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?
- 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”.)
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.)