Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lazy Tiger Mom tours Sunnyside

The Facts
Location: 250 Foerster Street
School hours: 8:40-2:40PM 
Principal: John Simard 
School tours: Tuesdays 9-10:30am (more info
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 66 - 3 classes of max 22 each
Total student body: 360

Initial Impressions
After my third school tour (Thomas Edison and Miraloma which I didn't write a tour report on, wanting to focus more on spreading the word about non-trophy schools), the grounds are getting more similar with each other. The school is set in a 1920s building with large windows. It's in a quiet neighborhood with great freeway access. There are many parent volunteers throughout the halls. 


What struck me the most from this visit was how much this school seemed to match our family priorities and values. Some of the highlights are:
  • A strong science and technology program, both from partnerships such as with UCSF and also through strong parental involvement with tech-focused parents fundraising for laptops and other initiative such as school-wide WIFI
  • Super involved PTA. When Sunnyside lost its Title 1 funding several years ago, the parents rallied to fundraise to make up the difference so that no programs were cut. The PTA president self-described them as "not a pushy PTA" - everyone has busy lives and people can contribute in many different ways without being made to feel guilty. The PTA seemingly has provided many things - 2 paid yard monitors, a garden education specialist, safe routes to school funding, arts programs, plus have also squirreled away rainy day funds. Seems pretty impressive to me!
  • Diversity. After my vastly different experiences with Thomas Edison (very diverse!) and Miraloma (not so diverse!), Sunnyside seemed like a great mix where my little one could find friends both similar and dis-similar to her. 
  • It seemed that most classrooms we visited had a student-teacher from nearby City College helping out as an extra pair of hands. This is in addition to any parent volunteers. I'm not sure how common this is for the SFUSD, but surely it can't hurt to have City College a couple of blocks away. 

Other things that were important to me included:
  • 3 near-site after school programs (YMCA onsite, ExCEL at the nearby Sunnyside playground, and TutorsRU at the nearby St. Finn Bar) 
  • A philosophy of treating the kids with respect and non-traditional discipline. I think that all the SFUSD schools have adopted restorative practices.  I especially loved that K kids are paired with 3rd graders as buddies.  
The principal John Simard also spent a lot of time with us. He was smart and pragmatic and the parents seemed to think that he's been turning the school around over the last 3 years. He talked about teacher retention - most of the staff stay at Sunnyside until they leave San Francisco.

My Personal Questions
  •  Would I consider putting Sunnyside above Miraloma? Miraloma seemed beautifully-shiny-new-(maybe cliquey?) but Sunnyside had a different sense of authenticity, that perhaps the parents & teachers were willing and open to have a conversation about their issues and then work together to solve them. 
  •  How much does it matter that construction would be going on during my daughter's first grade year? How disruptive will that be? The school has out-grown their space a a couple of 1st grade classrooms are in bungalows. They have funding and architect plans to expand and start construction in Spring 2013. 


  1. Great review. Thanks!
    Would you mind posting your notes on Miraloma just so we have a comparison? I know Miraloma already has a strong reputation but it would be helpful to have the consistency and to see what you are seeing at the different schools.
    Thanks again!

    1. I'm planning on touring a couple more "trophies" including Rooftop and might group them all into a shorter posting.

  2. Great review. Our kid is in 1st grade at Sunnyside, and I think you captured the spirit of the school really well. We're incredibly pleased with our little school in this wonderful neighborhood.

  3. Loved your review. Did you mean to say that both Edison and Miraloma were not diverse? I think you mentioned that Edison has a high percentage of Latino students so it was not ethnically diverse. I'm wondering what makes Miraloma not so diverse. By the way, I would have to say that Lazy Tiger Mom is not so lazy already touring schools, writing reviews, and seemingly in good spirits!

  4. From GreatSchools, Miraloma is 47% white, 15% Asian, 12% Latino, and 8% African American. That feels far less diverse that the breakdown of SF as it's much more skewed towards what tends to be a higher socio-economic class of whites and asians. That's why it's a highly-requested school, right?

  5. Miraloma was highly requested long before it was 47% white, but the cancellation of all the Miraloma buses by the district along with the school's location and the new neighborhood preference in the lottery have made it whiter and wealthier. Miraloma does have a large and active GLBT community so that is diversity that isn't obvious when touring a school.

  6. There is a difference, in terms of diversity, between San Francisco as a city and the public school system. San Francisco, as a city, is over 50% white, 33% Asian, and 15% Hispanic/Latino. This is data from the 2010 Census.
    On the whole, SFUSD is about 33% Asian, 23% Latino, and about 11% white. Chinese parents most consistently enroll their children in SFUSD. White parents most consistently do not enroll. Last year 40% of White parents registered but failed to enroll in SFUSD kindergarten. These stats are from the SFUSD March 2012 report on the placement run for the 2012/2013 school year.
    I am making these comments because within the context of an urban public school system, diversity is a complicated issue. In SFUSD, it is compounded by the fact that immersion programs need to have 1/3 native speakers, 1/3 bilingual speaks, and 1/3 English only speaking students to make the classroom functions. So anytime you have an immersion program, you will have a concentration of people who are native speakers to that language. I think SFUSD is trying to manage two very large student populations of English language learners and immersion programs were a thoughtful way to actually bring English language learners together with students interested in learning another language. At any rate, I like your honesty and reporting on what you're seeing and how it makes you reflect on your own values. Diversity and its role in education, especially within an urban context, is a compelling question and very much one of the 21st century.

  7. The diversity stats are further complicated by the fact that the school age population itself (that is, kids in both private and public schools) is quite different from the general SF population. While the general population is around 50% white (I actually thought it had dipped below 50% for the first time with the last census?) there is a much smaller percentage of white school age kids. That is, there is a huge number of childless white adults in this city, compared to other ethnicities.

    At one time (this is an old stat, so might be somewhat different now) only 17% of the entire school age population was white. A large percentage of them opt out of the public school system, leaving only 11% white in SFUSD. Conversely, there are far more Asians and Hispanics in the school age population than whites, with the vast majority in public school.

  8. does anyone know if the board approved the shift in the sunnyside/Miraloma school boundary? I read about it here http://www.sfusd.edu/en/enroll-in-sfusd-schools/school-boundary-maps.html
    But it ends saying it will get a second read a the meeting on 9/11. Did it move? Anyone know?

  9. @2:01 - you could email Rachel Norton. She could clarify and usually responds in a few days. If you get an answer, maybe post it.

  10. 27% of kids in SF are white. You're right it's not as bad as it seems, but nonetheless there are a lot of San Franciscans who talk the liberal talk but will move heaven and earth to avoid sending their kids to a diverse school, come up with a phony excuse but really aren't comfortable with true diversity for their kids. The goal of equal opportunity and integration is not a priority for many.

  11. Thanks for the positive review for this school!

    I'm a Sunnyside parent, passing through for the second time. (My oldest was there for 5th grade only, a few years back) I have a kindergartener now, and I'm really pleased with the changes that have taken place in the school -- both through the efforts of a very involved (and not pushy, as someone commented...) and through a growing group of families who decide to stay. (Historically Sunnyside lost kids after 3rd grade, and this is the first year in a long time they've had both 2 4th grade classes AND 2 5th grade classes).

    I've found my son's K teacher to be very approachable and communicative. "School Climate" is a big focus, with discussions about bullying already underway in K (both through a school wide presentation, and class meetings with the school counselor). As bullying has been a big issue in some SFUSD ES's over the last few years, I'm glad to see this being handled so thoroughly and appropriately by the school.

    Good luck to everyone in the upcoming lottery!

  12. Reading the comments, someone noted a possible change of attendance area for the Sunnyside and Miraloma schools so I looked it up and yes indeed, it was approved. http://www.sfusd.edu/en/enroll-in-sfusd-schools/school-boundary-maps.html
    Good news for us as we live walking distance to Sunnyside but under the old lines, were in the Miraloma attendance area.