Thursday, August 12, 2010

WSJ: Private School Regroups After Leader's Departure

This from the Wall Street Journal:
With fall classes around the corner, San Francisco's Marin Preparatory School has had a bigger challenge than most grammar institutions: coping with its headmaster's abrupt departure and losing half the incoming first-grade class to his new rival school.

So far, the resignation of Ed Walters in May appears to have had a galvanizing effect on Marin Prep. All three of the school's kindergarten teachers stayed, and the four incoming first-graders remaining from a class of a dozen have been joined by at least three new classmates. In addition to the six students who went to the rival school, two of last year's kindergarteners moved this year to schools elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Marin Prep—which started as just a single kindergarten class in 2009—now has four classes including kindergarten, "junior" kindergarten—which acts as a bridge between preschool and kindergarten in some schools—and first grade, totaling 33 students. Eventually, the school in San Francisco's Castro district plans to grow to a K-8 campus with as many as 250 students.

"The reality is a school is much more than one person," says Melinda Kanter-Levy, co-founder of the Marin Day Schools system, a company that runs preschools and child-care centers and that established Marin Prep.

Mr. Walters didn't return calls seeking comment. Officials at his new employer, the just-opened Alta Vista School in the Mission District, also didn't respond to calls and emails.

The flap at Marin Prep underscores the competitive nature of private schools in San Francisco. With many parents dissatisfied with San Francisco's public school system, many opt to put their children in private schools, creating one of the higher ratios of privately taught students in the country. Around 30% of the city's students are enrolled in private institutions versus 8% statewide, according to the California Department of Education.

That demand for private schools can lead to more new private institutions being created—and ensuing troubles like the poaching of experienced school personnel like Mr. Walters. Some schools have also complained of student prospects being poached by rivals.

Read the full story

38 comments:

  1. I think Melinda Kanter-Levy, co-founder of the Marin Day Schools system, makes a great point: "The reality is a school is much more than one person." This is something that all parents need to keep in mind at all schools, public or private. It's easy to get hung up by one person at a school--and really you need to look beyond that and see the greater community.

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  2. Not to question Amy, who has experience in applying to private school while I don't, but is it actually hard to get into a brand-new, untried and untested private school? That's not what I gather from observing (admittedly) from afar.

    (These people are seriously misguided to think this is a wise way to spend their money, time and effort, IMHO.)

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  3. I'm with Caroline. Why spend $$$ for brandname when, umm, there is no brandname?

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  4. I don't really see why this is news. I think it's just b/c of the celebrity factor with the twitter dad. If it was some regular guy who worked at Wells Fargo doing the same thing, it wouldn't get all the attention.

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  5. Seriously, THIS is news??? Come on, Wall Street Journal, you can do better than that.

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  6. The Chronicle article (see below) said that there are 20 fewer private schools in SF than there were 10 years ago. I inferred that meant that demand was down, supporting Caroline's point that it might not be so hard to get into the remaining schools. But maybe with fewer schools, there is more competition to get in? In any event, I'm left with the sense that it must be a slow August news day at the WSJ.

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/08/01/BAR61EMIJP.DTL

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  7. First board member's bio: opening sentence:

    When not busy "tweeting" as Twitter's Chief Scientist, Abdur is into cave diving, aikido and teaching his daughter how to rock climb.

    Wow. That's great. But TMI. You wont get my $20K

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  8. how about a dancing judge?

    When not busy mediating cases, Judge David Garcia competes as a ballroom dancer.


    Does anyone have a background in teaching kids topics other than martial arts and chosing a well spangled outfit?

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  9. Anonymous posting is a license for loonies. Would the moderators of the K files please consider a different model for the approval and posting of comments?

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  10. "Anonymous posting is a license for loonies."

    ...and the above criticism was brought to you by "Anonymous said..."

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  11. A number of the parents involved in Alta Vista sound like entrepreneurial types, willing to invest their plentiful dollars and energy in a start-up school that meets their shared vision of what a school should be. They no doubt believe they will have established a great brand by the time their kids are in 8th grade and applying to high school. One might argue that they should devote their energy and resources to a struggling public school, but I doubt they want to be hampered by district bureaucracy, union contracts, NCLB, or having to take kids with severe special needs.

    It's not hard to get into Alta Vista right now, but if they do as well as they hope, it might be in a few years. Friends started relatively recently and has become quite competitive. (Of course Friends schools in other locations have been around for a long time so they started with an existing brand.)

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  12. FYI, those of us from Marin Prep who were asked to comment for the article were wondering the same thing--why is this news? Schools lose headmasters all the time, and our school is doing just fine.

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  13. RE: 11:02

    you were wondering why its news, yet you took time to allow WSJ to enter your school grounds and agreed to the interview? By doing so, you allowed it to be news...

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  14. 11:30 AM,

    I didn't say I had a problem with them doing the article. We had nothing to hide. I just questioned why anyone would find it interesting.

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  15. Are 9:53 and 10:35 suggesting that when parents are considering a private school, they should consider what the board members of that school do in their free time? Board members are not on staff at their schools, nor do they teach the students of their school. Am I missing something?

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  16. I'm suggesting it's sadly comical that board members list those hobbies in the FIRST sentence of their online bios. This shows an inappropriate lack of seriousness. We're not selling social networking, e-cards, or avatar sportswear here. It's the education of a child... and a lot of money you're being asked to entrust to this rock climber and ballroom dancer. Let's see if the bios change over time.

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  17. They leave me wondering if starting this new twitter school is just an ego trip for the parents.

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  18. I applaud these men's effort. Having been 0/14 two years in a row and no money to send my academically advanced kid to a private school of my choice, I agree that we cannot move the mountain in the school system here.There was an article about the district pouring money into a failing school this morning in the Chron. Everybody is too busy trying to help the weak students catch up at the expense of the academically advanced students.The end result may as well be the standard of mediocrity instead of standard of excellence in education.

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  19. Please...picking apart the Bios of the parents founding the school is really petty. One problem I had with other schools, is I could find little info on their Boards. I don't have a kid at Alta Vista and don't plan on applying but who knows...if the current situation does not work out, I like the focus they have chosen and I will be glad that there is another option around.

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  20. I was at the Alta Vista open house yesterday. There are still a few spots and I believe financial aid available

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  21. It is interesting that the WSJ doesn't not divlulge the circumstances under which Mr. Walters left Marin Prep. It is also interesting that he had no comment. One must wonder what Mr. Walters has to hide.

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  22. We heard that one of the Alta Vista teacher's salary is being paid by a single family and not by the school. What do other parents think about this?

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  23. It sounds unsustainable to me--what if the family pulls out, or just gets mad for some reason and everyone (including this teacher) knows the salary is dependent on this one family? Yikes. Of course they have every right to organize themselves this way, and the teacher has every right to take the job. But I hope for the school's sake that they move quickly beyond this sort of individual-donor-directed funding stream. The accountability issues are myriad.

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  24. Does anyone know what the status is on the Head of School hiring at Marin Prep? I noted today another posting for the position on Craigslist

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  25. They only have an interim head at Marin Prep

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  26. Is there a sense of when a permament head will be in place? My understanding is that the interim does not have a background in elementary schools and is simultaneously acting as the regional manager for all of the Marin Day schools. Who is responsible for setting and overseeing school and curriculum direction?

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  27. Bright Horizons runs hundreds of preschools and elementary schools nationwide. Where is their management in this? What is causing the delay in hiring a qualified Head of School for this crucial phase in Marin Prep's development?

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  28. Bright Horizons is taking time to carefully choose just the right person to head the school.

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  29. Obviously, the board of Alta Vista is paying for far more than the salary of one teacher. I'd guess that each family is putting up big bucks to get this place off the ground. I don't know how many students they've signed up so far, but at $20K tuition (minus financial aid) they'd need a boatload to cover teachers, administrators, office staff, benefits, books and equipment, facility lease, insurance, janitorial service . . .

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  30. I am Melinda Kanter-Levy, Director of External Affairs for Marin Day Schools, Bright Horizons and Marin Preparatory School.

    Generally I prefer not to respond to anonymous postings but it is necessary, from time to time, to directly answer questions and clarify misconceptions. The original kindergarten curriculum, used all last year, was brought to us by Jess Sill, our Kindergarten teacher. She created and developed it, and introduced it to us, actually, in her original job interview. It was hugely successful. The Marin Preparatory School curriculum is currently being developed and expanded by our amazing faculty. In addition, we have had real support from our dear friends at the other San Francisco independent schools as well as the expertise of the BH education and curriculum department. Every school is unique and that is why we are working together to provide the children with the highest quality, experiential and Spanish infused curriculum. Among other programs, we will be using Scholastic Leveled Reading for literacy, Lucy Calkins- Writers and Readers Workshop for developing writers, TERC for math, Handwriting without Tears for writing, and are investigating an inquiry based, experiential hands on science curriculum called FOSS. In addition to the regular faculty, which includes a learning resource teacher, we have specialists coming into the school to do Science and Music. Escuela Marin Preparatory is a progressive school dedicated to integrating advanced information technologies. New technology will provide our students with powerful tools that support their ability to problem solve and achieve a higher level of thinking skills and increased creativity. The focus is forward thinking and intellectually inclusive, incorporating math, science and technology in a developmentally appropriate manner. Spanish is woven into the program throughout the school day. Our curriculum has rigorous standards while also dedicated to educating the whole child and supporting individual learning styles.

    Regarding the Head of School position- Every candidate must go through a rigorous application process starting with the BH recruitment department, followed by a personal meeting with Flora Mugambi-Mutunga and myself. The next step is a detailed phone interview with the BH Division Vice President. This is followed by a meeting with our faculty and also our Parent Advisory Council. As you can imagine we are looking for an outstanding individual who will lead our school and guide us as we soar to new heights. Flora Mugambi-Mutunga is doing an outstanding job as Interim Head of School and has dedicated herself to Marin Prep as her primary responsibility until how ever long it takes to find the very best Head of School. I hope this answers the questions brought up on this and other blogs. We welcome all inquiries and sincerely hope that parents and educators will come and visit our school. We are very proud of our first year and tremendously excited about the future.

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  31. Melinda Kanter-LevyAugust 17, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    Generally I prefer not to respond to anonymous postings but it is necessary, from time to time, to directly answer questions and clarify misconceptions. The original kindergarten curriculum, used all last year, was brought to us by Jess Sill, our Kindergarten teacher. She created and developed it, and introduced it to us actually in her original job interview. It was hugely successful. The Marin Preparatory School curriculum is currently being developed and expanded by our amazing faculty. In addition, we have had real support from our dear friends at the other San Francisco independent schools as well as the expertise of the BH education and curriculum department. Every school is unique and that is why we are working together to provide the children with the highest quality, experiential and Spanish infused curriculum. Among other programs, we will be using Scholastic Leveled Reading for literacy, Lucy Calkins- Writers and Readers Workshop for developing writers, TERC for math, Handwriting without Tears for writing, and are investigating an inquiry based, experiential hands on science curriculum called FOSS. In addition to the regular faculty, which includes a learning resource teacher, we have specialists coming into the school to do Science and Music. Escuela Marin Preparatory is a progressive school dedicated to integrating advanced information technologies. New technology will provide our students with powerful tools that support their ability to problem solve and achieve a higher level of thinking skills and increased creativity. The focus is forward thinking and intellectually inclusive, incorporating math, science and technology in a developmentally appropriate manner. Spanish is woven into the program throughout the school day. Our curriculum has rigorous standards while also dedicated to educating the whole child and supporting individual learning styles.

    Regarding the Head of School position- Every candidate must go through a rigorous application process starting with the BH recruitment department, followed by a personal meeting with Flora Mugambi-Mutunga and myself. The next step is a detailed phone interview with the BH Division Vice President. This is followed by a meeting with our faculty and also our Parent Advisory Council. As you can imagine we are looking for an outstanding individual who will lead our school and guide us as we soar to new heights. Flora Mugambi-Mutunga is doing an outstanding job as Interim Head of School and has dedicated herself to Marin Prep as her primary responsibility until how ever long it takes to find the very best Head of School. I hope this answers the questions brought up on this and other blogs. We welcome all inquiries and sincerely hope that parents and educators will come and visit our school. We are very proud of our first year and equally excited about the future.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Melinda Kanter-LevyAugust 17, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    Generally I prefer not to respond to anonymous postings but it is necessary, from time to time, to directly answer questions and clarify misconceptions. The original kindergarten curriculum, used all last year, was brought to us by Jess Sill, our Kindergarten teacher. She created and developed it, and introduced it to us actually in her original job interview. It was hugely successful. The Marin Preparatory School curriculum is currently being developed and expanded by our amazing faculty. In addition, we have had real support from our dear friends at the other San Francisco independent schools as well as the expertise of the BH education and curriculum department. Every school is unique and that is why we are working together to provide the children with the highest quality, experiential and Spanish infused curriculum. Among other programs, we will be using Scholastic Leveled Reading for literacy, Lucy Calkins- Writers and Readers Workshop for developing writers, TERC for math, Handwriting without Tears for writing, and are investigating an inquiry based, experiential hands on science curriculum called FOSS. In addition to the regular faculty, which includes a learning resource teacher, we have specialists coming into the school to do Science and Music. Escuela Marin Preparatory is a progressive school dedicated to integrating advanced information technologies. New technology will provide our students with powerful tools that support their ability to problem solve and achieve a higher level of thinking skills and increased creativity. The focus is forward thinking and intellectually inclusive, incorporating math, science and technology in a developmentally appropriate manner. Spanish is woven into the program throughout the school day. Our curriculum has rigorous standards while also dedicated to educating the whole child and supporting individual learning styles.

    Regarding the Head of School position- Every candidate must go through a rigorous application process starting with the BH recruitment department, followed by a personal meeting with Flora Mugambi-Mutunga and myself. The next step is a detailed phone interview with the BH Division Vice President. This is followed by a meeting with our faculty and also our Parent Advisory Council. As you can imagine we are looking for an outstanding individual who will lead our school and guide us as we soar to new heights. Flora Mugambi-Mutunga is doing an outstanding job as Interim Head of School and has dedicated herself to Marin Prep as her primary responsibility until how ever long it takes to find the very best Head of School. I hope this answers the questions brought up on this and other blogs. We welcome all inquiries and sincerely hope that parents and educators will come and visit our school. We are very proud of our first year and equally excited about the future.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Melinda Kanter-LevyAugust 17, 2010 at 5:35 PM

    Generally I prefer not to respond to anonymous postings but it is necessary, from time to time, to directly answer questions and clarify misconceptions. The original kindergarten curriculum, used all last year, was brought to us by Jess Sill, our Kindergarten teacher. She created and developed it, and introduced it to us actually in her original job interview. It was hugely successful. The Marin Preparatory School curriculum is currently being developed and expanded by our amazing faculty. In addition, we have had real support from our dear friends at the other San Francisco independent schools as well as the expertise of the BH education and curriculum department. Every school is unique and that is why we are working together to provide the children with the highest quality, experiential and Spanish infused curriculum. Among other programs, we will be using Scholastic Leveled Reading for literacy, Lucy Calkins- Writers and Readers Workshop for developing writers, TERC for math, Handwriting without Tears for writing, and are investigating an inquiry based, experiential hands on science curriculum called FOSS. In addition to the regular faculty, which includes a learning resource teacher, we have specialists coming into the school to do Science and Music. Escuela Marin Preparatory is a progressive school dedicated to integrating advanced information technologies. New technology will provide our students with powerful tools that support their ability to problem solve and achieve a higher level of thinking skills and increased creativity. The focus is forward thinking and intellectually inclusive, incorporating math, science and technology in a developmentally appropriate manner. Spanish is woven into the program throughout the school day. Our curriculum has rigorous standards while also dedicated to educating the whole child and supporting individual learning styles.

    Regarding the Head of School position- Every candidate must go through a rigorous application process starting with the BH recruitment department, followed by a personal meeting with Flora Mugambi-Mutunga and myself. The next step is a detailed phone interview with the BH Division Vice President. This is followed by a meeting with our faculty and also our Parent Advisory Council. As you can imagine we are looking for an outstanding individual who will lead our school and guide us as we soar to new heights. Flora Mugambi-Mutunga is doing an outstanding job as Interim Head of School and has dedicated herself to Marin Prep as her primary responsibility until how ever long it takes to find the very best Head of School. I hope this answers the questions brought up on this and other blogs. We welcome all inquiries and sincerely hope that parents and educators will come and visit our school. We are very proud of our first year and equally excited about the future.

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  34. Thank you for the information about Marin Prep and especially about the curriculum.

    For more information about how FOSS works at the elementary level for science teaching, you might talk with the local public school teachers who use that curriculum. I believe your neighbor schools Harvey Milk and Alvarado both use the FOSS kits. My kids liked them--electric circuitry, astronomy, science of composting, and so on. The kits are actually great, and hands-on, as long as the teachers keep them going and neat.

    For those parents who follow the math wars, TERC is more in the new-new math category, more than Everyday Mathematics used by the district, which the traditionalists assail but is aspiring to be more "balanced." (Whether EM is balanced or not depends on where you stand in the math wars). But TERC is definitely new new math. So I'm guessing you won't be getting too many traditionalist parents who are really hoping for Singapore or Saxon math. That kind of makes sense anyway, for your demographic. I don't have a strong opinion about the above, btw, just saying.

    I think the leveled reading system can be fine as long as there is some allowance made for literature beyond the exact levels (sometimes kids just get motivated by a subject and push themselves) and beyond Scholastic.

    In my experience the best teachers draw from several sources that work with different kids. I've seen teachers use traditional math with manipulatives from new math, and I've seen teachers combine phonics with whole word recognition. The ability to do this well, across a classroom, is an art of teaching. Now that I think about it, we were so fortunate in the teachers my kids had (in the public schools). Sounds like MP is happy with its existing teachers, so I'm sure it will be fine no matter what curriculum they use.

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  35. 75% of the first year students left the school
    Melinda then gets on the K files and explains what a fantastic year Marin Prep had
    Nice
    Do your homework on Bright Horizons

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  36. Well, considering that even the parents who decided to leave Marin Prep acknowledged what a great year it was (see previous threads on the subject), I don't see your point. Different parents attributed that great year to different things, and acted accordingly. The Bright Horizons issue seems vastly overblown.

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  37. FWIW

    I've researched Bright Horizons and what I found was that they are a well-respected company. They made the Fortune Magazine top 100 companies to work for 11 times.

    I've also researched Marin Day Schools which is somehow part of Bright Horizons and is in the Bay Area. Parents seem pretty satisfied with those Pre-schools.

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