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


  1. I'm confused to why you would tour John Yehall Chin(Not that it's a bad school or anything)? Isn't it a neighborhood school that is quite far from where you live? Given it's neighborhood proximity to Chinatown and it's bilingual cantonese program it seems to me you wouldn't have a chance at all getting into it?

  2. Thanks for the update. I've been enjoying your posts...keep them coming!

  3. Thanks for the post -- though I'm still trying to figure out if I'm missing something here. My take is that it's going to be harder than ever to get into the (desirable) neighborhood schools other than one's own... so it seems to me that there isn't much point in touring other than any citywide schools of interest + one's own neighborhood school + possibly 2-3 other (neighborhood) schools as either backups or "maybe we'll get lucky"s. But touring a whole long list of other neighborhood schools doesn't seem very fruitful. What am I missing?

  4. 9:24,
    You are probably right. But Helga would not be wrong to feel like a first year guinea pig. I don't blame her for not predicting how any of this works out. Good luck to everyone!

  5. Helga -- sorry, you do need to figure out the afterschool programs. It is very important if all parent(s) are working. The good side is that most schools (except Rooftop) now have at least one on-sight paid program and generally a state-funded one for poorer families and kids with learning issues which kicks in at 2nd grade. (Rooftop has offsite ones, which raises the issue of whether you feel comfortable letting your kid get on a bus every day!) But the state-funded ones can be rigid about letting the kids out early, which may become a big deal when your kid starts doing afterschool sports or other activities. The paid programs run the gamut from well-run and well-regarded ones (the GLO ones and the Stonestown Y ones are generally well-run) to one-off programs that are just child-watch (Stevenson has one of those and it is notorious for lack of enrichment or structure).

  6. A friend at Lafayette has to use the same off-site after-school program all during the school year and during the summer. If she takes her kid out for another activity or summer camp, she must either pay twice, once for the school-related program and again for the other desired activity or camp, or risk losing the kid's space. The family doesn't have a lot of money, so the kid goes to the same program, day after day, year after year. I'm sure it's a good program or the parents would not have her in it, but there's no flexibility.

    For working parents, after-school is a HUGE deal. If it's on-site, you have to think about whether it's any good and whether you'll get a spot (a number of programs are over-subscribed or reserved for low-income). If it's off-site, can you handle the pick-up logistics? What are the rules about payment?

  7. I'm a bit mystified as to why you pick Dianne Feinstein and Sunset out as having more extensive science offerings than others in the Sunset area. I honestly don't think of them that way. To me, Feinstein and Sunset stand out in the Sunset because they have generally more diversity and more active PTAs, not because of their science offerings. And if you are looking for diversity and active PTAs, Lakeshore and Commodore Sloat should be on your list -- very close by and very similar to Sunset and Feinstein in both areas.

  8. Thanks everyone for your comments.

    John Yehall Chin has 1 GE track and 1 CB track. I chose to look at it because it has a Project Based accelerated learning GATE class for 4th/5th graders. I realized early on that there are few options for project based learning in SFUSD, so I wanted to cast a wider net. Also, I thought it was an "inspired choice" to have martial arts as the before school program. Besides, no one had reviewed it yet on SFK Files. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of investment in technology at the school... ALL classrooms have SMART interactive boards and ELMO projectors!

    Dianne Feinstein enrollment guide description states "emphasis on science and the arts." They have an exclusive science lab, a PTA funded Science Support position and a Science Committee for Science Night and Green Week.

    Sunset - project based learning mini grants from PTA, and starting in K - environmental science week, family (science) projects fair, PTA funded outdoor science/ ecological awareness.

    UCSF Science Education Program is offered to SFUSD schools, but not all schools apply for it. This lists some of the participating schools in prior years

    Re: After School Programs - thanks for the advice. UGGGH.

    Re: Attendance Boundary Schools - yes, it will be harder to get into schools with attendance boundaries if I don't live in the attendance boundary... However, may not fill up with siblings, Pre-K, CTIP1 or kids living in the area, so if they have 4 K classes or project based/science, I'm going for it.
    It doesn't hurt to list them on the application form which is now "unlimited choices." Priority of the choices matter so I want to make an informed decision on what schools to list and then in what order. Unlimited choices = Analysis Paralysis.

  9. I have to say the extended care at Zion Lutheran is very flexible and affordable. They bill you after the fact for the days and hours you have actually used. You just have to give them a general idea what days and hours your kids will be there. Any kid who attends the school can attend the extended care. If you normally pick up when school lets out but something comes up, you can call the school and tell them to tell your kid to go to extended care that day. If your kid attends on-site after-school classes (piano, chess, etc.) you pay for that instead of the extended care.

  10. Sunset's "environmental sciences" program is pretty similar to Sloat's -- dedicated person responsible for the garden who teaches the kids about environmental issues. As for Feinstein's "lab," I'm a bit skeptical. There are many definitions of a "lab" and I don't think Feinstein's offerings are much different from Sloat's. A parent friend of mine whose kid has been at Feinstein described the science curriculum and it is pretty much the same as my kid's at Sloat. Again, a lot of this stuff can be made to sounder grander on paper (or on a website) than it actually is.