Thursday, September 30, 2010

LA Times: L.A. Teacher committed suicide, possibly due to teacher rankings published in the Times

This from the LA Times:
As a teacher in an impoverished, gang-ridden area of South Los Angeles, Rigoberto Ruelas always reached out to the toughest kids. He would tutor them on weekends and after school, visit their homes, encourage them to aim high and go to college.

The fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School was so passionate about his mission that, school authorities say, he had near perfect attendance in 14 years on the job.

So when Ruelas, 39, failed to show up for work last week, his colleagues instantly began to worry. And their worst fears were confirmed Sunday morning. In the Big Tujunga Canyon area of the Angeles National Forest, a search-and-rescue team with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department discovered Ruelas' body in a ravine about 100 feet below a nearby bridge.

Ruelas' death stunned Miramonte students, teachers and parents. Many left hand-written notes, flowers, candles and white balloons at an impromptu memorial. By evening, dozens gathered to light candles, sing Spanish-language hymns and recite the Rosary. Ruelas' family, too, came to the school and slowly walked along the memorial wall, thanking parents and reading the messages.

Ruelas did not leave a suicide note, authorities said, and it remained unclear why he took his life.

Teachers union President A.J. Duffy said his staff was told by Ruelas' family that the teacher was depressed about his score on a teacher-rating database posted by The Times on its website. The newspaper analyzed seven years of student test scores in English and math to determine how much students' performance improved under about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers. Based on The Times' findings, Ruelas was rated "average" in his ability to raise students' English scores and "less effective" in his ability to raise math scores. Overall, he was rated slightly "less effective" than his peers.

"Despite The Times' analysis, and all other measures, this was a really good teacher," said Duffy, who called on the newspaper to take down the database. Many parents also asked that Ruelas' page on The Times' website be taken down.
Read the full story

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Can SF's public middle schools work for a special ed kid?

Hi, my name is Joseph. I live with my partner and our two children, Ben and Ron, in the center of the city. Our two kids go to a public elementary school. Ben is in fifth and Ron is in third. We are now embarking on a search to find a middle school for Ben. We are doing so with a great amount of trepidation for one main reason: Ben is in special ed. He tends to lose focus and also tends to "process" things slower than other kids. He is in what is known as the "inclusion" program at his school. Under the "inclusion" program, he is in gen ed classes, but gets extra support. The road in the public schools so far has been a rocky one so far. Let me explain.

We thought we were well-educated parents who knew how to advocate for our kid, but nothing prepared us for the complex and byzantine system that SFUSD's special education programs present. We've learned some hard lessons in the process -- and I'm sorry to say usually well after when it would have really helped Ben. The elementaries in the city that all offer special ed programs are the same "on paper" -- but in reality they could not be more different. Some have principals who care about special ed and are engaged in helping special ed kids. Some view special ed, frankly, as a drag on their quest for higher test scores. Some have well-trained, active special ed teachers who go the extra mile to help the special ed kids; some have poorly trained ones who are simply going through the motions. And the greatest frustration is that staff turnover can change a school's special ed program literally over a summer. We know these things only because our original elementary simply wasn't working for Ben. We struggled to make things work there before finally realizing that the school was just not good for special ed kids. We then went through a crazy process of trying to move him to a new elementary. We are now at a school where the principal emphasizes special ed and where the special ed professionals are all well-trained and proactive. Ben is happier than he has ever been and is making great progress. But now we have to find him a middle school that will work for him.

The way SFUSD's special ed is currently set up, Ben's "inclusion" program is only available at a few middle schools -- mostly all large ones. Our worry is whether Ben is going to be able to navigate a large middle school. And the anecdotes we hear from others parents are not good. So we are going to look at the public middle schools that have inclusion, but we are also going to look at charter K through 8's. And we have not foreclosed moving out of the city if that's what it takes, although we are both pretty committed to staying here.

San Francisco school choice goes in-house

This from the Market Design blog:
Those of you who have been following school choice developments here know that, for the past year, Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Clayton Featherstone, Muriel Niederle, Parag Pathak and I have been helping the San Francisco Unified School District design a new school choice system, which was adopted by the SF School Board last March.

The original plan was that we would continue to offer our services free of charge to implement the software, and then help monitor the effects of the new choice system.

Last week we heard from SFUSD staff that, because of concerns about sharing confidential data for monitoring the effects of the new system, they have decided to do further development in-house, and so will develop software to implement the new design on their own.

The SFUSD staff have been left with a sufficiently detailed description of the "assignment with transfers" design the Board approved to move ahead with it if they wish. But it will take a good deal of care in implementing the new algorithm in software if its desirable properties--strategic simplicity and non wastefulness--are to be realized. (Both of these features were lacking in the old SFUSD assignment system, the one to be replaced.)

Below are links to some of the key developments before last week.

Here is a post with a link to the video of Muriel Niederle presenting the new design that the Board ultimately voted to adopt: SF School Board Meeting, Feb 17: new choice system.
And here is a link to the slides she presented, giving a description (with examples) of the new choice algorithm: Assignment in the SFUSD, and discussions of the features that make it strategically simple, non wasteful, and flexible.

In March 2010 the San Francisco Board of Education unanimously approved the new system. In their March 2010 press release, the SFUSD reported (emphasis added):

"The choice algorithm was designed with the help of a volunteer team of market design experts who have previously been involved in designing choice algorithms for school choice in Boston and New York City. Volunteers from four prominent universities contributed to the effort, including Clayton Featherstone and Muriel Niederle of Stanford University, Atila Abdulkadiroglu of Duke University, Parag Pathak of MIT, and Alvin Roth of Harvard.
“We are pleased that the district has decided to adopt a choice architecture that makes it safe for parents to concentrate their effort on determining which schools they prefer, with confidence that they won’t hurt their chances by listing their preferences truthfully,” said Niederle and Featherstone, the Stanford research team."

Read the full post

SFUSD nutrition committee update

SFUSD school meals on CNN:

And for those who want to join the effort towards better school food, the Student Nutrition and Physical Activity committee will meet on Thursday October 7th, 3:30-5pm in the board room at 555 Franklin Street. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fall 2011: It's guinea pig time!

As I type this, the San Francisco Board of Education is probably voting to approve the new kindergarten assignment system. With this vote, all of us thinking about a public kindergarten for 2011 are officially christened guinea pigs, the first batch of families to live through the new way the lottery wheel will spin.

The fun has barely begun, but already on the playground, over coffee, and on this blog, I've heard us GP's summed up in all kinds of ways. Too negative, or too naive. I'd say that some of us are indeed burnt out before the party has even started, while others are incredibly hopeful. And there's another good chunk of us who aren't quite sure what to think yet. After Kate posted a link to the SF Chron's story on the upcoming board vote, the responses have quickly gone all over the map.

In reading those comments tonight, I thought back to the GGMG kindergarten night that I posted about last week. When the PPS-SF representative at the meeting was making her pitch for public schools, she asked all those considering public to raise their hands. Most of the 200 or so parents in attendance reached for the sky. Then, she asked, how many of you expect to be in a public school next year? About half the hands hesitantly went down.

The PPS-SF rep used that moment to chide those of us who dropped their hands, saying we were signing up to pay gobs of money in private school tuition while turning our backs on schools we'd already paid for with tax dollars. I, to be honest, found that admonition to be clueless at best, and edging into rude. Most of us who lowered our hands (and yes, I was one of them) didn't do so because we think our kids only deserve a local version of Eton, dahling, and we are yearning to find thousands of dollars to hand over each year. People are simply apprehensive, especially CTIP2 families living in the assignment boundaries of lower-performing schools. Most of us have seen friends struggle with the public assignment system in the past. Now, it's our turn, and on top of it all, we are guinea pigs. How will it all turn out?

For my crew of four, everything is on the table -- public, parochial, private, and yes, even the possibility of moving. Why? Because the public part of the process will mean a lot of running on a wheel -- tours, choosing lottery picks, deciphering the new waitpool/Round II rules when they come out in November. I'm very much looking forward to touring different public schools, but will go through the process wearing my reality-colored glasses. This GP just isn't going to risk running on a wheel without getting anywhere.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hot topic: Prop B

This from a reader:
I'm new to this sfkfiles. Can you please start a blog that discusses thoughts on proposition B and how it affects sf teachers healthcare. I feel our teachers that teach our children will be severely affected. I will vote NO on B.

SFGate: Board to give final OK for assigning students

This from SFGate:
You can't please everyone.

With that in mind, the San Francisco school board is expected to put a final stamp of approval Tuesday on new rules governing which schools students will be assigned.

How students are assigned to schools is historically the most controversial issue related to the city's public schools, and this new plan is no exception.

Parents for years have called for a replacement for the current system, one that would be easier to understand and give them a fighting chance to get in the school down the block or to one attended by an older brother or sister. The new plan was a compromise that will to do just that.

It also will provide a greater opportunity for children living in census tracts where test scores are lowest to attend a high-performing school. At the same time, district officials hope that eventually it will increase diversity in schools in a city with stark residential segregation.

The current assignment process, in place since court-ordered desegregation ended in 2001, gives parents a choice of schools, but it's been the luck of the draw for the most sought-after sites. Children who didn't get into high-demand schools sometimes were placed in schools miles away from home.

SFGate: Gates foundation grant goes to S.F. schools

This from SFGate:

While about 60 percent of jobs in California require a college degree, only about a quarter of those who start high school in San Francisco will ever get that degree.

It's a problem that city, school and college officials are vowing to tackle together, spurred by a $3 million grant. San Francisco is one of four cities that will be awarded the funding today to boost college completion rates.

Read the full story.

SFGate: Charter schools defy recession - 89 set to open

This from SFGate:
Public charter schools in California are skirting the worst impact of the state's budget crisis while traditional public schools shorten the school year, increase class sizes and lay off teachers and staff by the thousands.

Nearly 90 more charter schools could open this fall, helped in many cases by an infusion of federal government and philanthropic support. Many of the schools are cutting costs by hiring less-experienced teachers who earn lower salaries than veteran teachers.

The expansion of charter schools is a key element in the education agenda of the Obama administration, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has enthusiastically backed the movement. The original goal of charter schools was to develop new education models that regular public schools could emulate. Now they are generating new strategies to survive tough economic times.

Friday, September 24, 2010

(Good) Sports in Middle School

My children do not play team sports.  No. 1 is extremely agile and athletic but does not participate in team sports due to a different range of extracurricular interests.  No. 2 (Special Ed) cannot cross midline, which means No. 2 cannot throw, catch, or kick a ball with much success, even simple acts of running or skipping can be challenging and frustrating.  Since sports do not weigh heavily in our middle school selection process, I decided to cover it as a separate topic.

All middle schools offer seven Division AAA team sports during the year: track (since 1925), soccer (since 1956), boys’ baseball (since 1957), boys’ basketball (since 1957), girls’ volleyball (since 1970), girls’ softball (since 1974), and girls’ basketball (since 1975).  For some families, a middle school with a winning sports team might be their child’s ticket to the NBA or Olympic beach volleyball.  If you are sports minded, then check out the middle school sports information, schedules, and photos of winning teams (2004-2010) at  The complete list of annual middle school champions by year (1925 to present) can be found at

Children benefit from team sports.  Judging by the size of the teams in each photo, it would appear that only a minority of students at each school site actually participates in this extracurricular activity.  Even though my children do not play sports and even though a minority of students overall are served, I would never suggest that SFUSD eliminate sports programs.  Never, never, ever!  The recently released Urban Collaborative Report on Special Ed. Services in SFUSD noted that many school district administrators think that the money which is directed to Special Ed. students (11% of the student population) is an “encroachment" on funding that might be better spent on "more deserving or nondisabled students."  This was a sad and sobering pronouncement.  Adults need to be good sports and to treat everyone fairly.  After all, it's what we would expect of our children on the playing field.  Play Ball!


Alta Vista open house

Please join us for our Family Open House at Alta Vista School

Saturday, October 2, 2010

10 am to 12 pm

245 Valencia Street (at 14th Street)

San Francisco

Please RSVP to (415) 437-4700

Kidaroo Music Festival to benefit Yick Woo

Don't miss the Kidaroo Music Festival to benefit Yick Woo!

It's a Lollapalooza for children with nonstop music from Choo Choo Soul, Ralph's World, and The Sippy Cups as well as jugglers, face painting, balloon animals, and more.

Little Marina Green, 800 Marina Blvd (across from the Exploratorium)

Sat. Sept. 25, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

$20 per person or $60 for a family four-pack of tickets.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall 2011: Notes from a hot ticket

Thursday is local’s night out in San Francisco, and this evening, warm with a full moon rising, was the perfect time to hit Pier 23, or The Ramp. Instead, where were about 200 of us? Packed into the basement of a church, to talk about what else – kindergarten.

Tonight, Golden Gate Mother’s Group held its annual kindergarten night. I hadn’t been to a GGMG community meeting in a while, and was happily reminded of their nice vibe. The volunteer group is for mothers in the city with kids under the age of five, and there was the usual scattering of new moms with beautiful, sweet babies babbling in the background or crawling up the aisles. There were the snacks and cheese, and a few bottles of wine, which, frankly, tonight’s audience seemed to especially welcome. And this time, dads also turned out. The kindergarten process is clearly a co-ed sport.

I’m still sorting through all that was said. But the presentations, by two private school consultants (Betsy Little and Paula Molligan), a PPS-SF representative (Vicki Symonds), and a current kindergarten mom (Jenifer Wana), held a few points that merit late-night thinking – and late-night posting.

First, some overall points on evaluating a school that apply to all of us on the kindergarten quest, from Little and Molligan. They are basic, but for those of getting pulled in a dozen different directions by the kindergarten process, they provided some grounding:

  • Read the school’s mission statement, and if you tour, look for it in action. Is the school living it?
  • What’s the program? Teacher-directed? Project-based? Experiential? Be sure you understand the program and are on board with it before you apply.
  • Who are the teachers? How long have they been there? How current is their training? How do they engage the students?
  • How is the school accredited?
  • What are the co-curricular programs?
  • What does the school provide in terms of character development for students? Diversity? Discipline?
  • What are the tests and measurements by which the school’s performance is assessed? How does the school stack up against them?

They also offered up this observation, which I’ve seen echoed in a few SF K Files comments – when you tour, focus on the upper grades. “Frankly, we’ve never seen a kindergarten we didn’t like. Always go see the upper grades.” This is the paradigm, they said, for how the kids at the school turn out.

For those thinking about private and parochial schools, a few “Don’ts,” also from Little and Molligan:
  • Don’t be put off by the application process. The school is trying to get to know you, and the process also gives you a chance to get to know them.
  • Don’t give more information than requested. (I took this to mean that writing three extra essays about your child and following up with a cake, balloons, and a marching band may not be as endearing as you think.)
  • Don’t try to coach or bribe your child before the screening or playdate. It’ll show, and it’s too much pressure.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about financial aid. (I frankly have some questions about this one, but that’ll probably be the subject of a later blog post.)
  • And from Jenifer Wana: Don’t give a school money or sign a contract without understanding the withdrawal policy. If you make a deposit, or sign a contract for a year, what are you financially accountable for if you decide to go elsewhere later?
In terms of public schools, Vicki Symonds gave a basic, upbeat overview of the new assignment process. Most of the information she presented can be found on the PPS-SF website, or has been discussed on this blog. But a few of the questions brought up some interesting considerations:

  • There was lots of rumbling about ranked choice and the lottery process, and why putting a school first on your list doesn’t provide some sort of tie-breaker in that particular school’s lottery. People were confused and unhappy about this, and left the meeting still looking for answers.
  • Symonds mentioned that there will be changes to the waitpool and Round II process, but no one knows what those changes will look like until November. People had some questions here too – why does this part of the process need an overhaul as well?
  • One father asked “What’s the logic of removing the cap on the number of choices? Why let people put down as many schools as they want?” While there was no conclusive answer, one other dad won a round of applause by giving the (yes, slightly cynical) reply that in his view, it’s all political. Letting people put down more schools increases the likelihood that they’ll get something they requested, and lets the politicians say that more people get schools of their choice. (My summary of this view = More choices reduces the district’s risk of another round of “0/7” t-shirts this year – it’s way harder to do a t-shirt that says “0/any given number”.)
Symonds, who has put her kids through San Francisco public schools all the way through high school, said that the coming year is indeed one of unknowns. “We don’t know how people are going to act and choose in the new system,” she said. “To me, the new process is more intuitive…but I don’t know if that means people will like it any better.”

As I left the meeting, we could hear the church choir practicing in another room. “Listen, the angels are singing for us…it’s a good sign!” said a mom walking nearby. “Either that,” laughed another, “or the angels are singing cuz we’ll need their help.”

(A couple of notes: This is hardly an exhaustive list of what was presented tonight, and I had to leave before the Q&A was finished, so if you were there, please add any other highlights! If you have questions about the meeting, it may take me a couple of days to answer, as I won’t be online much this weekend. And if you are GGMG member, the handouts from tonight should be posted to the group’s BigTent site in a few days.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is Middle School Enrollment Going to be a Breeze?

My family is about to embark on middle school tours, and we invite you to come along for the ride.  Historically, many families get their first choice in the middle school lottery, the majority gets one of their choices, and some will get an assignment that does not work for their family.  What’s in store for us in 2011?  Is middle school enrollment going to be a breeze?

About us?  My dear husband (DH) and I (Donna) have been married for 15 years.  We both went to public schools from K through graduate school, ending with advanced degrees in Arts and Letters.  We have 2 children, ages 9 and 10.  We live on the West side of town.  When we purchased our home 15 years ago, sans children, we were not thinking about test scores or school lotteries—we simply bought a cheap, mildewy home in the fog (of course now, 15 years and 2 kids later, our location has more appeal). 

What do we want in a middle school?  Our middle school selection strategy will follow our elementary school strategy: we want to find a place to put down roots, to contribute to the school community (financially and otherwise), to fulfill the vastly different educational needs of our children in a supportive, caring environment, to make new friends, and to go to some good cocktail parties (this is San Francisco after all).  Start time, distance from home, and reasonable public transportation are important considerations.  We didn’t consider test scores when we chose our 600+ API school for kindergarten, and test scores will not weigh heavily in our middle school decision.  Truthfully, though, API scores have a smaller spread at the middle school level; therefore, scores add less distinction to a school.  Also, the middle schools near our home are mostly in the 800+ range, again adding very little distinction.  [As I mentioned earlier, where we live is by quite by accident—I do not want to start an Eastside-Westside debate or to get flamed for something beyond our control.] 

Where will our children thrive?  Our soon-to-be sixth grader (“No. 1”) is gregarious, advanced in academics, ambitious, and involved in many extracurricular activities.  Our fourth grader (“No. 2”) has an IEP for inclusion with daily requirements for support and accommodations.  No. 2 is equally gregarious, charming, and bright, but scores at the basic level in standardized testing.  Next year, if it becomes obvious that No. 2 will benefit from a different middle school, then we will pursue at such time.  In the meantime, we’d like to find a reasonably good fit for both children and to get sibling priority in 2012, so that we don’t have to up-end our lives all over again with lottery drama.  That being said, SFUSD is expected to announce new Special Ed initiatives shortly, which might change everything for us, but, then again, maybe not.  We should have the Special Ed. information before the Feb. 2011 enrollment deadline.  Hoping for the brass ring, but that has yet to be seen!

What are our plans for touring?  The greatest difference between the K lottery and the middle school lottery is the absence of input from our children in the former and the over abundance of input from our children in the latter.  The decision is no longer ours to make alone: if we err in our choice, then we err as a family.  Our fifth grader is excited about the prospects of going to a big middle school and wants (perhaps “expects” is a better term) to go on tours.  Schedule permitting, we will welcome the company.  To add to the excitement, No. 1 has been reading a book in the school library about SF middle schools and already fell in love with a school.  When I asked why this particular school, No. 1 replied, “Because it has lockers, a beanery, and a court yard for eating lunch.”  Maybe I am setting my standards too high.  In any event, I am preparing myself for some very interesting post-tour discussions.  Quelle surpise!  They all have lockers!  Also, I know that once the tours begin, the list of “must haves” and “want to haves” will change constantly, right up until the moment that we put pen to paper on the enrollment form.  Flexibility is the key.

What schools will we tour?  Luckily, the list of 65 elementary schools is now narrowed down to 14 public middle schools (not including seven K-8s).  The middle schools on the West side of town will be considered first (in alphabetical order): Aptos, Giannini, Hoover, Lick, Presidio, and Roosevelt.  Some of these schools are close or have good public transportation options; some have the prerequisite electives or clubs; some have highly regarded Special Ed programs; and at least one has “lockers, a beanery, and a court yard.”  We realize that our list might be overly ambitious and that we might not be able to tour all of these schools.  We certainly don’t want No. 1 to become a truant with repeated absences for school tours.  We do not have plans to tour Catholic or charter schools.  We may tour a K-8 and an independent (mostly for comparative purposes).

What do we think about the format of the middle school lottery this year?  I capital L-O-V-E it!   I guess that I never fully bought into the idea of feeder schools, given the diversity of middle school programs and electives across the district.  Also, I hadn’t heard many complaints about the previous lottery, so I cannot grasp the concept of “fixing” it.  Our friends who went through the middle school lottery in the past few years seem satisfied with their placement.  They chose middle schools for very personal reasons, rarely “because everyone from our elementary school was going there” or “because it was our neighborhood school.”  Now, it often turns out to be the case that a large proportion of the children from one elementary school end up going to the same middle school, because driving distance and MUNI routes often come into play, especially if you still have an elementary school drop off for a younger sibling as part of the morning driving circuit.  While these factors generally lead to a natural migration to a relatively close middle school, which looks like a “feeder” pattern, I still prefer a 100% choice-driven lottery with the whole City in one big bucket.  Furthermore, I am extremely happy to be participating in a lottery in which the priorities are so crystal clear: 1. siblings, 2. CTIP1 census tract, and 3. all others (this is our cohort).  The phony-baloney has been stripped out of the computer algorithm.  Now, it feels like a real honest-to-goodness lottery, with the exception of possible address fraud for CTIP1 priority, which I assume will be small and which I hope will be caught.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I must report that DH loves the concept of middle school feeder patterns (not the plan that was proposed in August 2010, but the “concept”).  So there you have, a house divided!

Why am I blogging?  As we started to prepare for the upcoming middle school tours, we came across an old manila folder from our K search, with our copious tour notes and yellowed newspaper articles from 2003 and 2004.  The articles extolled the virtues of hidden gems.  Holy cow!  I had saved several articles by someone who is well known on this blog--Caroline Grannan.  In retrospect, her articles gave us the insights and courage to look beyond test scores (much to the chagrin of our playground friends).  Thank you Caroline!  I decided to contact Kate last week with my interest in sharing our middle school touring experience.  I hope that this sharing proves helpful for someone in the K Files community.


Wanted: Parents to blog about middle school process

A few readers have suggested that The SF K Files track down some parents who are looking for middle schools and interested in blogging. We've identified one possibility but would love to recruit more. If you're interested, email We might even consider parents looking at high schools too!

Learn about the Results of the Special Education Audit

Learn about the Results of the Special Education Audit
SFUSD commissioned a third party audit to do a comprehensive
review of the district's Special Education services.

The report will be shared with the public at 3 meetings next
week. More meetings will be held in October and beyond to
discuss the report and the future of Special Education services.
Join us at a meeting to learn more.

Board of Education Committee of the Whole Meeting
Auditors present findings to the Board of Education.
Tuesday, September 21 at 6pm
Board Meeting Room / 555 Franklin Street
Interpretation provided.

Community Presentation from the Auditor
Auditors, Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza and Assistant Superintendent of Special
Education Services Cecelia Dodge will be present to answer questions about the report.
Wednesday, September 22 at 6pm
Horace Mann MS / 3351 23rd St.
Parking on site. Interpretation provided.
Child care provided, reserve by Sept. 20, email
For special accommodations, please contact

Community Advisory Committee for Special Education
Board of Education Commissioner Rachel Norton and Assistant Superintendent of Special
Education Services Cecelia Dodge will discuss the report with members of the CAC.
Thursday, September 23 at 7pm
Support for Families / 1663 Mission St, 7th floor
Call 282-7494 at least one week in advance to reserve childcare.

More “elephants in the room” (this time in parochial plaid)

My job takes me to Silicon Valley most days, but sometimes, I work from home, and can take a few minutes to step outside and be a part of the neighborhood’s weekday life. If it’s afternoon, I’ll usually walk to do a quick errand or two, and often pass groups of kids in uniform – the logoed sweatshirts and crisp white collars of the parochial schools nearby.

These schoolchildren, chomping ice cream, swapping jokes as they dash home, remind me that parochial schools are a big player in the educational life of San Francisco. But, at least to me, they are also mostly unknown. When I started blogging about our kindie search for SF K Files, one of the first commenters asked “What about parochial?” And that made me think. My husband Portland and I hadn’t discussed the possibility of parochial school much. So I turned to him and asked – what about it?

At this point, I should open some baggage and lay it on the table for inspection. On my side of the family, we are Catholic by background, with Latin American and European varieties of the faith in our lives. But when it comes to the church, I opt out. I don’t want to start a flame war here on the state of the Catholic church, so suffice it to say that as an adult, I’ve realized that many of the church’s views and policies are at odds with my own, and that Catholic schools are off the table. I’ve had many conversations with others from Catholic backgrounds and respect that thoughtful people can come to other conclusions about school. But for me, that door has swung shut.

Portland, however, comes from what you might call a lightly Protestant family. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same type or amount of baggage. And he would at least like to find out more about parochial options. We talked this past week, and agreed we’d at least learn about some parochial schools that aren’t Catholic.

But that learning process means dealing with some “elephants in the room” – big uncomfortable questions. When I posted some EiRs about the new public assignment process last week, there were so many interesting responses that I decided to bring some parochial plaid elephants to the party too. Here goes:

  • EiR1: If your family isn’t religious, why did you choose parochial? For families of faith, the choice to go parochial is natural. But it doesn’t seem that all parochial school families are closely affiliated with the church behind their school. If you aren’t religious, what was the draw? Convenience? Quality of education? Lower cost than independent schools? Art, PE, music, or other electives?
  • EiR2: If your family isn’t religious, do you feel connected to the school community? Is that community defined by religion, or shaped in other ways?
  • EiR3: If your family isn’t religious, how do you tell your kids that your own beliefs may not jibe with what they are learning in religion class? Growing up, one family friend from a Buddhist background told her kids to think of the Biblical part of religion class like Greek mythology -- lots of interesting stories that belonged to someone else. What do others do?
  • EiR4: Why would parochial schools want families who aren’t affiliated with their faith? Is getting a broader base of students just part of the business of running a school? Or are some genuinely interested in a diversity of thought and belief?
  • EiR5: How does your parochial school provide transparency and accountability to families? I took a quick look at a few parochial school websites, and couldn’t find readily-available overviews of their policies or governing boards. (This was hardly an exhaustive review, so I could have easily missed things.)
  • EiR6: Backup? Really? I've heard lots of talk about having a parochial school as a backup, but have also heard that getting into many of these schools is competitive. If that's the case, are they really available as backups?
  • EiR7: What about non-Christian options? I was recently talking with a friend about the school dilemma, and after listening to me think out loud for a few minutes, she laughed. “You, yes you, should think about a Jewish school!” When I gave her the “Huh?!?” look, she said that, in her view, her faith and culture are built on thinking and asking lots of questions. “You guys, at least in that respect, would fit right in,” she said. I have to confess that I’d never considered the possibility. Has anyone else?

To all of you in the know about parochial schools, thanks in advance for your answers. If you have insight into Catholic schools, please know that your comments are welcome – while my family isn’t considering Catholic schools, many others out there are. And fellow school seekers, please feel free to add your own EiRs. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one out there with some plaid elephants.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Helga's Tour Strategy: Do Over!

When I did my introductory post, I had the following schools in mind because they seem to fit Hugo's needs and our needs, but required further research into their curriculum (must haves: small groups/project-based, critical thinking; plusses: science integrated into the curriculum at the lower grades or Mandarin/Japanese as FLES).

In order of school size (our attendance boundary school Sutro is included; * denotes city-wide):

  • Peabody 235 with 2 K GE classes
  • *Claire Lilienthal 238 K-2 campus with 4 K classes (3 GE, 1 Korean Immersion)
  • Sutro 245 with 2 K classes (1 GE, 1 Cantonese Bilingual), since we're only interested in the GE our chances are just 22 less siblings & CTIP1
  • Spring Valley Science Magnet 346 with 3 K classes (1 GE, 1 Cantonese Bilingual, 1 Spanish Bilingual)
  • Sherman 383 with 3 K GE classes
  • Argonne 406 with 3.5 K GE classes (3 GE w/ Russian FLES, .5 for the K/1 mix), but there seems to be a pre-K associated with it which further limits our chances; need clarification of the extended # of classroom days in July since we need the summer vacation to visit family in DC
  • * Clarendon JBBP 528 with 4 K classes (2 GE, 2 JBBP)

After considering the comments to my intro post and reviewing this stress-inducing chart, I realized that Hugo's needs for a small school size would constrain our chances of getting assigned into popular attendance boundary schools such as Sherman and Peabody. I switched these out to include more city-wides and a larger neighboring attendance boundary schools to research. I left Spring Valley and Argonne on the list because their curriculum appear to fit what we want.

In order of school size (* denotes city-wide):

  • C5 International public charter for Fall 2011 - 100 with 2 K, but charter approval & location TBD
  • *Claire Lilienthal
  • Creative Arts Charter 240
  • Sutro
  • Spring Valley Science Magnet
  • * Rosa Parks JBBP 367 with 4 K classes (2 GE, 2 JBBP)
  • Argonne
  • *Clarendon JBBP
  • Alamo 549 with 4 K GE classes (large school, but Hugo's pre-K friend's older brother started in K so Hugo's pre-K friend will likely attend too)
  • * Lawton K-8 597 with 3 K GE classes, but need clarification if the lower grades are separated from the upper grades not only in terms of the playground, but also during lunch time and before & after school care.

I hope to winnow this list, because I can't take off this much time from work to do these tours. On the flip side (and in response to constructive criticisms re: the extent of touring from Fall 2011 K bloggers):

1) how else do we measure the "intangibles" of the classroom environment (students engaged)? of school environment (safe & orderly)? of student community during the school day?

2) the new student assignment system does not cap the # of choices and is supposed to give your highest ranked choice as priority (we need to see that programming algorithm to make sure!)

I intend to supplement (or replace?) the tours by attending a PPS-SF workshop with parent advocates for specific schools, leverage info from my fellow pre-K parents' tours, and perhaps check out some schools at the enrollment fair in Nov. I can't seem to shake the helicopter parenting in me.

That's the plan for now... subject to change, of course!

Middle School Parents, information please.

This from a reader:
For those of us with elementary school children looking at the new district feeder patterns, middle school is a big unknown. I've heard lots of anecdotal information about middle school but would really like to hear from parents - honestly - what works and what doesn't.
First off, how is middle school structured? What are the classes, how is it different from elementary school.

And then, how do schools deal with what I've been told is growing divide in that age group between kids who are ready to learn and working at and above grade level and those that aren't. What happens to the kids who are doing better? Are their educational needs met as well or do they just get bored?

I don't want to start a flame war here, but do want some honest input about what's important in middle school and what's not. Is band that huge a thing? Sports? Do they make up for bad academics?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

That extra oomph

A group of moms at the park where talking about their school touring schedule and one woman asked, "But what do I look for?" She admitted that she was so focused on evaluating the kindergarten classes that she forgot to examine the rest of the school more closely. The conversation progressed to middle school and high school placement. I confess I haven't paid attention to the feeder patterns for middle school and how my requested selections are impacted. How many of you are looking that far ahead towards middle and high schools at this stage?

I wonder what is it that makes a school great beyond test scores and parent participation. When you're on a tour, what do you look for? Happy children? Engaging teachers? Do you rely on a feeling, sense, or vibe about the place?

I've started school tours and always leave wondering what (better) questions I should have asked. What does strong leadership in the administrative staff of the school look like on a daily basis? How can you tell from a brief visit with the school that the teachers are a strong supportive unit? How would you know if there is playground bullying or if it's a safe learning environment?

What is it that gives a school that oomph for you to put it on your list of 7?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What we're looking for in a school (and other things I forgot to mention)

Hi everyone, Emily here. I’m going to start by explaining why I’m planning on touring four neighborhood schools, as that question has come up since my last post. I’m not sure how I would go about posting throughout this process without sharing my neighborhood school, so I’m going to take a leap of faith and do that here. Our neighborhood school is Miraloma Elementary. Now I’m new to the city, but I don’t live under a rock, so I’m well aware this is a very popular, oversubscribed school. And though our particular street seems to have an absence of any person, other than us, under the age of 80, there seem to be a lot of kids in the Miraloma district in general. So I will not be surprised if we are bumped out of our neighborhood school by siblings, those in the CTIP 1 that choose to come there and other kids in the neighborhood. Therefore, I’ve done some (completely unscientific) research and have concluded Sunnyside, Sloat and Lakeshore are nearby schools that seem to have good reputations and may have space for a bumped neighborhood kid. We’re also pretty close to West Portal and Clarendon, but I’m not touring either of those places as I’m assuming there will be no spots open to children not in one of the priority cohorts. So that answers THAT question.

Now, on to what we want in a school for our son. My husband and I both attended public schools in California from K-12th grade. We also both attended a state college (the same one, me for my BA and MA and he for his BA) and he now attends UCSF. You can see the pattern here. I’m perfectly comfortable with my child being educated via the public education system. However, regardless of what school he goes to, there are a few things we need from his elementary education. Here is a short version of our list:

-We need to feel like our son is completely SAFE at his school.

-We need other parents at the school to be INVOLVED. And by involved I don’t mean sending in $10,000 donations every other month (though wouldn’t that be great!) and I don’t mean volunteering in the classroom every Tuesday (which would also be great!). I mean we need a lot of the parents at the school doing homework with their kids, being willing to work in the garden at school a few times a year, offering to do classroom laundry for the teacher once in awhile, and sure, if possible, buying school supplies on sale when they see them, participating in school fundraisers and coming in once a month to facilitate an art project or something. I get it, this is a luxury here. But it’s still important to us.

- We need to feel like the teachers at his school are SUPPORTED by the administration, students and parent community. I don’t have the belief that most public school teachers are mean trolls who hate their jobs and know they can’t get fired. Sure, there are some out there that should be canned, but I really believe most teachers do what they do because they love teaching. Goodness knows they don’t do it for the money. And I know from my mom’s experience (she was a teacher for over 30 years) that a little support from their school community goes a long way. If they can’t make $100,000 a year and have 12 kids in each class, at least they should be supported in their efforts to educate our children.

And finally (for now),

-We need a school that has a lot of opportunity for PHYSICAL LEARNING. Our son (like pretty much every other 5-year-old boy I’ve ever met) is very, very energetic. A lot of bum-in-desk time is what we’re trying to avoid. I recognize this has a lot to do with the specific teacher, but I know recess and PE time varies from school to school and I will be looking at specific schedules on each school I tour. I’ll also be looking at the culture of the school—does the school seem to value traditional academics, or does the school seem to value a more project-based learning style? Both styles certainly have pros and cons, but I believe our son will do better in a project-based learning environment.

So the question is—Can SFUSD provide all of this for our son? I believe at lots of schools the answer is YES and I believe at some schools the answer is NO. Can we find a school where the answer is yes AND get a spot before, eh, July 1st ish? That’s the biggest question.

PS- If you have a child at any of the schools I previously mentioned I would be touring and can speak to any of my identified needs, PLEASE feel free to write a comment about it. I would love any “inside” information.

API scores are in

Here's a link to the latest API scores:,SAN,FRANCISCO

Rachel Norton: Recap: Assignment committee recommends delay

This excerpt from Board of Education member Rachel Norton's blog recaps last nights BOE meeting:
As expected, at tonight’s meeting of the Student Assignment committee, the Superintendent formally requested that the Board delay implementation of the middle school portion of the new student assignment system for one year. Committee members accepted the recommendation and fowarded it to the full Board for a vote on Sept. 28.

Specifically, Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza explained that after considering feedback about unclear reform initiatives, special education pathways and building capacity in our middle school language immersion programs, the district had concluded that the one year delay was the best way to ensure instructional quality going forward. A number of initiatives, including the redesign of special education, the implementation of the Lau Plan for serving English Learners, and the School Improvement Grants just rceived from the state, are in their infancy at the current time, and the district concluded it was better to roll out all of these improvements more fully before implementing feeder patterns.

Fifth graders seeking a middle school placement for the 2011-12 school year would instead go through a temporary process with no initial assignment; families would submit an application with a list of choices by Feb. 18, 2011. The system would place younger siblings first, then students in CTIP1 areas, and then all other students by general lottery (no diversity index, and no attendance area preferences). Students would be placed in their highest available choice, or offered placement at the closest middle school with space if none of their choices were available.

Read the full story

Bay Citizen: Immunization database

This from the Bay Citizen:

With a new school year starting, some local health departments are concerned that unvaccinated children could contribute to the spread of diseases such as whooping cough. The topic of whether to vaccinate or not is a hot button issue both in the Bay Area and nationally - the database already sparked a huge amount of debate in many forums where we've posted it.

The results from the database are startling. For instance, the schools below have the highest vaccination opt-out rates from the 2009-2010 school year:
  1. Sebastopol Independent Charter, Sebastopol, Sonoma County - only 12% of kindergartners are fully vaccinated
  2. Sunridge Charter, Sebastopol, Sonoma County - 29%
  3. East Bay Waldorf, El Sobrante, Contra Costa County - 30%
  4. San Francisco Waldorf, San Francisco, San Francisco County - 32%
  5. Waldorf Sch. Of The Peninsula, Los Altos, Santa Clara County - 35%
  6. Marin Waldorf Sch., San Rafael, Marin County - 37%
  7. San Geronimo Valley Elem., San Geronimo, Marin County - 46%
  8. California Virtual Academy @ San Mateo, Simi Valley, San Mateo County - 50%
  9. Diablo Valley Montessori, Lafayette, Contra Costa County - 50%
  10. Hope Technology, Palo Alto, San Mateo County - 50%
You can look up the vaccination rate at any school in San Francisco using the database: Click here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

SFUSD nutrition committee meeting

Do you want to help improve school food? The SFUSD student nutrition and physical activity committee has been doing just that since 2003; it is a slow upward battle, but real progress has been made every year. One of the subcommittees, called the school food subcommittee, focuses just on the food (as opposed to free meal applications, working towards a bond for a central kitchen, improving customer service, the eternal search for more funding, and other topics addressed at the larger committee meetings). This is the best place for parents who are new to the issue to get information, have their questions answered, and join the fight.

The school food subcommittee will meet for the fist time this school year on Wednesday September 15th, 4-5pm at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, 4235 19th Street (just west of Castro Street near Collingwood); a sign will be posted on the office door listing the room number. All are welcome to attend. Please join us and learn about how despite criminally low funding for school meals and ridiculous, but mandatory, USDA regulations, it is still possible to improve the quality of the food our children are offered at school. Be part of the solution; get informed, get involved, and help nourish a healthier generation of students.

For more on school food in San Francisco, please visit

Commodore Sloat tours

Commodore Sloat Elementary will be conducting school tours for prospective families on Tuesdays beginning in October. Please call our school secretary, Ms. Ma, at 759-2807 to schedule your slot. (

October 5 - 9-10am

October 12 - 9-10am

October 19 - 9-10am

October 26 - 12:45-1:45pm

**No tour on November 2

November 9, - 9-10am

**November 13 - District Enrollment Fair

November 16 - 9-10am

November 23 - 9-10am

November 30 - 12:45-1:45pm

**No tours in December

January 4 - 9-10am

January 11 - 9-10am

January 18 - 9-10am

January 25 - 12:45-1:45pm

**No tour on February 1

February 8 - 9-10am

February 15 - 9-10am

Applications due February 18, 2011
When you visit Commodore Sloat, please enter at 50 Darien Way. Street parking is available in abundance in the neighborhood, so please don't park in the loading zone.

We look forward to meeting you!

Listen to what the School Board candidates have to say...

San Francisco dad Stan Goldberg has taken the time to talk with many of the candidates for SFUSD's Board of Education and posted the audio interviews online. This is a great opportunity to actually hear what the candidates hope to do for our district. Listen:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fall 2011: Herding those elephants

On Monday night (yes, as in within hours), the decision makers at SFUSD will hold a key discussion as part of implementing the new school assignment system. District officials will recommend going ahead with the new, more neighborhood-based kindergarten plan, but holding off on a new middle school plan for another year.

So it seems like a good time to herd together some of those “Elephants in the Room” – big, uncomfortable questions about the proposed system that I’ve asked myself, discussed with friends also gearing up for the kindergarten search, or read in snatches elsewhere on SF K Files. There are probably enough EiRs to fill a novel, but I’ll stick to five for now:

  • EiR1: End racial isolation? Really? The new neighborhood-focused kindergarten system will definitely boost predictability and convenience for lots of families. But one of the stated goals of the new program is to end patterns of racial isolation at certain schools. Given the neighborhood focus, that one seems kind of head-scratcher. Yes, CTIP1 households have a golden pass to just about any school, but will substantial numbers of families from areas such as Bayview or the Tenderloin want to send their five-year-olds clear across town to Clarendon or Peabody? Will this plan really make schools such as Alamo or Malcolm X look all that different in five years? What am I missing here?
  • EiR2: Where do you really live? There’s always address fraud in any public school system. But between the new neighborhood weightings and the CTIP1 golden key, the new plan seems primed for lots of funky residential claims, whether it’s using a grandparent’s address or worse. What will the district do about that? Is the current system of checking address fraud enough?
  • EiR3: Just ‘cuz you live there doesn’t mean you’ll go there. Living in a school’s assignment area gives you added weight in the lottery. But that doesn’t mean living near Grattan means going to Grattan. Between siblings and CTIP1, there may not be enough space left for the whole neighborhood. If you don’t get into, say, Grattan, you’ll be assigned a school relatively nearby…like, say, John Muir. Which brings me to…
  • EiR4: Will the plan fill the “empties”? The district has centrally-located, under-enrolled schools it wants to revive and fill, including Muir and Cobb. Will the new neighborhood assignees take a look this time and show up? I’m particularly curious about Muir, which has a new principal who had a good track record of turning around Starr King. What will he bring to Muir to increase its appeal? Language immersion? A science and environment program, in keeping with the school’s namesake? It may not happen in this next year, but something interesting will come to Muir (or should, if they want more families to consider it).
  • EiR5: Why do Tourpalooza? Last year, on the radio, I heard a board member sum up the new system succinctly – “more predictability, less choice.” Yo, other kindergarten questers, is it really worth following the habits of past years and touring like crazy? My family lives kinda northwesternish (hence I’m blogging for SFK Files under the name Seattle), but I’m seriously rethinking plans to visit all of the schools in our area when we probably won’t get in. Maybe a few for points of comparison with our assigned school (not saying what it is for now, on the advice of others who've blogged for this site before), and some city-wide programs, but maybe that’s enough? What are others going to do? Stay on -- or get off -- the tour bus?

Folks, thoughts? Any big elephants I missed?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fairmount tour schedule

As Fairmount will be a District Wide school next year, we are expecting a lot of people to turn out for tours. We've added extra tours and an open house.

1. School tours are Tuesday mornings. No appointment is necessary.

2. A bilingual Open House will be offered on one Tuesday evening.

3. For morning tours, come to the school at 8:30 am to observe morning circle, then meet at the CAFETERIA at 8:45 am for the formal tour to begin.

4. Children who are walking are NOT allowed in tours. Babes in arms are okay.

5. The dates are:

- Oct 12 - in ENGLISH

- Oct 19 - in ENGLISH

- Oct 26 - in ENGLISH

- Nov 2 - in Spanish

- Nov 9 - in ENGLISH

- Nov 16 - in ENGLISH

- Nov 23 - in Spanish

- Nov 30 - bilingual OPEN HOUSE at 6:00 pm in the CAFETERIA

- Dec 7 - in ENGLISH

- Dec 14 - in Spanish

6. Bilingual parents are encouraged to come to tours in Spanish, as English tours can be quite full.

7. For questions about tours, call the school (415-695-5669) or email Antonio at .

SFUSD press release: Superintendent Proposes Adjustments to New Placement Policy: Phasing in middle school feeder patterns

September 10, 2010 (San Francisco) - On Monday, September 13 at the Ad Hoc Committee of the Board of Education, the Superintendent will be recommending that the district move forward with the elementary and high school placement policy and take another year to further develop the middle school placement changes, which would mean postponing the decision on elementary to middle feeder patterns.

Superintendent Carlos Garcia says “We are still committed to enacting the new placement policy in its entirety. Next fall we will have even more opportunities for middle school students and their families than those currently available and we’d like to get those in place before we institute the feeder patterns.”

More Opportunities at Middle Schools
The superintendent said that the district needs to provide families with specific school level details about the new school improvement initiatives before the district rolls out the feeder patterns. There are many new initiatives that are in their infancy, including:

• Special Education redesign – The district commissioned an independent audit which is forthcoming regarding Special Education programs and has a new highly qualified leader of Special Education who will help shepherd improvements in these services.
• Lau plan – The district is in its 2nd year of implementing a comprehensive plan for serving English Learners (EL). As part of rolling out this plan, program options will be expanding for both EL students and other students as more language pathways between elementary and middle schools are developed.
• SIG Magnet grants– Horace Mann and Everett, two middle schools in the Mission district, will be receiving millions annually starting this fall to drastically accelerate student achievement. The district is awaiting information about whether or not Horace Mann and Everett will also be receiving funding to develop magnet programs.

Community Feedback
The district has sought out and received input from community members over the past few weeks and for several years preceding the new placement policy.

Special Assistant to the Superintendent Orla O’Keeffe says that while accepting the initial assignment offer for a feeder middle school would be optional for families, some parents are concerned that their options for other middle schools would be limited.

“In the past few weeks we have heard from parents who are excited about the proposed feeder schools and parents who are very concerned about it – the concern is primarily based on whether or not currently enrolled elementary parents perceive their proposed feeder middle school as one where they would want to send their child,” states O’Keeffe.

“Given the mixed reactions we have heard, we acknowledge that postponing the implementation of feeder patterns will be disappointing to some parents and welcome news to others,” she continues.

Proposed Revision to the Placement Policy
The Board will be reviewing a revised policy proposal that states that for the enrollment year 2011-2012 the middle schools choice process will give preference to applicants in transitional years (i.e., students transitioning from fifth to sixth grade) in the following order:
1. younger siblings of students who are enrolled in and will be attending the school during the year for which the younger sibling requests attendance;
2. CTIP1
3. all other students

Students who are not assigned to one of their choices will be assigned to the middle school closest to where they live that has openings.

Last March, the SFUSD Board of Education approved a redesign of the district’s student assignment system which will take effect with the incoming classes of kindergartners, sixth and ninth graders in the fall of 2011. Now the Board of Education is considering recommendations for new attendance area boundaries, elementary to middle school feeder patterns, and a new transportation policy.

This is the first time in over 30 years that the boundaries for most San Francisco elementary schools have been fully revised. Attendance areas are geographic borders drawn around most elementary schools throughout the district (58 of the 72 elementary schools). The district created attendance areas so there can be a system of helping elementary students get placement in their attendance area school if they wish. Families are not required to choose their attendance area school, nor can they be guaranteed a placement at their attendance area school.

Also, for the first time, SFUSD will be creating a Kindergarten through eighth grade assignment option for families, what is called “feeder patterns.” Fifth grade students will get an initial placement offer based on the elementary school they attend, regardless of where they live.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Emily's Adventures with the SFUSD Placement Process

Hello! I’m Emily and I’m going to share my SFUSD placement adventure with you all. My husband (we shall call him Jared) and I have two boys—we’ll call them Nathan and Nolan—who are 5 and 1. Our home is more west than east and more south than north. We’re new to the city-- we’ve lived here for a year and come from a place where you walk to the nice, decently funded school down the street for elementary school. There is no lottery there and people don’t go on school tours. So you can imagine when I first heard about the way it works here, I was a little shocked (shocked, appalled, frightened-- all words that apply). But, I’ve had time to get used to the system and now school placement doesn’t seem quite as scary to me (most days…).

Nathan just turned five so technically we could have sent him to kinder this year, but we knew our son could benefit from another year of preschool and we decided to wait (gasp!). Now he’s in pre-k, and I’m much more familiar with our school options and we’re certain waiting was a great decision for our family.

Our hope is to send him to a lovely public elementary school that I can put lots of my time and energy into. However, I know myself and I know I DON’T have the patience, self-control, strength, etc, to go through next summer not knowing where my child will go to school in the fall-- despite hearing over and over again it all works out in the end. I’m anxious by nature and I just know that situation will send me right over the edge. Our solution is to tour a few religious schools to have more choices and we are open to the idea that one of them could be the best fit for our son, regardless of public school placement. The “M” word has also come up, but we really hope to avoid that as we like it in SF and feel it has a lot to offer our family. So here, in no particular order, are the schools we (I) plan on touring (one of the first 4 is our “neighborhood” school, but in an effort to remain anonymous I won’t share which one… yet):

Rosa Parks JBBP (a little far for my liking, but I have heard such great things about this program and I love the idea of language instruction without immersion)
SF Community (I went to an elementary school that sounds a lot like this one. I’m intrigued.)
West Portal Lutheran (Fairly close with a religious background similar to ours)
Zion Lutheran (I’ve heard great things about this school)

I think that’s all for now. I look forward to sharing our journey with everyone!

SF Examiner reporter wants to hear from parents

My name is Andrea Koskey, I’m a reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. I’m working on a story about the San Francisco Unified School District’s announcement that parents on the wait list for schools will now have to hold off until next week to find out if spots will open for their children at their preferred school. I would like to talk with a parent who is still on that wait list or have not yet received a school assignment, which I can imagine would be very frustrating. I can be reached at 415-359-2753.

The Browns' search for school

Hello to all. My (pseudo)name is Becca Brown and I have a daughter starting Kindergarten in 2011, as well as a 1 1/2 year old son who will follow suit three years later.

We live in the southeast part of the city, and I am dead set on attending a school close to home. My husband commutes, and I find that traveling long distances takes a huge toll on our family, and is not something I want to do on a daily basis. While I wouldn't say location is our top priority, it is certainly in the top three. I do not plan on touring any schools further than a 10 minute drive.

A little background: My husband and I both grew up in the Bay Area, and both our families are still here, which is a huge part of what keeps us here. I grew up in the North Bay, and went from kindergarten through sixth grade with pretty much the same 30 people. If I'm not friends with them now on facebook, I could still call any one of them today and have a great conversation. We walked to school together, knew each other's families, and were likely each other's first kisses. I dream of something similar for my kids. My husband bounced around Bay Area schools a lot more, so he doesn't feel as driven as I do to find a forever school for our kids, although I'm sure he'd prefer it.

Further down the road: My professional background includes being a Teach for America teacher, and now running a non-profit that raises money to support public schools in a neighboring suburb. I have seen both the worst (my first year teaching was literally in a janitor's closet. I had to move the bags of trash daily.) to the best (neighborhood schools that are everything I want for my child, but located in a suburb. Could we survive in a suburb?). I am probably going into the school search a little more knowledgeable than your average parent because of my line of work.

Today: While perhaps not a popular opinion, I believe a school is as good as it's parent community. It is the number one factor I am looking for as we begin the search, followed closely by the teachers and principal. Our neighborhood school is one that is considered in transition, and I am keeping tabs on what is happening there this year. The only caveat to that is that we rent, so while it is our neighborhood school now, I am not sure it will be for the next eight years. We are open to Spanish immersion, but not set on it. There are also some rumblings of moving closer to my husband's work, but so far those are just rumblings. If we were going to do that, this would be the year. But we tried the suburbs pre-children, and really didn't enjoy it. Perhaps it would be different now with kids, but it's such a huge risk. For the most part, we love the city. We are likely going to tour one private school, but even on the off chance that we got in, we would never be able to afford it unless it was almost entirely covered by financial aid. We are decidedly middle-class, falling right between making too much to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to even consider sending two kids to private school. So while we will tour the one that is close and I believe has the same values we do, I would be beyond shocked if that's where we ended up. I think I will also have my husband look at at least one school on the Peninsula, just for comparison purposes.

Any questions?

Fund-raiser for Flynn!

A New School Year, a New Start!
Get to know the Flynn School Community by joining us at the DALVA Cocktail Lounge, to benefit Flynn

When: NEXT Tuesday, September 14, 6 - 10 PM
Who: Adults Only
Where: DALVA Cocktail Lounge (3121 16th street @ Valencia, next to the Roxie Cinema)
Music: Flynn Dad Eric Loucks will be spinning the tunes
Extra Fun: Art and Wine Silent Auction and Appetizers available. 100% of the auction and food sales and 50% of the bar sales will go to Flynn.
Stop by for a cocktail and appetizers! Everybody's welcome!
Cover: $5.00
Un Nuevo Inicio!
Ven y diviértete con la escuela Flynn en DALVA Cocktail Lounge, en beneficio de la escuela Flynn
Fecha: Martes, 14 de septiembre, de 6 - 10 PM
Invitados: Sólo adultos
Lugar: DALVA Cocktail Lounge (3121 Calle 16 esq. Valencia)
Música: Eric Loucks será el DJ.
Y mucho más: Habrán botanas a la venta, y una subasta de obras de arte y vinos. 100% de las ventas de la subasta y la comida, más el 50% de la venta de bebidas serán en beneficio a Flynn.
Vengan a tomarse una copa y a disfrutar con sus amigos! Mientras más gente, mejor!
Entrada: $5.00

Newsweek: Why school reform fails

This from Newsweek:

As 56 million children return to the nation’s 133,000 elementary and secondary schools, the promise of “reform” is again in the air. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has announced $4 billion in Race to the Top grants to states whose proposals demonstrated, according to Duncan, “a bold commitment to education reform” and “creativity and innovation [that is] breathtaking.” What they really show is that few subjects inspire more intellectual dishonesty and political puffery than “school reform.”

Since the 1960s, waves of “reform” have failed to produce meaningful achievement gains. The most reliable tests are those given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The reading and math tests, graded on a 0–500 scale, measure 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds. In 1971, the initial year for the reading test, the average score for high-school seniors was 285; in 2008 that score was 286. The math test started in 1973, when high-school seniors averaged 304; in 2008 the average was 306.

To be sure, some improvements have occurred in elementary schools. But what good are they if they’re erased by high school? There’s also been a modest narrowing in the high-school achievement gaps between whites, blacks, and Hispanics, although the narrowing generally stopped in the late 1980s. (Average scores have remained stable because, although blacks’ and Hispanics’ scores have risen slightly, the size of these minority groups has also expanded. This means that their still-low scores exert a bigger drag on the average. The two effects offset each other.)

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New American Media: S.F. Parents in an Uproar Over New Way of Assigning Students to Schools

This from New America Media:
Just two weeks into the start of the academic year, San Francisco parents are already focused on the process for selecting schools for 2011-12—and if a community meeting this week is any indication, district officials are in for a long, unhappy year.

Parents in the San Francisco Unified School District, which serves some 55,000 pupils, have long been critical of the current student assignment process, which seeks to balance the desires of families with the economic and language diversity of the schools. This complicated “diversity index” has often resulted in students being dispersed throughout the city, far from their neighborhoods, with no guarantee that children from the same family will attend the same school at the same time.

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Videos from the story:

SF Parents Frustrated by New Placement System from New America Media on Vimeo.

SF Parents Frustrated by the New Placement System from New America Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hello from Helga

I picked Helga Hufflepuff (the most egalitarian of the Hogwarts Founders) as my pseudonym because her students played fair and were hard working, honest and loyal.

Our Family: We are a bi-racial/tri-cultural family. I'm a 1st generation Chinese American and my husband Godric is Caucasian. The "tri" reflects Godric's experience living in Japan during high school and fluency in Japanese. We have 2 sons, Hugo (entering K in Fall 2011) and toddler Gideon, who both attend a wonderful childcare center at my work in NW San Francisco.

Our View on Education: Godric and I went to public schools (SE Washington and DC suburb) and trained in the martial arts in our pre-parent, singleton days (Godric seriously; me not so much). This may have formed our view on education: A quality education is the right of every child, but it should be viewed/treated as a privilege. Parents and children should treat teachers/administrators (and one another) with respect. Additionally, from our experience with the childcare center, parents' involvement makes the curriculum stronger and children learn better when their environment is safe. Children (and their parents) are accountable for the children's behavior and should follow a "code of conduct."

Initial Research: In Spring 2010, we planned to move from the South Bay closer/back to San Francisco after Godric completed his doctorate in chemistry in June. I researched schools along the Peninsula and in San Francisco on, Parents for Public Schools-SF and the SF K files websites as well as attended the JCC Annual Kindergarten Information night in May.

I was so fixated on quantitative factors such as API and test scores that Hoover E.S. (an academic-oriented, teacher-directed curriculum in Palo Alto with a 982 API score) was my #1 choice. However, I had a "Yikes!" moment when I came across the trailer on I was so affected by it that I read books listed on its website during my summer vacation: The Trouble with Boys, Motivated Minds and Nurtureshock. I also read the Hassels' Picky Parent Guide for elementary schools based on's referral.

With humility, I realized by focusing only on the "quants" that I had a very narrow view of what a great school was and that I hadn't even considered Hugo's needs at all. (Hugo would survive, but not thrive at Hoover.) Using the Picky Parent Guide, I came up with the following and hope we can find a good fit for these needs in SFUSD! (Any suggestions for schools are welcome!)

Hugo's Needs: Per Baby Hearts, Hugo is a "slow to warm" child; he flourishes in familiar places and with familiar people, but is extremely cautious and shy in new situations. He is an observer in new activities; he prefers to watch others do something first and then he'll try it. He would prefer the following:

  • Classes that allow for small group activities (teacher aides/parent volunteers to help reduce class ratio)
  • A smaller sized school
  • Time for free play, physical education/activity
  • A curriculum that is project-based since Hugo enjoys this at his preschool
  • A curriculum that allows for hands-on activities
Helga & Godric's Needs: The following are must haves.

  • A curriculum that includes Critical Thinking (analytical, conceptual and creative thinking) and problem solving. The "why" and "how" are as important as the "what, when and where."
  • An environment where Hugo will love learning.
  • Principal and teachers that seek parent support and ideas.
  • Safe & orderly environment (e.g., "code of conduct" for students and consequences for inappropriate behavior are clear & consistently applied)
  • Parent community that we feel comfortable with and that shares our philosophy on education
  • Logistics: Starts (or has before-school care) before 8:30am and has after-school care that is available to us.

Our Nice-to-Haves: Located close to my work in NW SF (or secondarily close to Godric's postdoc in SW SF), integrated science curriculum, music, Caring School Community or TRIBE, arts, computer technology, Mandarin or Japanese as a foreign language.

  • Hugo speaks English; Gideon speaks toddlerese.
  • I had learned Mandarin in Sunday Chinese school in my tween-to-teen years, because my mom "Po Po" taught there. Since I didn't choose to learn it nor use it (my dad who actually speaks Cantonese wanted us to master English in the household!), I lost it. It would be nice for Hugo to be able to speak with Po Po when we visit the DC area. I could probably recall enough of it to help Hugo with homework, but I'm ambivalent about it.
  • Godric, who is passionate about Japanese, would help Hugo with homework. Godric's best friend and former host family are still in Japan, so it would be nice for another visit. (Hugo came with us to Japan when he was 13 months old. The 16 hour time change and ensuing sleep training back to West Coast time was brutal though.)

Choice: In the end, we chose to move to San Francisco (over the Peninsula), because

  1. I was really inspired by what parents from both PPS-SF and SF K files have done to turnaround schools. (If it's not there yet, built it. "If you build it, they will come." from Field of Dreams.)
  2. Proximity trumps assignment certainty... maybe it's the "helicopter" parent in me! : )

Helga the Hopeful

Fall 2011: Will history repeat itself?

In my family’s story, San Francisco’s public schools always take a leading role. My grandparents attended city schools in Bernal Heights and Ingleside. My mom graduated from Galileo High, and later taught at James Lick for six proud years. I went to public kindergarten near Noe Valley, loved my teacher, and hiked along on field trips to places like the neighborhood Safeway, where they gave us each a big red apple.

Then the change hit – one of the district’s many upheavals in the long struggle to juggle the demands of integration and education. The next year, our school was told, most of us would be sent elsewhere. All around the neighborhood, families packed into moving vans. My parents spent many long, late nights talking in intense, hushed tones. They made their decision. My mom quit her job at Lick, and cried. We moved to the suburbs. So did at least half of my kindergarten class.

My parents never looked back. But after college, I returned to San Francisco, and now have kids of my own. And, just like when I was little, all anyone can talk about is school.

My oldest could have started kindergarten this year, but with her late fall birthday, we decided to wait for 2011. Being on the borderline, though, means we have plenty of friends who spent the last year in kindergarten purgatory. A few got into public or private schools of their choice easily. Most spent an ulcer-filled spring and summer before landing something they wanted. A few didn’t get a school they could live with until this past week. Two families, with nerves so shot that they are almost past caring, are still waiting.

So now, my husband and I are the ones to spend long, late nights talking in hushed tones. Will history repeat itself? Will we move out of the city? If we stay, will we be one of the lucky ones, or one of the families who is left waiting?

We live in the northwestern part of town, and as such, I’ll introduce myself as Seattle. My husband Portland and I both work in Silicon Valley, piling the drudgery of commuting on top of the school question. Our daughter Tacoma and son Williamette are both in preschool.

Under the new system, we have an assigned school that seems OK, but not much more. We’ll tour some public general education programs on the west side of town. We’re curious about immersion programs, and will check out some of those as well. Yes, guilty as charged, we’ll tour some private schools. And just to make sure we won’t get bored, we’ll also visit a couple of public schools on the Peninsula, to see what we might get elsewhere.

I know that by making the tough decision to leave the city, my parents gave my siblings and me the chance to get a first-rate public school education. They also lost most of the close-knit community they had here, and the rich daily fabric of San Francisco life. What will our path be? This is the year, it seems, to start finding out.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Fall 2011 search by Aissa: My introduction

Let me be totally honest with you upfront. My partner West and I (call me Aissa) have a nightly conversation as to whether we should move out of state to escape the school system here. We're both happy San Francisco transplants who've landed in the west side of the city. We have neither bias towards any school in the SFUSD nor confidence that we have a real say in where our child is placed.I'm a product of east coast public school system while West is a product of the public British school system.

I am trying not to get caught up in the madness and stress of landing our ideal school. I have visions, or should I say fantasies, of being super organized about it all but I know myself so I've decided to blog it. We live in walking distance to a public school that is 'OK', we love the thought of Luke walking to school and getting to know children in the neighborhood. I'll put it on my list but I wonder if it needs to be our #1 choice to make a difference in the new lottery set-up. I have a feeling it won't be our first choice but I also don't want to lose it if we don't get into the schools we prefer over our local one.

We're not too fussed about a rigorous academic program for our son Luke.
What's more important to us is a school that will help us raise a well-balance person who is sure of himself and his place in the world. This means that music, physical education, art, conflict transformation, intercultural understanding, and community service projects are included along with science, social studies, foreign language, math, etc. . Based upon what we've heard about the SFUSD and the current economic condition of CA, we are skeptical the public system can meet our needs and hopes for Luke's education . WAIT! Don't bash us just yet!

We continue to have hopes in finding a good fit for our family in the SFUSD and at the same time we will open our inquiry to a few independent schools. Truth be told, we would send Luke to a private school provided that it is a perfect fit for him and our family but it doesn't sit quite right with us ideologically, not to mention the ridiculousness of paying up to $24k for kindergarten and beyond. Our daughter Lulu will be entering kindergarten in 3 years and we can't image paying for 2 private schools. For that amount of money we should put it into a bigger house outside of the city or state, right?

Alas, we always end our nightly conversation agreeing there is no place like San Francisco and we don't want to leave. Feels a bit like prospecting for that golden nugget of a school where we know our child will thrive. It's gotta be out there, we just have to keep digging. Until West and I figure how, when, where, or if we actually do leave California, let's just get this conga line started. Who's bringing the mojitos?