Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bernal visits Alta Vista

Alta Vista School
450 Somerset Street
San Francisco, CA 94134

After rsvping for a group parent tour we were contacted by head of school (Ed Walters) offering a personal tour. Sure, why not! Ed spent well over an hour with us showing us around and answering all of our questions.
Taken from the school’s website, “Alta Vista describes themselves as an independent elementary school in San Francisco dedicated to hands-on, experience-based learning for nourishing creative and curious young minds the wonders of science, math and technology cradled in the hands of the written and spoken word united in the beauty and creativity of art”.
As inconvenient as the school is for a lot of people, its hugely convenient for us. Plus, its new location is in a quiet neighborhood so I envision a calm drop-off/pick up? It’s the little things for me.

This new, private school is in its third year of operation. The school offers a junior kindergarten (similar to what might be called a transitional kindergarten elsewhere) and will eventually run through eighth grade. The junior kindergarten students will either go to first grade, if ready, or to kindergarten next year. Sibling admission is guaranteed.

There are two classrooms per grade with a maximum of 16 children per classroom. Every classroom is equipped with supersonic, razzle-dazzle state of the art tech equipment.

I was concerned that the arts would be pushed wayside given the heavy emphasis on math and science. On the contrary, we met with the drama/music teacher and were shown the music/drama room, tinkering area, dance room (in process) and garden beds about to put down. There is also a full-time reading specialist.

We poked into every classroom and each activity appeared to be dynamic and engaging. It was only the second week of school so there was not a ton of artwork on the walls yet.  We saw kindergartners doing fractions and multiplication and first graders learning the differences between ants and bees. Ed commented on more than one occasion that children in the older grades are not taught curriculum based on their grade but rather where that specific child is in terms of his/her learning. Tests are not given and its only in the third grade where children will learn about how to take a test.

When my husband asked Ed what he looked for in teacher when hiring he replied the following:
“They (teachers) are here 10+ hour days, it has to be passion not a job”.

My husband loved the fact that students walked by and greeted the head of school with a “hey Ed”.

Cost for 2012-2013 year is $20,000 per year.

This tour was done pre-SF K Files Blogger. Moving forward I will take pictures and take better notes.

What else are you looking for?

Is this helpful?

Let me know so I can include it moving forward.


  1. Thanks, Bernal Mom of One for this post and the one previous. I am Bernal Mom of Two, looking for K for the older child. Proximity is also important for us, and it's nice to read the perspective of a neighbor!

  2. "kindergartners doing fractions and multiplication"

    Ahh - this tweaks a nerve for me. My little one is in 2nd grade in public. We are pretty pleased with the school (good SI school). My child, however, can't get enough of math & science. And I know she would just eat it up if more advanced math was offered. Sigh..

    We never considered private school for financial and other reasons - and because we are so pumped about the SI opportunity, but my twitching nerve will be that my child is not being challenged enough academically...

  3. anonymous 1:56: while we are in very fortunate situation that we will have assistance with over 80% of private tuition (IF we chose that route), the remaining 20% will still be a stretch for us. What this will likely mean is no more dance class or swim lessons.

    For public I am thinking that if a school is light on something say 'math', I might be able to afford an extracurricular math/science class??

    honestly, I dont know....

    can you tell me what SI means?

  4. SI means Spanish Immersion

    Yes - Agreed, we view the savings at public as an opportunity to supplement with other activities. Summer camp is awesome - there are so many cool and academically rigorous summer options. And really - we are happy.

    But reading about Alta Vista does make me pine for a more rigorous option for my nerdy child.

  5. Hey person doing SI. You should look into the free online Khan academy for math supplementation for your kid. It's all there. He/she too could be doing fractions and multiplication and plenty more than that.. I have my doubts though about that being taught in kinder - the comprehension that is. (Parent with three, including older kids)

  6. PS (I'm last commenter). Note that most of the kinders in private are 6, not five, so what's they're doing in K may look more impressive. They're also probably taller.

  7. wow - I never thought about Khan academy. very interesting!!

  8. Can you use part of the money that is set aside for educational purposes to donate to a PTA or PTO of a public school if you decide on that route? Five or ten thousand dollars donated to a PTA can do a lot in a public school setting and that is only a fraction of the cost of private school.

  9. anonymous 4:15 - what a great question. I honestly dont know but I did shoot an email off to the folks that handle the trust to see if that could be an option.

  10. Remember, if you send your kid to a public school and supplement it with classes, and donate to the PTA, you are helping both fortunate and unfortunate kids, your kids and others. If you go private, you are depriving the public school of much needed white middle class students with parents who will help. You could do a lot of good for a public school and help those not as fortunate as your children, spread the wealth. You could do a lot of good by choosing a public school. The public school is probably as good in most things, but if there is a shortcoming, find a class like Kumon or another and supplement, and avoid thus hurting poor kids. That's why I voted for Avalos over Herrera, Avalos sent his kids public and Herrera's excuse was that there was no Cantonese Immersion in Middle School, but for one, Cantonese isn't as valuable as Mandarin, and for two, he could easily have sent his kid to a Cantonese Immersion school from K-5 and then spent a little for a tutor for 6-8 and thus, for a fraction the cost, avoided depriving a struggling Mission District Elementary and Middle School of a much needed quality student from an education-dedicated family with political and professional connections. He could have made a small adjustment and really helped kids who have no advocate and are truly struggling. For me, this made me decide to vote for Avalos.

  11. Mission Dance is an amazing program at 24th and Mission. If you go that route you could get amazing lessons there and they have a Girl Brigade Program for late elementary and middle school age kids which present politically relevant, feminist dance shows.

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