Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"The Standard for Parent Involvement" - Clarendon Alternative Elementary School Tour

Okay, I totally get it. It’s not just hype. Clarendon is a rock star school, if your kid can get in.

I had my husband go on this tour with me because I thought we both should know what one of the highest API scoring schools in SF looks like. We had to check out the “trophy school” as folks on SF Files often call it.

So the drive from our home was about 16 minutes. Although we were 20 minutes early there were already parents waiting in the lobby looking anxious and kinder-parents, smartly, had a fundraiser bake sale set-up. Why not take advantage of the 50+ parents vying for the coveted kindergarten spots at Clarendon?

I’m going to make this short, because I know that folks already know about Clarendon and the chances that any of us can "choose" this school are slim to none. These are a few things that stood out to me on the tour:

Parent Involvement: The principal himself said, “The standard is that parents are involved in school.” The Second Community School was actually created as an extension of the cooperative nursery school model. As we toured the halls we saw several classrooms with 2+ parents helping.  Teachers were not overwhelmed by class sizes and there were enough people in the room to run learning stations/centers. At a previous school, the class was divided into learning stations and there was only one teacher.  The students in stations where the teacher was not sitting were minimally supervised. And, I should not forget to mention Second Community at the JBBP raise $200K a year each. 

Tribes Philosophy: The school believes and follows the TRIBES philosophy.  I’m a little biased toward tribes since it was the model used in a non-profit youth program I participated in. Basically, tribes helps create a safe learning community. Kids are asked to follow certain community agreements that help them become a better citizen and a member of a larger group. It's going beyond just following rules, but taking personal responsibility for the collective. I'm probably butchering the explanation of this. The principal also mentioned that they are moving to a restorative justice model. 

Art, art & more art!: The walls were covered in beautiful art and the art teacher just sold her program.  She teaches the basics but rotates in units on different types of art or artists.  She mentioned an upcoming mural tour.  There is an art room in one of the bungalows. 

Culture & extras!  How great is it to have you kids get a chance to focus in on learning Italian or Japanese culture and language. While on paper the school is not so ethnically diverse and our family is neither culture taught at the school, we would appreciate a school that integrates cultural learning.  It'll give us opportunities to continue teaching our children about their cultural heritage at home. Education in languages other than English is always a plus, even if it is not immersion. Other great things at the school: buddy system, talent show, PE teacher, great library, librarian teaches research, etc. 

It was such a big tour and other parents had so many questions, I didn't get to ask about the garden program and science and math in the classroom. And to share something heard through the grapevine, speaking to another parent about the school, she told me that a good friend of hers with less financial resources whose children attended Clarendon felt pressured to donate. It's clear from stats that Clarendon children are likely to come from families with more resources then the rest of SFUSD. I kind of wonder what the super-motivated parent community is like. If anyone can speak to these things, please share! 

Generally, my husband and I left the school with a good impression. It'll likely make our public school list and we'll just have to cross our fingers. I overhead one touring parent say, "It just seems joyful!" And that's what I want for my children, a happy place that makes them excited to learn. There are more schools to tour, especially schools that my daughter has a higher chance of getting into! 


  1. Thanks for the review. But that picture of the twin peaks radio towers right next to the school are kind of freaking me out ... I heard about them before but didn't realize they were so close. Isn't that a bad thing for a developing kid's health?

  2. Good question. Unfortunately, I'm not an environmental health expert and I bet the research is inconclusive and controversial. Maybe an SF environmental health or environmental justice org might have more info?

  3. Thanks for the review. I recently toured Fairmount and they also use TRIBES and it impressed me as well. Fairmount is Spanish Immersion in Glen Park if you have any interest in an immersion program.

  4. interesting review. i felt similarly after touring sherman (the clarendon on the north side of the city?).

  5. Yes, Fairmount is definitely on our list of schools to tour. I didn't know they were already doing tours! I should look into that.

    Also, I've been reading that a lot of other schools in SFUSD actually do Tribes too.

  6. It kinda bummes me out that so many of the 'great' schools are city wides and one has no prayer of attending unless you have a tie breaker in your pocket. Is it even worth putting your name in the hat?

  7. worldwidewang, Clarendon's Second Community program is not city-wide. Just the JBBP is.

    And under the new system you are not penalized for listing a school you have low odds for. If you love a school, list it!