Driving 20 minutes from the sunny side of town to the foggy side to tour Commodore Sloat School, I realized that this school had to be near perfect for me to want to do the commute every day. For some reason, I thought it was closer.
Commodore Sloat School is, as one parent put it, “thoughtful and professional.” It is a traditional school with solid academics and experienced teachers who stay for a long time. It has a lot of the extras parents look for: arts opportunities, school gardens (yes, plural), a solid science program with partnerships, PE, a social worker on staff, etc. However, there was nothing on the tour that really made me excited. And, with the long drive, it will not likely make the top of my daughter’s school list.
Initially, I was attracted to CSS because it is in a neighborhood I am very familiar with. My cousins grew up off of Ocean Avenue and a few attended the school. That was a long time ago. I checked out the API scores and demographic info and liked that it has strong test scores and still a good number of socioeconomically disadvantaged students and English language learners. I feel like that API info gives me a little bit of context to explore more.
- Arts Opportunities – Choral Music, Theater, Instrumental Music and Visual Arts offered weekly to different grade level.
- Active Parents’ Club Organization – The parent tour guides assured us of the strong parent community and opportunities to volunteer at the school. They raise quite a bit of money that helps the school with all the “extras.”
- Beautiful murals and artwork – Nice backdrop to the learning. Clean campus.
- Bilingual/Woman of Color Principal – Always looking for good role models for my daughter.
- Safe environment and Wide-Open Spaces to Play
- Native Plant Garden and Edible Garden
- No Trailers and no plans to put up trailers – Unusual for SF schools, I imagine.
- Part-time Librarian – Students go to the library once a week.
- Regular PE classes – Twice a week.
- Full-time Social Worker & 6 para-professionals helping students with special needs
- Interesting block schedule for 4th and 5th grade students
- School does assessment of incoming Kindergarteners to place them with the right teacher
I was particularly struck by the way the principal and tour guides talked about how the school had a range of students with very little needs to those that would be considered “high-risk.” Because of this, they are not overwhelmed by the needs of students. On the tour, a parent mentioned that there was a para-professional assigned to be with one autistic student for nearly the entire day to assist the student in learning. The school seemed to have the resources and interest to serve all kinds of students!
OTHER THINGS TO NOTE
- The Parents’ Club raises upwards to $130K/year that the tour guide said has increased over time because of the “changing demographics.” When asked about these changing demographics, the parent, almost apologetically, said that it’s becoming more and more upper middle class. This always makes me raise my eyebrows. The principal was so proud of the steady improvement of API scores, but if the demographics are changing, is the school getting better or are the demographics just changing?
- The principal’s response on a question about the school’s approach to diversity is that there are yearly celebrations for the Day of the Dead, African American History Month, Cinco de Mayo and Chinese New Year. To me, this is so minimal. Plus, I like to call Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year and our Mexican family does NOT celebrate Cinco de Mayo for several reasons. I would love a school with a more progressive, deeper approach to diversity. I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I think I’ll know it when I see it.
- Students are mostly Chinese and the 2nd largest population is White, which does not reflect the ethnic and racial background of my child. The teacher population, according to the parent tour guide, reflects the student population ethnically although it didn’t seem like that on the tour. And, there are only two male teachers.
- I think community is so important. My daughter currently attends a co-op preschool and we would like to continue a similar amount of engagement in her education. I'm not sure the school felt like it could be "our community" for the next 6+ years. We are so different ethnically, culturally, and economically. If we lived in the neighborhood, I might feel more connection. Maybe I do want a neighborhood school. Maybe I care about diversity way more than I initially thought.
This was my first school tour, so I am really trying to figure out what my husband and I should prioritize in the search. I'm also wondering what would make me excited about schools... A clear school vision? A dynamic principal? Project-based curriculum? Language immersion? I guess, we'll see. I'm going to start trying to set-up tours with schools closer to our home.
For the parents doing their tours right now, what has excited you about a school?