Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SFGate: Albany schools try to balance parent-funded extras

"The city of Albany is up in arms over new district-imposed controls on PTA cash at each of the city's three elementary schools, with the school board dictating what parents can -- or more specifically can't -- buy for their kids to supplement their public education," according to a story on SFGate. How do you think S.F. parents would respond if a similar approach to PTA funds was adopted here in the city? Is S.F.'s model working, or not working?

Read the full story

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tis the season for confessions

Dear readers, forgive me because I have been hiding. It has been way too long since my last post and in that time, West and I have continued our nightly conversation about what we're going to do about schooling for Luke. We were hoping to have a decision made by Thanksgiving and coming out of our food coma, we're little closer to a decision. As the holiday season and deadlines for private school applications approaches, I feel the need to come clean so that Santa keeps me on the good girl list.

My first confession: I've nixed a lot of the tours I had scheduled to attend including SF Friends, Live Oak, Town School for Boys, Rooftop, and Kitteridge. I did post my brief notes on Cathedral School for Boys, Stratford School, Sunset ES, Lawton, and Presidio Hill School.

My second confession: We're seriously thinking of moving out of the San Francisco, if not California. We've gone to open houses down in the peninsula (not impressed with the homes we saw BTW), flew to Portland to check out neighborhoods, talked to colleagues in Florida, and entertained thoughts of (gasp) moving back to Virginia.

We are at a major crossroads in our lives and there are so many factors to consider but it does look like we may be leaving the city for more reasons that just the school system. We are continuing to tour a few schools and will apply to a private school or two, and enter our selections for the public schools on the chance that we can stay in San Francisco.

If you can help us find a place where a 2,500 sq. ft home won't cost us over $1m+ situated in a great public school district, with easy access to nature and the arts, among liberal open-minded citizens, then point us in that direction. If not, then feel free to post your confessions. I won't/ don't judge.

Private school tours: First cut

Notepad? Check. Told our respective work crews that, once again, we’ll be out all morning? Check. It’s Tourpalooza season, and for us, that includes both public and private schools.

We aren’t at all sure about going private, but as tour season kicked off, we were still curious to see some private elementary schools. What might, for good or bad, set these schools apart?

Answering that question, though, meant figuring out which schools to tour. We were curious, and wanted to see a mix of academic styles and educational approaches. But we’re not so deep in tour-junkie mode that we wanted to see everything. Since we have some important logistical constraints (like a dual southbound commute), we kept a fair number of private schools off our tour list:

  • Single-sex schools. We have an older girl and a younger boy, and can’t face the idea of doing this whole process again in two years. We also aren’t looking at Catholic-affiliated schools, which nixed the Convent-Stuart Hall combo.
  • Schools too far off our commute path to be practical for the next decade or so. Since we live northwest-ish (as in north of Noriega and west of Webster), that eliminated schools like Live Oak, Adda Clevenger, and Synergy.
  • Schools that are relatively new and still finding their feet. Since we’re in learning mode, not “Gotta go to private school or bust” mode, we preferred to see long-running programs in the city with established parent communities we could turn to with questions. For us, that meant leaving Stratford, Alta Vista, and Escuela Marin Prep off our list.
I also decided against touring one school, San Francisco Day, simply because it didn’t feel like a possible fit right up front. I know it’s a popular place, and offers free Open House visits. But to see classrooms in action, you have to fill out a lengthy application and pay $90 before you can formally tour. I’m sure the school has its reasons – tours are disruptive, tours should be set aside for serious prospects, etc. And maybe, since private school means money, SF Day is just being more direct about that fact up front. But most other campuses, public and private, find ways to manage school-time tours without a steep cover charge. We chose to pass.

I fully realize that the schools we opted against touring are a promising fit for other families, so if anyone out there has visited any of these campuses and would like to share their impressions here, please do. If you are interested in the single-sex options, you’ll also find discussions about them on The School Boards site.

Even after eliminating all of the above from our tour list, there remained a wide range of campuses to consider, including San Francisco Friends, Marin Country Day, French American International, Chinese American International, and Presidio Hill. We’ve also toured one parochial school, Zion Lutheran. I’ll post about some of these tours soon.

If you’ve been touring private schools, where did you decide to tour, and why?

Tourpalooza, in which I visit Sherman and get a clue, thanks to a teacher and alum -- my mom

My mother and I park by along Octavia St., near the flat my grandparents rented, and retrace her old path to Sherman Elementary. It’s tour season, and my mom is coming along to see her former school.

When I told my mother about plans to tour San Francisco schools, her eyes lit up. She has more than 20 years as public school teacher under her belt, including more than six years at James Lick and recent work as a literacy specialist for special ed students at a public middle school in Silicon Valley. She said that she’d love to see an elementary school in the city, especially Sherman, the neighborhood one she attended along with all my aunts, uncles, and godparents on her side. Sherman isn’t our assignment boundary school, and logistically, it’s out of our way. But it’s often described as one of the public system’s up-and-comer’s, and given my mom’s interest, I made it a Tourpalooza stop.

My notes from this well-organized tour, led by parents and capped off with a Q&A with principal Sara Shenkan-Rich, are in the schools database. And I’ll save my mom’s comments on how the Spanish-style campus has changed for a local history conversation, although a few of them (“It’s good that they have a play structure in the yard now…we only got blacktop!”) gave me new perspective on the things parents complain about today.

But as fellow SF K Files blogger Helga put it, we all have moments in this process where we get "schooled." This tour was one of mine. Seeing the school through the eyes of a teacher was interesting, and raised some points worth sharing:

  • Fundamentals. When the tour visited classrooms, many parents’ eyes darted around, trying to take in the facilities, the students, the wall displays, and the white boards all at once. My mom homed in only on the teachers and students – the reading coaching in an upper-grade room, the little ones patting their heads “Yes” or waving their arms “No” in a phonics session in a kindergarten room. My mother liked what she saw in terms of teaching. She also liked Principal Sara Shenkan-Rich’s emphasis on reading and writing, including a differentiated reading program tailored to a student’s individual skill level.
  • Diverse student needs. Sherman has been getting some discussion lately for becoming less diverse. But my mom said that from a teaching perspective, the school’s demographics (25 percent English language learners, 50 percent free/reduced lunch) mean that many students need individual attention. When my mother went to Sherman, the school was a mix of wealthier kids from Pacific Heights and working-class Italian-Americans from the flats, with serious class and home language differences. From that experience, she decided that it’s not just the mix at a school that matters, but how the school addresses it. How are children brought together around common educational goals? How are they brought together as a school community? She left with a good sense of the school’s approach on the educational side, and less sure of how the school builds community. (The latter wasn’t a criticism of anything we saw on the tour, just a question she had afterwards.)
  • Student focus. In the many classrooms we visited, my mom tracked how engaged the students seemed to be. When she saw an open classroom door, she also looked in, checking out those upper-grade rooms that weren’t a tour stop. She liked what she saw. “Those kids are working with their teachers and paying attention,” she said. “When you get closer to middle school, that gets harder.”
Overall, my mother left the school very impressed by its organized feel and academics. She withheld a lot of nostalgia -- the San Francisco she grew up in predates the touchy-feely city of today, and anything sentimental from her is rare. But she did say how proud she was to see her old school thriving in the hands of a dynamic, enthusiastic principal and parent community.

Then she asked me what I thought. I replied that the fundamentals seem sound, but that we’ve been looking for many different things, and rattled off some of the items in my (admittedly) letter-to-Santa’ish list of what we’d originally hoped for in a school.

She smiled, and took hold of my arm. “Those are nice,” she says. “Use that list for your private school visits. But for public school these days, cara mia, you should focus just a few basic things.”

She went on to list them – a safe environment that encourages learning (for us, that means something that works for a shy girl), an academic approach that tries to build solid fundamentals for every student in spite of differences, a solid reading program, an engaged principal, active parents who volunteer and fund-raise.

“Anything else you get on top of all that is great,” she said. “But you find those things for Tacoma first, honey. She needs you to.”

OK, Mom. I hear you. I do.

Others on the tour circuit, what have been your "getting schooled" moments?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Helga's Second Half Report - Short & Not So Sweet

It’s been 6 weeks since my last post Half Time Report.

My reviews for this 2nd batch of schools -- Alamo, John Yehall Chin (late addition to Tour Strategy because of its project based 4th/5th GATE class), Claire Lilienthal, Rosa Parks, and Clarendon (project based) -- are a lot shorter than the 1st batch and shorter as the touring season progressed.

Basically the crux of my decision of the list of 10+ will come down to these Must Haves:

• Curriculum – is there anything unique about how the school teaches the standard curriculum? In order of preference for our family: Critical thinking or Project based learning or Science.
• PTA – What enrichment programs or additional staff does the fundraising support? Are the parents welcoming? Can I see myself volunteering with the parent community?
• Principal – How does he/she support teachers and teacher development? Create & maintain a safe & orderly environment for students? Relate to the parent community?
Onsite After School Programs because of possible cuts to busing to after school programs. Has the SFK Files community discussed After School Programs before? I cringe at the thought of having to figure out After School Programs (capacity, quality and fit for Hugo) on top of the schools themselves.

Going into Over Time

I had hoped to complete my tours by now.

However, after seeing the # of parents at the Clarendon tour and trying to list out my choices in order of preference on the Enrollment Form, I started to despair and second guess myself and my tour strategy. I’ve added Lafayette and Peabody as suggested from the community to my intro post and schools along Godric’s commute that incorporate science into their curriculum: Dianne Feinstein and Sunset.

I’ll post reviews for these schools before the holidays, but will not have our list of 10+ sorted out until after the holidays.

Helga the Exhausted

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Year I’m Thankful for Options

One of my goals for this crazy school process was to broaden my horizons in my search. I wanted to make sure I explored all options available to my child for elementary education, hopefully allowing for a not so scary lottery in the winter/spring. You know, as my friend puts it, to “cast a wider net.” Well, I’ve toured two schools so far so I’d say that’s a pretty big FAIL on my part. But, I do have plans to tour more and one of the schools I toured was not a public school so I guess so far I’m casting a wider net, just a very small one.

Anyway, recently I toured Zion Lutheran. I had heard good things about the school from a few sources and thought I should check it out on my own. Overall I really liked the school. I put specific tour notes here, but will touch on a few points of interest below.

School Size
Zion is a small school and I wasn’t sure how I would feel about that before my tour (they limit class sizes to 25, but most classes are closer to 15 students). However, once I walked in I got an immediate sense that everyone knows everyone else and I really felt like it was a little family. There are multiple “buddy” opportunities where the younger children are paired up with the older children and it really seems like Zion takes pride in the idea of everyone knowing everyone else. Once I was done with my tour I had a complete change of heart about school size. I had gone into it with a sort of “bigger=better” mindset and left really wanting a smaller school environment for my son. Especially after I heard that the kindergarten teacher tailors the homework to the specific academic level of the child. Wow, wouldn’t that be awesome? In Zion’s case I think the school size is a huge plus in my list of pros and cons.

Religious Aspect
Zion Lutheran is (obviously) a religious school. I asked the admissions director (who was SO nice and friendly, by the way) how religion was incorporated into the curriculum and found out the following:

• About 60% of their students would not be identified as Lutheran (or religious for that matter)
• They DO teach about other religions, though it seemed to be in more of a “this is what other people do/did” as opposed to a “here are your options” way
• There is a once a week church service the children attend that is geared towards kids. The upper grade kids each have a younger buddy they sit with during the service (which is about 30-40 min long).
• The parents are not required to attend (or donate to) the church, but are asked to attend services 4 times a year for the vocal choir performances the children do at regular church services.
• There are bible references/ God references/ religious references in the curriculum and around the school, though they seemed very general and not overbearing (at least to me).
• When I asked about Zion’s stance on families that may not include the typical mother, father, 2.5 children and dog, I was told there are children at the school from every possible type of family and any biblical teaching about families is done with the sensitivity that the children there come from all different family dynamics.

After/Before School Care
Zion runs an after and before school care program that is available for every child that attends the school. The best part (in my opinion) is that the children don’t necessarily need to be signed up to attend a certain day. A parent could call and say they are going to be late and to just please send their children along to the after school care program. There is an additional fee to use the after/before care program, but it is nominal ($12 for full day, I think it was $6 for partial day). From someone who is contemplating childcare options at the moment, that sounded really, really, really nice. Kids can also receive tutoring and music lessons on-site after school for an additional fee.

I really liked Zion Lutheran and think it is a great option for our son. Unfortunately, after doing a little number crunching, the reality for our family is that any financial obligation will be a push, so I can’t say for certain yet what we will do. In Zion’s paperwork there were three different organizations listed that offer financial assistance so I will be looking closely at those and applying (probably) to all three.

So, in addition to all the other things I’m thankful for (family, friends, peppermint bark ice cream, etc), I’m adding “elementary school options” to my list this year. It’s good to have options.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Update your school info in the new database

If you haven't already noticed, the SF K Files now has a school database.

You can access it in the upper-left hand corner of the site, and here.

The database allows you to look up specific schools and find a collection of blog posts and school reviews all in one places. It should make the site easier to use and help organize information.


We're hoping that SF K Files readers can help keep the information current. The database is a wiki of sorts, and functions similarly to Wikipedia.

Please look up your school in the database and make sure the information is current. If you have a new principal, you should be able to easily change this. If your tour times have changes, it's easy to fix. Simply go to your school page, and then in upper right hand corner click on "Edit School Info."

The database is no longer password protected.

If you have questions or difficulties, please email thesfkfiles@gmail.com

Thanks!

Fairmount Elementary Bilingual Open House

Fairmount Elementary Bilingual Open House Nov. 30th at 6:00 p.m. for Families of Prospective New Students

Fairmount Elementary invites families considering applying for admission to Fairmount Elementary's Spanish Immersion program or Special Education/Inclusion Program to attend a special Open House on the evening of November 30, 2010 at 6:00 p.m. in the school's cafeteria.

What: Open House for Prospective Families
Including: Presentations by Parents & Principal Jeremy Hilinski
Where: Fairmount Elementary School, 65 Chenery Street, in the Cafeteria. (Randall at San Jose)
When: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 6:00 p.m.

For more information, including a preview of the Back to School movie, the Powerpoint presentation, and the school's brochure, check out the PTA sponsored website: www.wearefairmount.com.

Hot topic: Child Development Centers and Sherman

This from a reader:
I am interested if anyone knows about the 2 CDCs now feeding Sherman?

Statement from Superintendent Carlos Garcia Regarding Investigation

November 13, 2010 (San Francisco) – This summer, SFUSD uncovered irregularities in the accounting practices of a few individuals. District officials immediately began an independent investigation and contacted the appropriate law enforcement agencies. To the extent the investigation concludes any wrongdoing, the district intends to pursue all legal remedies available to the district.

While the investigation continues, there are some things known for certain. A few individuals in one department received unauthorized payments from community organizations that had been subcontracted by these same individuals to provide specific services. It is against district policy for employees to receive payment for services they are on salary with the district to deliver.

The irregularities being investigated relate only to a few people. There are many safeguards in place including SF Board of Education reviews of all expenditures, a multistep process for any and all contracts, and an annual third party audit. This fall, we have put even more safeguards in place related to contracting with outside service providers.

It is our responsibility to be trustworthy stewards of public money. We have set up ways for employees or community members to report any concerns related to accounting irregularities: A tip line (415-248-1321) and email address reportfraud@sfusd.edu.

Friday, November 19, 2010

McKinley: Open House, Nov. 20

McKinley Elementary is holding an Open House for prospective families this Saturday, November 20, from 10am to 12pm. This can be a great way for busy parents to come see what McKinley offers and get a feel for our community.

If you are interested in learning more about our school, come tour classrooms, talk to current McKinley parents, learn about our after school programs, and meet our PTA members! In particular, hear from:

- Our PTA President
- Executive Director of ASEP, our after school enrichment program
- Parent Board member of our after school language immersion program for both Spanish and Mandarin
- One or more of our fantastic kindergarten teachers

Coffee and light breakfast.
Kids welcome.
No need to RSVP, we'll just look forward to seeing you!

Hot topic: Private school tours

This from a reader:
Any private school tours you can publish?

What happened to the people that were touring and were supposed to write about them?

Applications are due this month. Would love to hear from touring parents.

C5 International School: proposed charter school

C5 International School is a proposed charter school in the city of San Francisco. It will be one of the first Reggio-inspired elementary school programs in the Bay Area and the first charter school in the area with a comprehensive Reggio-inspired and project-based emergent curriculum throughout the school program. Students will have rich and diverse experiences with different languages and many varied cultural elements, and we will thoroughly incorporate each child’s culture, heritage, and languages into the curriculum. Our charter school will initially have four grades, kindergarten through third grade. We plan to add grades four and five in the next school year, 2011-2012; and, grades six through eight in 2012-2013.

We turned in our charter school proposal and the request for facilities and met the deadline of November 1st. The charter proposal and facilities request were accepted by the San Francisco School Board of Commissioners at their regular meeting on November 9th.

Here are the dates for the SFUSD school board committee meetings prior to giving out a decision regarding our charter proposal. These are mostly in the evening and we will keep you posted about the specific times as they depend on the agendas to be released later on. The meetings are usually held in the SFUSD Office Building, 555 Franklin St., San Francisco, CA 94102:

November 29, 2010 (Monday) - Hearing/Presentation at SFUSD’s Board of Education Budget and Business Services Committee

December 13, 2010 (Monday) - Hearing/Presentation at SFUSD’s Board of Education Curriculum and Program Committee

December 14, 2010 (Tuesday) - Final Recommendation at regular meeting of SFUSD’s Board of Education

For the first two meetings (Nov.29 & Dec. 13), the C5 Charter Development Committee will have a brief presentation and will be followed by public speakers demonstrating community support for the school. Please let us know if you would like to make a public statement (a brief 1-2 minutes each) so we can sign you up before the meeting/s.

On December 14, we would like to the SFUSD School Board to know and see the people who are interested in the program for their children and other children of San Francisco. Therefore, your presence will be of great importance on the day of the Final Recommendation.

Please contact Bev Melugin, Joe Wiseman or Roxy Resuma at C5 Children's School at (415) 7031277 or r.resuma@c5children.org if you can join us on any of these dates above and if you have any questions. You can also visit www.c5internationalschool.org for more information about our program.

Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy is hosting a Design Bazaar

Come join us as Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy is hosting a Design Bazaar on Saturday, November 2oth from 12-6, featuring Bay Area Designers. The bazaar will include fine art, ceramics, jewelry, t-shirts, purses and bags, textiles, soaps, jams and jellies from:

Animal Instincts

Rene Capone Comics and Fine Art

Heathered

Smells and Bells Organics

Aunt Kitty’s Creations

Foat Design

Shebobo

Peanoonies

Amina Mundi

Salvaged and Stitched

Tiny Sparks Design

Lelasong

Heather Galloway

Amy Horn & Mitsu Kimura

A Wing and a Prayer Sandra Kathleen Jewelry

Maducca

Eliza Designs

Mimosa Studio

Secession Art & Design

tuckymama leather bags


Not only will you find great unique gifts for you friends and family this holiday season, you will also be supporting local artisans and arts in education.This wonderful event has been created and organized by the parents at Harvey Milk, who are committed to bringing all forms of art into the classroom to enrich and develop the future minds of tomorrow. All proceeds will go to the Visual and Performing Arts Program at the school. There will also be food, live entertainment and DJs. We anticipate big crowds so please come, have a good time and check out these hip, contemporary holiday gifts.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Private school discussions on SF K Files?

OK, I am the first to admit, I'm way behind. When I signed up to blog for the SF K Files, I had ambitious visions of posting tour notes on a regular basis. And there's plenty to write about -- since early October, Portland or I have done at least two school tours or events just about every week (public and private), and a few weeks, it's been more like four or five.

But between all that touring, my kids, work, and the rest of life (including a serious illness in the family), there hasn't been much time to post tour notes. Now, as I contemplate trying to catch up, I've found myself wondering whether it's worth posting notes on private schools. It's not that there's lack of interest out there in the world on these schools -- all of the tours and events have been absolutely packed. A recent open house at French American International, for example, was standing room only in a large space, and even those without a seat had to jockey for a spot.

But I'm not sure the SF K Files audience is as interested. I don't say that as a criticism. There are plenty of worthwhile, complex things to discuss on the public school side, and this blog reflects that. The public school scene in San Francisco is more than enough for one blog to cover. We've been touring both public and private schools, and have seen lots to like on both sides. We haven't yet decided what we'll do.

So I'm throwing these questions out there -- are a significant number of SF K Files readers interested in observations on individual private schools? And for families looking at private schools for next year, what information are you finding most helpful in making your decisions on where to apply?

P.S. Over in the Community section, someone has posted a question about private school tours, so if you have immediate thoughts on individual schools, you can post them there. The relatively small number of responses to that poster's question, though, is part of the reason why I'm wondering whether there's much reader interest in private schools.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sign Up for Your Middle School Tours ASAP

Middle school tours are filling up quickly. Some schools are already into January 2011 for available tour dates. Call the schools and sign up today to guarantee a tour spot.

Donna

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hot topic: "Neighborhood schools"

This from a reader:
I'm curious how many parents are actually most interested in their "neighborhood school?" Is the school that you're "assigned to" at the top of your list?

Hot topic: New enrollment process

This from a reader:
I'm still confused about a very basic aspect of the new enrollment process. Do you increase your chances of getting an over-subscribed school by listing it higher on your list of preferences? For example, assume you and your "competition" are in the same tiebreaker category. Your competition lists School A as number 10 but does not get their first 9 choices. You, however, list School A as number 1. Do you have a better chance than your competition getting into that school because you listed it higher? Or, is that totally irrelevant, and it's pure lottery? Any help your readers could provide would be greatly appreciated.

SFGate: Latino kids now majority in state's public schools

This from SFGate:
Latinos now make up a majority of California's public school students, cracking the 50 percent barrier for the first time in the state's history, according to data released Friday by the state Department of Education.

Almost 50.4 percent of the state's students in the 2009-10 school year identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino, up 1.36 percent from the previous year.

In comparison, 27 percent of California's 6.2 million students identified themselves as white, 9 percent as Asian and 7 percent as black. Students calling themselves Filipino, Pacific Islander, Native American or other total almost 7 percent.

While the result was no surprise to educators, experts say the shift underscores the huge impact Latinos already have on California's politics, economy and school system.
Read the full story

Hot topic: California state budget

This from a reader:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called a special session Dec. 6 for the incoming legislature to deal with a new $25 billion state budget deficit predicted over the next year and a half. This is on top of the $21 billion budget hole that kept lawmakers from reaching a deal on a state budget for 100 days.

Educated Guess blog reviews the Legislative Analyst's Office report that includes the potential impact of the shortfall on Califonria public schools. "The only good news is that the 2011-12 budget should be rock bottom, after which revenues for schools will begin to climb slowly again."

http://toped.svefoundation.org/2010/11/12/25-billion-deficit-%E2%80%93-and-more-cuts-for-schools/

Guest post: Caring and Community Beyond the Curriculum

“Dragons are yellow and sometimes they’re blue. They’re a part of [our school*] and we are, too. Dragons protect and some of them fly. [Our school] is a community of people who care. [Our school] is a community of people who care.”

Making the words true

The first time I heard my kindergarten daughter sing her school song, I thought, “Well, you can’t just sing a song about caring and community and have it be true.” Now I know that at her school, it is.

My five-year-old attends an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse public school in the San Francisco Unified School District. I knew the 240-student school had been using the Caring School Community® (CSC) program for several years, but while I expected to see the school using the curriculum, I couldn't have known I would find a staff and students who love and care for my daughter the way an extended family would. As Thanksgiving approaches, we are still getting to know the staff and families, but it's easy to see that the CSC program’s principles have become embedded in the school culture.

The community solves a problem

A few weeks into kindergarten, my daughter developed a bladder infection. As it turned out, she was afraid of the school bathrooms! What if a boy came in? What if someone turned off the lights or the stall door wouldn't open? When I told the principal, the after-school director, and my daughter’s teacher about her fears, they responded immediately with support and ideas. Within days:

  • The students discussed bathroom-related problems and solutions in a problem-solving class meeting. (Using class meetings to address problems is part of the CSC program.)
  • The teacher assigned my daughter a recess bathroom buddy.
  • The principal put in a work order to lighten the bathroom door.
  • The after-school director assigned older buddies for after-school bathroom trips.
  • I walked my daughter through what to do in the scenarios she imagined.

Several weeks later, her fear has vanished, and her kindergarten bathroom buddy is yet another one of her many friends!

Why community in school is important

I asked my daughter if the words from her school song are true and why. Her answer spoke volumes:

Yes, because the people at school are really, really nice, especially the principal. The people at school have good hearts, the boys play with the girls, and the older kids like to take care of the younger kids. There are a few people who can be bossy sometimes like So-and-So in Mr. So-and-So’s class.

The school is not perfect and neither are the children. Learning how to handle people who are “bossy sometimes” is part of my daughter’s social development. I expect there will be bumps along the way. But I believe that every child deserves to be a part of a school that has a “community of people who care.”

I believe that if children feel happy, supported, safe, and engaged in school, they will feel comfortable enough to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn more deeply. Research shows that creating a strong sense of community at school increases students’ academic performance and has a positive influence on their behavior. They are more likely to like school, enjoy challenging learning activities, and help others.

I hope that other schools strive toward making care and community a foundation of their school. Please let us know about how your school brings care and community beyond the curriculum!

Lisa Borah-Geller is a Program Manager at Developmental Studies Center

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Enrollment Fair survival guide

Parents for Public Schools-SF started the first Enrollment Fair and we have been at every fair since. Below are some tips for Attendees and Parent Volunteers.

SFUSD Enrollment Fair
Saturday, November 13, 2010
9am to 2:00pm
San Francisco Concourse East Hall; 635 8th Street @ Brannan


Free Shuttle bus service is available:
Burnett CDC (1520 Oakdale Ave): Pick up 8am,8:30am,9:30am
Cesar Chaves ES (826 Shotwell St.): Pick up 8:20am, 8:50am, 9:50am
Gordon J. Lau ES (950 Clay St.): Pick up 8:45am, 9:15am, 10:15am

Muni Lines 14 to 19, Muni lines 12 to 19, 10, 27, 47


For Attendees
1. Plan to spend up to 2 hours at the Fair. (After 2 hours your brain turns to mush and you won't be able to remember any more!)
2. Use public transportation or shuttle buses (see schedule). Parking is limited and the nearby lots and garages are expensive.
3. Bring a tote bag to put all of the flyers and papers you'll pick up, including the Enrollment Guide and application.
4. Bring your calendar to schedule tours.
5. The Enrollment Fair can be noisy and crowded. Small children may feel overstimulated by the crowds. If you can arrange childcare, it would free you up to focus on your school search.
6. Childcare options:
- Free Childcare is available at the Fair for ages 3-7. Register via email at devlinn@sfusd.edu.
- Arrange for a playdate and trade with a friend - take turns going to the Fair.
7. Bring water - you'll be talking with a lot of different people.
8. Visit the PPS-SF table! We'll have Parent Ambassadors and staff that can give you even more tips on finding a school that works for you.
9. Attend a workshop at the Fair to get more information.

Workshop Schedule:

The Enrollment Process for School Year 2011-2012 (Room F)
(Simultaneous Spanish & Chinese Translation Provided)
* 10:30, 12:30

The Lowell 9th Grade Application Process (Room F)
(Simultaneous Spanish & Chinese Translation Provided)
* 11:45

Developing a new Transportation Policy (Room C)
* 11:30, 1:30

The Enrollment Process of Children in Special Education (Room D)
* 10:30, 12:20

Afterschool for all Workshop (Room E)
* 10:00, 11:00

Language Pathways for English Learners
* 10:00, 1:15 In Chinese (Room A)
* 11:00, 1:15 In Spanish (Room B)
* 11:00 In English (Room A)

Language Pathways for English Proficient Students
* 10:00, 12:00 (Room B)

For Volunteers:
1. Take a shift at the PPS table - it will give you lots of exposure to parents that you can direct to your school's table.
2. Use public transportation or shuttle buses (see schedule). Parking is limited and the nearby lots and garages are expensive.
3. Bring school event flyers or calendars so prospective parents can attend one of your school events.
4. Bring a sign up sheet for school tours, if you have to sign up. Or bring a flyer with your tour dates and times.
5. Decorate your school's display area with kids' artwork and pictures.
6. Get volunteers from your school who can speak Spanish and Chinese to connect with those parents.
7. Schedule an Open House after the Fair that you can invite parents to. Open Houses can be during the evening or weekend, with at least your Principal and Kindergarten teachers present. It's a great way for parents to actually talk with the teachers and principal without disturbing the classroom.
8. Send your school event to PPS to be added to our online calendar. Email event information to info@ppssf.org.
9. Have water for your volunteers - they'll be talking with a lot of people!
10. Wear your school shirt -- and a PPS pin!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Special Education Update: Inclusion Students Unbound!

Last night, SFUSD Special Education Assistant Superintendent Ceclia Dodge proposed to the Board of Ed that inclusion kids now be able to apply to any school, and not just be limited to particular schools. Rachel Norton has more details on her website --- www.rachelnorton.com -- but this is an important change that will affect middle school placement for our son Ben. Up until now, we had been limited to particular middle schools that offered inclusion, most of which were large middle schools, but now we will be able to apply to any middle school, including smaller ones.

We have also toured the charter options for special education for middle school. I have written up my review of the two charters we chose -- Gateway, a charter high school that is now opening a middle school starting in Fall 2011, and Edison, a K through 8 charter that has recently had a management change. (The tour notes should be posted shortly; right now they are available in the database but under the "comments" section.) Of these, Gateway stood out for us both in the professionalism of the adminstrators and teachers and the success they've had at Gateway's high school. Gateway really seems to have figured out a way to integrate special education students into the general student population -- and seeing that at the high school level was really exciting. Gateway does have some "ifs" about it -- it is not clear where the middle school will be physically located, and there's an unknown right now about whether middle school students will automatically get into Gateway's high school. But for middle school special ed parents -- particularly those looking for smaller grade and class size (25 students in a class), this is an option you should not miss!

Monday, November 8, 2010

SFUSD Enrollment Fair, Saturday, November 13, 2010

Mark Your Calendar!

Meet parents, faculty, and staff at the annual SFUSD enrollment fair.  It gets bigger and better every year.  Word of advice, arrive early and leave the little darlings at home.  Based on parents' comments from past years, it can be a bit overwhelming for the wee ones.

When: Saturday, November 13, 2010, 9 AM to 2 PM

Where: Concourse Exhibtion Center, 635 8th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

Donna

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jose Ortega Rummage Sale!!!

Support Jose Ortega Elementary School
Shop at our Rummage Sale!
Saturday, November 6, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Toys, clothing, furniture, and more!
Great deals!

400 Sargent Street
joseortegaschool.org

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Halfway through our middle school tours…and what a surprise!

BIG!  That’s the first thing that you mutter to yourself as you start to walk down a long, gleaming corridor in a middle school, and that’s when it hits you—the realization of what it means to have a 6th grade class that is larger than the enrollment of your entire K-5 elementary school.  BIG!  If you placed every hallway in your elementary school end-to-end, it wouldn’t equal the length of one middle school corridor.  Classrooms seem orderly, if not a wee bit over crowed (“overcrowded” is used here in a relative sense—relative to our public elementary school).  And contrary to public perception, peace and calm prevailed at the schools that I visited (Lick, Giannini, and Hoover).  I don’t know if it is an inner quality of the students at these schools or if is the presence of security personnel (yes, that was a BIG surprise too—security aids, uniformed guards, or actual police officers) who are stationed strategically within the schools, but it works.  And I must say that the presence of security personnel somehow felt reassuring rather than threatening.  All principals admitted that there are problems as these children come into their own and start to learn new boundaries and social skills as young adults.  None of the principals provided actual numbers of incidences (fights, bullying), but consistently they all said, “I would be lying if I said that we didn’t have problems.”  All of the schools have grade-level counselors who migrate through the grades (6-7-8) along with their students, so they get to know the students very well.

Some observations

At Hoover and Giannini (1100 and 1200 students, respectively), the sports and electives appear to be from the typical SF middle school menu.  One school might have a better reputation for baseball, the other might have a better reputation for band and orchestra, and so on, but everything is on the menu.  Lick (580 students) has more flexibility in its offerings, reflecting the talent and interests of the current faculty and staff.  It was nice to learn that middle schools offer all the things that we struggle for in elementary schools (PE, art, music, drama).  An hour of PE a day!  An hour of band, orchestra, or chorus a day!   In addition, Hoover has Spanish and Chinese Immersion, and Lick has Spanish Immersion (I don’t recall the language option at Giannini).  Distinctions about sports, electives, and language offerings will be personal decisions for each family, and I cannot go beyond this level of detail. 

I was surprised to learn that there are differences in how grade-level classrooms are organized. For example, the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classrooms at Lick and Hoover are dotted throughout the building, and the students intermingle in the hallways between classes; at Giannini, on the other hand, an entire floor is dedicated solely to the 6th grade students, and they are separated from the upper grades for a significant part of the day.

There are significant distinctions in how and when students are identified for Honors/Gate (or not).  At Hoover, a 6th grader is assigned to all Honors classes or to all General Ed classes; in 7th and 8th grade, there is more flexibility for a student to attend a mix of Honors or General Ed classes, depending on student’s needs and classroom availability.  At Giannini, there are no Honors classes in 6th grade; these classes begin in 7th and 8th grade.  At Lick, there are no specific Honors/GATE classes; instead, the teachers use differential instruction to provide the Honors curriculum in the general classroom setting, which also provides peer learning and peer modeling.  Thanks to QEIA funding, Lick has reduced class size (only 15-21 kids per class (!) versus the customary 30-35 kids), allowing differential instruction to succeed.  Lick also has an 826 Valencia Writing Room.

The campuses, inside and out, were orderly and clean—a striking feature at all of the schools. We learned that the students had responsibility for stewardship of campus grounds.  All of the schools had a dedicated auditorium (Lick has a nicely restored art deco marvel), a gymnasium, a good library, and a cafeteria with outside eating areas.  Unfortunately, none of the cafeterias seemed large enough to comfortably seat the entire student body during bad weather.  Some schools had lots of green space surrounding the campus (Giannini), while others had none (Hoover, Lick).  Hoover is in the middle of a multi-million dollar renovation project, and when it is complete in 2011, the transformation will be astonishing (the down side is the bevy of temporary bungalows covering the black top to provide extra classrooms during the renovation).  The neighborhoods around each school showed pride of ownership with good public transportation options (MUNI Bus 48 for all three schools!).

Interestingly, all of the tour guides gave a disclaimer that the information given for 2011 student enrollment might not apply in subsequent years if the middle school feeder system is implemented.  For example, Hoover might not offer Spanish Immersion after next year (just an example; nothing has been decided at this time).  Immersion students who enter Hoover in 2011 will continue to have immersion though 8th grade, but it might not be available to students who enter the year behind them.  Ugh!  Parents with children on the immersion track need to stay on top of decisions about the feeder system and language offerings.

Information on Special Education is also up in the air, so I really haven’t found it useful to gather information relative to my special needs child (“No. 2”), currently in 4th grade.  I entered my middle school search hoping that I would find a school that was a good fit for both children, allowing me to use sibling priority in 2012.  I am finding the scholastic diversity and potpourri of electives among middle schools to be quite refreshing, and the best fit for No. 1 is not necessarily going to be the best fit for No. 2; therefore, this is no longer part of my enrollment strategy.  Joseph, another SF K Files blogger, has been providing helpful posts about middle school searches for Special Ed students.

Lastly, each school has a PTA (or similar parent organization).  Fundraising was relatively modest, and all schools noted that they hoped to increase fundraising in upcoming years.  Each school also has a parent liaison, and parents who want more information are encouraged to contact the school to speak to their parent liaison.  Importantly, go out and tour for yourself—you will be pleasantly surprised!

So where do we stand?

No. 1 has participated in all of the tours and would be happy at any one of these schools; after all, they all have “lockers, a beanery, and a courtyard” for outdoor lunch.  Clearly, no frontrunner.  Let’s see if that changes after our next three tours (Presidio, Roosevelt, and Aptos).

Donna

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Horace Mann: A middle school worth considering

While touring Hoover this fall, the principal noted that many families apply to his school and a percentage do not get admitted.   He encouraged everyone on the tour who liked Hoover to also tour Horace Mann as a alternate choice, as he believed that the programs, technology, and teaching philosophy at Mann were most similar to Hoover.   He was genuinely enthusiastic about the faculty and staff at Horace Mann and the direction that they were taking the school

Donna

Voting: Board of Education

Feel free to share details about which Board of Education candidates you'll be voting for.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fall 2011: A few public school updates

TourPalooza is in full swing, and between trooping around schools, general life, and the World Series, I'm way behind on doing things like posting tour notes. But a couple of things popped recently that warrant sharing quickly:

  • Today, the Chronicle ran a story about the district's ongoing program to crack down on residency fraud. The article includes the following paragraph on plans to check CTIP1 status -- "Under the new student assignment system, more safeguards will be in place. Anyone who provides an address within the prioritized census tracts will automatically go through a review process." No details I can find on what that review will entail, either in the story or on the district's website. Anyone know any more?
  • The school district has updated its 2011 elementary school boundary maps page to include the map from September. Earlier, they'd told me the map wasn't yet final and might not be until November, but as of now, it looks like they are going with the September version.
  • The new school guide doesn't yet appear to be available online. Anyone know if the paper version is available at the EPC? For some general background, here are district FAQs on the new assignment system.
And my favorite typo on the new district enrollment site, from the mobile enrollment center page: "See the Enrollment Buss in 2011!" ;*

More updates (added to this post on Friday, November 5):

  • The district's recent press release on the residency fraud program includes the following about next year -- "In preparation for instituting a new student placement system, the district has significantly increased its ability to verify all documentation submitted by families during the application process and to prove that an applicant falsified information."
  • The district also posted this copy of the residency letter it says it is sending to currently-enrolled families.