Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bernal visits Fairmount

(an overdue post)

School runs from 8:30 AM- 2:40 PM. There is before care from 7-8:15 AM and after care from 2:45 - 6:00 PM. The AM and PM program are run by  GLO and its considered a blended PM meaning meaning there are families who pay and children who are there via the EXCEL program. There are “usually” enough PM spots for those families in need of aftercare. The school is K-5 and there is also a preschool onsite which next year will be fully bilingual as well. Everett is the middle school feeder. There are two special day classes on-site as well. Fairmount contracts with PLAYWORKS to provide PE, recess support and various sports. They also have a 40 hour per week greening project grant for the children.

Our tour started off observing the morning rally, which happens every day at 8:30 AM.  Morning rally by the principal every day for 15 minutes. If the weather is nice they are held outside, otherwise they meet in the cafeteria.( We could not go into the cafeteria because people were voting.)

Fairmount is a full spanish/english immersion program. Every teacher and administrator is fully bilingual. The goal for admission is 1/3 truly bilingual, 1/3 english dominant and 1/3 spanish dominant. Kindergarten starts off at 90% spanish/10% english and by fourth grade its 40% spanish and 60% english. The children also receive 30 minutes per day of leveled instruction in their 
There are three classes per grade (which I thought would feel too big but it didn’t). The buildings have a very 70’s feel but clean and not drabby. The buildings are designed as pods, meaning that the classrooms are in a circle format with a common area in the middle. It seemed pretty logical to look at.

We only went into the kinder classrooms and there was one teacher with 20 +/- kids. This is the norm here and there are no aides/assistants. There are, at times, parents helping out. In one of the classrooms we were observing the teacher got through one example and spend the remainder time trying to get the kids to focus. Granted, there was a group of us in there but it hit my radar. 

There is a huge blacktop area for older kid recess and morning rally. Then there is a smaller area with a great play structure for the younger children (which their clasrooms open up to). There is a computer lab with about 20 iMacs.

The school is a TRIBES school. However, when I asked the principal about this he said “we are but.......”. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. He went on that "yes they were, in theory, but....".

The PTA seems active at having raised about 75K last year. they met and exceeded last years goals and they said they have money in the bank for a rainy day. PTA helps to fund enrichment programs like PE, music, afterschool and staff development.  They have two large fundraising events each year.

The principal, Jeremy Hilinski, seemed approachable and eager. This is his third year at Fairmount and his first job as a principal. The parents said they liked him, he was hands-on and is proactive. Mr. Hillinski stated his biggest concern is the achievement gaps between english learners and english proficient learners.  He stated staff turnover used to be an issue but was no longer and the limited afterschool space.
Fairmount is a Title One school, meaning it has been identified by the State and District that need academic improvement.  The principal stated on more than one occasion that they are on the “very high end of lower achieving schools” and their scores continue to rise. Geek mom will probably be able to crunch data for you :)

Fairmount will be somewhere on our list based on the location, dual immersion pathway and active PTA.


  1. Will you also visit Thomas Edison Charter on Dolores? I visited both and for our family, I felt Edison had a bit more to offer. There are smaller class sizes - 20 instead of 22 in K - and the children seemed really focused. I really like the building and grounds. Also, it's the only school I've toured which has a PE teacher and a Playworks program. Edison and Fairmount share a similar demographic of low-income Latino students with Fairmount being more diverse but I think Edison will gain some racial and economic diversity over time. On my tour there were a few Latino parents, many white parents and few Asian parents. My guess is that parents who live near the school will apply and if they don't get into Alvarado or Rooftop or McKinley, Edison will be a good alternative. It also goes up to 8th grade which means you can stay at a smaller school for middle without having to reapply. At any rate, if you're going to put Fairmount on your list, you might also want to check out Edison. It's a charter so it has its own application process and won't impact your SFUSD application. They also admit first come, first serve so it might be a good "Plan B" if you don't get your private placement or one of your SFUSD schools in round one. Their next application date is December 5. Here's the link:

    1. TECA only does Spanish Immersion through the 2nd grade. Did they explain why on the tour?

  2. I have friends who send their kids to Fairmont and love it. One small clarification, though, that is not Fairmont specific. You wrote "Fairmount is a Title One school, meaning it has been identified by the State and District that need academic improvement." A school is designated Title One based on the number of students who receive free/reduced lunch. I believe all schools with more than 55 (or maybe it was 60?) percent eligible students received Title One funds from the District. In other words, it has nothing to do with a school needing academic improvement (though a high level of poverty does tend to correlate with lower test scores).

  3. we have a fourth-grader and kindergartener (and former pre-k'er) at fairmount. i wanted to clarify and correct a few of the reviewer's observations.

    i second the earlier poster's clarification about title I funds and why they are given. one thing to keep in mind as you are looking is that schools that ride the border of the minimum percentage needed to qualify for these funds may struggle year to year with hitting the "sweet spot." the last thing you'd want is to report 54% free lunch, really have 66% and lose your bank. it is fantastic to get those funds -- no PTA, even at the so-called trophies -- can raise enough to pay for, say, staff positions, year after year. but the determination is made based on free-lunch qualification forms, and it can be a struggle to get the families most in need to turn in their forms (and deliver an accurate picture of a school's population). it is as devastating to lose the funding in a given year as it is great to have it. another way of looking at this type of funding is that schools with a low % of free/reduced lunchers typically don't have this type of funding. they often have a lot fewer staff on campus because of it (instructional resource facilitators, literacy specialists, social workers, nurse, PE coach, movement coach, inclusion aides, etc.). extra staff is always good.

    re: kinder focus. i would caution prospective families against drawing conclusions about a teacher/class/school based on what you observe during a few tour minutes. kinders are notorious for acting weird, agitated and distracted during tours (can you imagine these hordes coming into your former safe space every week for months?). i can tell you that fairmount's kinder team is very strong -- perhaps one of the strongest i've seen in the district (we spent our older child's kinder year at another school, a "trophy," so i have a basis for comparison).

    another (understandable) mistake prospective kinder parents make is to focus too much on what you see in kinder. it is important, of course, but it is just one year, and doesn't fully reflect the relative strengths and weaknesses of the staff or the school. (not to mention that staffs change, at some schools often, sometimes to their detriment.) i was advised by a friend who is an instructional coach to look at the upper grades more -- how much writing they're doing, what's posted on the walls, what they're discussing in language arts in the upper grades. all of this is where your kid is headed, and it says something about instruction in the grades that came prior.

    we like fairmount a lot and have no regrets about pursuing admittance there for two years. it is our neighborhood school and we really wanted a local school and immersion. i love the community there, something that doesn't come through when you're looking at numbers alone. whatever the schools' flaws -- and, as with all schools, there are some -- we know our kids are gaining MUCH more than they're trading by being there instead of somewhere else (trophy public, suburban or private).

  4. I agree with Kim Green. I actually don't think they should let touring in the parents in the classrooms on tours; it's simply too distracting for the children. I went on a tour at Alvarado and they don't let parents in the classroom and I actually felt that I got a much better feel for how the students work under normal circumstances. We'd all probably get a much better picture if these young students weren't disturbed during their class time.

  5. Thank you for clarifying the title one stuff.

    We asked our tour leader to see a 4th/5th grade and were told we couldn't. In fact, we have asked on every tour and were frequently denied for various reasons.

  6. well, touring IS highly disruptive to all grade levels. knowing what i know now, i'd recommend this to get a clearer idea of a school's merits: attend a school event and talk one-on-one to veteran parents. ask what they like and don't like about the school. if you like numbers, two data sets that are sort of meaningful (sort of) are: how well disadvantaged groups score on standardized tests at a school (ELLs, free lunchers, AA and L students) vs. another school; and how much statistically significant subgroups (of all, but esp those ones) have improved year to year in recent years. you might be surprised. for example: ELLs at marshall, taylor and many of the predominantly "poor" chinese schools in chinatown and the 'loin have outperformed ELLs at some of the trophies in town, year after year. mind you, some might say those schools are "teaching to the test" and find fault even with that accomplishment. sigh.

    i would ask about staff stability on tours. it is another way of looking at what's going on in classrooms you can't visit (which is of marginal value anyway, as it is merely a snapshot). i like to see little staff turnover. i like to see teachers with a couple of years under their belts, but not a surfeit of burned-out dinosaurs (which is not to say teachers at the end of their careers are bad or more likely to be burned out, as many are inspired, inspiring and amazing). were many staff consolidated out of other schools recently? have they been there long enough to prove themselves? sometimes administrators can answer things like that.

    i make it a habit to ask middle-school students around town what ES they attended, and how they liked it. that kind of horse's-mouth data is gold, man! i usually chat with them while waiting for the bus. you'd be surprised what kids say. i met two different kids who told me they were transferring out of (highly esteemed) rooftop as sixth-graders because, though comfortable, it did not provide the offerings and opportunities of a large, comprehensive middle school. (yet K parents routinely privilege K-8s over comprehensives). anyway, 2c.