Reviewed by Debbie
What?! A private school tour this late in the game? I had been happily settled in what we had done so far in the public school application process and had been calmly awaiting the arrival of the assignment letter. I had only toured three schools, and all of them had been public. THEN, a week or so ago, a friend of mine tells me about the Stratford School tour that she recently went on and how amazing the school was. I had seen a flyer about the Stratford School, and it’s relatively close to our house, but I hadn’t heard much about the new San Francisco campus (opened Sept 2008) so it didn’t really hit our school tour radar until my friend’s recent glowing review of it. So after a few days of thinking, coupled with the realization that we don’t really have a back-up plan, I reluctantly dusted off my school tour notebook and went on a school tour….a tour that would rock our world.
Date of tour: 2/19/10
Location: 301 De Montford Avenue (Ingleside area), 415-333-3134
Principal: Mr. Kelly Woods
School type: Private
Parents’ Club: “Parent Committee”
Tours: Call to schedule a tour
School day start/stop: 8/8:15am – 3:15/3:30pm
Grades: K – 8 (currently just K and 1st, but next year will have 2nd grade and will add a grade every year)Total enrollment: Currently, one kindergarten class and one 1st grade class
Kindergarten size: Max ratio is 1:14, currently has one kindergarten class of about 22 with two teachers, will have two kindergarten classes this coming fall
Before/After school care: Fee-based before and after school care and enrichment programs
Let me first start out by saying that I loved everything about this school, and it started with my first call to the school to schedule a tour. A very nice and friendly lady, Josie, answered the phone and made every effort to schedule a tour that was convenient for my schedule. She gave me directions and told me where to park. The school is located next to a church, and the school building itself looks kind of church-like so at first you’re not sure this is the school until you see the Stratford School sign.
If school security is important to you, you’ll love this. There is only one main entrance/exit door, and it’s locked from the outside. There’s an intercom and video camera so the office staff can see who’s at the door before deciding whether or not to buzz them in. All parents of attending students receive a code so they can enter without having to be buzzed in. The main office is located to the left immediately after you enter the building so the office staff can see everyone who enters and exits the building. All the other exterior doors in the building lead to the outdoor play area, which is completely fenced in. If you’re in the outdoor play area, and there’s an emergency, you can exit through gates (normally locked but all staff have keys).
Even though this is a private school (about $14,000/yr), I saw nothing extravagant or showy - just a simple, clean, neat, organized, open and airy feeling facility, in the hallways and classrooms. There are three floors. The first floor has all the pre-school and pre-K classes. The second floor has five rooms, but only two are currently being used – one kindergarten class and one 1st grade. The third floor classrooms are not currently being used. Next year, they will have two kindergarten classes, one 1st grade class and one 2nd grade class. Each year they will add a grade, up to 8th grade. They have plenty of unused space in this building to add classes.
The tour was led by Kelly Woods, the principal, and there was one other prospective parent who joined us in this tour. We went to the second floor first which is where the kindergarten and 1st grade classes are. The kindergarten class has two teachers – not one teacher and one assistant but TWO teachers. The maximum ratio for their kindergarten is 1:14 – the current kindergarten class was 22 children I believe. 1st grade maximum ratio is 1:22 so in 1st grade they have one teacher.
When we entered the kindergarten classroom, we were greeted with a handshake and a “Welcome to room 208” from a little girl who was the “greeter of the week” (very sweet). The classroom was clean, open, bright, and uncluttered. The children were sitting in a circle and reading from a book. Yes, reading. Mr. Woods explained how most of the children couldn’t read when they first started. I noticed one of the assignments on the walls – several full sentences written about a topic with a picture drawn by the child on the top of each sheet of paper. Mr. Woods explained the assignment that I was looking at on the wall: with some guidance from the teacher, each child wrote sentences on a topic then drew an associated picture. I was impressed. In the classroom, the children then got up and went to their individual desks, and each child took turns getting up in front of the class and reciting a nursery rhyme. Public speaking – wow. I realize that schools put their best face forward when doing a tour, but I couldn’t help but be blown away. I also couldn’t help but compare this to what we saw children doing at the other schools we toured - I remember one class in particular was working on a worksheet and trying to identify brown objects on the worksheet. I also remember thinking that was not going to be very challenging for our daughter (I'm really not trying to brag, but she started reading when she was three). At Stratford, however, I could picture our daughter there, and she would thrive.
We went to the library which was neat but sparse. Mr Woods explained that they just finished up a book fair so they had many more books waiting to be placed on the shelves. The cafeteria/multi-purpose room was on the basement level. Not much natural light in the basement but it was a big clean open room so it seemed more than adequate. Mr. Woods also explained that there’s a catered lunch option available for purchase ($4.50 for lunch) – a fresh organic meal. Over 50% of the children eat the catered lunch, and the parents can pre-order the meal online.
In addition to the regular curriculum, kindergarteners also get music and PE. 1st graders (and up) get music, PE, Spanish (2x;/week), and Computer classes. There are two big events each year: the musical (where every child has a speaking part), and a science fair.
There is a volunteer “Parent Committee”. There is no fundraising. When Mr. Woods first said there was no fundraising, I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly. Every parent that I know who has a child at a private or parochial school is always talking about the fundraising requirements and/or expectations. Mr. Woods said that everything is paid for with the tuition and why would he expect parents to fundraise when they were already paying tuition. I liked everything that I had seen and heard so far on this tour, and this statement was the icing on the cake.
We also saw the play yard. It was large-ish with one play structure. More than adequate.
When Mark and I walked out of this tour, we both turned to each other and said, “I wish we hadn’t ever seen that”. Our world was rocked. Not only were we impressed with what we saw in the classroom in terms of what the children were doing, but it just felt good being there. Mr. Woods was so warm, friendly, knowledgeable, and so generous with his time, and every staff member we met was the same way – warm and welcoming. Everyone seemed happy to be there. I also really liked that there was nothing fancy at this private school. All the money seemed to go towards things that directly impact the education of the children. Somewhere in the middle of the tour, the school switched from being a potential back-up plan to being my #1 choice. But first we’ll have to see if our daughter is accepted at Stratford, and also see to which public school she’s assigned. Then we’ll potentially have a very difficult decision to make. Then there’s the money thing. $14,000 a year for private school is less than other private schools, but it’s still a big chunk of dough, and add that up for eight years and factor in tuition increases each year, and….you get the picture.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Stratford School states that they consider applications on a first come first served basis. Does that mean that you’re accepted as long as they have space, and they keep accepting on down the line until they run out of space? Or does it mean that you are “considered” on a first come first served basis but someone applying after you could be accepted before you? I really have no idea, and I probably should have asked that during the tour. I’m assuming that they still have space since they’re still giving tours, they accepted my $75 application fee, and we have an appointment for our daughter to be assessed this week.
Needless to say, this has brought all of my school anxiety back to the forefront. I even had a dream about it last night. In my dream, I received the public school assignment letter, and it was a flyer for an event at Commodore Sloat. What? (My dreams never make sense.) The letter didn’t say anything about being assigned to the school so of course I was stressing out in my dream.
I’m posting this tour for main two reasons: 1) To keep you all updated on my school application process story, and 2) Let anyone who’s interested in a private school know that there is another GREAT school out there, that isn’t as expensive as most other private schools, and they’re still accepting applications. I realize that there is much public vs. private debate on this blog, and I may take some heat for this post, but that’s okay. When I started this, I promised myself that I would keep it real and honest so, for whatever it’s worth, that’s the latest.