It’s been 30 years since I went to the public elementary school in Montgomery County, MD. I don’t have any detailed recollection of my K-2 experience, but do recall 3rd grade because I transferred schools midyear and it was a difficult transition. We were 1 of 3 Asian American families in the entire elementary school *and* I was the smallest and youngest kid in my grade. I remember being called names as I walked home from school and that I was so shy my 3rd/4th mix grade teacher Ms. Murnane didn’t realize I spoke English! She placed me in the remedial reading group and was surprised when I actually could read! Things got better eventually… so much so that I reflect fondly on my elementary school experience as I toured the public elementary schools in SFUSD.
The budget cuts' adverse impacts on class size are apparent on these tours. It’s tough seeing so many kids (especially 32-35 kids in 4th & 5th grade) squeezed into a classroom. Parent volunteers in the classroom alleviate this somewhat, but they are not there everyday. Some schools like Spring Valley (80% free/reduced lunch) don’t have the luxury of parent volunteers during school, because both parents work and can’t take the time off.
Despite this, I found many positives at these schools.
• The staff – teachers & administrators – all seem to genuinely care about the students and want them to have a great education despite the obstacles posed by the budget cuts.
• Students seem engaged at all of the schools and in each of the classrooms (upper & lower grades) I visited.
• The students that are tour guides (Argonne) or speak at the all school meeting (CACS) make me hopeful that Hugo will someday be comfortable speaking to large audiences.
• All of the schools I toured had various programs for the kids to work through conflicts and differences including Caring School Community (Argonne & Sutro), Responsive Classroom (CACS), conflict resolution (Spring Valley Science Magnet) and upper & lower grade buddies (Lawton).
• Active parents (tour guides or in the PTA room folding mailers) are welcoming and inspiring.
My specific reviews of each school follow Lawton: Sutro: Argonne: Spring Valley Science Magnet School: Creative Arts Charter: (I welcome your thoughts & comments.) I'm not attached to any one particular school (given the odds of this lottery system), but I can see Hugo in all of these schools. He would be fine.
As I head into the last batch of tours, some thoughts…
- It’s great to see familiar faces on the tours! Thanks for saying “hi!”
- Try to research the school before the tour and ask questions during the Q&A for which the answers can not be found on the web or handouts. Use SFUSD’s interactive enrollment guide for mission, before or after school programs (where applicable), opportunities for parent involvement etc. and SFUSD school data for Highlights 2009-2010, School Accountability Report Card 2008-2009, etc.
- Reserve general questions re: the Student Assignment System or attendance boundaries for PPS-SF enrollment workshops or SFUSD’s enrollment workshops in November and December (see dates on Rachel Norton's blog).
- It would be great if you had a rough guess re: how many siblings will fill up capacity in K next year and if there is a pre-K, how many pre-K slots will fill up. (This helps temper expectations of actually getting into the school.)
- Having principal, parent(s) and student(s) available to discuss their school and answer questions.
- Having a comprehensive packet including the school’s mission, Highlights, # of grades & class sizes, map for self directed tours, PTA accomplishments, typical K daily schedule, K curriculum, contact information for any follow up questions.
- Identifying and focusing on what is specific & unique about your school vs. what is provided district wide.