Friday, February 11, 2011

Just under the wire! The completion of our middle school tours.

Too many options, too little time.

We toured six middle schools since October 2010. You can read about Giannini, Hoover, and Lick by clicking here. In this post, I will share our tour notes from Aptos, Presidio, and Roosevelt.

Well, the WOW! factor continues to apply. These three middle schools were as impressive as the first three. It was a coincidence that these three schools were toured together, and WOW! we hit the architectural gem jackpot! These schools were built in the late 1920's, early 1930's. The architectural details and physical spaces were amazing. The schools had outstanding visual and performing arts emphasis, allowing full use of the massive auditoriums (with balconys!). Another big surprise was discovering that Home Arts (cooking and sewing) are still being offered as electives in San Francisco. Both Presidio and Roosevelt offer cooking classes, which are taught in fully stocked students kitchens, just like my Junior High School days, complete with stoves, sinks, refrigerators, and dining areas. Alice Waters watch out!

As always, listening to the middle school bands and orchestras has become the highlight of every tour. We were not disappointed at these schools—the music was excellent—always followed by a rousing applause from the touring families. All three schools offer the full complement of sports (boys’ baseball, girls’ softball, boys’ basketball, girls’ basketball, co-ed soccer, co-ed track & field, and girls’ volleyball). All of the schools have grade-level counselors who migrate through the grades along with the students, and they get to know them very well.

Some observations

Aptos (~1030 students) is a beautiful school, surrounded by an open green campus. It was built in 1931 for the families West of Twin Peaks. Carol Channing was secretary of the 7th grade class in 1932. Click here for more history. An extensive restoration was completed this year, and the result is inspirational. Indoors and out, the building and campus shine. It truly carries its 80 years well! Aptos offers general ed and GATE/honors pathways starting in 6th grade. The students are separated by grade level: 7th graders on the 1st floor, 8th graders on the 2nd floor, and 6th graders on the 3rd floor. They do not intermingle in the hallways between classes. They have three security guards. We admired the beautiful murals in the library, and we toured the newly renovated girls’ locker room (the only school to offer this tour option). In addition to outstanding instrument music electives (band and orchestra), Aptos offers a number of excellent unified arts electives (visual art, dramatic art, vocal music, computer skills, and journalism). The Aptos Teen Center is a FREE afterschool program on campus in conjunction with the Stonestown YMCA. It is open until 6:30 PM on Mondays-Thursdays and until 6:00 PM on Fridays. The tour concluded with Mr. Addiego, a teacher at Aptos for 34 years. He provided the history of the school and answered questions. His enthusiasm for the school was infectious. At the end of the Q&A, he brought us into the recently refurbished auditorium, which has state-of-the-art lighting and sound. I swear, I thought that I could hear Carol Channing singing.

Presidio (~1200 students) is housed in a beautiful 1929 Mayan Art Deco building in the outer Richmond. It offers general ed and GATE/honors pathways starting in 6th grade. Some students can take advanced math courses at nearby George Washington High School. The students are not separated by grade level, and they intermingle in the hallways between classes. (I forgot to ask the number of security guards.) A particularly noteworthy program at Presidio is their Outdoor Education Program. This year, students will spend 5 days in Yosemite National Park or 6 days in Olympic National Park (near Port Angeles, WA). Also, the social studies department will take qualified 8th grade students to Washington, DC. The drama, chorus, dance, and music departments are very active, and they stage many performance in their beautifully restored Art Deco theater space. The Mighty Panthers Afterschool Program is FREE (open until 6:30 PM). The program accommodates ~300 children and is very popular. Families are advised to register as soon as they get their school acceptance letter in the spring, as it fills up quickly. After meeting Miss Mitchell (algebra teacher by day and afterschool coordinator by night), I can understand why. She is a dynamo with the motto, “You name it, and we’ll do it!”

Roosevelt (~750 students) is housed in a beautiful 1930’s Egyptian Art Deco building in the inner Richmond. It was designed by Timothy Pflueger, an architect who designed several SFUSD schools and many notable buildings, including the San Francisco Stock Exchange and movie palaces, such as the Castro and Alhambra Theaters in San Francisco and the Paramount Theater in Oakland. Roosevelt offers general ed and GATE/honors pathways starting in 6th grade. The students are not separated by grade level, and they intermingle in the hallways between classes. They have two security guards. As I already mentioned, Roosevelt still offers Home Arts as an elective, and the students appeared to be very engaged when we walked into their kitchen classroom. The stunning Art Deco auditorium is large and has enough seats to accommodate the entire school. Also, the cafeteria is large and has enough tables for the kids to eat indoors during inclement weather. There are two lunch seatings (6th grade and one-half of 7th, then the other half of 7th and 8th). The band and orchestra electives are highly regarded and are led by the award-winning city-wide conductor for the District. The student body is active and has many dances, spirit days, contests, and fundraisers. They have camping and outdoor exploration trips. The PE program has a swimming component at nearby Rossi Park Pool. The Beacon afterschool program is FREE and offers a wide variety of clubs, activities, courses, and tutoring from 3:30 PM to 6:00 PM. For many years, I drove past this stately quiet building at the corner of Arguello and Geary, and I never gave it much thought. It was so nice to get a peek inside. While typing up my notes for this school, I came upon this closing note that I wrote at the end of my tour, “Another immaculate, orderly school with an engaged student body and inspiring teachers.”

So where do we stand?

After much deliberation and thought, No. 1 filled out the middle school enrollment form this week. We turned it in yesterday. Now, just like you, we sit back and wait.

Good luck to everyone!

- Donna


  1. Hi there Donna - you got some things about Presidio wrong.

    The Outdoor Education Program has been going on for years - and it is open to 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Kids can go to either Olympic National Park or to Yosemite. 8th graders can instead choose to go to Washington DC, and it is a few 8th grade English teachers who organize this trip every year. These trips are truly amazing, and the teachers who organize these trips every year are truly wonderful.

    The after school program is run by the Richmond Y and typically it is the students who register themselves during the first week of school.

    Ms. Mitchell teaches both Math and Science.

  2. Which schools did you pick and why do you think its a good fit for your student?

  3. Good morning!

    Clementine: Thank you for writing and apologies to Presidio families if I copied something wrong from my tour notes. I alway try to verify everything from school handouts, so I rechecked these two items for you. The Outdoor Education information is contained in two tour handouts: a yellow Outdoor Education handout and a blue GATE program handout. The GATE handout lists the social studies dept as the organizer of the 8th grade Washington, DC trip. The afterschool information was presented by Ms. Mitchell, who identified herself as a "coordinator," which does not imply that she runs the program. I am glad that you mentioned the involvement of the Richmond Y, as neither Ms. Clisham nor the grey 2010/2011 Student and Parent/Guardian Handbook (p 11) mentioned the Y, and that is important information for potential families. Is it possible for you to help the school update the tour materials and handbook for these two items?

    1-31-66: my child, No. 1, filled out the enrollment form (see my post from Thursday, Feb. 10, "Enrollment was a breeze today!"). I will share No. 1's list after Feb. 18.

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  6. I toured the same schools last year. Though I liked what I heard at Roosevelt, I found the surroundings depressing and the classrooms too small, particularly in an era of expanding class sizes. To each his own. My son felt the same way. Environment is important. We ended up picking the school closest to home and we managed to luck out and get it. I wish everyone could get what they want,but I know that's not likely to happen. As for my younger son, we may require a different sort of school for him. Presidio may be in high demand but it's not for everyone. It's a stressful place.

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  8. That was fun to read amid the usual gloom and doom!

    Carol Channing DID sing at Aptos in (counting on fingers)... fall 2003. Yes, she came to do a fundraiser for her then-downtrodden and underappreciated alma mater (by "then" I mean 2003, not in Carol Channing's day.

    When we were looking at middle schools, in our part of town, Giannini and Hoover were THE choices, and Aptos was ... not. But the architecture! The bland mid-'50s architecture of Giannini and Hoover makes them look like hospitals. Aptos was faded and worn, but all that Spanish tile (Catalina tile maybe?) was still a riot of color and pattern.

  9. All of the schools that we toured are fine educational institutions, so we were happy to delegate "choice" to our child ("No. 1"), who listed all six schools on the enrollment form in the following order: Aptos, Giannini, Roosevelt, Hoover, Presidio, Lick.

    When we asked No. 1 to explain the order of the schools, we got the single word answer "Because," which, given the nature of the lottery, is probably reason enough.

     - Donna

  10. At last. the mailman arrived. And the envelope please...Aptos!!!! "No. 1" is extremely excited. Hoping to hear from friends, Donna