Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bernal visits Brandeis Hillel Day School (BHDS)

We're back at it...

Last week we also saw Creative Arts Charter which I decided not to post about (since there is already a lot of great information on here about CACS).

Brandeis Hillel Day School (BHDS) is a Jewish independent school in SF serving more than 550 students on two campuses (Marin and SF).  Next year the school will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The school is kindergarten through eighth grade. This post is only about the SF campus. The pillars of the school are Integrity, Kindness and Service.

The tour was run by head of admissions, Tania, a current parent and Tania's assistant. This was BY FAR our best tour yet. With the exception of Alta Vista all of our tours have been led by parents. This of course can create such a varied experience. Tania is amazing, well spoken, funny, etc. It felt like this was the most natural and honest tour, to date.

Kindergarten is from 8:15 AM- 2:00 PM. First through eighth grade is 8:15 AM- 3:15 PM. There is one bus (for an additional fee) that picks children up from the north part of the city. There is after school care program that runs until 6PM. Kids can partake in various enrichment activities during this time.

There are two classes of 22 students each, per grade.  From kinder - third grade there are two teachers plus one assistant in each class.  From 4th - 8th its one teacher plus one aide. Children in K-5 get art once weekly, music once weekly and PE three times weekly. The older grades get that plus they have varying electives which might include band, music, choir, various art classes, etc. The lower grades have two recesses per day. Kindergartners have third grade buddies and first graders have fourth grade buddies.

Judaic studies begin in kindergarten and Hebrew is introduced in first grade.   From grades kinder - second, Judiaca studies are integrated into the classroom (with a Judaic studies teacher). Starting in grade three there is a separate class (just as there is math, english, etc). Also, starting in grade three there are three levels of hebrew (as some kids come in as native hebrew speakers). There is an eighth grade trip to Israel. The school leaders talked about there being the full range of religious families ranging from non-observant to conservative. We were also told that many families (I didn't write the number down) have one parent that is not Jewish.

Starting in third grade, Spanish is offered in the after school program. Them in fifth grade Spanish is offered an elective.

The school employs two part-time learning specialists and all kids in grades K-2 are screened by a speech and occupational therapist. Tania explained that the purpose of the screenings is to help the teachers best understand the children.

There is a computer lab with what looked to be about 20 (new) computers. There are also about 22 laptops which can be signed out from library. The whole school is wireless. When the tech/computer teacher was asked if typing was taught he replied "no, not formally". He then said something to the effect of "besides who knows if typing will still be the way in ten years..it might be voice recognition". Hmmmm, this answer seemed questionable to me.

The building is beautiful and has a great indoor/outdoor feel. The middle school kiddos are housed in a separatish (!!) area - through a walkway. The outdoor play areas are in a courtyard-like space. There is a blacktop area with a great, big play structure on one side and then a double basketball court blacktop area on the other side. No grassy areas.

There were about 14 of us on the tour. After the initial introductions in the lobby we started the tour. We spent time in several classrooms - kindergarten, first grade, negotiating, judaic studies, science, PE, art.

The kindergarten classes were very large, bright and cheerful. One class was working in small groups trying to decide what letters of the alphabet were symmetrical. The other class was working in a large group, led by the teacher, identifying cards that added up to ten. Both teachers seemed very different but equally engaged and wonderful.

One of the first grade classrooms were working on a science project with meal worms and beetles. The other classroom was in the middle of a circle time. In the first grade, there were seventh graders helping out (an elective of the other kids).

The negotiating class was an elective of about 10 eighth graders. This class was led by the head of school and the topic was the dangers of the internet.

The older grade judaic studies was great. We watched a student leading a group lesson.

The students did not "look" overly diverse in terms of skin color.  We were told 30% of the families are on some kind of tuition assistance and there are LGBT families in all grades.

After the tour we ended in the library ( the biggest one by far - over 2000 square feet packed with books) for Q & A with the heads of school and Tania, admissions director. The head of school is new this year (bringing with him 37 years on the job). This was the first school - public or independent that talked about their curriculum program, at length!! The school told us that 95% of graduating 8th graders get into their first and second choice high schools and 93% get into their first choice. There is no homework in kindergarten and there is about 15 minutes in first grade, 20-25 in second grade and about 45 minutes in third grade.

Below are several of the programs that Brandeis uses in their curriculum:

Judaica Studies - Tal Am and Neta (?) Meta (?)
Reading and Writing - Lucy Calkins
Math - Singapore Math and Mathletics
Science - Foss
Wilson Learning Program
Orton Gillingham
Mind Set - Carol Dweck

Overall, I was super impressed with the tour and admission director. I thought the description of the curriculum far exceeded anything I have heard to date. I was a bit disappointed with the once weekly art and music and no drama department.

We left this tour with a lot of questions. Would me and my family be comfortable here? Does the school have enough of an arts program for our daughter? Do we need more diversity from a school?
So much to think about.

Thanks so much to all who comment - it really is helpful and often brings up great points that I might not have otherwise thought about.


  1. just curious what fees are like?
    how much is the bus and the after school program?

  2. We're a non-observant family (one jewish parent and one parent of color) and the school sounds GREAT and I'm eager to tour now. Thanks so much for posting this review!

  3. cost is about 25K per year.
    I do not know cost of afterschool program or busses.

  4. The school does sound great. I would amazing if we could find some way for public schools to have lower class sizes and aides. It's sad that not all children in the city have access to such a fantastic education. I realize that as California is 47th in spending per pupil that we will not have a public education system that replicates a private education but it would be nice if we could at least try to give our public school teachers some additional classroom support. Right now in public K, there are 33 children in the 4th and 5th grade classrooms with no paid aides.
    Thanks for your review. It's great to know that there are institutions which are really focused on supporting children in their education. It is good to know what is possible when there is enough money in the system

  5. As you go through the touring process, remember: Private schools have a product to sell. It is a business. I wonder how you can decide when one school is better than the other. You have written a few private school reviews but how do you know which school is better? Or are they all better because they don't have 33 kids in 4th and 5th grade? I would like to know. Should I fork over the dough for private school? What is the value? Is this the difference of how a kid gets into a top college or a bottom college? What is the deal?

  6. 9:58 - those are the exact questions are are trying to figure out. and YES, absolutely they are selling their product and personally I find the tours to be a real dog & pony show (for the most part).

    A few things that have stood out to us for the privates:

    1. small class
    2. low teacher to child ratio
    3. coursework and curriculum that is not taught to the test
    4. curriculum that is modified from year to year and updated on a regular basis
    5. regular arts, music, drama and PE
    6. ongoing teacher training. each school talked about their budgets for yearly teacher trainings and internal requirememnts
    7. no tenure at the schools - meaning dead weight gets tossed (I dont know how true this as there are politics in all schools)
    8. tech programs starting in kindergarten
    9. parent/teacher communication. Each school and then curent parent have talked to us about ongoing, regular communication
    9. all of the kinder tours we have done also list the schools and percentages of high school placement

  7. All good points, but how do you decide between privates that all generally have the same functional advantages (class size, no tenure). I'm getting frustrated as everyone seems to be flocking to the same favorites (Live Oak, SF Day, Friends) and so there is almost no statistical chance of getting in. Which privates are the hidden gems? Anyone have kids who go to Marin Prep?

  8. to add one more thing (now that you have me thinking)...

    I dont think its much different process trying to decide what we like better than what we will do for the publics.

    For us, its location first. Then we ask ourselves, do we see ourselves here as a family for the next 6 or 9 years? Do we feel that our child will be happy and will be challenged in ways that are important to us.

  9. @Anon 11:28AM
    If you live in the southeast, you could check out Synergy, Alta Vista, San Francisco School, Marin Prep, CAIS, French American.
    www.noeschools.com lists a lot of schools by location and is useful for the Glen Park, Bernal, Eureka Valley, Mission, Noe area

  10. anon 11:28
    I cant speak on behalf of anyone else but for us as Ive said before its location first. SO, the burke's, hamlin, and sf day were out.

    I am familiar with CAIS AND FAIS on a personal level and knew beforehand they were not right for us.

    Marin Prep, while I would like to love that school (location and spanish)I don't like that they have been unable to retain a headmaster and that they are owned by Bright Horizons (a for-profit company).

    we have yet to see synergy. i was hoping adda clevenger was our family's hidden gem (not the case).

    at the end of the day, if we get in somewhere or do I dare say more than one and have a choice we will to weigh everything and go with our gut.

    there will also be the decision of public versus private? for me, i think its more about indiv schools than public or private. there are several publics that we would go to in a second over some of the privates we have seen.

  11. Thank you anon @7:22 pm, I will def check out Synergy and Alta Vista. Oneplusone - I've heard good things about Marin Prep despite the head issues. Do you think being for profit thing is a deal breaker for you?

  12. anon10:18 - in theory yes but without fully understanding more of what this means, hard to say. I have sent an email asking them about this and what it means, what implications there are, etc. hoping to hear back.

    re: head master - yes, the current families really like this interim headmaster and I know they have an international search for a permanent one.

  13. re: marin prep

    We are very very happy with the school and love the interim head. As much as we all will miss him when he leaves, we are extremely confident in the new search resulting in as much if not more excitement. He has really laid the groundwork with the kids, the staff, the parent community and with Bright Horizons to make this a GREAT opportunity for the new, permanent head coming in next year.

  14. Having seen over a dozen public schools and 8 privates, I would say this:

    Some privates are only significantly different than publics in that *if* your child is likely to fall through the cracks, he/she would be better off with small class sizes and teachers who are expected to partner actively with families. If your child is outgoing, above average in academic intelligence, has no significant learning differences, and has good support at home, he/she might be just as well off in a public school performing in the top third/half. This was my feeling about Alta Vista, Synergy, Children's Day, Live Oak, and maybe Friends. Lovely places and I'd spend the bucks if I thought my kid would get lost in a larger-scale environment.

    Other privates are so significantly different than publics in terms of curriculum, quality of professional development for their teachers, attention to learning differences, and enrichment, that there is no comparison. This was what I saw at SF Day, Nueva, and SF School (I did not look at privates in the northwest b/c of location). They are very different, but each one has very distinct strengths -- SF Day is super-rigorous academically; Nueva great for kids with asynchronous skills (highly gifted in some areas, less so on others); SF School great for project-based learning with a focus on social justice.

    So look carefully and keep the specificities of your own kid in mind.

  15. Anon at 11:08, SF Day can be academic and rigorous but as a parent I trust told me, it can be to a fault. She said that it gets so intense by 2nd grade that you ensure your child is academically inclined before applying or else be prepared to spend a tonne in tutoring to keep up with the curriculum expectations. (Full disclosure: We can't afford private tutors as tuition will already be a stretch.) The SF Day parent community is nice but also like the nerd olympics once you start to dig deeper (lots of double Harvard couples, JD or MD, and the like). I didn't realize it was so overtly traditional and academic. So many lawyer parents from ivy schools ...

  16. The SF School sounds interesting ... is it a hidden gem? How come I've heard nothing about it on this blog (or anwyhwere)?

  17. 11:03, I know re: SF Day. We went elsewhere -- it's a standout school, but we thought our kid might melt down in the face of too much overt pressure. SF School is, from what I saw, less academically intense and a bit "hippier" in ways that were a better fit for us. It probably is a bit of a hidden gem for people outside the southeast side of the city, but competition is fierce for the 3-4 K slots a year (at most) it has -- there ended up being none in the year we applied. Best to get in on the preschool end.

    As to Nueva, that's where we are, and it's worth a look if you can stomach the initial evaluation for giftedness and if you live in the southern part of the city. It's actually not super-competitive and pressure-cookerish, as the kids tend toward perfectionism and the faculty work hard to get them to take risks and make mistakes! The teaching and curriculum there are sublime.

  18. @Anon November 2, 11:08 AM
    What publics would you consider on par with Live Oak or Friends?

    I also agree with you on the San Francisco School, it has a really well thought out project-based learning program and fully integrated music and arts program. It might be hard to get in at K but families do leave as they move out of SF, so sometimes there are openings in 1st through 5 grades. If find that you might want to move schools mid-stream in elementary.

  19. OPOPOET, Will you look at San Francisco Community Alternative School? It's close to Bernal and is project based. It has smaller class sizes that the standard SFUSD school.
    They do not teach to the test at all and unfortunately, their test scores reflect this. Yet, when we look at privates, we have no idea how the children would do on standardized tests. It's an interesting school and in your neighborhood and might be worth checking out.

  20. The sf school has 4 spots avail this year - crazy.

    Anon 5:51 - yes, we are touring sf community alternative school in a couple weeks.

  21. The sf school sounds amazing. Are you sure it's only 4 spots? Still, somebody has to get them, right ...;)

  22. @ anon: November 4, 2012 10:30 PM

    I was given that number by a teacher that works there.

    and yes, you are right, someone has to get in! I just didnt have the bandwidth to even try...

  23. This is 11:08 on 11/2. Four spots is a large number for SF School. They had literally zero the year we applied (which they knew too late for us to decide not to apply).

    Publics on a par with Live Oak and Friends ... none for facilities and class size, obviously! But I have friends whose kids went through Alvarado and were doing amazing things; McKinley reminded me a lot of Live Oak.

    My guess is that the serious differences between public and private show in 3rd-5th grade rather than K-2.