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.

44 comments:

  1. I for one would be interested in any reviews of private schools. The information I personally would find important is: (1) curriculum and philosophy (2) academic or other strenghts (3) how is a child's progress monitored (4) extra curricular opportunities/recess time (5) do the students seem engaged and happy (6) do the teachers seem enthusiastic and knowledgeable and (7) availability of before/after care.

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  2. I've toured many of them and would be interested in others thoughts.

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  3. Science and Math curriculum in uppergrades (5th-8th).

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  4. I have been WAITING for posts on private schools. The idea of this blog was for parents navigating the kindergarten application process. Public, private, parochial.

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  5. Personally, after touring private schools, I have a hard time looking at public schools. I admit that I am afraid I am being swayed by the marketing/advertising of the school, however, rather than the substance. Are others struggling with trying to separate the hype from reality?

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  6. I think it's very hard to look at publics after seeing privates. I toured both. My kids ended up at public. Absolutely the private classrooms looked more perfectly designed and had fewer kids. The architecture of the schools was often very appealing. The heads of schools tended to be very well spoken. All of this was very convincing.

    My kids ended up in public though, and I have to say that one really does start to see and measure education through other parameters. I now measure my satisfaction or evaluation by the activity of the school community, the flood of projects in art and science and gardening and music my kids are doing (these weren't all visible on the tour.) I'm extremely impressed by kids' teachers this year, who send home notes each week explaining in detail the focus of each week's curriculum, along with specific requests for help for suggestions for supplementation at home. I pay attention to how many parents are doing things at the school -- the yahoo board activity is staggering. None of these things have anything to do with how the school looks (a little run down in spots to my eyes) or how many kids are in the class (more than private, obviously) or how well spoken the principal is (not as good a public speaker as some of the private school leaders).

    The big thing I found is that I only learned these things after being at the school a while (we're in year two.) I didn't even know the parameters I'd use to measure my satisfaction at the beginning.

    I'm also sure lots of these similar kinds of good things are happening in the privates. Just wanted to speak to the challenge of looking at less appealing surfaces, and trying to get beyond that. Good luck!

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  7. Try theschoolboards.com for a more focused discussion / questions regarding private / independent schools in San Francisco. Frankly, I think people on this forum are gunshy because every discussion degenerates quickly into a public vs. private debate.

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  8. I was at an event at SF Day School last weekend -- wow, is it beautiful. No doubt about it. Comparing its lovely Spanish-style courtyard to the gritty quad at my daughter's school, SOTA, is just sad (despite the fantastic efforts of our school beautification volunteers).

    But it still amazes me that people who comment that it's hard to look at public schools after seeing such beautiful private schools don't mention the issue that private is $20K/year or whatever and public is free. I can't figure out if those are posters who are so wealthy that it makes no difference to them, or it's just that it's still hypothetical if you're not in school yet, so it's possible to forget.

    Belvedere is a lot more beautiful than Daly City, too, and it might be hard to look at houses in Daly City after visiting Belvedere. Same principle applies.

    By the way, there was a Bay Area private school listserve up and running a few years ago that I lurked on. Some unflattering discussions of private schools were going on, and the listserve was suddenly shut down. That's probably emblematic of the nature of public vs. private -- no one could shut down a community discussion of public schools.

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  9. Seattle - the posts from the public school parents are why it is important to post about your private school tour. Please tell us your views, thoughts, opinions from the standpoint of someone embarking on the school process. I personally cannot stand folks who have not even applied to private school on their views of private schools.

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  10. 6:58, people who haven't applied to private schools may have refrained from applying to private schools BECAUSE of their views on private schools. Why would they not have the right to voice those views?

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  11. You are going to get stoned at this forum if you discuss the benefits of private schools.

    I tried it before. Get out while you can.

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  12. 6:58 p.m. here, I think its important to know why people like or did not like specific private schools based on their personal experience (e.g. touring, attending child, etc.) For example, a progressive school like Live Oak might be loved by some and a more traditional school like Convent by others. General views on private school are irrelevant to me from people who have never considered them. Like it or not, for some families, cost is not an issue.

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  13. Opps...meant to add, everyone is entitled to their opinion but start a new discussion post if you want to start talking about the downsides of private school. I can come up with a number for public schools but don't start a discussion point on that issue. Respect the fact that some people (a third of SF kids) will be going private and want a honest discussion about specific schools rather than the general opinion that they are costly and far sub-par to public schools.

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  14. I agree that continuing to discuss privates would be great...and helpful to some of us. But yes, there is the fear of being attacked. Almost every private school discussion quickly becomes political.

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  15. Yes, lets limit the discussion to those who have applied for or toured an SF private school that they are willing to give feed back on. I'll start. Live Oak - the kids seemed engaged and the teachers very enthusiastic. The progressive stance is not my cup of tea but I was impressed with the students who spoke from the older grades. The biggest drawback to me was the location - being a considerable drive for us. The biggest plus, the enthusiasm of the parents we met.

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  16. Private school IS political. It's a choice to insulate your child among the privileged and away from the unwashed masses. You can't escape that -- it is the reality. If you make that choice, it's cowardly to avoid discussing it.

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  17. 9:40 p.m., then start a discussion point on the topic if it is that important to you.

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  18. It's just such irresistible fun to tweak the elites, snobs and racists.

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  19. I would second what 6:06 said about www.theschoolboards.com for discussing private schools. Kate posted about it back in August I think. It actually has some decent discussions about the public process as well. I saw ppssf answer a question about the lottery process there.

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  20. I am not interested in any discussion about private schools simply because I can not afford them.

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  21. I think it would be interesting to read some info on the privates as long as it doesn't devolve into the bashing of public schools. Which happens quite a bit on here hence the defensiveness of public school parents. I'm also very curious to read your thoughts on public schools at well given that you have posted about some surprising considerations given what you want for you child.

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  22. 5:36

    What school are you at .. it sounds great.

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  23. Hi 8:46am. We're at McKinley. It's by no means perfect, but has a huge heart.

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  24. I'll be honest -- we're looking at public and private schools, and I considered posting again this year about the privates, at Kate's invitation. But my stomach turned when I thought about pouring my time and energy into compiling information for people, only to be attacked as elitist and racist for even considering private in the first place (n.b.: we would need significant financial aid, so it's not a matter of "being able to" vs. "not being able to"). I thought, this year I'll keep to face-to-face discussions with friends.

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  25. My kids go to publics, but I have many close friends that go to privates and have gone for upwards of seven years. I've got no bone one way or the other about public vs. private. But this is what I can recommend based on their years of experience:
    (1) Adda Clevenger, a wonderful place that parents just love (but you have to deal with the fact that the school does things THEIR way and is not terribly interested in parental input); (2) Synergy -- top, top marks from everyone I know that goes there, yet it still manages to keep tuition at a lower level; and (3) St. Phillips in Noe, a small school, albeit Catholic, but with a great heart. These are three relatively lower-tuition places that folks should definitely take a look at.

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  26. We toured three privates-Convent, Stuart Hall (because of younger sibling) and Friends. Stuart Hall was very impressive to me because they really seem to "get" boys. Even in the fifth grade, the boys were sitting on the ground in front of the teacher rather than at a desk---while in the beginning I was thinking that these kids cannot learn in so "casual" a setting-it was clear from the kids' responses that they were very much paying attention and learning. Convent was also impressive although I have since heard that they teach Every Day Math and I have not heard great things about Every Day Math from teachers (both public and private) who I respect. Friends School was simply awesome---I was struck by the peacefulness of the classrooms and while it was much more granola that my partner and I are, I just liked the feel of the place-the curriculum, the teachers, the kids. If I had tons of money, this is where I would send my kids hands down.

    As for the eighth grade students speaking, I felt that the Convent girls were the best. The Stuart Hall 8th grade boy was a little too polished and rather smug. The Friends 8th grade presenters were rather unimpressive-especially given that Friends stresses that they work on public speaking skills from kinder on.

    After looking at these schools and really taking a good hard look at the finances, we are tending toward public or parochial-parochial because we are worried about the state of California and continuing budget cuts and because we are Catholic.

    My one takeaway from all of the privates tours was that EVERY school in California should have those bells and whistles, EVERY SCHOOL. I am public school educated here in CA from K-8 and the schools I attended as well as teachers I had were what the privates now are/have.

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  27. Dear Seattle, I would love to hear your impressions of both types of schools. Perhaps you could write two pieces: one for the public school tours and one for the independent school tours. No sense in comparing apples to oranges. Families with no interest in independent schools could skip that topic and vice versa, minimizing the public-private debate within each thread.

    Each piece could highlight things that you learned as was done in "Halfway through our middle school tours…and what a surprise!" Simple, sweet, and hopefully helpful.

    Based on your writing style, I believe that your pieces will be balanced and thoughtful. Families looking for kindergartens will definately learn something from you.

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  28. Hi all...

    Thanks for your feedback! It definitely sounds like there is interest in private school posts, so I'll do some over the next couple of weeks, as application deadlines for some schools are approaching fast.

    I don't mind getting charred by a few diehard private school haters, as long as there are others on SF K Files who are interested discussing in private schools as an option. I just didn't want to take the time to write about private school tours if no one was drawn to the topic.

    For those concerned about public-school bashing, please know that I have no intentions of doing so. I have seen a lot to admire and aspire to on public school tours. We are looking for the right fit for our family and our daughter, and that's a complex thing, and haven't yet decided what we'll do.

    The process of getting to know local schools has been busy, time-consuming, and tiring. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. As someone who was born here and has deep roots in the city, I've learned about a whole other aspect of life here, met inspiring educators and parents, had the privilege of seeing our schools at work, and made new friends. On balance, it's all good.

    To 11/19 6:52, I'll definitely be writing some public school observations as well. It's fair to say that I've learned a lot through touring and talking to others, and my initial "What we're looking for in a school list" has gotten a shake-up. One of the best things I've done was to tour a public school with my mother, a longtime public school teacher, and I'll definitely post on that experience, as well as others. But I may do some of that later, as the application deadline is still a ways off.

    And lastly, to Marcia Brady, it's great to hear your voice on the site again! I've used your posts from last year extensively to help sort through Spanish immersion touring options. Your posts have been really helpful, and I've been wanting to thank you. After all the work you did last year, it's understandable that you aren't wild about more blogging now, but please do chime in when you can. :)

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  29. Thanks, Seattle. I'd be an avid reader of your private posts (we are not looking at the same geographic area for public).

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  30. "I just didn't want to take the time to write about private school tours if no one was drawn to the topic."

    write what you're drawn to; the rest will follow...

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  31. You still here?

    I told you to stop. The public school parents here are like Nazi's. They have SS guards monitoring this site. They turn every discussion of private schools as elite snobbery and not worth it.

    Get out. Don't say anything about yourself. They will hunt you down.

    The will protest in front of your house saying "Shame shame shame".

    Remember - You have to spew the mantra "Yes, public schools are the best, no need to support private schools" repeat it again and again.

    A don't even discuss any of the after school enrichment programs.

    Yes, most have never seen a private school. It is like hell!... They don't want any part of it.

    Quick run run! While you still have a chance.

    I know of 5 families that took their kids out of public and into private schools but they still pretend to go to public. They change to their uniforms in the their car in front of the private school.

    They are afraid they are going to get caught one of these days. They fear the SS. They are all ovrer the place.

    This is your last chance before they knock on your door.

    HIDE!!!!!!

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  32. Suffering from a little white-guilt defensiveness, 10:15?

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  33. see what I tell you.

    Free speech allowed but only if you are public school fan boy.

    Its like similar to the Tea Party only this is Public Party

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  34. Let's get back to the discussion! Likening anyone or any group to Nazis is clearly inflammatory and doesn't add any thing to the conversation except negativity . The real question is about how touring parents can best evaluate private schools. Please don't make people touring private school look like attack dogs.

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  35. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin%27s_law

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  36. So just to give you a longer term perspective, the kids I know in private school having been in them from 6 to 8 years. Unlike public school families -- many of whom have had to pull their kids out of public, the only negative stories I have heard at the privates involved kids with significant learning issues who found the more academic privates inhospitable -- French American and Brandeis are the ones I know of. And even in those situations, they ended up going to privates more hospitable to learning differences -- synergy and live oak. Otherwise, every family I know in private school in sf has been very happy. Bottom line: other than the hit to your budget, there's virtually no downside to the privates in sf.

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  37. I have heard some horror stories from privates too, and I am saying this as someone who has a kid in public but likely will move her to private at some point. There are always going to be some kids or families who for some reason will have a bad experience somewhere. Public or private. This does not necessarily mean that there is anything deeply wrong with any of those schools, but it does means that some schools are better fits for some kids than others. Also, sometimes there is simply a monster kid in one class (and yes, this happens in private too - sometimes they don't get kicked out quite as quickly as you would think), who poisons the well for those around it. Private might actually be trickier in that situation, since many of them are so small.

    I find information about the privates useful, since they are so different, and most of them are great. I just think it is naive to believe there are no problems in any of them, and I actually don't find that perspective helpful.

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  38. It seems likely that challenging kids (aka "monster kids") might get a few extra chances in a private school if the parents were particularly influential or were big donors.

    There was a saga in the early '90s involving a serial molester at Town School, a bigger boy assaulting smaller boys. The then-owners of the Chronicle, the Thieriot family, were a Town School family, so they made sure that no news about it appeared in the Chron. But then Herb Caen, also a Town School dad, did mention it -- to claim that the molestation must have been mutually consensual because it would be physically impossible to have sex with a resisting victim.

    It is not known whether the molester (who was eventually thrown out and dumped into an SFUSD school) was actually connected with the Thieriots and/or the Caens and/or some other highly influential family close to them, but the incident is revealing.

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  39. Caroline, what does "this incident" reveal other than that the SFUSD is a dumping ground for molesters?

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  40. 10:28, I would like to understand the incident better. Smaller kids were claiming a bigger kid was sexually molesting them? Are we taking 8th grader vs. 1st grader or 7th/8th graders - big kid vs. smaller framed kid.

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  41. Seriously??? How is a discussion about something that may or may not have happened at a school nearly 20-years ago helpful?

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  42. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Association_fallacy

    Classic Logical fallacy attack. I like how Caroline changed it to anon, also.

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  43. We know people who have left Hamlin, Burke's, SF Day, Live Oak, Friends and other top schools for a variety of reasons... and just as many who stayed and are having a wonderful experience. It really depends on your family, your kid, your chemistry with the teachers you are assigned to, the other families in your classroom, etc.

    Most people are happy wherever they land -- public or private -- and some people will complain and find issues with even the best school.

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  44. Everything that could be said about private schools was said last year.

    The only thing new is Altavista.

    I'm bored with this blog and hardly read it anymore. It's the same worn out discussions over and over.

    Bottom line:

    Apply to public, private and parochial.

    You probably won't get into any of the public schools you apply to and will go public or private or move.

    Good luck.

    Stop wasting your time on this blog.

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