Tuesday, May 18, 2010

SOTA Open House for 5th-6th-7th-graders

Please pass this announcement on to anyone you know who may be interested!

The Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA)

invites students in fifth, sixth and seventh grades, and their families, to an

Open House

for younger students who are curious about SOTA.

Saturday, May 22, 10 a.m.-noon

Main Stage, SOTA

555 Portola Drive at O’Shaughnessy

Free parking onsite

Learn about the arts and academic offered at SOTA, what the audition requirements are like, what it’s like going to SOTA, why arts education is important, and more.

No reservations necessary, but come early, as a crowd is expected.


  1. Thank you for posting this. IF anyone who can't make it, or parents of younger kids, have questions about SOTA, please feel free to post them here and I'll try to answer them as a veteran SOTA mom.

  2. Hi, Caroline,

    Is there any PE at SOTA, and if not, how is that requirement satisfied?

    Can kids apply for (audition for/provide portfolios for) more than one "arts area"? Also... can kids switch from one area to another in later grades?

    Is there a way to know how many spots are open for each particular discipline- and is there historical information (available to applicants) regarding the number of applicants per space?


  3. There isn't PE at SOTA, and in the past that requirement was satisfied through independent study -- the students had to document the required hours. Then the state toughened up the PE requirements to make that far more difficult, and so the plan has been to launch a PE class next year. There's an Intro to Arts course required for freshman, and that was going to be cut, along with an elective period to be named later, to make room for the required two years of PE. But the new budget cuts make it absolutely impossible to afford to add PE classes, so it's going to have to be independent study again (the state can't have it both ways -- right now it's an unfunded mandate). Of course this may change as things unfold.

    Students may audition for more than one arts area, but not at the same audition. There are two regular rounds of auditions, the first one in January and the second in March, so they can schedule two. My judgment is that if the student is auditioning in a competitive discipline, it's best not to let the teacher know that the applicant isn't 100% committed to that discipline, for presumably obvious reasons -- you really don't want to make it sound like the kid is wavering between Creative Writing and Dance when there are many eager applicants for each of those spots. The teachers ARE looking for seriously committed students. Kids can apply to reaudition in another discipline after that first round.

    You can get a general idea of open spaces and how competitive each discipline is at the open houses. But it's more complicated than just applicants per space. For example, male dancers and vocalists have a major edge -- this is not just for bean-counting purposes; obviously a choir needs male voices, and a comprehensive dance department needs males. Girls have had a big edge in the very sought-after (and fabulous) Media department, but more female applicants are showing up. The also-fantastic Theater Tech department really needs some physically strong students (which tends to mean hulking boys) for purely pragmatic reasons, and has been attracting a lot of sylphlike girls.

    In music, some instruments have an edge too, and that can vary -- for example, in the past there was a serious shortage of French horns and the band teacher semi-joked that if you walked into the audition carrying a French horn, you were in. But there was a boom in strong French horn players auditioning for this fall. The class of '09 had a batch of superstar trombonists (the amazing Natalie Cressman, Anabel Hirano and Rachel Woods-Robinson, to name names), there were/are zero trombonists in the classes of '10 and '11, but the class of '12 has several (including my daughter).

    Definitely come to the open house, and/or to the open houses held throughout the fall aimed at 8th-graders, and learn all about it!

  4. Hi Caroline,

    Thanks for the info.
    Here's my question:

    Let's say my child gets into SOTA for visual arts but then later decides that she wants to focus on something else, like dance or theater. How easy would it be for her to change her course of study?

  5. Sorry, I forgot to answer that one. It definitely happens that students switch arts disciplines somewhere along the way. There may be disciplines that aren't as open to that, but I know plenty of kids who have made switches.

  6. Yes, it's just a matter of doing the audition process again in the new discipline. (That's probably more than obvious.) Sometimes they get accepted and sometimes they do not.

  7. Thanks very much, Caroline! That is very helpful.

    I had a few more questions if you have the time…

    How does the Academy of Arts and Sciences intersect/interact with SOTA? I mean, I know admission is not by audition… with less hours devoted to an artistic discipline…. and there is PE… but I thought I heard (maybe from you) that SOTA’s STAR results include those of Academy students. Does that mean the population numbers and demographic information are also combined? Like… the 08/09 SOTA SARC includes info about the Academy and lists 960 total SOTA students. Does that include Academy students? If so, how many students does SOTA actually have?

    The SOTA SARC also mentions that the two schools have decided to become more separate… and that while the Academy was previously seen as a “school within a school," now it is a “Small School by Design”? How are things different with this change? Do the students from each school take any classes together?

    Also… I have heard that Math and Science have been considered areas of weakness at SOTA, but that the principal has vowed to address that. Do you know what steps have been taken… or have been planned…. in addressing the Math and Science issues (if they exist)?

    Thanks again!

  8. Through the end of last school year, all the data for Academy and SOTA students are combined. I use the two Clarendon programs (Second Community and Japanese Bilingual-Bicultural Program) as an example -- two separate programs in one school. SOTA itself has about 600 students.

    But as of this year they are separate, and there are a number of advantages for the Academy to being a Small School by Design and being a separate school. One of them, known to anyone who follows school funding issues, is that the Academy has a higher percentage of low-income students than SOTA does, so it can benefit from that once it's a separate school.I know that Small Schools by Design have more discretion over whether to accept consolidated teachers when there are layoffs, so that gives an idea of one advantage.

    Academy students sometimes participate in SOTA arts classes (at least I know some have been in band), and they take world language and math classes together.

    It's not that SOTA's math and science are so bad overall (my kids have high standardized test scores and high SAT/PSAT scores in math and science as well as other subjects, as do many SOTA students) -- but they still have been viewed as less-strong departments. In my view the issues are teachers who have the math and science knowhow but are not as strong on teaching skills -- and a past history of lack of guidance for them. And in a small school it's not possible to offer a wide variety of teachers, so just one or two weaker ones have a magnified effect. One problem science teacher is gone, and a not-so effective newcomer was gone after one year, so you can see that the principal is working hard to assemble a stronger department. One veteran science teacher causes some families outrage by not offering enough support for struggling kids, but my kids (and others I know) both view her as one of the best teachers they've ever had. Another science teacher is an all-around solid, well-liked, highly regarded teacher. I think past lack of administrative focus and guidance is probably the main issue, and that has definitely changed, though it takes a while to turn the ship completely.

  9. Again, thanks for the very helpful insight!

    My concern regarding Math/Science isn’t really about how my son would do on achievement tests, since I would expect him to continue to do well on those, no matter what high school he attends, as long as he is at least exposed to the material being tested. But I want to make sure he also continues to be truly challenged in math, since that’s a subject he loves (didn’t get it from his dad or me!)… and I would like him to go as far as his interest and ability can take him. When he speaks of possible future careers, he doesn’t mention math, but given his talent and passion for math, I don’t want to prematurely cut off options. (If that makes sense…)

    At 11, his dream job would be to have a show like Steven Colbert’s. (Even more of a long shot than his second dream job- playing for the NBA.) But he is a very good writer, likes to perform, and also loves making up stories for comics or to film with his sister and the neighborhood kids… and writing (Creative Writing) and performing (Theater Arts) and filmmaking (Media Arts) are all SOTA disciplines that address different skills needed to produce a show like the Colbert Report. (Of course, he would have to narrow it down to one of those disciplines… and obviously needs more training- and a real portfolio- in whatever discipline he might choose.) But… while this is what he is passionate about at 11 (and maybe will still be passionate about by 13 when he is deciding what to do for high school), I don’t want decisions based on the interests of the 11 or 13-year-old to prove an obstacle if he ultimately decides on a more mathematically dependent college/career path. (I mean, assuming he would even get into SOTA…)

    I would have LOVED a school like SOTA when I was in high school, and if science and math were not a particular emphasis, I would have considered that a big bonus. So, I just wonder if there are more kids with my kind of interests and perspective attracted to an “artsy” school, and fewer kids with a passion for math and science. (I know that’s a stereotype- that my son and your children would appear to dispel- but while I understand that the teachers are critical, there is also the issue of like-minded students.) On the SOTA website, there is no mention of any Honors or AP Math/Science classes, except for AP Calculus as an online course, and AP Environmental Science. Is that just an oversight on the website, or are those really the only two AP/Honors classes for those subjects? I guess kids who need more advanced classes could find other online options - or City College courses? Have you known of students pursuing those kinds of options?

    I realize no school can be all things to all students. (And part of the attraction of SOTA is its relatively small size… which affects how many courses it can offer.) I’m just trying to weigh the pros and cons for our own particular student- and also to identify alternative ways to meet certain academic needs/interests, if necessary.

  10. Last I heard, AP calculus is starting up again (barring a budget cut that has scrapped that). It's expensive, and not in all that much demand at SOTA, but the principal has definitely been pushing for it.

    That said, SOTA isn't geared toward future engineers (not that that never happens) -- because of its small size and the fact that so much school time is devoted to arts study, there isn't a really huge array of math/science options.

    My son didn't show interest at all until the beginning of 7th grade,when he was 12. Even a month before he suddenly asked for private lessons and said he wanted to aim for SOTA, I would never have expected it! So it just goes to show something or other.