Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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


  1. Thanks, Kim. Can you speak at all of the principal? On my tour, I was very disappointed with her. She went on and on about camping out to get her own kids into school and about teaching to the standards.

  2. well, i've talked to mary lou many times. i know she genuinely cares about the kids and works very hard. here's what else i know (hardly everything, as we have only been there since september):
    -- after she was appointed interim principal after ana lunardi left unexpectedly, a majority of parents and teachers lobbied to keep her even though she does not speak spanish fluently. i think that says a lot about the trust they place in her.
    -- the kids are fond of her. they definitely view her as their leader. we did a card to celebrate her anniversary at the school and hundreds of kids wrote personal messages enthusiastically.
    -- she follows up on things the staff and PTA ask of her. she follows up on her promises very assiduously.
    -- she works well with the PTA, ELAC and other parent groups.
    -- she strikes me as someone
    -- like any administrator, she may get overwhelmed at times by the sheer volume of work to be done. but i think she copes with it well. it's a very hard job.
    -- some parents are pushing hard to get the GATE program more built up at fairmount, and she has been very responsive to that. she seems to be behind that. (some immersion educators seem to believe that GATE is elitist and therefore not helpful in terms of SFUSD's mission to close the achievement gap.)
    -- she strikes me as more of a commonsense person than an ideologue, and i think that is what a school like fairmount needs right now.
    -- what her overarching goals are for the school, i don't know yet. or whether she can reconcile a larger vision for it with the day-to-day laundry list of needs, which she handles skillfully. she acts like a pro, so presumably she is open to new ideas and tactics for meeting goals. i like that. i think it's more important than sounding ambitious on tour day and then not being good in the trenches, which, frankly, i saw a lot when i was touring.

    i think it's important to remember that admins at immersion schools have to bear the pressure of accommodating such different constituencies. you've got the demanding middle class parents and their (supported) kids, and you've got the higher-need kids, often ELL, and their advocates in the system (SFUSD's multilingual dept and the other folks focused on poor test scores and the achievement gap). admins at these places are not in a good position as far as the rhetoric goes; they can't please everybody. however, they can improve things. mary lou hasn't been in place quite long enough to do that, IMO, but she has apparently gotten a lot of stuff done since she started that had not been dealt with prior. some of it isn't sexy (supervising a seismic upgrade and hosting another school onsite during their own upgrade, anyone?) but it is necessary.

  3. i forgot one thing: i really think schools have an essence, a core culture or quality that profoundly affects students and families. it helps to choose a place you're simpatico with. principals and teachers come and go at all schools. i think a solid community can bridge lots of rough periods. fairmount has that in spades.

  4. I am a new Fairmount parent with a daughter in kindergarten. We knew several families from our preschool that went on to Fairmount and had good things to say. So far, we have been very impressed by the warmth of the community. The various school functions are well attended, people seem to pitch in and help things run smoothly. Our daughter has been very happy there in class and in the GLO aftercare (a huge deal for 2 working parents). She was at a Spanish immersion preschool, but her Spanish has improved so much in just 4 months, it is exciting to watch. She is always singing new songs in Spanish and doing new crafts in GLO. So far, we are very pleased with our experience.

  5. Kim, thanks so much for your thoughtful post. It's great to hear that things are going so well at the school. It sounds like it has a warm, caring community and that's worth a lot.

  6. i should also add a note about the quality of instruction/adherence to dual-immersion best practices at fairmount. (i keep thinking of things i forgot to say in the original post.)

    there are immersion model purists out there who never seem quite happy with the execution at this or the other school. i am realizing that, though it is important to follow best practices, it is not an exact art or science. for instance, my daughter's teacher this year has a tendency to speak more english than some of the other K and 1 teachers (not because she isn't fluent; she is a product of immersion at buena vista herself). it is simply her style. (for example, when lucca first transferred in as an english-speaking first grader with no spanish, she was nervous about asking to go to the bathroom, so laura let her - encouraged her - to ask in english, because she [correctly] gauged that that was the way to earn her trust and motivate her.) in spite of this, lucca's spanish is amazing for having been in the program just one semester. (by the parent-teacher conferences a couple months ago, she was reading and writing at grade level in spanish. she's not some genius; the formula, instruction and support are just there. the "model" works.)

    anyway, fairmount will doubtless go through its growing pains as it transitions to becoming an all-immersion school by 2012 (except for the 2 special-day classes, which have impressed me -- the teachers seem fantastic. there are many kids in full inclusion as well, with fulltime aides. one is my daughter's table partner, and it is lovely how they trust and help each other.) for some test score chasers or immersion purists, fairmount may never be high or strict or political enough. so be it. i see its charms as rooted in the overall supportive, warm nature of the school, which i think will persist as we aim higher and bring along academics, enrichment and other programs there.

  7. I too am a Fairmount parent with a 2nd grader attending and an incoming Kinder next year.

    I can add some comments about Mary Lou, our principal.

    Mary Lou stepped into the footsteps of our former fabulous principal Karling Aguilera Forte. He has a dynamic personality I likened to a game show host, and is just a lot of fun. Karling did an amazing job at the school in his five years there with efforts that could be likened to turning a ship around. He had a lot of big tasks to overcome. He worked to improve the staff, doing the hard work of moving poorly performing staff out of our school. Test scores dramatically rose during his tenure. Also, he utilized the No Child Left Behind status to convince the District to make Fairmount an All Immersion school. He moved on, and is greatly missed, but it was time.

    Mary Lou is very different from Karling, but her skill set is perfect for where our school is now. The ship is turned, and we need someone who knows the nuts and bolts of the system and can fine tune things. Her wealth of knowledge in areas of academia is vast. She may tend to speak in the lingo of education administrators, but she is always willing to explain what is going on. Her vision for our school is grand, and she is doing the nuts and bolts of putting it together.

    For example, there is this chart out there that she has created that is like a map for Fairmount to be a better school. She worked with the teachers to create this project which has some lingo name, but which is very real and is being put into practice at the school. (BTW, the teachers love her & they strongly wanted her to stay on when she arrived interim last year) The project integrates the Immersion program with state mandated educational standards along with our school calendar and certain teacher projects, etc. It is vast. Mary Lou will spend about an hour explaining it to you if you get her started on it.

    The thing with Mary Lou is she has a lot going on in that head of hers and she is amazingly productive. That being said, in the setting of school tours, I have observed that she hasn't boiled her vision down to a simple message that parents on tours are seeking. I know she will work on this for next year as she is incredibly responsive to new ideas and constructive criticisms. But, as a parent who has observed her work with the PTA and with school wide issues that matter to the community, what she lacks in PR knack she makes up in substance.

    My two cents. Parent at Fairmount.