Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lazy Tiger Mom visits Glen Park

The Facts
Location: 151 Lippard Avenue
School hours: 8:40-2:40PM 
Principal: Jean Robertson
School tours: Tuesdays 9-10:30am
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 66 - 3 classes of max 22 each. I think that one of the 3 classes is focused towards the bilingual education program (NOT "Spanish immersion") which slowly transitions monolingual Spanish-speaking kids towards English by 4th grade. 
Total student body: ~360

Initial Impressions
Glen Park is a block from our house and our local school. The "Big Blue" has a gorgeous freshly renovated campus with a large school yard. Many of the facilities appear new or newly-renovated with much larger spaces for the library, auditorium, cafeteria, etc. than most of the other schools that I've toured. The school felt vibrant and friendly, although perhaps slightly worrisome, it seemed that many kids were being dropped off late. Our tour was was 9am, 20 minutes after the 8:40 school start time. Perhaps lots of celebration post the Giants Game 7 win last night? 

Long before this school tour, I'd heard many positive things about Jean Robertson, the legendary principal who had turned around Grattan in 5 years. This is her first year on the job, but her reputation seems to have preceded her. Her performance was impeccable, despite much aggressive questioning from various parents who wanted to know her vision and approach to "turning around" Glen Park. She was wonderfully low key yet charismatic, deflecting the questions with a thoughtful answer that she was in a discovery phase of watching and building relationships as she's currently only 10 weeks into the job. However, it also emerged that she's about giving teachers a voice, fostering a strong sense of collaboration and community, and aligning various staff to their skills and strengths. As she aptly put it - "It's not the Jean show, it's the we show." 

Other highlights for me included:
- The tour consisted of 2/3 local Glen Park families with the remainders from the nearby neighborhood. This is a vision of a true neighborhood school that's a block from our house. 
- The amazing facilities. The library here with a 80% time librarian was gigantic, with a separate room dedicated to younger kids and separate reading area with comfy couches. 
- There's a computer lab with 40+ shiny new iMacs and a full-time tech instructor. I haven't seen a tech lab to match this in any other school tour yet. 
- The PTO is relatively young, only having been active for 4-5 years. They started seriously fund-raising last year, raising 50K, most of which went to pay for a PE coach who also supervises the play yard for recess.  Coach Micah (sp?) was super friendly, stopping to introduce herself in the hallway when I was wondering around pre-tour. 
- I'm happy with the diversity that I see here. There's a mix of kids from different socioeconomic classes, yet also a sprinkling of white and Asian faces.

My Personal Questions
- How important is sending my daughter to her true neighborhood school? It's a block away, for goodness sakes!
- How much time can I commit in a family with two working parents with long hours and frequent travel, to truly building and nurturing this school as part of a turn-around, bad news bears community? Wouldn't it just be easier and safer to join a pre-established smooth running school community who's already done the turning-around? 
- How important is an inspirational and visionary principal in the decision-making process? 

Finally, I know that I would be happy and comfortable to send my daughter to Glen Park. And that's a relief after hearing all the negative rumors that have surrounded the school through the past years. It'll definitely be on our list, although we still have many months to debate the order.


  1. Hi LTM,
    Thanks for your review. Did you get a sense of the teaching styles in the classroom? I've heard the GP Elementary school K teachers are great. Did you see any K classrooms and what were they like? I've been on a few public school tours and have been a little disturbed with orderliness of the classrooms and the general lack of organization. I've heard that GP has fairly neat and orderly classrooms. Is this true? Sorry to ask such a basic question but I'm curious.

  2. I really appreciate the personal questions you included. I've definitely been thinking about those things too. I have worked with a non-profit educational justice organizations and it is amazing the work parents put into helping to transform/improve the schools their children attend. It's goes way beyond participating in the PTA and fundraising. The parents that do this are my (s)heroes, especially the ones that are doing this while struggling financially and working long hours. My husband and I expect to participate in the parent community at all the schools our children attend, but I'm not sure how much more time we have! (One good thing though is that if your daughter walks to school, you'll be saving a whole lot of travel time.)

    Thanks for your notes. I'm going to have to sign-up for a Glen Park tour. Lots of parents have been recommending it highly.

  3. Regarding the principal -- The principal sets the tone for the staff, and it carries over into all school functions including the PTA.

    Think of everyone as horses pulling a cart with the principal in the lead. When you're all pulling in the same direction, you can go great places. When the lead horse wants to go a different direction or even stand still, it's hard for the rest of the team.

    An inspiring, energetic leader is a big thumbs up.

    A poor leader can drag the school down or through inaction allow it to stagnate (I'm not saying it WILL happen, just that it's harder for the teachers and parents.)

  4. I have to agree with mibb regarding the importance of the principal. Prior to entering the school system as a parent I had no idea how important the role of the principal was in directing the troops (and that includes the parents). I have worked with this principal when she was at Grattan. I was from a household with both parents working full time, with my job being particularly demanding. Someone nominated me for a role on the PTA board and I ended up being sucked into taking a prominent role when my kid was in 1st grade (and later in other roles while at the school). The next 5 years were some of the most rewarding in my life. I rarely felt a sense of community in San Francisco, but I certainly did feel it at this school. And I walked out with the experience having the highest respect for Jean Robertson. She has a clear vision, is truly loving toward the kids (including the well-known fact that she knew all the kid’s name), highly respected by the teachers and very straight with the parents. There may be other schools that are a better fit, but I feel you could never go wrong with the principal at the head.

  5. ... (con't from above) by the way, the school was still in the turn around mode when I joined Gratten. I believe the test school was something like 704. There are downsides (like parent cliques) that you may find in well established schools.

  6. We are in elementary now. The Principal is so important. You need a strong leader that will support the teachers and work openly with the parent community. We have that at our school but I didn't realize how important that was when touring. I remember Jean from my tours a few years ago. Glen Park is only going to get better. The neighborhood kids have started going, the PTA is ramping up. The school only needed this fresh, open minded leader to take off. The turn around is already going on. You should put this first on your list and be done. With 2 wkg parents you will love being close to the school to pop in for movie night, science night, the carnival, etc. If you have to drive across town you will do much less of these things.

  7. How much TV/movies do kids watch at Glen Park during class, especially kindergartners? I've heard this is pretty pervasive throughout SFUSD, but that the individual teacher has a lot of discretion. Can someone comment on the practice of Glen Park kindergarten/early grade teachers in this regard?

  8. Re: TV/movies? In our experience, there hasn't been much tv watching at Glen Park. Most of the teachers (including all three K teachers) seem to have very limited use of it. Indoor recess (on rainy days) used to feature kids watching 20 minutes of tv, but they've changed the format of indoor recess this year (board games or indoor activity time with Coach Mikka) and there's no more tv (yea!). To quote our principal, "TV is my pet peeve." There are times when I think it can be used effectively in schools (Schoolhouse Rock anyone?), but by and large it's a waste of time. I've only heard complaints about one specific teacher at Rooftop (out of countless acquaintances at SFUSD schools) and I imagine that it was such a hullaboo that it's not happening much anymore (hurray for listserve emails!).

    There is supposed to be some sort of official board policy that bans non-educational tv in the classroom but I've never seen it and no one could seem to find it a few years back. If it happens in your school, it's something to complain about up the chain of command - the teacher first, then the principal and then, there's always the board if you get the brush off.

  9. @Oct 24, 12:01PM

    I don't feel that I really comment on the sense of teaching styles in the classroom given that we observe for 4-5 minutes on the tours in a very zoo-like setting. All I can see on tours is that K classes look organized / disorganized depending on the teacher and what the class is doing at that one point in time. Perhaps I'm not observing in a nuanced-enough manner but it feels that every K class in every tour I've observed has been fine with small groupings and project-based activities at some times. I'm personally trying to get a better sense of teaching styles by having conversations with parents at the school. Sorry not to be of more help!