Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bernal visits Buena Vista Horace Mann

I am feeling pretty fried and drained from this process. I am seeing four schools this week and five next.

This was my number one school coming into this game and site unseen. The location, late start time (9:30), spanish immersion and K-8.....I was sold.

(I let myself in via a back gate that seemed like it should have been locked but wasnt. I proceeded to wander around for a good five minutes before finding anyone to ask where to go. Is this a safety concern? Maybe.)

Schools tarts at 9:30 AM. There is early drop-off starting at 7:30 AM and after-care until 6:00 PM. the aftercare is a combination of fee-based and excel scholarships. Thursday is an early dismissal day for teacher collaboration and aftercare is available earlier in the day.

This tour was huge - I am guessing over 50 people. Per usual, we all gathered in the auditorium where the principal introduced herself and fielded questions for about 35 minutes and then went on the tour.

The principal, Jennifer Steiner, is in her first year at BVHM. She came from Monroe where she was the principal for six years (and taught for five years at Monroe prior to that). While she seemed lovely she definitely did not WOW me. She did not scream power to me (not power in a ruling way, but power in a loud voice to the school district to be heard and recognized).

Buena Vista is SFSUD first immersion school and the second oldrest one in California. Horace Mann is the oldest middle school in SF.  The two merged last year as the city's first K-8 immersion school. There are about 30-35 teachers in tlower school and about 20 in the upper school. Most teachers are tenured/veteran and about five have less than two years teaching experience. Like the other immersion programs, kinder starts with 90%ish Spanish and then by 4th or 5th grade is 50%. Jennifer stated that SFUSD does not have a policy for percentages in the middle school and this is something theya re working on together.

The School Improvement Grants (SIG) grant ends at the end of 2012-2013 school and with it is the end of $1,000,000!! Jennifer said they were looking into other grants right now but didnt elaborate.

Jennifer stated her number one goal is for the school to feel like one school rather than two and recognized that this will take time. She said there have already been "several" suspensions this year (did not say how many) in both upper and lower grades and when pressed about how often she gets called in for disciplinary issues she said "well, yesterday was zero but the day before was three times". This seemed like a lot to me...anyone else??

There are four administrators onsite - the principal (Jennifer), a community school coordinator, director of instruction and learning and the original principal of Buena Vista (not sure what his role is on a daily basis).

The younger kids and older kids (middle school) are mostly separate. The middle school is housed on the third floor and a separate building. They have separate recess, PE, gymnasiums. This was different than a lot of the private school K-8 schools where they talked a lot of about the intermingling of ages. There is a school cafeteria and two grades at a time eat together (K/1, 2/3, 4/5)

I asked about community partnerships and she answered that they were currently re-evaluating all of their partnerships. They do partner with PlayWorks (as do all Mission schools, she said) and AcroSports.

While the tours were parent led, none of the parents I approached were part of th PTA. They all said they volunteered in various ways but were not PTA members. Last year the PTA raised $100,000 and helped fund field trips, teacher grants and art programs. There is an 80% time gardener who is funded for two more years (not sure what she is funded by). There is a library which looked like a library and a computer lab.

The tour: We went into one kinder, first, second and third grade. We were told we could stay after to look into the middle school but by then I HAD to go. I am hoping to go back next week.

I loved what I saw in the kinder was noisy and full of life and there was lots going on - kids working at their desks independently, small groups and one larger group. It seems chaotic but with one "ba da bum bum" the kids were silenced and focused on the teacher! KUDOS! I counted 18 children in the classroom.

The next kinder class was at choral but the teacher invited us in for a 20 minute chat/Q&A which was without doubt, the most useful thing I have gotten out of ANY tour. She talked about curriculum, literacy (phonics versus site words) expectations upon entering, how kids who are struggling are supported, how kids who are advancing quickly are kept stimulated. She said that by November the kids are understanding everything that is said to them in Spanish in the classroom. She showed us examples of work and projects. (I learned today that textbooks change no sooner than every seven years!).

There is library, computer lab, gardening and choral every other week. I am not sure if this is K-3 or K-5.

All of the first, second and third grade classes had between 17-19 kids. The second grade teacher followed us into the hallway to ask if we had any questions about the curriculum. All of the kids seemed engaged and focused.

Overall, I like the school. I am curious to see if the principal has what it takes to make this school as amazing as it can be! I think there are huge potentials with this school and I was really impressed with the bit of classes I saw. The issues of several suspensions and daily discipline is a bit concerning as well (but I dont know - is this normal? doesnt seem right...). The huge loss of revenue is also concerning to me.


  1. BV and HM were completely different schools two years ago. HM was a tough middle school and BV was a sought after K-5. So merging them has been difficult. HM students are still there so Spanish Immersion isn't complete as a K-8. In general, there are more disciplinary problems in middle than elementary. They are lucky to have a thoughtful and intelligent principal who is wise in the ways of SFUSD...experienced. The Asst Principal is the former principal of BV, very committed and kind.

  2. As a parent at BVHM and a teacher, I found the WOW factor for determining a good principal a little off putting. I like the principal and am glad we have a caring and compassionate person leading our school and not simply a cheerleader shouting out catch phrases that will impress the parents that can visit that many schools without it being a financial burden on the family.

  3. I love my kids school. My kids love their school. They have a fantastic, FANTASTIC teacher coach at the school who has truly made the school a rigorous bilingual school. The location is nice and safe and there is so much room. Plus being a k-8 now is so wonderful since we dont have to the lottery again until high school. What a relief that is. I couldnt do that again- all the visits, waiting for the letters. BVHM is just great.