Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bernal visits Live Oak

This week we attended the Live Oak parent tour. It was over 2 1/2 hours and consisted of a talk by the head of school, a school tour by a current parent, a Q&A with current eight graders and then some final notes from the admissions director.

The head of school talked at length about research supporting the differences between boy versus girl learning and made a point of stating on multiple occassions that Live Oak teaches to this difference. 

I followed up with an email this morning asking for names of the studies (geek!!) so I could read on my own. She immediately responded with a list of references.

Instruction is a combination of large group, small group and individual learning. This past summer, renovations were made which included the addition of many self-study/small group study areas and a room the kids named, 'The Brainery'. The Brainery is a room with all sorts of tech stuff that is open to the kids at all times.

Classrooms are self-contained through fifth grade. After fifth grade, kids switch from room to room for varied instruction. Kids have two art and PE classes weekly and one music and drama class weekly.

From day one, kids become part of a "Grove". They stay in this grove through eigth grade. There are two children from each grade in each grove. The purpose of the grove is to establish relationships between older and younger kiddos.

I noticed that wiggly seat cushions and hand figits were available for all the younger kids (to help with concentration).Also, there are bowls of fruit lining the hallways for the kids to eat any point.

The one thing that really stuck out to mind after we left were the older kids and how they interacted with us. Almost every student greeted us, made eye contact, said "excuse me", etc while walking around. All of the older kids just seems self-confident, poised and mature.

I was blown away by the kindergarten and the kindergarten teacher! The teacher playing the piano, the teacher's dog being dressed up by some of the kids...The room was full of life, nobody was sitting at a table - it was full of play! I am not interested in a quiet room with kids doing worksheets!!

The school is small with less than 300 children from K through eigth grade. There is one class per grade until middle school and then it increases to two classes per grade. For a fee, there are early and late hours and bus transportation.

There is a full time lower school learning specialist and a full-time upper school specialist. There is also a reading specialist and a school counselor. There are no letter grades for the lower schools (appealing to us) and no tests in the true sense are given and children show an understanding/mastery of skills through projects.

I noted diveristy both in the teaching staff and in students. Was it the same as the public schools? No, not even close I am sure. Personally, diversity extends past the color fo someones skin - it includes LGBT, children who are adopted, children with one or three parents, etc. I also felt that the parents touring the school were hugely diverse. In our touring group we were the only male/female white couple - the rest were families of color, a single Latina mama and two dads.

We have now seen two private schools - next week we have two more privates and one charter. I am really looking forward to seeing some of the public schools.

I just want to add one final thought (because I can). I was feeling nervous to even write my piece given the 'attacks' against private schools and what I then interpreted me because we are considering private schools. I respect other's opinions and I think its wonderful that people are so passionate about things in life; however, when comments veer political or off-topic the blog looses its purpose.
This blog was saved by a few families (not me) who saw its purpose as an informational tool for families of san francisco.

I would love to hear from you if you know this school?? Thanks!


  1. Thanks for the review, Bernal mom! I really liked Live Oak as well during my tour and concur on the K room looking like such a fun place. I'm a bit troubled by the size (only one class per grade) - that's 6 long years with the same 20-25 kids. I'd worry that they'd get sick of each other ... but otherwise, I really liked the school's philosophy.

  2. Did the tour mention how many non-sibling spots (female and male) they anticipated being open for new applicants?

  3. I know several kids who have gone through the middle school at Live Oak and been very happy, which is saying something.

  4. Don't be intimidated away from touring or writing about private schools. I toured over a dozen publics and ended up going private on financial aid. I think it's important not to dismiss public schools without looking carefully at them, but I also think it's legitimate to decide on private school if that's what you think is best for your child. There are a couple of people on this blog who go on and on saying the same things about Martin Luther King's dream and Asian parents and fake liberals -- ignore them. They ruined the last version of this blog and nobody who is a longtime reader takes them seriously. Don't let them stop you from sharing *all* your experiences and opinions.

  5. Ah, private versus public: here's my experience having two kids in the public school system for eight years while virtually every friend and coworker has sent theirs to private school:

    1) public really does make your kids more open to kids of all ethnic groups and classes. Really. My kids have friends whose moms are in prison. And moms who have tea at the Fairmont. They know how to interact with everyone - and that is truly a plus.

    2) they have had great teachers. But they have also each had one bad teacher. Face it: every public in the city has one or two teachers mailing it in or burnt out. Those teachers just don't exist in privates, with rare exceptions.

    3) don't go private because of fears of bullying. The very best privates have horrible examples of bullying. The upandcoming public school my kids go to has extremely few incidents. So figure. I think bullying is very idiosyncratic.

    3) Overall, I am glad I went public.

  6. Please don't ever feel badly about exploring or considering private schools. I am a teacher at a public school and I have a great affection and appreciation for my students, but I also don't want my daughter to go to a typical urban public school. I don't think that she needs to be around kids who have PTSD or Emotional Disturbance or Conduct Disorder. I'd like to preserve as innocent of a childhood as possible. There's plenty of time to be confronted by the harsh realities of human existence when she is older. Early elementary should be fun and innocent, in my view.

  7. thanks for all the words and encouragement!

    anonymous 5:15 PM, they would not say how many spots were available. I do know that this year is a very heavy boy year for all schools.

  8. Use this space to give your unique perspective and other parents insights from your particular situation.
    If you liked Live Oak and live in Bernal, you might look into San Francisco School on the other side of Bernal in Portal.

  9. It's always a heavy boy or girl year it seems -- really when you look at the number of spots at many of the privates after accounting for siblings. So few it makes more sense to not get your heart set on one school over all others. Statistically, that's more likely to lead to heart ache than not. Better to find several - maybe both private and public that could work for you. And seriously, the more good schools we have, and the more kids we have being educated well, the better.

  10. Re 11:10's comment: I agree privates are less likely to have burnt out teachers who have stopped trying. But all of my friends with kids over 3rd grade who are in private schools have had what they characterize as a "bad teacher" year. The problem was different from what you sometimes see in public, but no less frustrating.

  11. Didn't hear that it was a heavy boy year, in fact the private boys schools we visited all said it was a low sibling year?

  12. I'm still trying to decide if I should post a full review of this school since you already did it. But I did want to share that I went on a tour and the admissions director estimated that sibling will take up less the half the available kindergarten spots.

  13. More independent school reviews please!

  14. I wanted to comment on the 11:58 pm post above by someone who claims he/she is a public school teacher and is concerned about kids with "PTSD/emotional disturbance/conduct disorder." Gee, where to start with how wrong this post is! First, if a child is truly disruptive, the school has alternatives, and the public school my kids go to has certainly known how to use it. Second, many kids who have learning differences can be unfairly tagged in this way and, unlike the privates (which generally tell the family to take a hike), the publics work with the child to provide adequate support. Having kids with learning differences in a classroom is a blessing, not a negative. My kid has learned how to accept all types of kids, and understands that kids with learning differences "just learn differently;" they are not to be looked down upon. And that, my friends, is a message that is a great message that will help my kid throughout his life. In fact, it is going to be the kids who today learn to accept all types of people who are going to be the successful businesspeople of tomorrow.

  15. I understand that they are in the midst of a major fundraising campaign (something related to adding facilities?). Does anyone know how much additional money they expect each paying family to further contribute? I have heard it is around $10 K/year in addition to tuition and I'm really surprised they expect that much. Is that standard for privates? If so, that's $35 K a year - oy vey!