Friday, September 17, 2010

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?

38 comments:

  1. A word of warning - the published feeder patterns for middle school are up for review and may change. They in fact could change drasticly.

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  2. I'd like this post to also help fifth grade parents who are trying to figure out what this "temporary" assignment system this year will look like. Questions I have that I'd like answered: (1) what's an estimate of the likely number of kids from CTIP 1 areas in fifth grade now; (2) is SFUSD giving preference in middle school assignments to kids not currently attending SFUSD schools over those attending SFUSD schools and, if so, why? (several commenters on other posts have said this; If it's true, I think SFUSD should be upfront about that and SFUSD parents can strategize their choices to deal with it); 3) how realistic is it to see openings in the K through 8s at sixth grade? (I've heard anecdotal evidence that, last year, there were 3 or 4 open slots at Rooftop; anyone else have stories on that issue?); (4) how will special ed be handled for next year? (there's an ongoing re-evaluation of the special ed program ongoing (see Rachel Norton's blog) -- is that going to come into force for Fall 2010 and, if so, what will change"); (5)a boatload of money is heading toward certain underperforming middle schools -- granted that the feeder concept has now been delayed and that may in turn delay efforts to improve these schools, but are any parents thinking about giving Mann or Everett a shot for next year?; (6) there are several middle school charters out there (Edison, Creative Arts, etc., etc.), what do people feel are the pros and cons of each of those choices?

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  3. On the previous post, I meant to ask whether there's be major middle school special ed changes starting in Fall 2011, not Fall 2010 as I posted. Also, I have one further question: to the extent that some of us will be utilizing the wait pool system -- and this temporary system may in fact lead to long wait pooling, do parents who've gone through this have suggestions for how to deal with an 11 year old during that stressful period?

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  4. I can only answer some of your questions as the ones about how things will work this year are sort of unknown until it happens. I have never heard that SFUSD gives priority to kids from outside SFUSD for middle school though.

    All SFUSD middle schools do what is called "coring" where kids have one teacher for Language Arts/Social Studies, one for Math/Science and then they have PE every day and an elective every day (band, orchestra or unified arts). All the schools have one counselor per grade that follows all the kids while they are in middle school. The pace is quicker and the kids are responsible for their assignments more, I think all the schools give them a planner. The kids all have a locker and must switch out their books for classes. They all change into PE uniforms every day and have a PE locker as well.

    In middle school in my opinion the academics really matter and having an honors or robust GATE differentiation program is critical to high achieving kids not getting bored. (let's all agree to lay aside the debate of who/what that is please and accept that some kids can move quicker, but that doesn't make them better!)

    Band and sports I don't think make up for bad academics unless you have a kid who isn't really into school and that will draw them to school. For bright kids that are planning on AP courses in high school it is very important that they have the background in middle school.

    The middle schools with honors tracks are Giannini (starts in 7th grade), Aptos (all GATE identified kids), Hoover (depends on 5th grade STAR test results), Presidio (all GATE identified kids), Roosevelt (not sure). I don't know about Francisco, Marina, Denman, King, Everett or Mann. Lick has no honors and does differentiation in the class and I think groups by math ability.

    All schools have different music offerings. All schools offer the same team sports.

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  5. Add to the charter school question - anyone know the status on the new Gateway Middle School? I school board approved it last spring, but has it gotten off the ground? And where would it be located?

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  6. It doesn't matter how the SFUSD shuffles the deck. Some kids are going to be assigned to schools like Everett. Ever sat down inside a classroom in Everett?

    I took a City College class there. The adult class ended up filing an official complaint regarding the rats and mice that were crawling out of the walls.

    The classrooms looked bleak.

    On top of the filth and graffiti, the posted materials in the class were about conflict avoidance and little else.

    No assignment system will make this school go away.

    There are too many poor people in the city to generate the wealth to fix this school and others like it. Deck shuffling won't fix the problem.

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  7. Gateway will definitely have a 6th grade for 100 students opening next year. They are working with SFUSD to find a site.

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  8. How important are honors classes? What does GATE mean in Middle School?

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  9. Honors means they go deeper into the information, have more extensive projects and move quicker. GATE is generally honors in middle school unless they are doing a differentiated curriculum then students get that extension assigned individually but the class itself doesn't. Honors means that the entire class is doing the same extensions and so you can therefore have debates, conversations, etc. with the entire class and everyone doing the same projects and assignments.

    All schools are required to cluster GATE students with at least 3-4 GATE identified kids per class.

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  10. On the charters, I have heard two things. One, Edison got rid of its for-profit management team and is energetically recruiting new families to make the school more of a neighborhood one. Not sure, though, how much success they are having. Two, Creative Arts has had some management changes of its own. I have heard rumors of particular concern about the state of Creative's middle school grades; yet the new direct of the school comes with incredible credentials. Without flaming or bruising any egos and having people start grinding the endless anti- or pro-charter school axes (and talking about anecdotes from eight years ago!), anyone have concrete recent information on what is happening at those two?

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  11. Some kids do leave K-8s for larger middle schools. I know one current middle schooler who left Rooftop, and three who left Creative Arts. I think all of them were looking for bigger schools with more enrichment, and a perception (founded or unfounded) that the academics are stronger at the middle schools than the K-8.

    10:53 Music is not the same at all middle schools. Not at all. Some have full band and orchestra, some have one or the other, others have none. This was one of the big complaints about the new feeder system.

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  12. 3:22, 10:53 here, yes, that is what I meant by they all have different music but I believe all have some form of music. I know Lick has no orchestra or band but does have rock band.

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  13. 10:16 am -- you are about the tenth comment on this blog (along with Rachel's blog) wherein someone has said something along the lines of how the feeder patterns will change "drastically." And frankly I'm a bit perplexed by this. First, it doesn't impact fifth grade families looking for next year, so I don't see why this immediately matters. Second, I remain a bit puzzled by how SFUSD could wholesale start sending elementaries to middle schools in wildly different areas of the city. Before the Board starts a massive reengineering program like that, they might want to take a second look at how the old choice system (and now this year's temporary system) is actually benefitting middle schools. The history of the past eight years at the middle school level has NOT been a pattern of racial isolation and has NOT been a pattern of middle schools getting worse, but rather a pretty solid success story. Schools like Aptos, Lick and Marina have gotten better while staying relatively diverse. Everett was beginning to make some progress. (One really unfortunate outcome of the McKinley parents hysteria was to obscure the positive efforts there.) Finally, unlike at the elementary school level, there has not been a hue-and-cry in favor of neighborhood middle schools. I hope the District takes a serious pause and thinks about the positives of these choice systems before junking them. I'm kind of hoping that this temporary system becomes the permanent one.

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  14. It would be less work if you just move to Marin.

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  15. 4:02

    I believe the initiator of this blog entry was a K student parent who was going to look at the feeder patterns. It was meant as a word of warning for the incoming K folks. 5th grade parents looking for middle schools this year, of course, should disregard the feeder system.

    I believe the word "drasticly" came from one of the board member's mouth during a meeting this week. Maybe drastic will be what you want - a continuation of the temporary system. I just feel that incoming kindergarden parents should be careful in making choices for elementary schools based on the published feeder system maps.

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  16. Or the blogger may be a current elementary school parent who might be thinking of switching schools to get into the right feeder pattern, which at this point would be premature.

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  17. I just have to raise questions about the term "bad academics," as used by the original poster.

    Repeating what I've posted elsewhere: Schools that serve a critical mass of high-need, disadvantaged, at-risk students tend to become overwhelmed and struggle. I think that "bad academics" is a term like "failing schools" that ignores that fact and unfairly brands the educators (and even the students) who are coping with the result of societal inequities beyond their control.

    I commented on middle schools and turnarounds on the PPS listserve, and the parent who's blogging about future assignments to Horace Mann Middle School asked to repost my commentary on her blog:

    http://mannmiddleschool.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/some-thoughts-on-changes-at-sf-middle-schools-over-time/

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  18. I'm the original poster.
    I've got kids in elementary but am trying to understand more about how middle school's work as I don't know anything about them.
    What I keep hearing is that if you've got a kid who's working above grade level (or just comes to school ready to work) they'll only be challenged in honors classes. One 16 year old told me that in his other classes the kids didn't do their homework and didn't care and only in honors did they actually learn anything.
    But he's 16 and that's n of 1. So I was hoping to get current middle school parents to tell me what the reality is. Do honors classes matter? What's GATE consist of? Just how bad (or how good) is middle school

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  19. RE: honors vs gen ed, it really depends on the MS. I know parents who have requested that their early GATE-identified kids be taken OUT of honors at Presidio as the homework load is just over the top in honors, and gen ed is plenty challenging.

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  20. Really and truly, you can stop using "bad" as your default. My kids' middle school experience (Aptos, '02-'05 and '05-'08) was much better than my junior high experience (Edna Maguire, Mill Valley, late '60s), and the Aptos band is the original reason my son is now at Oberlin Conservatory.

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  21. It is kind of odd. Kate/Amy is starting up the bloggers touring ks. But for next year it is the middle school parents, not elementary parents, who have pretty much full choice. Sfkmiddle anyone?

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  22. So, middle school parents, what's it like? Tell us stories.

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  23. As a middle school parent, I can give you some input. I did some research before I toured some middle schools last year and decided that my child would do better at one of the bigger schools that offered music and honors classes. Many of her classmates were headed to James Lick, where Orchestra is not available. I did like Giannini and Hoover, but thought Aptos was the best choice for our family. We didn't get in first round, but did on second round waitlist.
    The sixth grade is truly a transitional year, but I know at Aptos and many other middle schools the staff does "baby" them along through the process. My child is in the honors program so has her Math/Science core classes with one teacher and then Social Studies/Language Arts with another teacher, followed by PE and Orchestra. Just from my perspective, the honors classes move pretty quickly and homework load is pretty heavy. There have been some tears at home with the new challenges, but I think it is part of the transition process and it seems that my child is getting used to the pace. Emphasis is made on organization and personal responsibility. A child really needs to be on top of their school work and so does the parent. Schoolloop is a god-sent and it's a great tool for both parents and students. They also slowly transition the 6th graders into their responsibilities, they don't receive their hallway lockers until the 3rd or 4th week of school, etc. There are also many other extra-curricular activities during and after-school, such as the sports program which my child is also involved in. Hope this helps!

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  24. Aptos sounds very nice, but does anyone have any positive stories from inside Horace Mann? Apparently that will be our feeder MS.

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  25. Nobody knows which ES feeds into which MS at this point. The draft plan will be significantly changed.

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  26. Someone asked about Mann. I take it that that was a rhetorical question, directed at the now-delayed feeder system. I'd like an answer to that question, not because I want to trash the schools, but because I have a fifth grader in school now and am seriously thinking of them. Are there any parents on this blog that are still thinking of sending their kids there next year, even without the guarantee of other middle school families that the feeder school system would have provided? For Mann, the pluses for me are: (1) small school; (2) small class sizes; (3) tons of money coming in to improve it; and (4) great location. If there are a group of like-minded folks on this blog, maybe we could go together to tour the school in October?

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  27. Someone asked about Mann. I take it that that was a rhetorical question, directed at the now-delayed feeder system. I'd like an answer to that question, not because I want to trash the schools, but because I have a fifth grader in school now and am seriously thinking of them. Are there any parents on this blog that are still thinking of sending their kids there next year, even without the guarantee of other middle school families that the feeder school system would have provided? For Mann, the pluses for me are: (1) small school; (2) small class sizes; (3) tons of money coming in to improve it; and (4) great location. If there are a group of like-minded folks on this blog, maybe we could go together to tour the school in October?

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  28. I posted this on another thread but thought it made sense to post it here. I know that the whole feeder system issue led to a lot of negative things being said about Mann and Everett. But I also see that lots of money is going to these schools (I guess Mann in particular) and that they have small grade sizes and small class sizes, pluses to me. Plus the locations are pretty good. I've got a fifth grader and am now looking for next year. Is there anyone else on this blog of like-mind who wants to get together and tour these schools in October and see whether they make sense for our kids now?

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  29. Easy way to deal with Mann and Everett - make one dedicated Spanish immersion school, and one Chinese (Mandarin + Cantonese) immersion school, and the district will have two turn-around stories in two years.

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  30. um...great idea but what about the GE folks?

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  31. I know others may disagree, but I think the middle schools are the weak link in the SFUSD. My daughter attends Presidio. She is an 8th grader. She started in honors, but the honors teachers didn't think honors kids needed instruction. The kids were given the book and told to learn on their own. Moved her to regular ed and their her peers were not doing their work or turning in homework causing the teachers to have to waste their time on these kids instead of being able to teach. If you have the money to pay for private school, middle school is where to invest it.

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  32. This is going to sound mercenary, but we can't really afford private, so we're hoping for Lowell for our advanced kid. Our fear is that middle schools can be so hit and miss that she won't be able to pass the Lowell test. Any thoughts? Better to pay for middle school and then bet on Lowell? Seven years of private (3 middle and 4 high) just isn't in the cards.

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  33. The teachers my child has had a Lick are almost universally head and shoulders above any of the teachers my older child had in honors classes at Aptos. Many of the kids at Aptos seemed to be doing fine, but there were many more opportunities for kids to fall between the cracks. It's not just the smaller class sizes at Lick, I think there's also a difference in philosophy. The staff really knows every kid and the best interests of the students come first.

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  34. 4:47,
    Lowell mania strikes again. If you get into Lowell, fine. If you don't, that's not the end of the world.

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  35. 6:50,
    You heart Lick. It's good to hear about the good news too.

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  36. For people asking about Mann, did you see the post last month about it? It's blog with some helpful info:
    http://mannmiddleschool.wordpress.com/

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  37. Thanks, 11:58. But frankly when I see posts about turning Mann into an immersion-only program, as were put in above, it makes me not want to go there and try to turn the gen ed program around. I mean, if I send my kid there for next year, and SFUSD announces in Fall 2011 that Mann will become all-immersion in 2012, my kid would be part of a "legacy" group of gen ed kids who will basically be ignored while they transit to graduation, since all the energy at the school will be on the incoming immersion kids. So, based on comments like these, I've given up on the idea of trying to get a group of parents to turn around the gen ed program at Mann.

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  38. I can't imagine the District would create an all-immersion middle school. There aren't enough kids in Mandarin immersion to make it work, and the kids in Cantonese immersion are too far away from Mann.
    And it's doubtful they'd do an all-immersion Spanish school because it wouldn't be ethnically diverse enough.
    Spanish and Chinese immersion families have asked for an all-immersion school for years, but the District won't go for it.

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