Thursday, September 15, 2011

The K Search from SOMA

Hello everyone,
I'm afraid this is a rather long first post. I've been thinking so much about the search and writing about it that I've been trying to collect too much data, when I need to be collecting feedback from parents with more knowledge about the schools.

To start with a little about us.
My Blogging name is MJ. Myself, my husband and two children (4.5 and 2) live in SOMA.
We are not in CTIP1. We do own our little apartment and are not in any position to move any time soon, and we do not want to move out of the city.
We are lucky to be able to walk to our childrens daycare/preschool and then bus (my husband Downtown) and walk or bus (me to the Mission) to work. We do have a car which we street park, this is relevant to the school search as if we do drop offs by car to school, we will either have to pay for parking near one of our work places or come home look for parking on the street which is difficult at that time of the morning, before we rush off to work.

SOMA as you SFKfiles readers know is a pretty large area with only one elementary school (Bessie Carmichael - citywide) and our AA school for the whole area Daniel Webster in Potrero Hill.

What we are looking for in a school for our son is a great GE program with additional art, music, sport, secondly a guaranteed spot in an after school program which isn't outrageously expensive and thirdly we would like the school to be easily accessible by public transportation or walking so that either of us can do pick ups.

I took some pointers from the responses to Lola's first post which referenced after school care. I will be calling all of the schools on my initial list to see what their aftercare options are before we tour. I will also be attending the Noe Valley School Fair on the 25th, which I am very grateful exists as we hope to have toured our schools of interest before the SFUSD school fair in November. I also added parochial as based on not too much research the cost is comparative with after school care that we would have to pay in some publics. I don't know if parochials offer after school but I'm guessing they do based on other threads on sfkfiles. I've heard that their class sizes are bigger and don't know if this is true. I went to Catholic school in another country and find the Church here quite open to everyone compared to my upbringing so the Catholic values issues that others raise here are not an issue for us. Private is not an option for us.

Our initial list, is ordered in distance from our home and is comprised of schools which are easy to access from our home, on our way to work by walking or public transportation, along with our AA school which is not as close geographically as a number of other schools and is a bit of a trek from downtown if my husband had to pick up or drop off using Muni. So here goes with my list. I'm looking forward to your feedback and any other schools that I may be missing that may suit us. So no "trophies" in our list that I know of and that is fine with me. It means we can concentrate on the 3 items which are important to us without worrying that we will get into the school (hopefully).

Public
Bessie Charmichael - less than half a mile from us. Easy to get to for either parents work. Close to younger childs daycare. Afterschool care is quite high in the $400 range (is that high? I dont' know). There are limited places and priority is given to low income parents, but I think they would like to have a mixed group of kids. I have not toured it and don't know how it stacks up in regards to actual GE. API scores I think are OK. But I don't know how much we should be focusing on those unless they are below 700. Also as a K-8 we don't have to worry at about the Feeder plan.

Tenderloin Community - walkable and closer than our AA school. I think their after school care is open to all students, but I need to research that. I spoke with their principal last year at the SFUSD fair (I went as I thought it would help me this year) and I really liked her. They seem to have wonderful programs outside of pure academics for the children and we will definitely tour it.

Sanchez - yes closer than our AA school! I toured Sanchez last year and I really liked it. The children were all well behaved and happy. I toured on a Friday which is parent involvement day and lots of parents were in the classrooms with the kids. The library was in the process of having a makeover and the children (maybe 4th grade) were learning how to catalogue the books on their individual laptops. They have a part time dance teacher, a gardening teacher, the SF Opera has a program there (I think that is right). They had a plan on the wall for greening their playground and I'm really looking forward to touring this year to see how it turned out. They also have a program where each grade reads the same book and all of the children do a project on it which is displayed in the halls. Maybe this is usual in schools in San Francisco but I am not from the US and thought this was really cool. Sanchez also has after school care available to all children. My only negative on the school was the start time 8am but I did like it very much as my only school tour last year.

Daniel Webster -- our AA school and I know a school with a growing reputation (good). They also I believe have afterschool for all kids at cost but no space limits, once again I need to confirm this. Then the Middle School Feeder Plan was thrown into the mix and ISA was the feeder for Daniel Webster. I am talking myself down and going with the thinking that by the time we get to Middle school this will not be the same ISA test wise and with a 6-12 grade set of kids. I do think the PTA and community are awesome with Daniel Webster and talking to a resident in Potrero Hill with children in High School she said that most of her neighbours agree that if the school as it is now existed when their kids were young they would all have sent them there. I'm really looking forward to touring. It is still not an ideal location for us.

Harvey Milk - The furthest away in our line up but easily accessible from home, downtown and the Mission. After school for all and I believe it is very reasonable if not free? confirmation neeeded. I know there are some issues with the Principal being let go and parents not being informed. Perhaps you readers can give me a better understanding of the school.

Parochial
Mission Delores - I know nothing about this school except its location and tuition. Who can fill me in?

St. Charles - So close to my work but never listed as desired school. Why? Be kind but honest.

Thats it. Thanks for reading all of the way through this. I'm really looking forward to getting your insights to the schools I have listed and any that I may be missing. I'm excited to share our K journey with you all and hope that we find the best place for our son.

100 comments:

  1. Mayoral candidate Bevan Dufty lives in CTIP1 and got Lawton. You can too.

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  2. Hi MJ,
    Your list looks great and very reasonable. You have really thought about your family's needs and what schools will be able meet those needs. I look forward to reading your tour notes and seeing how the schools meet your needs and expectations.
    Best of luck to you!

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  3. Charlie - Dufty's kid isn't at Lawton. Ugh. Good Luck MJ. Remember there is a serious amount of disinformation out there about schools. Have an open mind and listen to your gut.

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  4. I read that Bevan Dufty's kid is at Rooftop (because of CTIP)

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  5. MJ, I think you are being completely sane and realistic about all this! From what I can see and hear, Daniel Webster GE will be both accessible (as the "rush" hasn't started on it, just a small group of parents listed it as first choice last year) and increasingly strong. You'd love the parent community and the parking situation!

    We'll all be pulling for you, over here in SOMA.

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  6. OK, Bevan Dufty got Rooftop, not Lawton. The point is the same. There is nothing like a Golden Ticket. I have Gold Fever.

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  7. Treasure Island has excellent parking!

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  8. MJ, your posts should be very interesting. The only people I know who have kids and live in SOMA ended up a private schools -- one at Live Oak and one at Friends. They both had not really bothered to look into public schools, accepting the (then-received) wisdom that the publics accessible to SOMA were not great. I look forward to your posts. SOMA is really an area that is burgeoning with kids, and it would be great if you can show that there are acceptable public schools for them to go to. I think we are all going to learn some lessons here. I did notice that, in your list, other than Tenderloin, you had not mentioned any publics north of market street -- such as Garfield. Although convenience obviously depends on commute situations, I'm wondering whether it might make sense for you to look at those as well.

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  9. What is the big deal with Rooftop anyway? There are some neighborhood schools with better test scores. Also good for MJ for not obsessing over a couple of "trophy" schools.

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  10. Burgeoning with kids? Soma has the lowest number of kids per capita in SF which is the city that has the lowest number in the nation.

    Why is it good not to want to go to a trophy school? Maybe it is good for you and your school to try to convince people not to go to trophy schools. Truly, I would understand that, but let's call a spade a spade. If you want to convince parents to avoid private, that is, to convince middle class whites to roll up their cuffs and help you fix the system that is a good thing. Let's not do it by denigrating successful schools.

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  11. Another way to "skin" the parking thing would be to park near the school after drop-off. You could drive to school, park near by (I'm thinking street parking should be readily availasble in Potrero.) and then either of you can pick up on the way home (just let the other know where the car is parked!)

    It sounds like you have a reasonable plan in place as far as looking at schools.

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  12. EQI may replace API in rankings

    By Kathryn Baron

    California’s Academic Performance Index (API) was never supposed to be based on a single test. When it was created as part of the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, the legislation was clear on that point.

    “This bill would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction, with approval of the State Board of Education, by July 1, 1999, to develop the Academic Performance Index (API), consisting of a variety of indicators, to be used to measure performance of schools, especially the academic performance of pupils.”

    In the dozen years since, the only variety has been in the changing high-stakes tests used to determine the school rankings. That would change under a set of bills approved yesterday by the Assembly education committee. SB 547, 611 and 612, by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), would reduce the emphasis on the California Standards Test by limiting the exams to no more than 40 percent of a high school’s overall ranking, and a minimum of 40 percent for middle and elementary schools.

    The new measurement system would also replace the API with a new system known as the Education Quality Index, or EQI, which would be based on multiple measures developed by a committee headed by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson. For starters, however, SB 547 calls for including graduation rates and how well schools prepare students for college and career success. And the bill allows more measures to be added down the road.

    * Under the new system availability of parking should become a factor in school assessment.

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  13. Hi
    Come take a look at Starr King, on Potrero Hill. We will have a representative at the Noe Valley Fair. Parking is pretty easy and there are buses that run directly from Starr King both to the Mission and downtown. There is an onsite pre-k. There are two strands, Mandarin Immersion and General Education. There is a large and free Excel(not guaranteed but seems most folks get in) after school program as well as several other programs nearby including a very reasonable Parks and Rec afterschool enrichment program. This year SK has Stage Write drama, Playworks, Music Understanding in the Schools Today (MUST) and lots of community events. We have a very engaged parent community. Traditionally middle class parents and readers of this blog have not enrolled in the General Ed program, but it would be great if some families took this leap at Starr King as they have at Webster.

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  14. Don,

    OK. I get it your parking jokes.

    But it is a problem for many people. Do you drive?

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  15. I don't know how Don and Charlie are able to respond so quickly and prolifically to all these threads. Hat's off!

    That being said, MJ, I think you are smart to think about your family's logistical needs as you consider schools. Of course school quality and fit is important, but logistics can leave you tearing your hair out! You have lots of schools on your list that were assigned a high percentage of non-neighborhood/non CTIP1 kids last year, so I think you'll have a good chance of getting an assignment in round 1. If you want to tour more publics, there are some schools along the BART and Muni lines you could consider, e.g. Marshall or Fairmount (spanish immersion) and Glen Park Elementary. Marshall and GP have free afterschool programs, but limit the numbers so it's not guarenteed your child will get in. Fairmount's afterschool program (GLO) has free and paid spots (about $330/month) but they also limit the numbers and had a waiting list this year.

    I hope that is helpful! Good luck in your search.

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  16. One thing that might open up your possibilities (though you've got a good, strong list as it is) is the school bus. We're at Starr King and either we only figured it out this year or things have changed, but you can now take your kid to a stop and have the bus pick them up in the hill to school, or have them come down the hill to the Mission after school. You don't have to have your kids ride every day, so it really opens things up. For example, our girls are in the SF Girls Chorus and on Tuesdays and Thursday they hop on the school bus right after school (teachers make sure they get on ok) and then they ride down to 23rd and Shotwell were they get picked up and take Muni to Chorus. A lot of SK families in Bernal walk their kids to the Bernal school bus stop and have them hop on there, saving them a drive to school.
    Again, I don't know if this is new this year (that the buses are flexible in terms of riding them only when your kids need them) but it's really been a boon to a lot of SK parents. It would be worth checking out bus routes to schools you might be interested in but don't think you can easily get to - there might be a stop that's closer than you think.

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  17. Since commuting is an issue for you, check out the parking and MUNI bus and rail connections near the school. Our school is in the inner Richmond, and I park there (no residential permit required) and catch an express bus to work in the Financial District. It works great.

    You asked about St. Charles Borromeo. I have heard it is somewhat low income, but my kind and I were walking by there the other afternoon and some some of their after-school kids on the playground. Though it was a very brief observation, I was impressed by how well-behaved and well-spoken they seemed.

    Catholic schools do often have larger classes (around 30) than public schools (capped at 22 during K-3 for now) or many privates (25 is a common size). Catholic schools screen students for behavior and learning issues and try to select students who will be relatively easy to manage and able to succeed in their larger classes.

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  18. Sorry meant to say my KID and I were walking near St. Charles Borromeo

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  19. and we SAW some of their after-school kids

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  20. MJ,

    11:25 said class sizes are capped at 22 in K-3. This is false. The number is 25 for 2011-12 school year. This is clearly stated on the Balanced Scorecard questions forum that is answered by Myong lee and Richard Carranza. Class size is an extremely important aspect to any school search. This is another reason why you have to be very careful about the information you receive on a blog. Obviously some info is in the opinion category. For example some people don't like my support of neighborhood schools.(I get endlessly insulted for this viewpoint) But when in comes to hard and fast figures like class size be very careful as in don't believe everything you read.

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  21. Don, if that's true then why does my kids' public elementary only have 22 per k class?

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  22. Because 25 is the cap. It depends upon the school. There are schools with less than ten per class. I wish people had a better understanding of how all this stuff works. The amount of total nonsense that goes for fact is really astounding.

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  23. The caps were set in tiers by the Class Size Redduction Act, the higher you go the higher the penalty. In 2009 the legislature radically reduced the penalties so districts could avoid layoffs due to budget cuts. Hence, class sizes went up since the cost of increases in class size went down.

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  24. There are new developments in the Mission in CTIP1, near where you work. Grab that Golden Ticket to Clarendon, Rooftop, etc.

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  25. Sorry about the K-3 class size cap error. 22 was the last I'd heard about, but I'm not looking for a K this year so wasn't following it that closely.

    Class size is obviously important but so is classroom composition. To me, an advantage that parochial and private schools have in serving normal-learning kids (I use that term for back of a better idea and don't mean to disparage kids with learning challenges) is that they screen applicants for academic and behavior issues, with the result that teachers face fewer behavior management problems.

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  26. @2:54 the term you're looking for is neurotypical kids. (no offense taken, though!)

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  27. Hi Neighbor,
    We are SoMa residents whose child attends McKinley. It's a great little school with art, music, dance and gardening! Also very easy to reach on public transportation esp. from SoMa. When I was looking I also liked Grattan for accessibility and a good solid program. Good Luck!

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  28. Nope. K-2 class size is still limited to 22. It's in the teaching contract.

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  29. Mission Dolores is going through some changes - which include combining with Megan Furth academy. I do not have all the facts but worth asking about when you tour.

    In Noe Valley its also worth checking out St Philips which does prefer neighborhood family's.

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  30. 2010-11 schoolyear

    From SFUSD website:

    Regarding this item: "K-3 Class Size to 25 (Temporary Increase for 2 years)" which was presented in the Labor Contract Savings section, at $4million savings per school year, is this the only specified cut that would result in classroom teacher layoffs?


    "There will be class size increases at the high school level also, particularly in 9th and 10th grade which would result in some reductions in personnel. Perhaps the biggest factor here is that in years past schools had greater flexibility to control class size by adding sections within their own Master Schedule and of course funding additional sections. School site budget reductions are not going to allow this flexibility or at least not to the level that we have experienced so schools will be forced to actually close sections when the class size falls below a specific threshold. Those sections that will now be closed do add up within a school and also cumulative from school to school resulting in personnel reductions."

    What do you think happened? They laid off hundreds of teachers but kept the class sizes intact? Use your head.

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  31. Hi MJ,

    Welcome! We're looking at Daniel Webster as well. And attending the Noe Valley fair.

    @10:10am- What is the area around Starr King like? Is it safe? My friend lives in Potrero and does not want her child going there due to the proximity to the projects. I have not yet toured, but will be to see for myself how I feel, but wanted to get your take.

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  32. @6:32 AM and @9:27 AM, great idea on parking near Daniel Webster. That works out pretty well for either of us. The 22 and 10 bus lines will take us to easily to work.

    @10:10 AM and @10:54 AM, I have friends whose children were in SK in the immersion program and loved the program and the school. I will definitely chat with them at the school fair.

    Thanks also to other posters for the tips on McKinley and north of Market schools. I will add them to lists to research.

    We definitely have more options open to us than I first thought possible. Keep the tips coming.

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  33. @11:25 AM, thanks for the St. Charles info. I know nothing about the Parochials I put on the list. Just location.
    Also great tip on parking

    @Beth Weise. I know the district is cutting buses in soon. But I will also check into that possibility. Thanks

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  34. I find it hard to believe the class size cap has increased to 25. There are only 22 kids per class in the 1st grade classes at my child's very sought after school. Maybe it was the district's plan but the teachers' contract wouldn't allow it. I suggest asking at the tours.

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  35. 8:28: correct. You really wouldn't want your child in a class of 25 kindergartners anyway; not with only one teacher and no classroom assistants. Let's hope they hold the line at 22.

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  36. 10:10 here. Yes, Starr King is across the street from the projects,and crime is higher there than in many other parts of the city. Maybe I am in denial but I feel the kids are perfectly safe at school. Lots of kids from SK practice for soccer at the Potrero Rec center which is also near the projects and I have never heard of an incident. No crime that I have heard of against anyone at the school although occasionally you see broken glass from a car window--but we see that even more where we live in Mission. I have heard of lockdowns at other schools (when police are looking for someone in the neighborhood) and we have not had one in the years our kids have been at SK or heard about any in previous years. There are PTA meetings and other events there at night that are well attended. I think you would have to visit and see for yourself if it felt safe to you. It is actually a beautiful spot with great views of the bay and city. There is a car wash fundraiser there tomorrow from 10-3--come visit and scope out the neighborhood!

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  37. 4:49,

    You are misreading the information on page 12 of the contract.

    This is the part that explain the agreement regarding class size.

    9.3.1.2 The allocated staff will be assigned to each school site in a manner which achieves as nearly as possible the class goals listed in Section 9.5.

    9.5 Class size goals
    9.5.1 Elementary Schools
    9.5.1.1 Kindergarten 28
    9.5.1.2 Grades 1-2 24
    9.5.1.3 Grade 3 25
    9.5.1.4 Grades 4-5 30

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  38. Don, I appreciate consistent fastidiousness on school topics, and usually I agree with what you write. However, regarding class size for K-2, I have a friend who is an elementary school teacher and she was just assigned a 23rd kid in her class. She said her contract states that she is only supposed to have 22 kids but she will keep the 23rd kid (there was miscommunication between the school and district). She did file a complaint.

    My daughter's teacher said this same situation has happened at our school (an extra kid due to miscommunication) but it's not the norm.

    I do think the district tries to keep the class size to 22. As someone else pointed out-if not, why wouldn't all the popular schools be filled to 25 per class?

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  39. My kids classes at Clarendon have 22 children-- I would think that they'd have 25 if the cap had changed.

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  40. Don, your reading of the rules might be correct, but in practicality, schools are enforcing the 22 cap. Last year my son was unable to switch to a different K class because they "were at capacity" at 22. This year, the district mistakenly overenrolled both K's in his school by 3 students each (25 students total in each class.) As kids left, they did not replace them and the principal recently sent out a notice saying "I am pleased to inform you that both kindergarten class are now at 22 and in compliance with regulations". So, regardless of what the rules say, the schools and the district is aiming for a cap of 22.

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  41. I'm the naysayer here but I think K-3 classes of 25 make a lot of sense. Think about it this way. When you have 3 classes of 20, what do you get in 4th grade when the cap expires? Two classes of 30.

    It would make a better elementary experience for all 6 years to have 25 in every grade, rather than 20 (or 22) for a few years and then go up to 30+. There's nothing to stop the district from adding students at 4th grade, but as a practical matter, not that many kids transfer in for the last two years.

    Of course, that's 60 kids fewer in the elementary school, which has budgetary impacts.

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  42. Dear 7:36 naysayer, look at it at a marketing point of view. We compete against the privates with a low introductory teaser rate of 20/ class in the first few years. We rely on inertia for them to stay prublic when classes overcrowd to 30 or so at 4th grade.

    Supply and demand. Matching the competitor's prices. Marketing.

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  43. Utter nonsense, Charlie. The reason the class size is lower in K-3 is that younger children are less able to work independently than older children. Kindergartners are very different creatures from fifth graders. That's all. Not everything is a conspiracy.

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  44. The economic explanation is offered as one of several explanations. Consider and tolerate alternative points of view. Analyze for what makes sense to you and explain your comments.

    Not everything is limited to one explanation. The utter nonsense is to disregard the opinions of others.

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  45. Charlie,

    Please produce or link to the official state document laying out the nefarious plan to lure in unsuspecting parents with the false promise of low class size.

    Otherwise, let's return to the topic.

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  46. Use our own eyes. Think for ourselves. I am not trying to change your opinion. I am saying your opinion is one of several explanations. Why should that be threatening? It should not.

    The topic is the kindergarten search from SOMA. As one looks at options, there will be many opinions and factors to weigh.

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  47. MJ, you mentioned Tenderloin. I know several teachers there and they (the ones I know) are all really dedicated and bright individuals. Many of the teachers have 10+ years of experience too. I am told that there are lots of great aftercare options for low income families but not so many for families with economic means.

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  48. I'm a GE K parent at webster. So far very very happy. Our daughter is in the CDC aftercare on site which is OK. Great parent community, great teachers. Parents already working on middle school, and also to enrich aftercare options. email me at DanielwebsterGE2011@gmail.com if you like.

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  49. The Class Size Reduction Act
    (1996) came about from research out of Tennessee that demonstrated the academic benefits of smaller class sizes at the lower grade levels. CSR is widely credited with achievement gains at those grade levels and beyond. Many people say it is the only reform that is proven to increase academic achievement. However, it is by far the biggest single investment ( in dollars) California ever made in K-12 education reform, so no doubt it would have a greater impact.

    But CSR caused another problem, a shortage of teachers. A lot of less than qualified personnel had to be hired to reduce class size from 28 to 20. Now teachers are being laid off because of the easing of the penalties, the teachers of the future. With the cost of the penalty significantly less than before the reason to keep class sizes lower is gone. Currently K3 gets about $800 per kid. The penalty used to be about 80%. Now its down to less than 20%. The differential between the staff costs savings from larger class sizes trumps the penalty.

    Anyway, I got off track. Class size reduction has nothing to do with marketing. The money could have been applied more evenly to all grades, but such a broad-based had no research-based positive correlation with academic achievement. The idea was to get the students started off on the right foot.

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  50. I'm 9.21, just adding that I live just a couple of blocks from Starr King and don't feel unsafe at all. We are CTIP1 but went with Webster for proximity and because we wanted to be in our community. I picked Webster over King simply because I know so many other families there.

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  51. MJ: Welcome to the SF K Files! I'm so happy that parents in the community are sharing their stories. I wish you the best and thank you for being open and candid. I look forward to following your story. Stay strong, and enjoy the ride. Looking for a school can be fun and rewarding.

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  52. You seem to be flexible in your choices and seem to have a good mix of schools. you should get one of the publics. Look at Glen Park as well - it is is very close to BART and is one of the up and coming schools - good luck

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  53. I'd be interested to hear your opinions of Bessie Carmichael and perhaps even Tenderloin Community. I work in SOMA, and am considering a "close to the office" K program as a reasonable commute choice. I'll be watching this thread!

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  54. MJ,

    I would not feel good about this thread if someone here did not inform you that most of the elementary schools you mentioned, at least 3 of the 5, are very weak schools in many respects. No decent afterschool program or easy commute can make up for that. I'm not surprised that no one has spoken up. Things are getting so politically correct around this blog that it is not longer acceptible to identify a school as as bad. You actually have people who don't want to use the term "failed school" even if the school fails by multiple measures.
    I will now get attacked for saying this, but with a list like yours there is no way you will go 0 for 10. That isn't a good thing.

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  55. Don, which 3 schools are you talking about, what aspects do you define as "bad" and on what basis do you define them as such (e.g. information available online, personal visits to the schools, inside knowledge?)

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  56. @Don I appreciate you saying this. Please let me know which 3 if you can. While we must have after care, there may be other schools which I should be touring that are accessible to us and have stronger academic results (if indeed this is what you mean). We need the good and the bad to weigh what would be best for our child. This is why I am blogging. To get all feedback

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  57. @DW parents. I heard that the after school program has limited spaces and that there is currently a waitlist. This does seem like a big issue for working families, any rumblings of additional after care programs?
    I'll check in with the school representatives at Noe Valley School Fair this weekend too.

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  58. @SOMA parents. Glad you are following. I hope you find something useful in our search. To be honest I was a stunned when I saw that DW was our AA school (logistically), but we have pretty much nothing in SOMA apart from Bessie.

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  59. The Great Schools people give Webster a 3, Carmichael and Starr King a 4. Compare to Willie Brown-1 (closed) and Paul Revere-2 (labelled by the state as a failing school eligible for extra money). Compare also to Clarendon-10, Alamo-8, and McKinley-6.

    Maybe the Great Schools scores mean mostly great socioeconomic status schools. Who has more prestige. Who are the trophies.

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  60. Maybe I'm also falling prey to political correctness having spent so much time conversing with people in San Francisco, but I'm going to split the difference between naming names and saying nothing. That means I will not say which schools I find inferior. If you like a school that's all that matters. And in the meantime there are a lot of dedicated teachers and students at less than stellar schools that don't need any more bad mouthing.

    As for the GreatSchools ratings you can completely ignore them. The ratings are more crude than the API and do little more than tell you how many students are proficient. API ratings are for people who don't want more than a a single number to hang their hats on and, btw, they were never intended to compare anything more than the performance of a school within a one year cycle. The GreatSchools ratings are even more limited.

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  61. Don, I'll take that as an endorsement of the GreatSchools rating as a score on a scale of 1-10 of the school having students who are minimally proficient. It is not a one year evaluation of how successful that school was in meeting its goal. The Great Schools score is an entirely different animal from the API, academic performance index, which you have clarified for us is limited in time frame to the one year cycle. A low performing school that meets its goals for that one year will have a high API, meaaning the state is getting some bang for the buck. That is the purpose of the API--to assess the bang for the buck.

    A separate question is where are they now in educational quality? The Great Schools score is a very limited statement that you will find a large or small amount of proficient students there. One of several considerations for your consumption. We should not tease you about "bad" schools and then not explain ourselves.

    Revere was a 2. It was not a "bad" school. It was a school with a lot of less than proficient students and it was improving. It may have been more than their share of inexperienced teachers there. It was not a failed school. Individual teachers may have been failing to teach to the test. That is an evaluation of the individual teacher, not of the school as a whole.

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  62. Charlie,

    It is not an endorsement of Great Schools, but the opposite. It is a repudiation of an overly simplified rating system that is designed to appeal to those who don't know better.

    You are still misunderstanding API. You don't get a high score simply for meeting Annual Yearly Progress. What a school gets by meeting its target is the ability to leave School Improvement after 2years.

    As for Revere, it was identified as a school in the lowest 5% of all schools in California, the bottom half of the lowest decile. This dubious honor is the reason it qualified for SIG. It got there through years of dismal underperformance.

    You don't seem to understand the problem with a single number as a barometer of academic achievement. Use the case of Muir as an example. It had an increase in the number of total students at proficiency. But when you break the numbers down by grade the large second grade class has a much higher number of below and far below basic students compared with the year before. The 5th grade has an unexplainable increase in proficiency going from close to half the class below and far below basic to 0% in those 2 tiers by the next year. This is very anomalous. It is extremely unusual to see a 100% reversal in achievement from one year to the next. With all the millions poured into the school from SIG and other sources, it was unable to raise scores among its worst 2nd grade students. Yet in 5th grade they had a complete reversal. It should be the other way around because it is easier to remediate at the 2nd grade level than the 5th grade. You have to look closely at a school to have a decent perspective on its quality. Trying to substitute qualitative scrutiny with a number is folly.

    Alamo provides another perspective. It is a school that typically gets a 9 or 10 from Great Schools. Last year it had a drop in 5th grade with the turmoil associated with the death of a teacher and the API went down 25 points and it dropped to an 8 at Great Schools. It is still the same school with the exception of a new teacher and there is nothing fundamentally different. This is the problem with substituting a number for true discretion. It's akin to identifying a person as a 10 or a 5. The Great Schools number system is really just childish. It also doesn't seem to weight the classes by size so that a small grade size gets the same value as percentage as a large class. At least that was the way it appeared when I read the rating system guidelines.

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  63. I am equating API, academic performance index, with the state terminology for a school meeting its goal that year. I am equating AYP, adequate yearly progress, with the federal (NCLB) terminology for meeting the annual goal.

    You have told me what API is not--it is not a score that reflects the school meeting its goals in that one year cycle, which is what I thought it was. What do you say API is, then?

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  64. Creative Arts Charter School's tour schedule is now up:
    http://www.creativeartscharter.org/enroll/schedule.asp
    We're a small, K-8 public charter school in the Alamo Square/Western Addition neighborhood. Check us out at:
    http://www.creativeartscharter.org/

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  65. Charlie,

    Every year the API is calculated a little differently and for this reason its value as a long term tool is limited. For example, he new CMA and CAPA tests for special ed students was recently added to the mix. One could ask why the CDE keeps changing the algorithm if they want to use it to compare schools year over year? Because they don't. They never intended for API to be such a gauge of school quality over the long term. Its purpose was to determine if a school achieved its target for AYP from the base to the growth score.

    API is just the method that is used to measure AYP. If you want to measure long term growth it is better to use STAR. Its true that STAR is the main data for API, but it is modified in several ways that change over time.

    California may scrap the API. It has caused more trouble than its worth. Its too complicated and it is applied in error by the media and by the community at large.

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  66. Here is a good explanation of it that I copied from the CDE

    Accountability

    "The API is closely tied to monetary and incentive awards by setting Annual Percent Growth Targets for each school and whether the school met or exceeded this goal. The Public Schools Accountability Act also establishes The Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program and the Governor's High Achieving/Improving Schools Program.

    In addition, the API is used to determine Adequate Yearly Progress as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act."

    The real purpose of API is for setting annual targets and measuring whether the targets were met. Of course, many people mistakenly use it as a measure of interyear rather than intrayear progress.

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  67. Don, the info you have provided supports a description of API, academic performance index, as a measure of the school meeting its targets in that one year period. A decent API means that the school is moving along nicely, and does not imply any absolute level of achievement.

    Any school with a low API would be a red flag. Any red flags at the schools, you, MJ, are looking at?

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  68. Charlie,

    A "decent" API is supposedly anything above 800/proficent. By your definition a school that lost 25 points every year for 4 or 5 years could be decent as long as it is above 800. If you just looked at that number you wouldn't know that something is very wrong at the school.

    I think you are correct that API allows one to get a sense of the general performance and trend. You have to look deeper for more.

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  69. I'm a little disheartened about the tone of some of the comments on here. First, while SOMA does not NOW have lots of children in it, the potential is really there -- the condos are newly built and can easily handle the noises of kids. So it is not really fair to say, as one poster did, that, because there are not now a lot of kids there, we shouldn't worry about providing good public schools for SOMA. So, I think it is really good that MJ is going to be bloggin here, because I think it is going to help out a lot of parents that perhaps are too reflexively writing off SOMA as an area to live in, in part BECAUSE of the lack of good public schools there. Second, it is true, as some have posted, that there's reason to be worried about the publics in SOMA right now. No doubt, the stats on these schools are of concern. But, with the switch to neighborhood schools, there really exists an opportunity for SOMA neighborhood parents to start to turn around some of those schools. One thing I hope is that MJ's postings might do is jump start that process a bit. Carmichael to me is a big black hole -- I know absolutely nothing about it. But, its plant looks really great and it is a K through 8 (which has lots of attractive aspects to it, as someone who just went through the middle school assignment process). There is nothing intrinsic to Carmichael that suggests that a concerted effort by middle class families to go into it couldn't have great results. So lets hope that MJ's postings spark some positive changes in SOMA.

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  70. Mission Dolores - we toured and liked it. Can't remember much details beyond it. It had aftercare to 6 pm. Fairly low key.

    If you're interested in parochials, you also might want to check out DeMarillac Academy in the Tenderloin. I have a coworker that sent his kids there and was very pleased.

    Bessie Carmichael impressed us and has a Vice Principal who was in the Moscone/McKinley mould of being very focused on the basics.

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  71. "Maybe the Great Schools scores mean mostly great socioeconomic status schools. Who has more prestige. Who are the trophies."

    Greatschools indices are based on test scores, which is why you don't have index scores for the independent privates and parochials. I think, but cannot confirm, that they may adjust for SES of the students.

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  72. "First, while SOMA does not NOW have lots of children in it, the potential is really there -- the condos are newly built and can easily handle the noises of kids."

    Are there any plans to start a school in the China Basin area? SOMA isn't just short of publics, there's little private or parochial capacity there either.

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  73. "St. Charles - So close to my work but never listed as desired school. Why? Be kind but honest."

    Haven't toured St. Charles, but have toured St. Anthony's (in Bernal, on Cesar Chavez) and St. James (in the Mission). Both were, relative to the publics and other parochials, very cash poor which meant dated computers, etc. St. James did have a lovely principal.

    I'd imagine St. Charles & St. Peter's would be in the same position.

    Mission Dolores didn't seem quite as cash-strapped as St. James & St. Anthony's.

    Schools in the Mission have banded together (with St. Finn Barr and St. Paul's and St. Philip's) into a coalition for e.g. book purchasing and lobbying the archdiocese, so they're getting more bang for their buck than in previous years.

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  74. Consider also Moscone, on Harrison & 20th. Childcare might be an issue though.

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  75. Dear 9:10 Disheartened,

    Busy hands make glad hands. May I offer you a project to work on? Wasn't there some discussion a while back about Mission Bay getting an ES? Do the Mission Bay plans make space for schools? There will be housing there. Please watchdog your area.

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  76. There is no switch to neighborhood schools. There is a 4th place preference which in many cases will be no preference at all.

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  77. DonK and Charlie need to go have dinner and a glass of wine together to calm their nerves. Or maybe they are the same person.

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  78. On Harvey Milk - childcare, at least up to now, is free and provided by the teachers at the school. There's been a bit of turmoil there recently with a principal being replaced so contact a PPSSF ambassador for the skinny. Friends there are happy there, though.

    Other parochials you could look at are Notre Dame des Victories; great school, one hour french per day, tuition a shade higher than other parochial (about $6-7K). They had a *very* early application date (mid-December) the year we were looking so you'd want to be on top of that and schedule a tour early.

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  79. On Harvey Milk - childcare, at least up to now, is free and provided by the teachers at the school. There's been a bit of turmoil there recently with a principal being replaced so contact a PPSSF ambassador for the skinny. Friends there are happy there, though.

    Other parochials you could look at are Notre Dame des Victories; great school, one hour french per day, tuition a shade higher than other parochial (about $6-7K). They had a *very* early application date (mid-December) the year we were looking so you'd want to be on top of that and schedule a tour early.

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  80. Were do you get the gumption to come on here and promote your views behind a veil of anonymity and at the same time accuse me of posting as other people? Same old shit coming from the side that seems to have utterly abandoned any semblance of personal integrity. I've had it with some of you ass holes.

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  81. Please let's not use four letter words. Thanks!

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  82. As usual the credo of Sf Kfiles is that it is OK to make any kind of personal insult just as long as you don't use 4 letter words. How about two words and 7 letters?

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  83. 2:17 presents no ideas of his or her own. 2:17 badmouths two who will put a name, even a fake name, on the comments submitted.

    I invite 2:17 to state his position on matters. It is not hard to do. You do not have to put a name, even a fake name, on your comment. You can express your ideas anonymously. And your ideas can see the light of day.

    I want to see your ideas presented. I don't want to see just mine, Don's, and Kevin's, and others (all too infrequently). We can all drink to that. So send in your stuff. Besides, I've got to go to dinner.

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  84. Please can we keep things civil? I know everyone is vested in our schools and differences of opinion will happen. Thanks!

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  85. Regarding Great School ratings, API scores I don't even know where to start with them. I know our trophy schools are in the 900 API range and they are 10 or 9 on Great Schools.

    I was reviewing the current test results http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/Acnt2011/2011GrthAPIDst.aspx?allcds=38-68478-6040752&c=R and if I were to base any decision purely on API/STAR/AYP for the school without drilling down almost every school on my list would not be making the 800 API bar. Some though when I drill down seem to have sets of students who are scoring over 800. Another school had a 3rd grade which had large percentage of students below proficiency in English and Math. However all of the other grades seemed to be much better. Another school improved by 15 points over last year in API score which shows to me really great direction, but it is still below 800. I think this might be better discussed in a new post though or on the School Profile forum post.

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  86. @10:57 AM last year I thought that I read that there was talk of having a technology focused school in the China Basin area. However I have no idea if it was a definite plan, or if it was a private or public school.

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  87. Bessie Carmichael is a great school! Great, dedicated staff, and they are really committed to providing access to the arts. Students in grades 3-5 have access to instrumental music lessons, and all grades have drama, choir, art classes, and dance classes throughout the year. Bessie Carmichael recently partnered with the San Francisco RBI program, which began providing literacy support and resources to the school this year. Many teachers partner with UCSF to provide science enrichment as well. Afterschool care is available and would be worth asking about.

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  88. MJ,

    Many schools with significant numbers of SPED students had a bump up on STAR and API because of the inclusion of the CMA and CAPA tests, which are yielding better scores. API changes of 15 points are often entirely meaningless statistical variations, particularly in smaller schools. Sometimes a change of that size is the result of one teacher. I don't think you should base your analysis on a change of 15 points, which is very minimal in any case.
    API can rise while students in the 2 lowest achievement categories rise. If a teacher focuses on raising the average students and ignores the serious underperformers, she can increase the number of students at proficient, increase the API and make the school look good on paper.

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  89. How about this outlook on the school search:

    I will not find the perfect school, because there is no one-stop shopping for the child's education. Who knows what will work for Jimmy or Janey and what they will be interested in this month? Public school is free. I can invest in some activies I will have to pay for, like Syvan, Kumon, gymnastic lessons, etc. It takes a village to raise a child, not the one perfect school.

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  90. One factor not considered in this conversation is the student's ability, though I think this factors in more in the upper elementary grades. But if you have a child that excels academically, it will be more of a problem if that child is in a class that is focused on reaching proficiency.

    I know this by personal experience. I have one child that excels and another that struggles. What works for the one may not work well for the other. Teachers may try to differentiate, but it is no easy task to challenge both.

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  91. I agree with DonK that it may be interesting as they get older to find out what they excel at or what their interests turn out to be. One may love math and tech, one art and music. I would hope to find a well rounded school where both my children could thrive and be challenged at the same time. Even if it's just a hope!

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  92. My 2 cents, MJ. We are a kinder family at Webster and couldn't be happier! Love the parent community which is highly involved and committed to continue transforming the school in the right direction. Our last PTA meeting had over 70 people and was filled with great energy.

    Although we're in the SI tract, the parent group committed to growing the GE track is strong and there certainly doesn't seem to be anything lacking in the GE program. I see good things happening there along with solid teachers.

    Our child is loving the drama/music program along with the sports he continually plays every chance he gets. We're not a part of the after school program but at our last PTA meeting, they discussed positive changes for all involved. Webster has already been granted some additional funding for the after school program so I think good things are coming in that area as well.

    There's also a movement among parents to modify the middle school placement and it looks like they'll make some progress as time goes on. And, as someone who has to drive to the school, I can personally attest to how convenient the parking is.

    Good luck, MJ - sounds like you have a good and systematic approach!

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  93. If you are considering Catholic parochial school, don't get your hopes too high for Notre Dame Des Victoires. Love the school, but it and St. Brendan's are the two most applied-to Catholic parochials in San Francisco. They get many applications for each K seat. I don't have an incoming kindergartener so I'm not trying to scare anyone out of the applicant pool--just saying don't be as naive as I was and think it would be easy to get in. Other SF Catholic schools are very nice but not in such high demand so the admission process could be less stressful.

    Here are some links that people might find useful:

    www.sfusd.edu: This is the portal to the public schools. You can get tons of data on each school, such as location, hours, enrollment by ethnicity, and academic performance data broken down into subgroups by gender, race, and income level. There is also information about the extended care programs and links to web sites maintained by school PTAs. You will still need to call extended care programs to find out about cost and availability.

    http://www.sfdcs.org/dcs/schools_directory: This includes a list of every Catholic school in San Francisco with locations and links to the individual schools' web sites.

    www.baprivateschools.com: Includes a directory of all private schools in San Francisco with links to their web sites: secular, Catholic, and non-Catholic religious (e.g., Lutheran, Episcopalian, Jewish, Quaker).

    Talk to friends, talk to people at playgrounds and other places where kids gather. Filter out information that's not very recent. Tour a couple of independent (usually $25K and up), Catholic and/or Lutheran parochial (usually $6K-to $8K per year), and public schools that look or sound good to you to get a sense of what's out there. Then focus your search on things that seem like they'll work for your kids, your family, your schedule, your commute, and your budget.

    Good luck.

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  94. Great to hear that the SI track of Webster is no bill of goods. Immersion never is. The GE track is a riskier proposition. McKinley did it. Does McKinley's case history, so far, match what you will find at Webster? Someone wrote about the role of the principal, etc., not just the parents pulling themselves up by the bootstraps.

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  95. "I were to base any decision purely on API/STAR/AYP for the school without drilling down almost every school on my list would not be making the 800 API bar. Some though when I drill down seem to have sets of students who are scoring over 800."

    Usually the non-low-SES or populations score in the 850-925 API range: and that's surprisingly invariant between schools. Most of the variation in API is due to the socioeconomics of the students than . There are a couple of schools that punch above their demographic weight, some that punch below their demographic weight (including a few of the "trophy" schools), and some that have even worse results that their demographics suggest.

    But you should be looking at how the demographic subgroups are doing to get a real sense of the quality of the school.

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  96. "McKinley did it. Does McKinley's case history, so far, match what you will find at Webster? Someone wrote about the role of the principal, etc., not just the parents pulling themselves up by the bootstraps."

    McKinley's old principal, Bonnie, was very focused on the basics and a straight shooter and ran a tight ship. I've heard good things about the new principal also, and they had really great K teachers. But recognize that a fair chunk of what happened at McKinley and Miraloma was a demographic shift as they got "discovered".

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  97. sherman might be of interest to you also.

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  98. As to your Harvey Milk questions:

    The after school program is partially subsidized, they ask for an $80 per month per kid donation from the families to make up the difference that the grant does not cover. Before/after school runs 8am-6:30pm (school day 9:30-3:30) with an amazing staff.

    There is an interim principal at the school now (after our last principal was ousted in a hurry by a majority of the teachers last spring) who the teachers seem to like better, but she has not really connected with the parents yet. She seems to be cautious about making any changes, as any interim principal might be.

    There are lots of good things about the school (small class size, amazing teachers, and some very loving, nurturing staff members) but there are drawbacks, too. I think they should take 'civil rights academy' out of the name because they don't really address civil rights in a meaningful way.

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  99. Hi MJ
    I am a parent of a Kindergartner at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy. We are very happy with the school. I agree wholeheartedly with almost everything that 10:38 had to say. HMCRA is a small, quirky, little family. The teachers are fantastic, and the support staff all want to be there and do their best for the children. The children are happy and engaged.

    The only part I disagree with is the statement that civil rights are not addressed in a meaningful way. I believe they are addressed in the most meaningful way possible for children, which is, to teach civil rights as a fact of everyday life through action, environment, and example. The right to equality is at the heart of the school. There is an unwavering acceptance of people regardless of race, sex, religion, physical limitation, national origin, and sexual orientation. Harvey Milk has a very diverse population culturally and socio-economically, and is also an inclusion school, which means there are children with identified disabilities in most, if not all of the classes.

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  100. Responding to Karen:

    Be cautious in your views about Harvey Milk as an Inclusion School with a warm embrace for children with disabilities. Many families leave the school because their child's needs cannot and will not be met (at least 8 families of kids with special needs have left the school in the past 5 years). Most of these parents were treated rudely, screamed at, bullied and traumatized (yes, the parents) while trying to advocate for their child's Inclusion at this 'civil rights academy.'

    Some of these problems stem from district-level ideology around Inclusion, which is starting to change for the better. Hopefully that will translate into more effective and meaningful Inclusion at Harvey Milk.

    That said, there are some staff and teachers who really get it, and do embrace and teach Inclusion on all levels every day.

    And yes, it is a very diverse school in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status, LBGT families, etc. But with that comes a strong need to educate kids about acceptance, teach them how to talk about differences, and strong anti-bullying policies and procedures from the school administration -- some of which is lacking.

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