CACS is located in Western Addition. This school is only two blocks from our home giving it the highest marks for convenience. To me, the neighborhood is best characterized as transitional, there is low-income housing in the immediate vicinity of the school but there are also Edwardians, Victorians, condominiums and apartments interspersed as well as blocks away that are not designated low-income housing. Socio-economically this area is diverse. I have not personally found this area to be unsafe. I do find it not to be the most pristine neighborhood. It is not uncommon for there to be trash around on the streets or fecal matter on the side walks. I'm never quite sure if it is dog or human but I'm not too bothered by it. When it's in front of my property I clean it up and I find the neighbors doing the same. As for safety, I've only been in the neighborhood since August of this year but I can say I've never felt unsafe or even seen anything beyond the homeless sleeping near Raymond Kimbell playground and the regulars picking out bottles and cans from recycle totes throughout the neighborhood. And I'm outside at the Hamilton Recreation Center park, Raymond Kimbell playground, Alamo Square Park or just coming and going over a 10-15 block grid nearly every single day since moving here. I've passed by CACS on multiple occasions and the Turk Street door is sometimes open and sometimes locked. It is used for deliveries and not general access. When it's open I always encounter someone in the hallway. The gates on Elm and on Pierce are usually unlocked during the week but on weekends are locked tight. Again you can generally gain entry through all these entrances (when open) but you will quickly encounter someone in the hallways asking your business (in a nice way).
CACS is a charter K-8. It is a project based learning arts integrated curriculum. It is a separate application than the SFUSD lottery. Kids in elementary school stay with the same teacher for two years. That is to say, kindergarteners stay with their teacher for first grade. And so on ending in fifth grade. Once in 'middle school' the kids have advisory (it sounded to me like what I know as a homeroom class) and then rotate by subject. In classroom management they follow the responsive classroom approach. Class size is 22 in K-5 and 28 for 6-8. There is after school care until 6pm at a cost. The arts integration and arts curriculum at the school seem very strong and an important contributor to learning. There is no language program at the school. It struck me as a very racially diverse school. It struck me as a very close-knit family. It struck me as a tenacious community.
There was a fire near CACS in December 2011. This fire spread from its origin and did some extensive damage. What this means is that the community meeting for now is held outside behind the school on the blacktop instead of in the cafetorium (I was told that the cafetorium would be finished and in use by November/December.). The library was moved to a smaller room within the main building but lots of books were lost and it will be a process to restore their collection. The interim director (Fernando Aguilar) mentioned that they have been waiting for bookshelves that SFUSD promised them and they (still) have not received them. This made me wonder about the relationship between CACS and the school district based on comments made on the tour it struck me as a difficult and probably complex one. Certainly I would be interested to learn how this relationship affects the school's functioning.
The tour split to cover elementary and middle school. I had come with my husband so we split up and he went through the middle school tour and I did elementary. Both of us really liked the project based approach to learning, both of us are still uncertain whether this school is strong in science and math. We feel like it could very well be. We just don't know how to measure this or what questions to ask to get a good sense of the school's capacity to teach these subjects nor did we get a strong read on this from the tours or any historical data we've seen online. Past comments here on SFKFiles and on Yelp made us concerned that perhaps it is not strong (enough) in these areas. Fernando Aguilar did mention that the 2012 API came back at 819, which to me is impressive given the demographics of the school and the challenges they've had in terms of renovations and the fire.
Bottom line. We REALLY LIKED this school. We loved the proximity to our home. We loved the smaller size of the school. We liked the philosophy; although it is new to us, it makes sense. We loved the educators and the families we met. We're concerned about this charter's relationship to the district and how that relationship works and affects the school. The reconstruction and renovation of the buildings does not seem to disrupt the learning environment but will be nice to have done before our kindergartener arrives in August 2013. We're not sure how the science and math instruction at this school compares to others in the SFUSD district. We're definitely applying and hoping we get in. We'd love to hear more from the SFKFiles community and from the CACS community in response to this post.
Cheers, Muppet Mama