last few years at Marshall may go away as the core group of very active, science-minded parents are leaving w/their kids to middle school.
    The greening initiative is exciting, but it will be years before we see benefit. Meanwhile, kinder yard is not used at all (why???) and a greening effort last year was a disaster. Empty planters sit forlornly making the yard look more sadly urban than ever.

  11. I am curious as to why my recent post was not posted!

  12. Jan 28 8:17
    In response...
    I live (with my two small children) across the street from Marshall Elementary and am so sad to hear that you aren't happy with the school. I am really hoping to put it on my list.
    As for the neighborhood, yes it can be gritty especially towards Mission St and 16th, but I find the area surrounding the school calm and quiet with beautiful old trees and lots of families and children living on the block. Please respect that this is a neighborhood with lots of children and if you see something disgusting, like a homeless man defecating on the sidewalk, help us out by reporting it to the police.

  13. Dear Anon across the street from Marshall: well, if I lived across the street I WOULD put it on my list. Proximity makes up for ALOT, and this is why we need to revamp the assignment system so we can go to neighborhood schools ( I could not get mine into any SpImm schools near my home!). And yes, of course I called the police on the man pooping. Something I do quite often when I am near Marshall. and I call 311 for needle pick-up, garbage pick-up, the power-wash the streets when the urine gets so powerful...etc.

  14. Jan. 28, 8:17 says "it is absolute foolishness & irresponsible to say there is no danger whatsoever." I'm sorry, I go over there at least weekly, around the corner from Marshall, to church, with my child who is now 4 but has been going there since she was in utero. I don't consider myself an irresponsible or foolish parent.

    Give me an example of a child who is accompanied by an adult being hurt on the way to or from Marshall, and I'll reconsider. In the meantime, no, I wouldn't let my kid play alone on those sidewalks or pick things up off the street, but seeing "icky" things (poverty, the homeless, and the mentally ill)is part of city living. So is occasionally witnessing arrests and police takedowns. The latter happen in my much fancier neighborhood quite a lot. If you don't like it, move to the 'burbs. In the meantime, crossing guards, cameras, and vigilant parents seem to me to be quite enough to make the walk to and from Marshall safe for kids.

  15. Hi Marcia: I was not suggesting you were foolish to take your child to Marshall, obviously I do the same. I do feel it is foolish to say there "no danger whatsoever". My good friend and her 18mo old child were victims of a hit & run on Mission the other day @ 4pm in the afternoon, the hit & run car having just shot several shots out the window w/pistols. This was not near Marshall, but the point being this stuff does happen alot in these 'hoods. And the fact that she was WITH her 3 kids walking home from school did not protect them in any way from this violence. Gang warfare is escalating in the Mission, and stuff happens to innocent folks all the time & being accompanied by an adult really does not protect your child from guns. Of course ithings happens in my own nearby 'hood as well, but statistics prove it is FAR FAR less common there than at 16th & Mission. This is not a matter of debate; it is fact. I just do not think it is wise or helpful to minimize the situation.

  16. Welcome to those families that received a placement at Marshall!! We are currently pulling together a list of upcoming events where you can meet new families and teachers and have some fun with the Marshall community.

    Hopefully, the letter will be ready for you to pick-up when you register or else we will mail it ASAP. In the meantime, please email me if you have any questions, Again, welcome to Marshall!

    --Current Marshall first-grade parent with an incoming Kindergartner

  17. What has movement from the waitlist been like in the past? My child is English speaking, went to preschool, parents with advanced degrees, etc. We want Spanish immersion.

  18. There are challenges with the neighborhood. We live in the mission and we struggle with the homeless "ick" factor.

    I am very sorry about what happened to your friend. Are they ok? With respect to gang violence, gang violence is actually way down in the mission. We live in the mission and we are very active with our neighborhood association and Captain Tacchini's office. The mission will never be Pac Heights but if you look at the statistics, it has gotten much safer in the last 18 months.

    We put Marshall high on our list (and got it) because of the quality of the education.

    When we looked at the test scores - Marshall had some of the best test scores for a spanish immersion school (and rising). See the list below. The ELL and Socio represent the APIs for that subsegment of students:

    Alvarado: 815 API falling, ELL: 704, Socio: 730, 32.4% free lunch

    Monroe: 803 API rising, ELL: 774, Socio: 780, 51.7% free lunch

    Marshall: 746 API rising, ELL: 699, Socio: 714 75.9% free lunch

    Buena Vista: 738 API rising, ELL: 647, Socio: 667 44.6% free lunch

    Fairmount: 687 API falling, ELL: 615, Socio: 631 48.3% free lunch

    Flynn: 668 API falling, ELL: 635, Socio: 629 55.3% free lunch

    Webster: 645 API rising, ELL: NA, Socio: 645 61.7% free lunch

    Paul Revere: 623 API falling, ELL: 594, Socio: 617 61.7% free lunch

    Test scores are not everything - but we were impressed with how well Marshall is teaching their students - especially given 75.9% are free lunch.

    We were also attracted by the small, clean, organized building, the low class sizes through 5th grade (b4 budget cuts) and the engaged students we saw on the tour.

    Did the PTA raise $50K this year? That is as much as other schools double the size of Marshall so pretty impressive.

  19. I live in the mission with my kids. Walk around any day of the week. There are thousands of families and kids of all colors, shapes and sizes walking their kids to school, to the park and playing outside. The city DOES need to do a better job of keeping its citizens safe - especially in the mission.

    Some of the posts here suggest that parents in the mission must hide inside. Quite the opposite - It is sunny 300+ days in the mission - families and kids are outside and out and about more than most neighborhoods.

    Given the new CTIP preference for school assignment for mission residents, I anticipate more families will choose to live here and the quality of life will continue to improve.

  20. It is quite unfortunate however that this year Marshall got a new Kg teacher who has serious limitations. Assigning a teacher with a bad record to a school with evidence of rising scores, etc is just unfair and will really hurt Marshall in the long run. Your child's experience will depend hugely on which teacher yours gets in Kg and 1st grade. The disparity b/w the two teachers at each level is HUGE. And not everyone can be in the "good" Kg room. And if your child gets the weak teacher both Kg & 1st grade, that will be very hard when he/she gets to 2nd grade and is totally unprepared, esp if yours is a native English speaker. My daughter's reading, writing, and spking Spanish skills now in 1st grade are worse than when she was in Kg due to a weak teacher this year.

  21. It's important to remember that two children (and parents) can have very different experiences in the same classroom with the same teacher. I believe that no school, principal or teacher can be perfect and each has particular strengths and weaknesses.

    Our experience at Marshall has been very positive for the past two years and this year in first grade, our son’s Spanish skills (reading, written & verbal) have continued to blossom, thanks to the strong foundation he was given in kindergarten and the attention given to him by his first grade teachers.

  22. For anyone currently involved with Marshall: how does the school expect to do in terms of budget cuts? Losing teachers? Programs cut? How is fundraising?

  23. For anyone currently involved with Marshall: how does the school expect to do in terms of budget cuts? Losing teachers? Programs cut? How is fundraising?

  24. I rarely read this blog because it infuriates me. My only solice is that I assume the readers are intelligent enough to read between the lines of the negativity expressed in some posts. The faculty at Marshall are incredible and some families have just decided that they are not going to be happy there no matter what. Some families were offered spots at other immersion schools because they were unhappy at Marshall. After looking at those other schools they chose to stay at Marshall yet they still get on here and write negative comments. If you are not happy at a school, you shouldn't stay. Your children can sense your negativity toward the school which impacts their learning way more than the teachers that you percieve to be bad teachers. Historically the students from both kinder classrooms and both 1st grade classrooms enter the next grade level equally prepared despite different teaching styles of the different teachers.

  25. It looks like we will fare well in these budget cuts. We will not lose any staff. Things will be very tight in the supplies & transportation area (no buses for field trips, etc).
    Fundraising in this poor community is hard. We need to raise funds from OUTSIDE our community. Our first major PTA fundraiser "Dia de los Ninos" will be this weekend, 4/24 @ Marshall, 12-5. Come see for yourself!

  26. Re the question about budget cuts at Marshall -- Relatively speaking, compared to schools that are loosing classroom teachers, Marshall is in good shape for next year.

    Marshall’s budget will still be cut for next year, but it is less than originally expected. No classroom teachers will be lost. At this point, the only staff reductions will be some time out of the computer and English language development positions. Additionally, some funding for supplies and transportation will be reduced. The PTA has been asked to fund all transportation for field trips, along with some supplies. From a PTA perspective, I believe the additional funding request is manageable.

    Our PTA has great momentum going into next year. We’ve got active and dedicated K/1st grade parents that are willing to step-in for the 4th/5th grade parents who started the PTA and are graduating this year. We’ve already got some grant money for next year, and several new fundraising programs in the works.

    We are holding our first-annual Dia de los Nino’s event on April 24th. It will be a family-oriented festival with fun for all: local food, kids’ games & activities, raffle, and silent auction.

    There are a lot of great things happening at Marshall -- including a visit yesterday (4/19) from Tony Miller, Deputy Secretary from the U.S. Department of Education. Marshall was selected for a visit because of its immersion program and continued improvements over the past several years.

    There was a great article in the San Francisco Chronicle (4/20) about the visit: U.S. tapping S.F. school's recipe for success: “A top education official in the Obama administration sat in San Francisco's Marshall Elementary School cafeteria taking notes Monday as parents, teachers and administrators recited a recipe for what it takes to turn around a struggling school.”
    Read more at:

    Also, Marshall’s 5th grade Oddessy of the Mind team recently took 3rd place in the California State Championship Tournament. This was after they placed first in the regional competition. Marshall was the only SFUSD school to compete, sending three teams.

  27. Every year since 2002, Marshall has celebrated Gay Pride Month. We use district approved curriculum and I believe it does make a difference. It is a very welcoming place.

    Marshall teachers do read these blogs. It's unfortunate that a few parents don't feel comfortable enough to address teachers directly. I always want parents to feel free to express their concerns to me.

  28. another police takedown on the corner of 15th and mission yesterday. My kindergartner said "that man is covered in blood. Why is he not wearing a shirt? Maybe he wasn't following the rules." It SUCKS that our little kids are so frequently exposed to scary bloody violence in this neighborhood. I wish the police could have taped off the crime scene at least.

  29. Note that the pricey new private school opened by Twitter CEO is in the same neighborhood as Marshall. Funny how folks are OK with the 'hood if they are paying a fortune in tuition, but not if it's a free public school.

  30. More police action outside of Marshall...Man beaten and robbed at 16th St BART, the assailants were arrested at 15th and Capp streets.

  31. A couple of updates to these comments and the basic information:

    - An after-school option that we use is CYO (located 10th and Mission). A bus picks them up after school. $150/month with scholarship opportunities. Programs include more PE, art, and music.

    - We are an LGBT family. The teachers have been quite active in ensuring our family is represented. The school held a diversity night with a healthy attendance by our Hispanic families (which actually surprised me that so many showed up). The discussion panel included transgendered as well as gay/lesbian.

    - We walk every day from 15th/Church to 15th/Capp. We feel quite safe: as safe as you are going to be in the inner-city. Do we stumble across homeless, drunks and drug users? Yes, but that is part of the Mission (and SF in general).

    - Fundraising and meeting budgets is indeed a challenge. We are not a well-endowed school, but we make it year to year and are actively looking at how to do this better.