Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Lazy Tiger Mom tours Edison Charter

The Facts
TECA is an independent public charter school authorized by the SF Unified School District.

Location: 3531 22nd Street
School hours: 8:20-3PM M, T, Th, F; 8:20-1pm W
Principal: Adrienne Morrell (amorrell@edisoncharteracademy.com)
School tours: Tuesdays 8:30-9:30am from 9/25/12-1/15/13
Grades: K-8
Kindergarten size: 80 (2 classes of 20 each general education, 2 classes of 20 each Spanish immersion)
Total student body: 560

This was my first school tour so bear with me as I sort through my own process for what starts to matter from school to school. 

Initial Impressions
The school is beautiful! It's on a large historic(?) building on a leafy Noe Valley street. Inside the front entrance are colorful murals. The school yard is huge (with a separate smaller one for K-kids only). Classrooms and hallways have tall ceilings with lots of windows.  Kids seem very well behaved and are all in uniform. 

Our tour guide, a kindergarten parent, emphasized that TECA believes in arts enrichment of a strong academic school. There are full-time PE, drama, arts, and music teachers. Each class gets one of the "specials" for a quarter each. We observed a drama class and a music class. I was fascinated to see ukuleles and a full drum set in the music class. The kids seemed attentive and engaged, all vying for the teacher's attention with "quiet hands" and we got to watch a first grader receive a pin type of reward system to move her up closer to a star. Class sizes are also smaller than the SFUSD, with a ratio of 20:1 rather than 22:1. 

Of the 4 kindergarten classes, 2 are Spanish immersion. The immersion kids get 2 teachers - one class gets a morning Spanish teacher and an afternoon English teacher and the two classes switch off between teachers at noon. We saw a Spanish-speaking parent volunteer working 1-1 with K kids in the Spanish class, perhaps to test the kid's proficiency. I believe that immersion goes through 3rd grade, but I could be wrong on that. 
Afterschool care is through Playworks. School lunch is through LunchMaster which our tour guide said offers better food than SFUSD -  food good enough that all the staff also eat it. 

The principal Adrienne Morrell spent a lot of time with us answering questions. I found her to be pragmatic and really know her stuff. She articulated TECA's vision as being a balance of tradition and creativity. Tradition refers to the structure and rules that they have regarding more traditional school discipline, I imagine around things like "quiet hands," and zero tolerance for violence. Creativity refers to being as creative as possible and not having to stick 100% by the rules when it doesn't make sense for the best interest of the child. For example, if they have enough younger K kids applying for transitional kindergarten, then they'll accommodate and make a class for those kids. If a parent wants to start a lacrosse program and get gear, then they'll try that and see how it works. That vision really resonated for me. 

My Personal Questions
Before you flame me, I want to put into context that these are the personal questions that I'm wrestling with about TECA. I'm not sure how I feel about them yet, but they are top questions on my mind. 
- Is the school too big at 560 kids for our little kindergartener? 
- With all the arts and immersion, is there enough of a science focus? 
And perhaps most controversially...
- While touring, I saw one Asian kid and a handful of Caucasian faces amidst the sea of mostly Latino and occasional African American kids. I know that this is completely qualitative and based on what I observed and that ethnicity is not always clear to the eye, so I need to do more research on demographics. But the ultimate question we need to figure out is if we are comfortable with sending our half Asian / half Caucasian child to a school with noone like her? And to a school that doesn't have the same demographics as the city we live in? 

For more information about the history of the school and the previous for-profit Edison school ownership, take a look at this SFWeekly article

Finally, I'm a sucker for feedback. Let me know if you found these tour notes informative and what could be changed and I'm happy to adapt for future tour notes. I've got a packed schedule for the next couple of months!


  1. How active are families and the PTA? As a current non trophy K parent, I think that is information that is pretty important. Much more important than I'd originally thought.

    1. I'm a parent of a dual-immersion kid. Our PTC is small but active & growing - I think we have 60 parents in the group, and another 3x who don't attend meetings but get the message, show up for events, lead & participate in classroom activities. They're there, they support the classrooms, and they get stuff done. One dad has tackled the Dolores St garden - it was a complete weed-patch...it's not the botanic gardens yet, but it's SO much better! We have 5 coaches for our new K-1 baseball team; we have a fundraiser for that this Sunday at 780 Cafe (owned by another parent).
      As the other parent @ our school commented below, we've got "organized anarchy" in the PTC group - & while I'd personally like more structure, somehow stuff gets done. We have already raised more $ this year than all last year (admittedly wasn't a very high bar) - but we're on the right path and our PTC is more about participation than it is about $. So, in that regard...we're succeeding. Our school has a smaller admin staff as a strategy to fund the critical "specials" teachers, anyway.
      Nothing's perfect, and yes, I'd love the $$$ of more well-endowed schools - but we have strategies for that, too...and we'll get there. Hope this helps!

  2. Unlike others on here, I do think diversity matters and I think it is entirely appropriate to see how diverse a school is. For example, on the west side of the city, you will encounter schools that are 90 plus percent Asian. Works for some; troublesome for others. For this charter, I think that, during the long period when this school was under the sway of the for-profit parent which in turn made it quite controversial, many Caucasian and Asian parents steered clear of it. Latino parents, looking for an alternative to Mission public schools that they (rightly or wrongly) perceived to be not as good, flocked to it. In the two years since the school has shed its for-profit yoke, it has tried to attract a more diverse student body. I haven't been there in two years, so my question to you would be: don't focus on how diverse the upper grades are, see how diverse K and 1st grade is. That will give you a sense of how successful the school has been at becoming more diverse.

  3. Admissions is first come, first serve. If you have friends or preschool peers looking at kinder for this year, see if TECA is a fit for them. You could help foster the school's diversity. In your conversations with your tour guide and the administrators is diversity part of their mission? Is diversity integrated into the curriculum and part of the school's mission?

  4. As it is a charter, how easy do you think it would be to bring in math and science enrichment? Will you apply in October or wait until you see other schools?

  5. Great review. Thanks and please keep them coming!

  6. I toured TECA and will apply. I do agree with LTM that is is not diverse. Although it's not ideal, I'm okay with a lack of diversity, because the children were happy and focused. In all the classrooms, the children were participating and the teachers were well-prepared.

    The school seems well run and organized. The teachers, who took over the school, have a unique relationship with the administration and are dedicated to the school. While the school is not dependent on parental funds for programs, it does seem like it could benefit from more parental involvement. It also seems that any money given to the school would go directly back into the classroom.

    I think it's worth putting in an application for Spanish Immersion as those programs are hard to get into and the school takes applicants on a first come, first serve basis. For those living in Noe, the Mission, and Eureka Valley, the location is amazing.

  7. My son attends TECA. We are not a Latino family and we do not speak Spanish (yet!). I chose TECA above other immersion programs because I found a very divided parent population at many of the immersions schools. I kept hearing "we" do this, but "they" think that ("they" don't use email, "they don't participate in .....". and on and on and on) I didn't get that vibe at TECA and I still don't.

    The PTA is organized anarchy and it seems to be working well. If you have an idea, you get to be in charge of that idea. You recuit your team and plow ahead. We raise funds, we clean the campus, we appreciate the teachers - its been great so far. Every meeting takes forever because we say everything (and discuss everything) in two languages, which makes it a little chaotic but not unruly.

    The school is strong in ALL academic subjects - its not an art school, it just has a terrific arts program (my son just participated in an opera about Goldilocks - in kindergarten!).

    I don't have any concerns about math/science at TECA. TECA is an academic setting and each student is expected to attend college.

    Every parent I have met is very engaged with their child's education and emotional grown (kindergarten is a whole new social setting for all the kids - the emotional grown is astounding).

    We had a campus clean up day today and the school was literally crawling with adults and kids caring for their school.

    My son's kinder class has 20 children, I think 5 are not latino. I think we have two causasion, two indian (at least on parent from from india) children and one native american child.

    The kids don't care about color and even if they speak different languages they don't care when it comes to playing kickball. If anything, they learn the languages from each other. Its been great.

    This is a great school. Its not a broken school that needs to be fixed. We have a beautiful campus, dedicated staff and teachers, a caring and involved parent community. Of course, like any school, we need and want MORE STUFF and more money to do more things for the teachers and kids. What school doesn't?

    I am very happy I chose TECA.