Friday, December 31, 2010

SFGate: New Calif. law requires vaccine for grades 7-12

This from SFGate:

California teens need to be up to date on their whooping cough shots before starting classes next fall in order to be in compliance with a new law.

The statute requires all middle and high school students to be vaccinated against the highly infectious disease, also known as pertussis, prior to the school year that starts in the fall of 2011.

State public health medical officer Dr. Eileen Yamada says students in public and private schools will need to show proof of a TDAP booster shot before starting school.

"They really will need documentation to get into school, so it's very important to plan ahead, make appointments now, and keep student immunization record in a safe place," said Yamada.

Parents should scrutinize medical records to make sure their children got the TDAP vaccine, which covers pertussis, and not just the TD vaccine.

Read the full story

Thursday, December 30, 2010

SFGate: Enough of school fundraisers

This from SFGate:

Many public school parents get frustrated when faced with the ever-shrinking budgets and the endless calls to raise cash. For, even with all our fundraising, if our kid is talented enough to earn a part in the school play, we have to fork over more money to pay for the honor. Otherwise, no funds for sets, costumes or playbills.

Given this sad state of affairs, I'm wholly in favor of fundraising. However, I'm a little fed up with some of the tactics, and I'm strongly considering a boycott.

I came to this conclusion while delivering boxes of raw cookie dough to raise money for my daughter's middle school. Her school is always asking kids to sell stuff to raise money - money that is no doubt put to good use. But here's what happens: All the parents end up buying useless junk from one another. We could raise a lot more money if we cut out the middleman and just donated directly to the school.

Read the full story

SF Examiner: School bus service slashed in cost-saving move

From the SF Examiner:
Thousands of schoolchildren will have to find a new way to travel to school next year after the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education voted to cut bus service by more than 50 percent.

The cuts — which affect roughly 3,300 general-education children in elementary and middle school grades — will be phased in over the next three years and could save the district roughly $1.9 million annually.

It costs the district $100,000 annually to run each yellow bus.
Read the full story

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Middle School Special Ed Search -- Update

So we are now in the middle of our search for a middle school for our son Ben, who is in special ed. First, we've made a big decision. We just decided to change Ben's program designation from "Inclusion" to "RSP." Some parents who have kindly commented on my blog postings in past said they made the switch as a way to expand middle school options as Inclusion was only offered at a limited number of middle schools. But, as I have mentioned, the school district just mandated that ALL elementaries and middle schools now offer Inclusion. Only well maybe they did. After touring three different middle schools that have not had Inclusion in the past but now have it, we have become concerned that, at least for next year, this planned push out of Inclusion is going to be, well, bumpy. I have no doubt that the District wants all schools to offer Inclusion. But actually getting the schools to do it appears to be a different story. Our questions have been met with everything from blank stares to outright rejection -- as in "We know the District wants Inclusion at our school but I can tell you right now that there will be no Inclusion kids at our school next year." There is confusion as to whether extra support will be rolled out at these schools. Moreover, and I am just beginning to understand this, Inclusion seems to mean something different at the middle school level than it does at the elementary school level. At the elementary school level, Inclusion has come to encompass all kinds of kids from ones, like Ben, who have ADD but can generally keep up with the general ed class' curriculum (with support) to kids who need significant modification of that curriculum and/or have significant behavioral problems (which Ben doesn't have). For some middle schools, Inclusion seems to be the box where kids who need curriculum modification and/or who are disruptive go. Kids like Ben to them are RSP kids. Now I don't know if this is the way the District interprets these designations, but I have now heard it from too many special ed professionals at middle schools and, since those are the folks I'm going to be dealing with next year, their interpretation is what matters. So we made the switch at Ben's IEP. Our hope is that this change will make it easier for us to actually get a school that will work for us.

And finding a school that will work is a bit of a work in progress. Here's my two second take on special ed at the large middle schools we've seen so far: (1) Giannini -- special ed professionals seem good and earnest and the school seems orderly, but the school is so academically inclined that we just don't think it will go well for Ben's self-esteem; (2) Hoover -- the school just seems so chaotic to us, plus we have heard too many concerns about increased discipline issues at the school and have too many friends who have had to pull their special ed kid out of it; (3) Roosevelt -- we liked the slightly smaller feel of the school, but we got a negative vibe from the principal about special ed (he was the only principal that didn't want to talk about special ed, but rather sent us directly to the special ed professionals); (4) Lick -- loved the principal but we are worried that the school has too many kids with issues and our Ben will just get lost in the woodworking there; plus we got a sense that some of the special ed staff was not well-trained; (4) Aptos -- of all the big middle schools, this was the one that seemed like it might work; nice mix of kids and relatively orderly and the special ed professionals seemed nice and on top of things.

We've still got a couple more, but that's where we are at.

Monday, December 20, 2010

C5 Charter School Under Development - Need More Interest Forms Within Next 10 days

From C5 Charter School Bev Melugin:

Our charter school in development, C5 International School, must have 20 more parent signatures of meaningful interest in enrolling their K-3rd grade students in our school next school year, 2011-2012, to assure that we will be provided facilities by the San Francisco Unified School District.

Are you and anyone else that you know interested? Here is more information to help you to support having our school as an option for families.

1. When parents sign the form, that is available on our Website at, and return a hardcopy with an original signature in person or by mail or messenger to our office before December 30th, it does not obligate them to enroll their child or limit their choices of other schools for enrollment.

2. Signed forms will help us to be sure that we will have a school facility next fall when the State Board of Education approves our charter proposal by March 15. Request for facilities under state Proposition 39 is a separate process from the approval of a charter proposal.

3. We simply ask that those who sign and return a form maintain their interest in enrolling in our school, among other schools if that is the case, through next spring, even if questioned or challenged by the school district.

4. Information about our school is on our Website, the address is mentioned above, and many details are in the copy of our charter proposal located there that was submitted to the school district.

We must turn these forms in to the school District by Noon Thursday, December 30th to qualify for a District facility.

We will be checking the mail each day. We wish everyone a joyful and peaceful Holiday Season and rewarding new school experiences next year!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Language-focused schools: Can you have it all?

First off, here's a double apology.

I know I've posted a lot in the last week, probably to the point of over-posting. But I'm trying to squeak in one more private school post before the first application deadlines land on December 15.

And this time, I'm doing things backwards. I won't have time this week to post detailed tour notes on two private schools that we toured -- French American International and Chinese American International. But I'm sure that a lot of families out there are likely to be applying. So I'm going to post this summary first, and add tour notes to the database later.

In thinking through these schools, one key thing keeps coming to mind -- in getting the language benefits of an immersion education, what else might one have to give up?

In our tours, these schools were certainly distinctive. Here are a few key impressions.


  • Challenging but warm kindergarten classroom, with teachers and students working collaboratively and bilingually to think through questions related to numbers and the calendar.
  • Academically demanding middle school classrooms that seemed to take a traditional approach but keep the students engaged. I've rarely seen students of any age, let alone middle schoolers, have such a thoughtful discussion with their teacher about Emily Dickinson.
  • The addition of a third language (Spanish, Mandarin, or Italian) to the curriculum later in elementary school gives students a noteworthy distinction. At the FAIS Open House, the confident, personable middle schoolers and high schoolers who gave remarks -- each in three different languages -- were among the most impressive student speakers we've seen at just about any school we've visited.


  • Challenging, serious kindergarten classrooms. In no other school have I seen little kids working more intently. If you want an academic, immersion-based kindergarten, this is a school for you.
  • Lively, vibrant middle school classrooms. In one Chinese-language fifth grade geography/social studies lesson, kids were practically falling over each other to answer questions posed by their cheery, dynamic teacher. Interestingly, the middle school classes almost seemed a little more relaxed than those in the elementary school.
  • An excellent math program. If you or your child loves math, take a look at this school.

So what's behind my larger question? It's driven, in great measure, by people I've met on other tours -- parents at immersion schools who are looking to transfer. To be specific, on tours this fall I've met four current CAIS families who are seeking other options, two Alice Fong Yu families, and one each from FAIS, Jose Ortega, and Buena Vista.

All have said essentially the same thing -- their current schools aren't terrible or harmful, but they just aren't the right fit for their child. According to these families, a certain kind of child who enjoys very structured, traditional academic environments will do well at immersion schools. For other children, these families said, it's a different story.

(For more context, I tried digging through the SF K Files archives for past tour notes on these schools, but could only find notes for FAIS, AFY, and Buena Vista. If anyone knows of others I missed, please add to the comments!)

I'm not implying that families are fleeing these schools in droves, and I'm not trying to bash immersion schools as a whole. We plan to tour some public immersion programs in January. And movement between schools is to be expected -- we saw lots of it in preschool. All of the above-mentioned immersion schools are popular. But still, I think it's worth asking -- when a school is trying to focus on language, how much additional flexibility does it have?

What have others found at immersion schools, either as current parents, former parents, or on the tour circuit? In an immersion-focused curriculum, what other factors might get lower priority? Which students do best in immersion schools? How do these schools handle different learning styles, or social and emotional issues? Can you get immersion and still "have it all"?

Tell prospective K parents what you think of your elementary school's special ed program!

As I look at public and charter middle schools for my special ed son, I can't help but think of those parents who are just starting the school journey with kids who may need special ed services. I have learned the hard way that I have to make repeated visits to prospective schools: first, to hear how the principal and the general tour guides talk about special ed at the school; and, second, to have more in-depth conversations with the special ed professionals at each school. Prospective K special ed parents, however, have a far larger number of schools to look into, and are going into it with many more unknowns about how much help their kid is going to need. So I thought those of us with kids already in elementaries owe it to prospective K parents to let them know what we think of our elementary's special ed program. Keeping it constructive while being as specific as possible, could people use this thread to let prospective K parents know which schools -- public, private or charter -- have good special ed programs and which have ones that need more, ahem, help? Furthermore, what questions about special ed should prospective K parents be asking at those schools? Finally, what avenues does a special ed parent have if things start to sour at their elementary school?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tour notes for SF Friends and Presidio Hill, and questions on project-based learning

With private school application deadlines looming, I’m racing to get a few more private school tour notes posted. I just added notes on San Francisco Friends School and Presidio Hill School to the database. (I also hope I can get write-ups together on French American International and Chinese American International early this week, but may run out of time.)

In putting together these notes, I found myself left with a few broader questions. Both Friends and PHS are schools that emphasize project-based learning. I didn’t toured every private PBL school in San Francisco (you’ll see the list of private schools we toured and why here), but we did visit a few. After these tours, I definitely have a much better understanding of PBL. But I’d also like to hear thoughts from parents who are either currently in PBL schools, or who decided to go in another direction.

First, for context, here are some vignettes from our tours of PHS and Friends. As you’ll see, I had clearer impressions from some classroom visits than I did others.


  • In the second-grade classroom, students had chosen a medieval theme for the year, complete with a castle built at one end of the room. During our visit, the kids were working on writing “flipped” fairy tales, or retellings of traditional versions. Many students were busy scribbling -- one girl, for example, was crafting a story about a witch who used her broom to sweep floors instead of ride through the skies. A few boys, though, were doodling or drawing pictures instead of writing. It was hard to tell if they were being given a chance to express a different learning preference, or if they just weren’t engaged in the assignment.
  • In a fifth-grade math room, students were working on multiplication by looking at a screen projection showing a problem and three solutions. None of the solutions provided the exact answer. Instead, the class was being asked to say which was the closest answer, and why. The students were all engaged in the discussion – no one seemed lost or checked out.
  • In the middle school science lab, students were learning about homeostatis by putting ice cubes in water and then using a mix of heat, water, and more ice to keep the temperature at a constant state for 20 minutes. The kids were all engaged, laughing, breaking up big chunks of ice with a hammer, and busily checking their thermometers and timers.


  • In a kindergarten room, students were working on their “magic letters.” As their teacher explained it, the class had been assigned a few letters of the alphabet that day – C, O, and Q. Then they started working with those letters, laying them out with sticks, writing them in the air, writing them on each other’s backs, and then finally writing them on paper. The kids were working enthusiastically and having a great time.
  • In a middle school math classroom, the students were working on fractions by building bridges out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands. One explained to us that the bridges would later be tested for their weight-bearing capacity as a demonstration of ratios and denominators. Some of the kids, though, didn’t seem focused on the task at hand, and were talking among themselves about other things. The teacher also didn't seem directly engaged in the activity, and was instead sitting up at the front of the classroom working on a laptop. Overall, I didn’t get a clear sense of exactly what was being taught, how the topic was being taught at that time, or if all the students were involved.

I’m not presenting these vignettes as total representations of these schools. Instead, I’m offering them as a way to get perspectives on project-based learning. In some of the above, I got a good sense of the educational dynamic. In others, it was less clear.

Parents with kids in PBL schools, what has your experience been? How do PBL schools stand out? How do you measure what your kids have learned, and what have you found important? Or, if you chose a different type of school, why?

While the above examples reflect Friends and PHS, perspectives from other private PBL schools are definitely welcome. It'd also be great to hear from parents with children in public schools with PBL programs, such as SF Community, Creative Arts Charter, and Clarendon.

Happy Holidays from Helga

I want to acknowledge my K search support group: Hugo’s classmates’ moms. Their attendance boundaries vary from mine (Sutro): McKinley, Juniper Serra, Peabody, McCoppin, Jefferson and Stevenson so together we have been able to cover a wide range of schools. We have shared our K tour experiences. Based on my colleague Rowena Ravenclaw’s recommendations, I toured Sherman and Peabody. (We had toured Alamo and Claire Lilienthal together as well.)

I also want to acknowledge the SFUSD teachers (Alamo and Argonne), who are also parents, that agreed to answer my questions. They love their respective schools. I asked what other schools they would suggest for Hugo’s interests in science. Accordingly, I added Dianne Feinstein and Sunset, which are along Godric's commute, to my tour list.

Lastly I want to acknowledge fellow parents. I added Lafayette to my tour strategy because a parent at the PPS-SF Marin Day Schools / Laurel Heights event raved about the school’s PTA and chose Lafayette over a prestigious private school. Also another parent (at Claire Lilienthal tour) talked about how the students at Lafayette felt comfortable with Principal Ruby Brown and how the Principal knew each child’s name.

All of these groups help me expand my initial tour list.

I’m signing off until after the New Year ... Happy Holidays!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

NY Times: Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators

This from the Times:
With China’s debut in international standardized testing, students in Shanghai have surprised experts by outscoring their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of a respected exam.

American officials and Europeans involved in administering the test in about 65 countries acknowledged that the scores from Shanghai — an industrial powerhouse with some 20 million residents and scores of modern universities that is a magnet for the best students in the country — are by no means representative of all of China.

About 5,100 15-year-olds in Shanghai were chosen as a representative cross-section of students in that city. In the United States, a similar number of students from across the country were selected as a representative sample for the test.

Experts noted the obvious difficulty of using a standardized test to compare countries and cities of vastly different sizes. Even so, they said the stellar academic performance of students in Shanghai was noteworthy, and another sign of China’s rapid modernization.

Read the full story

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fall 2011: A few more new public school enrollment changes, courtesy of tonight’s PPS-SF workshop

As advertised earlier today on SF K Files, PPS-SF held an enrollment workshop tonight at the Sunset Branch library. The room was full, with most in the audience wearing that slightly anxious “Cramming for a pop quiz” look that we all seem to get when contemplating the new assignment system.

Most of the information covered by PPS-SF program manager Vicki Symonds touched on essentials that have already been discussed on this blog (neighborhood assignment boundaries, list as many schools as you'd like, get your application in by February 18). But compared to a presentation I saw Symonds give earlier this fall, more details are available, so I thought I’d post a few updates:

  • The school district has now provided an “all in one map” that shows CTIP1 areas, neighborhood boundaries, and district pre-K’s and CDC’s all in one view. The latter is important in knowing whether the schools you’d like have a pre-K or CDC feeding into them, which can affect one's chances of getting in. So far, I've only seen this true "all in one" map on paper, and district offices and PPS-SF have copies. Online, you can find a map that shows neighborhoods boundaries, city-wide schools, middle schools, high schools, and CDCs/Pre-K's (but no CTIP1 areas, at least for now). You’ll find a copy here.
  • After the first round of assignments in March, the old “waitpool” and “Round II” processes have been replaced by what’s now called “placement periods,” which seems like an elaborate way to say “further rounds of the lottery.” According to the school district website, these additional placement periods will probably be run in May, mid-August, shortly before school starts, and after school begins. Participating in each placement period requires its own separate request. The August placement period seems to have a couple of unique features, such as requiring that participants give up a previous school assignment to try their luck should they win a higher choice school and want to accept it in that round of the lottery.
  • The placement periods seem to use the same tie-breakers, and ONLY the same-tiebreakers, as the main lottery. Some of the priorities from the old system no longer matter, such as having gone 0/7, 0/15, or 0/whatever number of schools you put down in on your initial application.

Thanks to the parents who represented their schools – New Traditions, Jefferson, Argonne, Creative Arts, and Sunset. Your presentations were not only helpful, but provided a welcome reminder that yes, believe it or not, we’ll eventually be on the other side of this process and be in school.

And a personal thanks to Vicki Symonds, whose ran tonight’s discussion without the private school swipes I’d seen at the forum earlier this fall. Tonight, when a mom in the audience commented that she was trying the lottery again for first grade after landing none of her choices last year and opting for private school, I winced on her behalf, expecting a lecture. Instead, Symonds listened empathetically and wished the woman good luck this year. Thank you for a helpful, informative workshop that made room for everyone, regardless of where we’re at in this process.

Calling parents interested in Daniel Webster!

Like many of you with a child entering kindergarten in the fall of 2011 we have been obsessively touring schools.

We have been pleasantly surprised by how many lovely schools that we have seen, McKinley, Grattan, Sunnyside, Miraloma, to name a few.

But we are also incredibly impressed by the effort that has been put into our own neighborhood school, Daniel Webster.

A local parent founded PREfund group brought in the PKDW preschool, and started the Spanish immersion education program at DW three years ago.

Now, the Spanish immersion (SI) program, though very popular with neighborhood families, does not offer priority to them, but the General Education (GE) program of course does. Also, many families are not looking for immersion education. The hope of the PREfund group has always been that by bringing in more diversity of families through the immersion program, that ultimately the whole school would improve in both performance and diversity. There is an article about PREFund here:

We think that this year, with the introduction of the new neighborhood school preference and the redrawn boundaries for the DW attendance area, that the time is perfect for an influx of neighborhood families who may not have previously considered the Daniel Webster GE program.

Not long ago Miraloma, McKinley and Grattan were all low scoring schools. Groups of parents banded together and decided to send their children to the schools anyway, seeing the potential for improvement. This addition of this broader demographic to the original population , which brought increased level of participation of families and increased fund raising, ultimately raised test scores and increased the richness of programs and resources available at the schools. Miraloma is a great example (see article, and quote from it below)

"In 2005, Miraloma scored 651 out of 1000 on California’s Academic Performance Index. Results released last week show a score of 865, among the city’s best. "

Daniel Webster was recognized last year for a 13% rise in test scores, this coming before the SI program kids have even reached the testing age, so it is already going in the right direction.

Our address falls into a CIPT1/low test score zone, so we would probably stand a good chance of getting into one of the 'trophy schools' under the new system, but we don't really want to add to our commutes by driving half way across the city every day. We would rather be part of the community that is already well on the way to turning Daniel Webster into our own neighborhood gem. We are not looking for immersion education though, so we would like to put our daughter in the GE program.

The GE program currently has just one class that can take up to 22 children. Historically it has been under enrolled.

If we get a critical mass of people who will commit (maybe 8-10 families) the incoming K class will look very different next year. The Principal and teachers are excited to bring in a new wave of families to revitalize the GE program, and are ready and willing to talk to us about it and address ideas and concerns. We can do this before the application deadline.
We believe that with a collaborative effort by the parents and teachers (and our kids), and with the support of the veteran DW parents, we can lift the whole school to new heights of achievement.

We are looking for a group of parents who will say "I'll put Daniel Webster General Ed program first on my application if you will". In the 2008/2009 year only two people put the DW GE program as their first choice, so if we list it first we will get it (even if you don't live in the DW attendance area).

If you are interested, please reply directly to me, at I will set up a meeting, likely on Sunday December 12th, for us to get together and discuss this.

You can also sign up to tour Daniel Webster by calling (415) 695-5787
Looking forward to hearing from you,

Parents for Public School enrollment workshop: Tonight@

Parents for Public Schools-SF is having an enrollment workshop from 6:30-8:00pm tonight (Dec. 6) at the Sunset Library Branch, 1305 18th Ave. @ Irving St.

Here is what you can expect at the workshop:

• Meet parents from public school.
• Learn about the NEW Public School Enrollment process.
• Get tips on key information and resources

Hope to see you there!

Tour Notes: SF K Files bloggers (and readers) review schools

The SF K Files' team of crackerjack bloggers have been touring schools and writing up their thoughts in the new tour notes section of the site.

Here's a rundown of schools with recent tour notes--please feel free to jump into the discussion and comment on notes and leave impressions of your own if you toured the school:

Marin Country Day:




John Yehal Chin:

Claire Lilienthal:

Rosa Parks:


Zion Luthern:




Spring Valley:

Creative Arts Charter:

Please post your reviews of schools you've toured in tour notes. Simply search for the school in the database, then type up your impressions.

Marshall Elementary School Holiday Benefit

When: Tuesday, December 7, 6-9pm
Where: Som Bar, 2925 16th Street (btw Capp & Mission) San Francisco 21+ (sorry, kids!)

Do good and have fun! Kick off your holiday season and celebrate Marshall Elementary.

Dance, Drink, Buy Art & Win Great Raffle Prizes to Benefit Marshall Elementary!

There will be live music & DJ's playing hip-hop, latin, reggae, house and old-school music, live painting, an art auction, raffle and more.

Feel free to bring your friends and spread the word.

***Suggested donation of $5-$500 at the door (no one turned away) - 100% of proceeds to benefit Marshall Elementary***

Sunday, December 5, 2010

S.F. Community School's silent auction

Win a private tour of the city hall dome, complete with champagne; and
get all your holiday gifts, big and small, at S.F. Community School's
silent auction next Saturday!
December 11th, 5 - 8pm, at the Grotto at Sports Basement (Bryant
between 16th & 15th).

Bid on some great items, and enjoy appetizers, wine, desserts, music
and good company to benefit project based learning and outdoor
education at San Francisco Community, a small K-8 public school.
Dinners at fabulous restaurants, tickets to everything from Disneyland
to yoga class, handmade items, services and more. Items start at $5.
Get 10% off at Sports Basement during the auction too!
$15 per person or $20 per couple includes food and wine.
*Please note that bidding ends at 7:15*

Children are welcome, but there will not be childcare.
Free parking across the street at Potrero Center.

Friday, December 3, 2010

SFGate: Parents can sue if schools skimp on P.E.

This from SFGate:

Parents can take their children's public schools to court to force educators to provide the minimum amount of physical education required by state law, the California Court of Appeal ruled in Sacramento on Tuesday, which could spell trouble for a lot of state schools.

California's education code requires elementary schools to offer 200 minutes of physical education every 10 days, an amount that rises to 400 minutes in middle or high schools, not including lunch or recess. A small-scale survey of state schools a few years ago found more than half failed to provide the required minutes of physical activity.

Read the full story

SFGate: School lunch program likely to be overhauled

This from SFGate:

The biggest overhaul of the national school lunch program and other federal food programs in 30 years is expected to pass the House today, following a rare unanimous Senate vote earlier this year. It would enact a key plank of first lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign.

Championed by Bay Area Democratic Reps. George Miller of Martinez and Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma, as well as a coalition of celebrity chefs appalled by the poor quality of school lunches, the $4.5 billion, 10-year legislation would increase nutritional standards in all federal food programs and eliminate junk food and soda from school campuses nationwide, following California's lead over the past decade.

Read more

Private schools: Marin Country Day, and questions on $$$$$

I just posted tour notes for Marin Country Day, and have to say that I loved the school. I can even handle the idea of the bridge/bus commute, although I can understand why, for many people, that’s a non-starter. But in thinking through whether to apply, I also have to say that I keep getting that “Mind on my money and my money on my mind” feeling.

The main thing that gives me pause about MCDS is the price tag – up to almost $27,000 by the time a student reaches upper middle school. Ouch. No can do, especially with two kids in school within the next two years. That means applying for financial aid. Everywhere I turn, schools and school experts keep saying that it’s OK to apply for financial assistance. But I’m not so sure.

My first hesitation has been with the intention of financial aid – shouldn’t it be reserved for families who are truly in need? Schools say that they don’t want the “barbell” effect, with some students at the bottom of the income spectrum, lots at the top, and no one in the middle. But I’m not sure how much room financial aid systems have for middle-class families like mine?

And then there’s the issue of how applying affects one’s chances of getting in. Schools say that the two processes are separate. But it’s hard to see how. Most schools probably can’t afford to admit an entire class of students who need financial aid. To me, it seems that there have to be two groups of applicants – those requesting aid and those not – and the two groups compete amongst themselves for spots. Or do I have it wrong?

I’m not singling out MCDS’s financial aid policies here. They seem very generous, and have a unique “indexed tuition” framework that puts assigns accepted financial aid applicants an individual tuition based on ability to pay. But as I contemplate private school applications, I keep circling back to financial aid, and wondering whether signaling that we need financial assistance will reduce our chances of getting in so greatly that it's not worth applying to private schools at all.

Those of you more in the know, what do you say? And those of you applying for private schools for next year, what are you thinking on financial aid?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lakeshore Elementary

I toured Lakeshore Elementary this week. You can read my write up here. Before I went on the tour I looked up the boundaries for Lakeshore and I was kind of shocked by how small and unpopulated the school’s boundaries seem to be. I highly recommend anyone who doesn’t like/thinks they won’t get into their neighborhood school (so, um, just about everyone I’ve talked to so far) check it out. Its way in the SW of the city so understandably not logistically possible for some, but it’s a nice school and with FOUR GE kindergarten classes, I can’t imagine it will fill with neighborhood kids.

PS- I asked the principal there if she had heard any buzz from the district about changing start times now that the bussing is going to be limited and she said she hadn’t heard a thing on that topic. Anyone else ask principals this? I’m very curious and don’t want start times to be any part of my decision process if they are going to change them up.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Subscribe to forum topics!

The SF K Files has a new feature that allows you to receive email alerts for new forum topics as soon as they are posted.

Simply go the the SF K Files Community site, here, and then visit the "Account Settings" section in the upper-right hand corner. Check the box for "Notify me whenever someone adds a new forum topic." Now the Community site will feel more like a mailing list a la Yahoo Groups.

And remember you can start a forum topic any time here. This is also a great place to post school events and links to interesting articles on education topics.


Have you always wondered just what a School Site Council is and does?

Then this workshop from Parents for Public Schools is for you

Please join us for our second workshop in our "Parents Transforming Schools" series titled "Site Council Fundamentals."

Date: Saturday December 4th
Time: 3:00 - 4:30
Location: Ingleside Branch Library
Address: 1298 Ocean Ave. @ Plymouth

We will:

* Discuss the role of School Site Councils in school governance and the role parents play.
* Hear from parents who have been on their school site councils.
* Learn how parents can partner with school staff to make their site councils more effective.
* Explore best practices of what works and how to overcome challenges.
* Discover what you can do to build community support at your school

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SFGate: Albany schools try to balance parent-funded extras

"The city of Albany is up in arms over new district-imposed controls on PTA cash at each of the city's three elementary schools, with the school board dictating what parents can -- or more specifically can't -- buy for their kids to supplement their public education," according to a story on SFGate. How do you think S.F. parents would respond if a similar approach to PTA funds was adopted here in the city? Is S.F.'s model working, or not working?

Read the full story

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tis the season for confessions

Dear readers, forgive me because I have been hiding. It has been way too long since my last post and in that time, West and I have continued our nightly conversation about what we're going to do about schooling for Luke. We were hoping to have a decision made by Thanksgiving and coming out of our food coma, we're little closer to a decision. As the holiday season and deadlines for private school applications approaches, I feel the need to come clean so that Santa keeps me on the good girl list.

My first confession: I've nixed a lot of the tours I had scheduled to attend including SF Friends, Live Oak, Town School for Boys, Rooftop, and Kitteridge. I did post my brief notes on Cathedral School for Boys, Stratford School, Sunset ES, Lawton, and Presidio Hill School.

My second confession: We're seriously thinking of moving out of the San Francisco, if not California. We've gone to open houses down in the peninsula (not impressed with the homes we saw BTW), flew to Portland to check out neighborhoods, talked to colleagues in Florida, and entertained thoughts of (gasp) moving back to Virginia.

We are at a major crossroads in our lives and there are so many factors to consider but it does look like we may be leaving the city for more reasons that just the school system. We are continuing to tour a few schools and will apply to a private school or two, and enter our selections for the public schools on the chance that we can stay in San Francisco.

If you can help us find a place where a 2,500 sq. ft home won't cost us over $1m+ situated in a great public school district, with easy access to nature and the arts, among liberal open-minded citizens, then point us in that direction. If not, then feel free to post your confessions. I won't/ don't judge.

Private school tours: First cut

Notepad? Check. Told our respective work crews that, once again, we’ll be out all morning? Check. It’s Tourpalooza season, and for us, that includes both public and private schools.

We aren’t at all sure about going private, but as tour season kicked off, we were still curious to see some private elementary schools. What might, for good or bad, set these schools apart?

Answering that question, though, meant figuring out which schools to tour. We were curious, and wanted to see a mix of academic styles and educational approaches. But we’re not so deep in tour-junkie mode that we wanted to see everything. Since we have some important logistical constraints (like a dual southbound commute), we kept a fair number of private schools off our tour list:

  • Single-sex schools. We have an older girl and a younger boy, and can’t face the idea of doing this whole process again in two years. We also aren’t looking at Catholic-affiliated schools, which nixed the Convent-Stuart Hall combo.
  • Schools too far off our commute path to be practical for the next decade or so. Since we live northwest-ish (as in north of Noriega and west of Webster), that eliminated schools like Live Oak, Adda Clevenger, and Synergy.
  • Schools that are relatively new and still finding their feet. Since we’re in learning mode, not “Gotta go to private school or bust” mode, we preferred to see long-running programs in the city with established parent communities we could turn to with questions. For us, that meant leaving Stratford, Alta Vista, and Escuela Marin Prep off our list.
I also decided against touring one school, San Francisco Day, simply because it didn’t feel like a possible fit right up front. I know it’s a popular place, and offers free Open House visits. But to see classrooms in action, you have to fill out a lengthy application and pay $90 before you can formally tour. I’m sure the school has its reasons – tours are disruptive, tours should be set aside for serious prospects, etc. And maybe, since private school means money, SF Day is just being more direct about that fact up front. But most other campuses, public and private, find ways to manage school-time tours without a steep cover charge. We chose to pass.

I fully realize that the schools we opted against touring are a promising fit for other families, so if anyone out there has visited any of these campuses and would like to share their impressions here, please do. If you are interested in the single-sex options, you’ll also find discussions about them on The School Boards site.

Even after eliminating all of the above from our tour list, there remained a wide range of campuses to consider, including San Francisco Friends, Marin Country Day, French American International, Chinese American International, and Presidio Hill. We’ve also toured one parochial school, Zion Lutheran. I’ll post about some of these tours soon.

If you’ve been touring private schools, where did you decide to tour, and why?

Tourpalooza, in which I visit Sherman and get a clue, thanks to a teacher and alum -- my mom

My mother and I park by along Octavia St., near the flat my grandparents rented, and retrace her old path to Sherman Elementary. It’s tour season, and my mom is coming along to see her former school.

When I told my mother about plans to tour San Francisco schools, her eyes lit up. She has more than 20 years as public school teacher under her belt, including more than six years at James Lick and recent work as a literacy specialist for special ed students at a public middle school in Silicon Valley. She said that she’d love to see an elementary school in the city, especially Sherman, the neighborhood one she attended along with all my aunts, uncles, and godparents on her side. Sherman isn’t our assignment boundary school, and logistically, it’s out of our way. But it’s often described as one of the public system’s up-and-comer’s, and given my mom’s interest, I made it a Tourpalooza stop.

My notes from this well-organized tour, led by parents and capped off with a Q&A with principal Sara Shenkan-Rich, are in the schools database. And I’ll save my mom’s comments on how the Spanish-style campus has changed for a local history conversation, although a few of them (“It’s good that they have a play structure in the yard now…we only got blacktop!”) gave me new perspective on the things parents complain about today.

But as fellow SF K Files blogger Helga put it, we all have moments in this process where we get "schooled." This tour was one of mine. Seeing the school through the eyes of a teacher was interesting, and raised some points worth sharing:

  • Fundamentals. When the tour visited classrooms, many parents’ eyes darted around, trying to take in the facilities, the students, the wall displays, and the white boards all at once. My mom homed in only on the teachers and students – the reading coaching in an upper-grade room, the little ones patting their heads “Yes” or waving their arms “No” in a phonics session in a kindergarten room. My mother liked what she saw in terms of teaching. She also liked Principal Sara Shenkan-Rich’s emphasis on reading and writing, including a differentiated reading program tailored to a student’s individual skill level.
  • Diverse student needs. Sherman has been getting some discussion lately for becoming less diverse. But my mom said that from a teaching perspective, the school’s demographics (25 percent English language learners, 50 percent free/reduced lunch) mean that many students need individual attention. When my mother went to Sherman, the school was a mix of wealthier kids from Pacific Heights and working-class Italian-Americans from the flats, with serious class and home language differences. From that experience, she decided that it’s not just the mix at a school that matters, but how the school addresses it. How are children brought together around common educational goals? How are they brought together as a school community? She left with a good sense of the school’s approach on the educational side, and less sure of how the school builds community. (The latter wasn’t a criticism of anything we saw on the tour, just a question she had afterwards.)
  • Student focus. In the many classrooms we visited, my mom tracked how engaged the students seemed to be. When she saw an open classroom door, she also looked in, checking out those upper-grade rooms that weren’t a tour stop. She liked what she saw. “Those kids are working with their teachers and paying attention,” she said. “When you get closer to middle school, that gets harder.”
Overall, my mother left the school very impressed by its organized feel and academics. She withheld a lot of nostalgia -- the San Francisco she grew up in predates the touchy-feely city of today, and anything sentimental from her is rare. But she did say how proud she was to see her old school thriving in the hands of a dynamic, enthusiastic principal and parent community.

Then she asked me what I thought. I replied that the fundamentals seem sound, but that we’ve been looking for many different things, and rattled off some of the items in my (admittedly) letter-to-Santa’ish list of what we’d originally hoped for in a school.

She smiled, and took hold of my arm. “Those are nice,” she says. “Use that list for your private school visits. But for public school these days, cara mia, you should focus just a few basic things.”

She went on to list them – a safe environment that encourages learning (for us, that means something that works for a shy girl), an academic approach that tries to build solid fundamentals for every student in spite of differences, a solid reading program, an engaged principal, active parents who volunteer and fund-raise.

“Anything else you get on top of all that is great,” she said. “But you find those things for Tacoma first, honey. She needs you to.”

OK, Mom. I hear you. I do.

Others on the tour circuit, what have been your "getting schooled" moments?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Helga's Second Half Report - Short & Not So Sweet

It’s been 6 weeks since my last post Half Time Report.

My reviews for this 2nd batch of schools -- Alamo, John Yehall Chin (late addition to Tour Strategy because of its project based 4th/5th GATE class), Claire Lilienthal, Rosa Parks, and Clarendon (project based) -- are a lot shorter than the 1st batch and shorter as the touring season progressed.

Basically the crux of my decision of the list of 10+ will come down to these Must Haves:

• Curriculum – is there anything unique about how the school teaches the standard curriculum? In order of preference for our family: Critical thinking or Project based learning or Science.
• PTA – What enrichment programs or additional staff does the fundraising support? Are the parents welcoming? Can I see myself volunteering with the parent community?
• Principal – How does he/she support teachers and teacher development? Create & maintain a safe & orderly environment for students? Relate to the parent community?
Onsite After School Programs because of possible cuts to busing to after school programs. Has the SFK Files community discussed After School Programs before? I cringe at the thought of having to figure out After School Programs (capacity, quality and fit for Hugo) on top of the schools themselves.

Going into Over Time

I had hoped to complete my tours by now.

However, after seeing the # of parents at the Clarendon tour and trying to list out my choices in order of preference on the Enrollment Form, I started to despair and second guess myself and my tour strategy. I’ve added Lafayette and Peabody as suggested from the community to my intro post and schools along Godric’s commute that incorporate science into their curriculum: Dianne Feinstein and Sunset.

I’ll post reviews for these schools before the holidays, but will not have our list of 10+ sorted out until after the holidays.

Helga the Exhausted

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Year I’m Thankful for Options

One of my goals for this crazy school process was to broaden my horizons in my search. I wanted to make sure I explored all options available to my child for elementary education, hopefully allowing for a not so scary lottery in the winter/spring. You know, as my friend puts it, to “cast a wider net.” Well, I’ve toured two schools so far so I’d say that’s a pretty big FAIL on my part. But, I do have plans to tour more and one of the schools I toured was not a public school so I guess so far I’m casting a wider net, just a very small one.

Anyway, recently I toured Zion Lutheran. I had heard good things about the school from a few sources and thought I should check it out on my own. Overall I really liked the school. I put specific tour notes here, but will touch on a few points of interest below.

School Size
Zion is a small school and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about that before my tour (they limit class sizes to 25, but most classes are closer to 15 students). However, once I walked in I got an immediate sense that everyone knows everyone else and I really felt like it was a little family. There are multiple “buddy” opportunities where the younger children are paired up with the older children and it really seems like Zion takes pride in the idea of everyone knowing everyone else. Once I was done with my tour I had a complete change of heart about school size. I had gone into it with a sort of “bigger=better” mindset and left really wanting a smaller school environment for my son. Especially after I heard that the kindergarten teacher tailors the homework to the specific academic level of the child. Wow, wouldn’t that be awesome? In Zion’s case I think the school size is a huge plus in my list of pros and cons.

Religious Aspect
Zion Lutheran is (obviously) a religious school. I asked the admissions director (who was SO nice and friendly, by the way) how religion was incorporated into the curriculum and found out the following:

• About 60% of their students would not be identified as Lutheran (or religious for that matter)
• They DO teach about other religions, though it seemed to be in more of a “this is what other people do/did” as opposed to a “here are your options” way
• There is a once a week church service the children attend that is geared towards kids. The upper grade kids each have a younger buddy they sit with during the service (which is about 30-40 min long).
• The parents are not required to attend (or donate to) the church, but are asked to attend services 4 times a year for the vocal choir performances the children do at regular church services.
• There are bible references/ God references/ religious references in the curriculum and around the school, though they seemed very general and not overbearing (at least to me).
• When I asked about Zion’s stance on families that may not include the typical mother, father, 2.5 children and dog, I was told there are children at the school from every possible type of family and any biblical teaching about families is done with the sensitivity that the children there come from all different family dynamics.

After/Before School Care
Zion runs an after and before school care program that is available for every child that attends the school. The best part (in my opinion) is that the children don’t necessarily need to be signed up to attend a certain day. A parent could call and say they are going to be late and to just please send their children along to the after school care program. There is an additional fee to use the after/before care program, but it is nominal ($12 for full day, I think it was $6 for partial day). From someone who is contemplating childcare options at the moment, that sounded really, really, really nice. Kids can also receive tutoring and music lessons on-site after school for an additional fee.

I really liked Zion Lutheran and think it is a great option for our son. Unfortunately, after doing a little number crunching, the reality for our family is that any financial obligation will be a push, so I can’t say for certain yet what we will do. In Zion’s paperwork there were three different organizations listed that offer financial assistance so I will be looking closely at those and applying (probably) to all three.

So, in addition to all the other things I’m thankful for (family, friends, peppermint bark ice cream, etc), I’m adding “elementary school options” to my list this year. It’s good to have options.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Update your school info in the new database

If you haven't already noticed, the SF K Files now has a school database.

You can access it in the upper-left hand corner of the site, and here.

The database allows you to look up specific schools and find a collection of blog posts and school reviews all in one places. It should make the site easier to use and help organize information.

We're hoping that SF K Files readers can help keep the information current. The database is a wiki of sorts, and functions similarly to Wikipedia.

Please look up your school in the database and make sure the information is current. If you have a new principal, you should be able to easily change this. If your tour times have changes, it's easy to fix. Simply go to your school page, and then in upper right hand corner click on "Edit School Info."

The database is no longer password protected.

If you have questions or difficulties, please email


Fairmount Elementary Bilingual Open House

Fairmount Elementary Bilingual Open House Nov. 30th at 6:00 p.m. for Families of Prospective New Students

Fairmount Elementary invites families considering applying for admission to Fairmount Elementary's Spanish Immersion program or Special Education/Inclusion Program to attend a special Open House on the evening of November 30, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. in the school's cafeteria.

What: Open House for Prospective Families
Including: Presentations by Parents & Principal Jeremy Hilinski
Where: Fairmount Elementary School, 65 Chenery Street, in the Cafeteria. (Randall at San Jose)
When: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 6:00 p.m.

For more information, including a preview of the Back to School movie, the Powerpoint presentation, and the school's brochure, check out the PTA sponsored website:

Hot topic: Child Development Centers and Sherman

This from a reader:
I am interested if anyone knows about the 2 CDCs now feeding Sherman?

Statement from Superintendent Carlos Garcia Regarding Investigation

November 13, 2010 (San Francisco) – This summer, SFUSD uncovered irregularities in the accounting practices of a few individuals. District officials immediately began an independent investigation and contacted the appropriate law enforcement agencies. To the extent the investigation concludes any wrongdoing, the district intends to pursue all legal remedies available to the district.

While the investigation continues, there are some things known for certain. A few individuals in one department received unauthorized payments from community organizations that had been subcontracted by these same individuals to provide specific services. It is against district policy for employees to receive payment for services they are on salary with the district to deliver.

The irregularities being investigated relate only to a few people. There are many safeguards in place including SF Board of Education reviews of all expenditures, a multistep process for any and all contracts, and an annual third party audit. This fall, we have put even more safeguards in place related to contracting with outside service providers.

It is our responsibility to be trustworthy stewards of public money. We have set up ways for employees or community members to report any concerns related to accounting irregularities: A tip line (415-248-1321) and email address

Friday, November 19, 2010

McKinley: Open House, Nov. 20

McKinley Elementary is holding an Open House for prospective families this Saturday, November 20, from 10am to 12pm. This can be a great way for busy parents to come see what McKinley offers and get a feel for our community.

If you are interested in learning more about our school, come tour classrooms, talk to current McKinley parents, learn about our after school programs, and meet our PTA members! In particular, hear from:

- Our PTA President
- Executive Director of ASEP, our after school enrichment program
- Parent Board member of our after school language immersion program for both Spanish and Mandarin
- One or more of our fantastic kindergarten teachers

Coffee and light breakfast.
Kids welcome.
No need to RSVP, we'll just look forward to seeing you!

Hot topic: Private school tours

This from a reader:
Any private school tours you can publish?

What happened to the people that were touring and were supposed to write about them?

Applications are due this month. Would love to hear from touring parents.

C5 International School: proposed charter school

C5 International School is a proposed charter school in the city of San Francisco. It will be one of the first Reggio-inspired elementary school programs in the Bay Area and the first charter school in the area with a comprehensive Reggio-inspired and project-based emergent curriculum throughout the school program. Students will have rich and diverse experiences with different languages and many varied cultural elements, and we will thoroughly incorporate each child’s culture, heritage, and languages into the curriculum. Our charter school will initially have four grades, kindergarten through third grade. We plan to add grades four and five in the next school year, 2011-2012; and, grades six through eight in 2012-2013.

We turned in our charter school proposal and the request for facilities and met the deadline of November 1st. The charter proposal and facilities request were accepted by the San Francisco School Board of Commissioners at their regular meeting on November 9th.

Here are the dates for the SFUSD school board committee meetings prior to giving out a decision regarding our charter proposal. These are mostly in the evening and we will keep you posted about the specific times as they depend on the agendas to be released later on. The meetings are usually held in the SFUSD Office Building, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco, CA 94102:

November 29, 2010 (Monday) - Hearing/Presentation at SFUSD’s Board of Education Budget and Business Services Committee

December 13, 2010 (Monday) - Hearing/Presentation at SFUSD’s Board of Education Curriculum and Program Committee

December 14, 2010 (Tuesday) - Final Recommendation at regular meeting of SFUSD’s Board of Education

For the first two meetings (Nov.29 & Dec. 13), the C5 Charter Development Committee will have a brief presentation and will be followed by public speakers demonstrating community support for the school. Please let us know if you would like to make a public statement (a brief 1-2 minutes each) so we can sign you up before the meeting/s.

On December 14, we would like to the SFUSD School Board to know and see the people who are interested in the program for their children and other children of San Francisco. Therefore, your presence will be of great importance on the day of the Final Recommendation.

Please contact Bev Melugin, Joe Wiseman or Roxy Resuma at C5 Children's School at (415) 7031277 or if you can join us on any of these dates above and if you have any questions. You can also visit for more information about our program.

Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy is hosting a Design Bazaar

Come join us as Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy is hosting a Design Bazaar on Saturday, November 2oth from 12-6, featuring Bay Area Designers. The bazaar will include fine art, ceramics, jewelry, t-shirts, purses and bags, textiles, soaps, jams and jellies from:

Animal Instincts

Rene Capone Comics and Fine Art


Smells and Bells Organics

Aunt Kitty’s Creations

Foat Design



Amina Mundi

Salvaged and Stitched

Tiny Sparks Design


Heather Galloway

Amy Horn & Mitsu Kimura

A Wing and a Prayer Sandra Kathleen Jewelry


Eliza Designs

Mimosa Studio

Secession Art & Design

tuckymama leather bags

Not only will you find great unique gifts for you friends and family this holiday season, you will also be supporting local artisans and arts in education.This wonderful event has been created and organized by the parents at Harvey Milk, who are committed to bringing all forms of art into the classroom to enrich and develop the future minds of tomorrow. All proceeds will go to the Visual and Performing Arts Program at the school. There will also be food, live entertainment and DJs. We anticipate big crowds so please come, have a good time and check out these hip, contemporary holiday gifts.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Private school discussions on SF K Files?

OK, I am the first to admit, I'm way behind. When I signed up to blog for the SF K Files, I had ambitious visions of posting tour notes on a regular basis. And there's plenty to write about -- since early October, Portland or I have done at least two school tours or events just about every week (public and private), and a few weeks, it's been more like four or five.

But between all that touring, my kids, work, and the rest of life (including a serious illness in the family), there hasn't been much time to post tour notes. Now, as I contemplate trying to catch up, I've found myself wondering whether it's worth posting notes on private schools. It's not that there's lack of interest out there in the world on these schools -- all of the tours and events have been absolutely packed. A recent open house at French American International, for example, was standing room only in a large space, and even those without a seat had to jockey for a spot.

But I'm not sure the SF K Files audience is as interested. I don't say that as a criticism. There are plenty of worthwhile, complex things to discuss on the public school side, and this blog reflects that. The public school scene in San Francisco is more than enough for one blog to cover. We've been touring both public and private schools, and have seen lots to like on both sides. We haven't yet decided what we'll do.

So I'm throwing these questions out there -- are a significant number of SF K Files readers interested in observations on individual private schools? And for families looking at private schools for next year, what information are you finding most helpful in making your decisions on where to apply?

P.S. Over in the Community section, someone has posted a question about private school tours, so if you have immediate thoughts on individual schools, you can post them there. The relatively small number of responses to that poster's question, though, is part of the reason why I'm wondering whether there's much reader interest in private schools.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sign Up for Your Middle School Tours ASAP

Middle school tours are filling up quickly. Some schools are already into January 2011 for available tour dates. Call the schools and sign up today to guarantee a tour spot.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hot topic: "Neighborhood schools"

This from a reader:
I'm curious how many parents are actually most interested in their "neighborhood school?" Is the school that you're "assigned to" at the top of your list?

Hot topic: New enrollment process

This from a reader:
I'm still confused about a very basic aspect of the new enrollment process. Do you increase your chances of getting an over-subscribed school by listing it higher on your list of preferences? For example, assume you and your "competition" are in the same tiebreaker category. Your competition lists School A as number 10 but does not get their first 9 choices. You, however, list School A as number 1. Do you have a better chance than your competition getting into that school because you listed it higher? Or, is that totally irrelevant, and it's pure lottery? Any help your readers could provide would be greatly appreciated.

SFGate: Latino kids now majority in state's public schools

This from SFGate:
Latinos now make up a majority of California's public school students, cracking the 50 percent barrier for the first time in the state's history, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Education.

Almost 50.4 percent of the state's students in the 2009-10 school year identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino, up 1.36 percent from the previous year.

In comparison, 27 percent of California's 6.2 million students identified themselves as white, 9 percent as Asian and 7 percent as black. Students calling themselves Filipino, Pacific Islander, Native American or other total almost 7 percent.

While the result was no surprise to educators, experts say the shift underscores the huge impact Latinos already have on California's politics, economy and school system.
Read the full story

Hot topic: California state budget

This from a reader:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called a special session Dec. 6 for the incoming legislature to deal with a new $25 billion state budget deficit predicted over the next year and a half. This is on top of the $21 billion budget hole that kept lawmakers from reaching a deal on a state budget for 100 days.

Educated Guess blog reviews the Legislative Analyst's Office report that includes the potential impact of the shortfall on Califonria public schools. "The only good news is that the 2011-12 budget should be rock bottom, after which revenues for schools will begin to climb slowly again."

Guest post: Caring and Community Beyond the Curriculum

“Dragons are yellow and sometimes they’re blue. They’re a part of [our school*] and we are, too. Dragons protect and some of them fly. [Our school] is a community of people who care. [Our school] is a community of people who care.”

Making the words true

The first time I heard my kindergarten daughter sing her school song, I thought, “Well, you can’t just sing a song about caring and community and have it be true.” Now I know that at her school, it is.

My five-year-old attends an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse public school in the San Francisco Unified School District. I knew the 240-student school had been using the Caring School Community® (CSC) program for several years, but while I expected to see the school using the curriculum, I couldn't have known I would find a staff and students who love and care for my daughter the way an extended family would. As Thanksgiving approaches, we are still getting to know the staff and families, but it's easy to see that the CSC program’s principles have become embedded in the school culture.

The community solves a problem

A few weeks into kindergarten, my daughter developed a bladder infection. As it turned out, she was afraid of the school bathrooms! What if a boy came in? What if someone turned off the lights or the stall door wouldn't open? When I told the principal, the after-school director, and my daughter’s teacher about her fears, they responded immediately with support and ideas. Within days:

  • The students discussed bathroom-related problems and solutions in a problem-solving class meeting. (Using class meetings to address problems is part of the CSC program.)
  • The teacher assigned my daughter a recess bathroom buddy.
  • The principal put in a work order to lighten the bathroom door.
  • The after-school director assigned older buddies for after-school bathroom trips.
  • I walked my daughter through what to do in the scenarios she imagined.

Several weeks later, her fear has vanished, and her kindergarten bathroom buddy is yet another one of her many friends!

Why community in school is important

I asked my daughter if the words from her school song are true and why. Her answer spoke volumes:

Yes, because the people at school are really, really nice, especially the principal. The people at school have good hearts, the boys play with the girls, and the older kids like to take care of the younger kids. There are a few people who can be bossy sometimes like So-and-So in Mr. So-and-So’s class.

The school is not perfect and neither are the children. Learning how to handle people who are “bossy sometimes” is part of my daughter’s social development. I expect there will be bumps along the way. But I believe that every child deserves to be a part of a school that has a “community of people who care.”

I believe that if children feel happy, supported, safe, and engaged in school, they will feel comfortable enough to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn more deeply. Research shows that creating a strong sense of community at school increases students’ academic performance and has a positive influence on their behavior. They are more likely to like school, enjoy challenging learning activities, and help others.

I hope that other schools strive toward making care and community a foundation of their school. Please let us know about how your school brings care and community beyond the curriculum!

Lisa Borah-Geller is a Program Manager at Developmental Studies Center

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Enrollment Fair survival guide

Parents for Public Schools-SF started the first Enrollment Fair and we have been at every fair since. Below are some tips for Attendees and Parent Volunteers.

SFUSD Enrollment Fair
Saturday, November 13, 2010
9am to 2:00pm
San Francisco Concourse East Hall; 635 8th Street @ Brannan

Free Shuttle bus service is available:
Burnett CDC (1520 Oakdale Ave): Pick up 8am,8:30am,9:30am
Cesar Chaves ES (826 Shotwell St.): Pick up 8:20am, 8:50am, 9:50am
Gordon J. Lau ES (950 Clay St.): Pick up 8:45am, 9:15am, 10:15am

Muni Lines 14 to 19, Muni lines 12 to 19, 10, 27, 47

For Attendees
1. Plan to spend up to 2 hours at the Fair. (After 2 hours your brain turns to mush and you won't be able to remember any more!)
2. Use public transportation or shuttle buses (see schedule). Parking is limited and the nearby lots and garages are expensive.
3. Bring a tote bag to put all of the flyers and papers you'll pick up, including the Enrollment Guide and application.
4. Bring your calendar to schedule tours.
5. The Enrollment Fair can be noisy and crowded. Small children may feel overstimulated by the crowds. If you can arrange childcare, it would free you up to focus on your school search.
6. Childcare options:
- Free Childcare is available at the Fair for ages 3-7. Register via email at
- Arrange for a playdate and trade with a friend - take turns going to the Fair.
7. Bring water - you'll be talking with a lot of different people.
8. Visit the PPS-SF table! We'll have Parent Ambassadors and staff that can give you even more tips on finding a school that works for you.
9. Attend a workshop at the Fair to get more information.

Workshop Schedule:

The Enrollment Process for School Year 2011-2012 (Room F)
(Simultaneous Spanish & Chinese Translation Provided)
* 10:30, 12:30

The Lowell 9th Grade Application Process (Room F)
(Simultaneous Spanish & Chinese Translation Provided)
* 11:45

Developing a new Transportation Policy (Room C)
* 11:30, 1:30

The Enrollment Process of Children in Special Education (Room D)
* 10:30, 12:20

Afterschool for all Workshop (Room E)
* 10:00, 11:00

Language Pathways for English Learners
* 10:00, 1:15 In Chinese (Room A)
* 11:00, 1:15 In Spanish (Room B)
* 11:00 In English (Room A)

Language Pathways for English Proficient Students
* 10:00, 12:00 (Room B)

For Volunteers:
1. Take a shift at the PPS table - it will give you lots of exposure to parents that you can direct to your school's table.
2. Use public transportation or shuttle buses (see schedule). Parking is limited and the nearby lots and garages are expensive.
3. Bring school event flyers or calendars so prospective parents can attend one of your school events.
4. Bring a sign up sheet for school tours, if you have to sign up. Or bring a flyer with your tour dates and times.
5. Decorate your school's display area with kids' artwork and pictures.
6. Get volunteers from your school who can speak Spanish and Chinese to connect with those parents.
7. Schedule an Open House after the Fair that you can invite parents to. Open Houses can be during the evening or weekend, with at least your Principal and Kindergarten teachers present. It's a great way for parents to actually talk with the teachers and principal without disturbing the classroom.
8. Send your school event to PPS to be added to our online calendar. Email event information to
9. Have water for your volunteers - they'll be talking with a lot of people!
10. Wear your school shirt -- and a PPS pin!