Reviewed by Marcia Brady
Location: 260 Madrid St., at Excelsior (Excelsior)
School hours: 8:25-2:25 K-3, 8:25-2:30 3-5
Principal: Jennifer Steiner
Web site: www.monroeelementaryschool.com
School tours: Tues. 8:45
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!
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.