Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Science vs. Diversity - Alta Vista School

Okay, I am a little scared to post this review, especially since this will make it two controversial posts in a row. Generally, thesfkfiles bloggers seem to be very neutral and observant, but I left the tour with my heart beating hard and I was actually angry. I asked my husband if I should post at all and he said that it’s an issue that should be talked about and that it’s worth putting out there. I agree, so here goes.

I entered the school doors of Alta Vista less than 7 minutes after I left my house. I basically wanted to love the school. It’s so close to our home, we could walk. We began the tour in empty Kindergarten classrooms and things looked great. The schedule was written in a mix of Spanish and English. They try to use Spanish in all the grades just to get the kids more exposure with the language and half the teachers have some fluency. There was science in every classroom and in the hallways. This is a big plus for me, because my daughter has shown such an interest in learning about how her body works, the weather, astronomy, etc. She also has a love for maps and there were large maps in every classroom. One class had a huge map of the United States and the students are using it to plan a cross-country road trip as one of their projects. Students at all grade levels do presentations about current events. There were lots of interesting and innovate projects that were explained throughout the tour about ants, cars, weather, etc.

There seemed to be a growing check-list of things that the school has: Music, PE, Fine Arts, Spanish-exposure, small class sizes, after school program, nice library, community service projects, an easy way to drop-off kids, etc. (Things to note that they don’t have yet or may be an issue to some are: They are still working on creating an outdoor play area. There is no librarian. They will outgrow the space in 5-7 years.)

So one question I ask myself at all the school tours is, can I see my daughter here? In the empty classrooms and with all the great science talk, I probably could. But what I started to notice when I saw all the children and the teachers was that visually, nearly everyone, looked white. Now this is not always a deal breaker for me. I just wanted to know more about diversity.

So as we ended the tour, I asked the head of school, “What is your approach to diversity?” (Okay, so I am totally outing myself to those on the tour and the staff who were there.) And the head of school's answer was something like this… (I’m putting quotes on this, but it’s really not what he said word-for-word. It’s just the easiest way I can explain it.)

“I was helping a high school student trying to get admitted to college and I was speaking to someone about it and he said the student had high test scores and high grades, but that they needed an oboe player and he wasn’t an oboe player. We're not like that.” Then he mentioned something about financial aid.

And, when I followed-up with a question about how student might have opportunities to explore their ethnic backgrounds and culture, he said that there was no structure for that, but that families could share their ethnic celebrations with the school.

Did he really just answer my diversity question with a strike against affirmative action quotas? He did NOT say anything about how the school values diversity, how kids can bring their whole selves to the classroom, how diversity in the classroom creates a more vibrant learning environment, how they do projects on family histories, how they lean into any issues that might arise about racism or cultural misunderstanding, how they know it’s important for kids to see themselves reflected back in their teachers, how kids learn about the diverse histories of people throughout the world, how they are trying to diversify more, how they make it a point to celebrate diverse holidays, how… anything. But there was nothing. Everything would be left for the parents to ask for or to bring in. I guess I should at least appreciate the honesty.

And don’t forget, first and foremost, their approach to diversity is that they are not going to let you in just because you are a person of color. I never thought that in the first place. And, actually, I felt really offended. While the head of school boasted that the school is not on “the beaten path,” and in many ways I can agree, in many ways it is behind the times. Science cannot be without context and without a strong social studies education (really an ethnic studies education) that will help students think critically about how science, society and the individual student come together.

53 comments:

  1. I got a very similiar response when I asked a diversity. i dont recall the response but to paraphrase he said "we dont worry about things like that - it all works itself out"

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  2. I had the EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE visiting Alta Vista in 2009 and walked out furious, crossing the school off my list immediately. On tour, I asked the head what their approach to alternative family structures was and he said, "No approach at all. The kids don't notice these things." I said, "Well, my daughter notices. At 2 and a half, when she saw all the straight couples doing pickup at preschool, she started asking where her dad was. Her preschool stepped right up to the plate with multiple conferences and brainstorming about how to enhance their curriculum." Then I turned my back and left. I am SO GLAD you posted about this. It's disgraceful, and despite Mr. Repetitive Posts About How if You Send Your Kid to Private School You Are a Racist/Classist, the head of Alta Vista's approach is not at all reflective of private schools in San Francisco.

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  3. I really appreciate your perspective. For what it's worth, I'm a white, middle-class, over-educated type parent and I felt like the principal at Alta Vista came across as very self-satisfied and a bit smug. Did not resonate with me, though I know there are folks who adore him.

    I asked at Alice Fong Yu how they celebrate the diversity of their student body and how they reconcile all of the time they must want to spend on Chinese culture with also wanting to spend time on other ethnic celebrations, the heritage of their students, etc. The principal said she didn't understand the question, but they had some Black students. And then a parent told me that I shouldn't worry, even though my children would learn Chinese at Alice Fong Yu, they would also still know about American culture and like Justin Bieber (not what I was concerned about). Maybe I didn't get my question across quite right...?

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    1. I asked the same question of principal of Alice Fong Yu, and she responded differently. She mentioned that they have an active Black student group. She talked about teaching students that Chinese language is for all subjects, not just for talking about Chinese people or culture. As an example, she brought up a presentation the students did on MLK day or Black History month--in Cantonese. I liked that.

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    2. I'm an Alice Fong Yu (AFY) parent. I can confirm that the school has a very active Black Student Union (BSU). Throughout the school year, the BSU hosts several events that include participation from all students. As another example, every October, AFY's students assemble to celebrate the Mexican holiday, Day of the Dead.

      AFY is not very diverse - its ethnic composition simply reflects its applicant pool. The principal and the AFY community don't have much control over the applicant pool, but we do everything we can to make sure diversity doesn't get worse. For example, during the transportation cuts last year, the entire AFY community lobbied the school district to maintain buses to and from the Bayview district in order to serve our current (and hopefully growing) African American community.

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  4. I want to sincerely thank you for your post and I appreciate your perspective. Many non-minorities may not appreciate why the head of school's comments were so upsetting, but I do. I'm sorry you had this experience and hope you find a great school for your child.

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  5. I think newer schools that are still establishing themselves need to just get bodies in the door - they can't be as choosy as more established schools. Therefore, the more sought after diverse families are harder to get as they have many offers and choices. Non-diverse families however are in such large supply that they may get shut out of more established schools so schools like Alta Vista is where they go. In 5 years if Alta Vista continues to thrive, it will nearly be impossible for white families to get in and will be able to be more choosy, so now is the best time for non-diverse families to get in with the eldest sibling before the school becomes to hard to get into. The issue really is that more than half of white families choose private causing a large amount of competition for each other. Diverse families are more likely to go public, although some go private of course.
    Despite all that, I must say the head of AV sounds a bit smug for my taste ...

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  6. I think Alta Vista follows the Silicon Valley ethos of being apolitical and in that vein, they see a certain type of math competency as the core to admission. People come from all over the world to work in Silicon Valley and the tech industry and what ties them all together is an excellerated competency in math. I think that there is an admissions test at Alta Vista and maybe they just don't get the numbers of minority student applicants to compete for the spots. It seems many white parents see their children as excellent candidates for math and science so they might be more apt to apply in larger numbers so when the testing filter is applied they are the ones that get the spots. Also, if there are very few minority students on campus, parents of children who are not white might not want to apply for the reasons the blogger stated and also because they wouldn't want their child to be the "only one" in their class whether it be the only African American, the only Latino, the only child of gay or lesbian parents. Diversity lends itself to more diversity. If the school does not have diversity as part of its mission - which it clearly does not - then it will probably take a long time - if ever - before it's diverse. It seems pretty transparent that it's not a value of the school. As it is a private and not public institution, it gets to creat its own value system and parents can choose to join it or not.

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  7. This is disappointing to hear. I like that they place math and science front and center, because I don't want my children to be incompetent at those areas that are more likely to put food on the table, no matter how culturally sensitive and artistically expressive they are. But it's cross-cultural awareness is crucial to living in California and in living in the world, so it's unfortunate if they are completely blowing that off.

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  8. Thanks for the comments and the shared anger or disappointment. I'm glad parents chimed in to share their experiences. BTW, I'm also still laughing about the Justin Bieber reference.

    After the Alta Vista school tour, I actually realized that a strong science program is much more important to me than I thought. My daughter is very curious about things related to science and math. I think she would do well in a school with project-based science curriculum. Do readers have any recommendations of schools with strong science programs?

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    1. When I toured CAIS (Chinese American International School, a private), their science classroom had a lab, and the teacher mentioned that she gets plenty of funding for equipment, unlike her experience at other schools.
      However, they have a more traditional teaching style. Also, if you are concerned about diversity, and inclusion of non-Chinese heritages, a concern another commenter expressed, their mission includes, "Embrace Chinese." I don't recall a similar statement about embracing the diversity of their students in their mission. My impression was that even the white students tended to identify as Chinese culturally.
      CAIS is an amazing school and especially impressive academically in math and science. I don't think you could do much better in terms of academic rigor.

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  9. My kids are at McKinley, which works with Mission Science Workshop (http://www.missionscienceworkshop.org/) for hands-on science education. In some years, they've come to us; lately we go to them, on foot. Mission Science also has great free Saturday workshops open to anybody and offers home schooling options. The kids love it (parents go on field trips there.) Hope that helps!

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  10. I am an Alta Vista parent and I feel strongly that your review of the school is highly unjust.
    First, you twice mention "empty class rooms". Did you visit after hours? If so, how do you know that the student body is not diverse.
    Second, the student body is incredibly diverse. I'm not sure what metric you want to use to measure a school's diversity, you don't make it clear. You seem to just be making snap judgments based on the skin color of the few people that you saw. My son's kindergarten class is 50% children of foreign born parents. There are three non-English native language families in a class of 12. And if you just want to use your crude metric of ethnic background, 50% of the kids are from mixed race families or non-traditional households.
    Third, I object to your statement that:
    "First and foremost, their approach to diversity is that they are not going to let you in just because you are a person of color. "
    That comes very close to implying that the school is not going to let in people of color. Which is utter nonsense.
    In short, I think your review is inflammatory and unfair. More to the point, it does a poor job of describing or reviewing the school. Spending two thirds of a post being indignant about one thing the head of school said does not make for a thorough review. Did it occur to you that you may have misunderstood his comments? Rather than ambush here him anonymously, you could have done your readers a service by engaging him in a real conversation about the school. Had you done so, you might have realized that Alta Vista has much to offer.

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    1. Questions about diversity are a real conversation about the school, and the head of school utterly shuts them down. If that is part of his vision for the school, then parents need to know that.

      I, frankly, had never seen anything like it. Alta Vista does not have "much to offer" people who are interested in their child doing more than surviving a blandly tolerant environment.

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    2. "surviving a blandly tolerant environment" - good grief. Identity politics.... what a trap. Ever think that the poster is just wrong and the reason Ed blew the question off is for a reason unrelated with her bone to pick?

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    3. Is Alta Vista a gifted and talented school?

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  11. Great science programs are harder to find in public schools because they are resource intensive but I've heard that Feinstein, Lawton, Sunset, and Sunnyside all have a commitment to science that might be greater than the average SFUSD school. Fairmount participates in Mission Science project and Alvarado has a hired science specialist at the school. San Francisco Community Alternative has a project based curriculum and so their science is integrated into a lot of hands on projects.
    Chinese American International School has an impressive science program, San Francisco School has a good science program, Nueva School on the peninsula, and of course the privates on the north side of town like Burkes and SF Day have good science programs.
    It would be great if SFUSD created a science/math magnet school along the lines of its immersion programs. I think there would be a lot of interest in that type of school, especially in San Francisco.

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  12. I've toured this school twice, and I have to agree with the criticism of the parent above. The school is diverse, you are wrong. And more to the point I think Ed's perspective is that they welcome all kids who apply with aptitude regardless of color, or ethnic background, the idea that in order to be truly diverse they have to go on and on and on and freaking on about valuing diversity is just ridiculous. People its about results, its not about your silly politics. Next time, try asking a parent from the school.... or better yet, ask a follow up question. Ed is probably smug because he personally tours everyone who applies and wants to head off a waste of time. Of course diversity is good, its SF. If we have to draw you a picture you've outed yourself as a pain in the butt parent. I'm sure he was glad to see you off. Too bad for your daughter though - what they do for kids there is pretty amazing.

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    1. I think your post is obnoxious. To treat diversity as some sort of "fluff" topic that the school doesn't need to think about or worry about is offensive. If the head of the school really cared about *children*, he would have a decent answer when asked about diversity. Diversity means a lot of things - It means differences of color, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, family organization (two-mom, two-dad), cultural, political, etc. To take a "math first, nothing else matters" approach to teaching and guiding students is pathetic.

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    2. I'm glad you are offended, because its a given. Its like walking into the Water Department in here and asking for a molecular breakdown of H2O. Its both self evident, and immaterial. Its obnoxious because this entire post is "I saw a couple of kids and they are all white" was wrong, and her anecdotal experience with Ed is demonstrably false. Diversity, is a subject from the 70's..... I'm a progressive, I welcome diversity, but the point is that both that school and their programs foster diversity. If you want to make your entire valuation about that, or you want Ed to stand on his head and babble about something that is pretty much standard policy in every single school in this city when you could be talking about something that isn't standard operating procedure then fine. Personally, I don't want to go to a school that bases its admission on these factors. BECAUSE, talent isn't indicative of race or heritage.... all SF kids are talented no matter their color. If you want to favor a chinese kid over an indian kid because the school lacks an indian, rather than say "who will fit best in this classroom" well then your evaluation metrics are silly.... and I openly mock them.

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    3. It seems that there is a way to articulate this "post-race", 100% talent metric admission process that is less hostile. The question at hand seems to be whether the head of school and the school itself is clear about its admissions goals which seem to be testing and locating the students who most fit the school's academic paradigm. Perhaps, the head of school should have said that they do not consider race as a factor of admission but rather interview and test applicants to see what students will best succeed at the school and in its environment and that, indeed through this process, the school has students coming from many different types of families. It seems rather careless to approach your admission policy and the building of community with such flippant responses. Clearly, if multiple commenters are having the same experience, the head of school is not doing the school justice if he is unable to be thoughtful about this question and also sensitive to the person who is asking it. Schools are place where children and their families come together to create community and for everyone involved to learn. If there is a lack of thought and discussion around real life experiences of race, gender, and class, a huge intellectual and academic gap is created. Even as technology advances, human beings are still, in many ways, bound by the circumstance of birth. A school that assumes that talented aren't, in some ways contextualized by the greater societal mores, might not be providing their students and their community to reflect on questions of diversity. What does diversity mean in 21st century San Francisco? It does mean something, maybe not what it meant 30 years ago, but as we still live in an increasingly heterogenous society, it does still mean something.

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  13. Anon at 3:53 pm ... I'm sure Ed was "glad to see (WOTM) off" as you suggest. But that's just what's so objectionable - his attitude. I don't think his smugness is justified at all.

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    1. I think you mistake competence for smugness. He's identifying a parent overly involved in something that is both vastly evident to anyone with eyes or who interacted with the teachers with parents, over their snap judgement and poorly thought through generalizations. One of the things AVS is sure to teach kids is the value of collecting data and thoughfully looking at the evidence. Its like walking in and asking "talk to me about the importance of footwear in public spaces, are you concerned with making sure there every child has thick soled organic cotton sandal or what?" Kids footwear choice is irrelevant as long as everyone has shoes. Likewise on this subject, why belabor diversity when the school has a diverse population and all the teachers embrace diversity. She's highlighting and tearing down a classic strawman argument in the face of contrary information. Its basically being miffed about Ed dismissing a non-issue. And for the record, AVS has hundreds of applicants last year and left 3 seats open. Its not about filling seats, its about evaluating each child's fit in the classroom and maintaining a healthy learning environment.

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    2. maybe 3 seats were left open because they couldn't get enough people to take their spots? AVS has been a back up school of sorts for many families given its newness, so maybe despite 100s applying, most went elsewhere (public or private)?

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  14. Interesting. I know some people who have a daughter there and after leaving both a public and a parochial school, they seem happy at AV. I don't personally have much knowledge of the school but I do think that a lot of "gut" feelings about schools can be really helpful. I've walked into a few public and known immediately that they weren't a good fit but I'm not entirely sure why.

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  15. I find that it is typically the most economically and culturally privileged people who think the question of diversity no longer has merit. Yes, if you are working at Google, you are living in a world where talent trumps all other factors and you can imagine the rest of the world is functioning that way, too. But in reality, many people are still living the histories of racism and sexism that were the bedrock of the 20th century. Ideally, the technology of the 21st is a tide that raises all boats not one that lets the majority of them sink into invisibility.

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  16. WOTM, Don't you understand? The scientists will rule and make everything better for the rest of us because they aren't influenced by silly things like race. And who needs an oboe player anyway? I just designed a robot that can play any instrument in the orchestra.

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  17. So I am the commenter with the "flippant" responses above. I've been to multiple fundraisers there, toured twice, and have done more research on the schools diversity than the poster of the article. Let me try a more direct response.

    The student body is diverse, there is appreciation for diversity in the classroom. She's wrong, that's it.

    Now, for a more nuanced description.

    Ed says "it sorts itself out" because a broad spectrum of parents apply there. I could list a ridiculous mix of ethnicities, incomes, and backgrounds making the cocktail of ridiculousness you guys are looking for but that would be patronizing. What's more important is the essence of this conversation and how it compares to other relative options, like Friends, Live Oak, Synergy, etc etc.

    Here is the deal. AVS is new. Their largest fundraiser of the year is for scholarship monies so a wider band of income levels can send their kid there. Like almost all SF parent groups the team there is focused on providing opportunity to the broadest group of families possible. There are many families there on scholarship already including some of my friends.

    It's why this post is especially offensive. The poster asked one question, got an unexpected response, and then went on to smear the school as though there is an actual choice between math and diversity.

    There isn't, its both.


    So what help is it going to be to my child (who for all you know is a gay chinese student with a learning disability)? In all private schools, the basics are there - multiple religions, multiple holidays, teacher sensitivity to perspecitve, and respect for family choices.

    Again - THIS IS BASIC.

    It's also a distraction, and a misallocation of resources. If you want a perfectly fair, culturally diverse, and selection criteria based on income and race and not how a classroom fits together, you should really be going to Public school. The public school system has 30 years experience providing the most fair, most focused, most invested system for providing the widest range of experience. No one is exclude on an economic basis..... 30 years of dedicated work and an algorythm from Stanford is where that path leads. And frankly, its worked. So if you really want schools to hire diversity officers and implement affirmative action selection criteria then you really should be going to public school of long standing privates who can afford it (like Synergy or Friends...... Pay for a high priced version of the public school system.

    Or you can assume all that happens and look for a system with a different pedagogy. Something about actual academic and intellectual rigor.

    But here is the deal. This whole discussion has little to do with AVS.

    Ed answered the diversity question with one simple answer "it sorts itself out" because when the school evaluates individuals for their classrooms it turns out that the kids that get in are incredibly diverse.

    By throwing her casual assertion on top of this school she disparages it. And, if she harms the school with this nonsense, it makes it harder of the families working to create scholarships for economically diverse families to get in.

    The opinion is this post is just ill informed, and its not a thoughtful reflection of what actually happens there.

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  18. Yow! The shrill and condescending defense of AVS isn't doing much to paint an appealing portrait of the school. (And, by the way, the OP isn't alone in her impressions, if you read through the responses.)

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  19. Perhaps, the head of school should simply say, "We have a diverse population which reflects the diversity of our applicant pool. AVS welcomes families and students from any and all backgrounds to apply and become part of our school. All students are administered the same tests and go through the same interview process and those who are a good fit are admitted. Our commitment to diversity is that we are colorblind when it comes to talent and ability." I think a statement like this would clarify the school's position and also elevate the diversity question to a different type of conversation. It's true that many of the privates simply have a diversity check list, which is not negative and is part of their mission statement. This is not the case at AVS and they need to clarify their thought process so it opens up discussion rather than just leaving the question unanswered.

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  20. "Diversity" is so much more than affirmative action (which would actually be the last thing I would be concerned about!). Any school touting their chops as a science at the forefront of the educational mission should be checking out the latest social science research about the importance of talking about diversity with our kids (read Nutureshock by Po Bronson if you want a good summary).

    My husband loved a school and in our interviews, they totally put me off as a black woman with their complete and utter blowoff of any questions I had ("We have Irish Heritage Day!").

    I needed to find a place where my kids would be comfortable being themselves and could see the whole wide stew of the world in the school. I wanted the teachers and the administration to make a point of talking about different family structures, skin tones, religions, you name it, etc. I want to see diverse books in the library. I want to see art on the walls that reflects the community or various traditions and there are simple things like markers and paint in various skin hues for self potraits In short, I didn't want my kids to have the version of school that I had while growing up in the suburbs. I live in San Francisco for a reason and a big part of it is that I can be who I am without worrying that I'm weird or different. We wind up going to public school and it's been fabulous in that regard. The academics have been great too and I feel like my kids get plenty of exposure to science.

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  21. I vacillate between finding diversity at a school a hugely important factor verses the quality of education my child will receive. I know that embracing different cultures is a vital skill for kids to learn, but not at the expense of why they are attending school which is academics, IMO. We are new to SF and have already learned a lot about diversity by walking the streets and visiting local playgrounds.

    I toured Flynn this last week, and one parent there expressed something interesting. She essentially said that our kids just work it out, they don't really see the differences among themselves as that stark. It's the parents who are overly concerned about diversity and how we can "all just get along," etc. Flynn came across as a very diverse and community-minded school. However, in the short time we were there for the tour, I just didn't see any academic strengths.

    And to speak to AVS, we toured there and actually started the application process. The tour itself was very personal (one-to-one, in fact) and the "screening" of my child was very much tailored to him and how they perceived him as a "learner." Yes, I can see how Ed may have lacked tact (or even proper perspective) in his response to the posed question, however I will say they know what to look for in a child's aptitude. I think they are more focused on their school model (which we loved, btw) than really championing its diversity.

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  22. My son is currently at AVS. He loves the math and science, but his favorite activity is Writer's Workshop. I point this out to stress that the Language Arts are not ignored at AVS. I would say they are on equal footing with math and science. The arts are vibrant as well.

    I should mention that we are a diverse family. We just weren't visibly diverse enough for the other privates, and so my son was rejected. It's like the other privates want to have it bill-board obvious about their "commitment" to diversity. I know minority families at established privates that really feel token there. Never mind the feeling of not being rich enough even if they are upper-middle class.

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  23. I hope the attitudes and tone of the above poster doesn't reflect poorly on AVS. I also am a concerned parent and applying there this year. But I do have some of the same concerns as everyone here.

    My own anxieties being pushed by this conversation about "how much diversity" is enough if we are lucky enough to compare schools in the end (only really matters if you get into more than one). I mean, if I really believe in Diversity (its one of the reasons we live here) why am I even considering a private school. If the end goal for is fairness, access, investment in a broad community - the public school system is the only real answer it seems to me. It has the economy of scale, infrastructure, etc. There are institutional injustices that have created disparities of experience in the public school system that are well known, but SF of all cities has been at the forefront of correcting them. If I really believe in true diversity I need some help getting on board and then sending in a $30,000 check every year. I'm torn because that $30,000 check basically hires another public school teacher anywhere we go. If the 10 of us on this thread chose a local public school we'd raise more money than 80% of the PTA's in this city - it would dramatically reform all schools - and they would all look a lot more like the already strong schools that are on everyone's wish list.

    So what exactly are you paying for?

    Seems to me like what we are paying for is distance from what fair access and actual diversity. Its not just state regulations (which btw are a byproduct of those goals). Why are we taking out private monies and creating this privileged ecosystem if access, fairness, and diversity are at the top of our list?

    Are we really all just splitting hairs when it comes to justice? Are the calls for more diversity in this kind of environment just the "guilt" we all feel at some level for abandoning our communities and our neighbors children? Can this process be any more stressful? Thanks for the help would love some insights here.

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    1. I so appreciate your comments. Just one thought, though: I don't think $30K would buy a public school teacher in SF (which I think is what you mean?). My guess is average salary is at least $65K or $70K (less for a new teacher of course) plus you have to assume about a 40% fringe rate so we're probably talking more like $90K minimum to buy a teacher. But I bring that up not to complain about public salaries or fringe (I think they are fair, actually) but just to maybe draw attention to the issue that what these PTA's are really trying to do is provide funding to make up for what is actually a dramatic, fundamental underfunding of public education. And only a few PTA's can do that and maybe a few schools get grants for having so many low-income kids and I'm not sure that really provides enough but the ones in-between, without the grants but without an Alvarado PTA that can raise $350K a year, are stuck. It is beyond shameful. I am ashamed to be a California taxpayer. And I am no fan of SFUSD administration but I think the teachers, principals, and PTA's are doing heroic work with the ridiculously low level of resources they are being forced to deal with.

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  24. Wonderful questions 12:05pm, and very thoughtful as well. I think yours is really the question at the heart of the public/private conflict. It can be very hard to acknowledge what you really believe or want, particularly when your child or children are affected by your thinking, along with the children of others - some like you, some not.

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  25. Is this the same Ed that was at Marin Prep? 50% of the people in SF are white. 25% of the kids in SF are white. 14% of the white kids go to private school. 11% go to SFUSD. Is it shocking that private schools are full of white kids? Still, this guy sounds like a real loser. I wouldn't want him educating my kids. Thanks for posting. Diversity does matter but I'm not sure you're going to find much of it at SF private schools.
    PS - my daughter is the only white kid in her class at a great public school. She's never noticed.

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    1. Wait, I'm confused by your numbers. Are you saying 14% of white kids in SF go to private school and 11% go to SFUSD? Wait do the rest of them go? Are they all below 5? I thought I had heard that SFUSD's school population was 11% White--is that what you're referring to?

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    2. I thought is was 40 percent of white kids that go to private school in SF.

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    3. I think the poster meant that 25% of the children in SF are white. Of that 25%, 14% go private and 11% go public. 14 plus 11 = 25. So if there are 100,000 children in SF, 25,000 of them are white. 14,000 go to private schools and 11,000 go to SFUSD. At least that's what I read by that statement. I think the majority of children in SFUSD are of Chinese decent (around 33%) and the next largest group are Latinos (around 23%).

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  26. This is the same Ed.

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  27. We are thrilled with AVS. They don't preach diversity, they just are diverse. The kids are from all over the world, not just CA. Their family tree project is incredible. They learn all about each other's nationalities. Now there is a school here that has a world view. So refreshing. Academically, our kids have come alive with thinking and experimenting. The art, music (Orf) and drama program is exceptional. Our K child joined the basketball team. They have already been in school plays and a science fair. The winter concert is next week. AVS sponsors wells in other countries so there is clean, drinking water. Again, a world view. Our second grader is allowed to read at her fourth grade level. In fact, she is encouraged to do so and not held back. Our kindergartener is reading, writing and chatting about drones, queens bees and anatomy. We have seen incredible learning in such a short time and are delighted that we made the switch. Lead a diverse life and your kids will understand diversity.

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  28. I thought it might be useful to add what Alta Vista says publicly on its website:

    "How diverse is Alta Vista?

    Alta Vista School is committed to developing a school community as diverse as the San Francisco community it serves. Creating an environment that is accepting of and welcoming to a variety of views and backgrounds is important to us. You can see that abundantly in the curriculum developed by our faculty, from social studies and art projects to ball games from other countries and cultures. We are proud to have a vibrant community welcoming to a diversity of backgrounds, including ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, and socio-economics. Many of our families are multicultural and multilingual, and some of our families/parents originate outside of the United States, including from Denmark, Ghana, Germany, Mexico, England, Italy and Guatemala."

    http://www.altavistaschoolsf.org/faqs

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  29. I hope this late entering comment will be useful to parents who want to give Alta Vista further consideration after reading above. This post has turned into an essay (sorry) because of my desire to provide a more nuanced view of diversity at Alta Vista School. My son started kindergarten at Alta Vista School in fall 2012. As a same sex couple, we considered sending our son to a school with more families that look like our own for all the obvious reasons. Instead, we chose Alta Vista for its amazing learning environment, buoyed by the hope that with cumulative effort and time the school will fully reflect the diversity of San Francisco. This was a bit of a leap of faith, read below for why we took it.

    First and foremost, we chose Alta Vista because like all parents, we wanted the best education within our means for our child. We felt the school’s experiential curriculum would complement our son’s learning style. You can read elsewhere about Alta Vista’s progressive education where you’ll find dedicated educators, engaging, project-based curriculum, and hands on learning. Yet with all that, we would not have considered Alta Vista School for a millisecond, had we not been confident that school community valued diversity, cultural sensitivity and inclusiveness. How did we know that? We first looked at the leadership of the school. The multi-cultural composition of the Board and their families, some who we personally knew, made it evident that this is group of parents whose interests are served by the creation of a diverse community. Then, we considered Ed Walters. Ed spent his youth traveling rural Latin America. His experience built an admiration for the technical ingenuity and inventiveness of Latin American communities, surviving with minimal means. This ethos is evident in countless ways at the school. All this is to say that these are not provincial folks. Lastly, we looked at ourselves, and recognized an opportunity. Within a young school like Alta Vista, the culture of the school is still a work in progress. Each family can choose to be an agent of change.

    Our experience over the past few months has proven that we made the right decision, and thus far, our trust was not misplaced. In the first weeks of school, we expressed a desire to expand the school’s collection of books to illustrate LGBT families. Note: the library has been built with book donations from families, and the lack of books about inclusive families was not by design. We brought books to our son’s teacher attention. She read every last book to the class, encouraged conversation about alternate family structures, and excitedly shared the books with other classroom teachers. She has actively sought our opinion about how to make classroom welcoming to our family, and displayed an interest in teaching tolerance – the bedrock of a diverse community. I was a bit concerned when our son came home singing a holiday song that mentioned Santa (we are jewish), until I heard the full holiday program included a Hebrew song. Maybe I am just looking for signs, but I see in that choice, a commitment to celebrate all cultures rather deny difference as was the style when I was in school. Further, the school actively reaches beyond its walls to teach kids the imperative of building a more just, equitable world. Read about ‘no water day’ on the school’s website. My son has since come home seeking ways that he can personally raise funds for Charitywater to bring a reliable source of fresh drinking water to other kids. The afterschool program fills mandarin and Spanish classes, evidence that school’s parent community values cultural diversity. Lastly, other parents arrived in force, sharing our conclusion about the school. The incoming 2012 student body includes biracial, adoptive, multi-lingual families, all choosing the superior education offered at Alta Vista.



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    1. This is a continuation of the above comment...
      Alta Vista has existed for 2.5 years. 2 years ago, the school consisted of 16 kids. The effort by the founding families and the staff, under the leadership of Ed Walters, to grow the school has been nothing less than Herculean. I am filled with gratitude for the labor performed by these people to build from the ground up a school for their children and mine. Yes, there is more work to be done. Luckily, many Alta Vista parents are up for the task. Within the realm of SF independent schools, a new school does not have the luxury of picking and choosing its student body. First, comes academic excellence and financial aid, and then a diverse student body follows. The demographics of SF private school student bodies indicate that the vast majority of applicants to non-parochial, private schools are white. There is considerable competition among private schools for the relatively small pool of kids of color, LGBT families, etc.. As Alta Vista’s reputation grows, those families and Portola neighborhood families will see Alta Vista as an attractive option, and no doubt the diversity of the school will increase. In the meantime, even if the student body is not as rainbow as x, y or z school, we have found Alta Vista School to be a welcoming place for our family and others who are willing to risk the unknowns of a new school for the benefits of small class sizes and a science-based, inquiry-friendly education.


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  30. I would like to chime in as yet another AVS parent in disagreement with the original poster. First of all (as someone else pointed out) AVS is a VERY new school. When the current K class was touring and applying the school was still in a few rooms of a church -despite the great curriculum it took a certain leap of faith to even apply to such a school and the school has had a much much lower number of applicants than other SF private schools. Thus, the admissions committee has not had the luxury of accepting a splattering of colors of the rainbow -one of each if you please as some of the other schools in SF have done. Trust me, this will change -in fact it may have already changed in this current application year. I have heard that applications are up tenfold from last year and it has become the first choice of several of these families -same school in a new building makes for a whole new admissions ballgame. Yet, despite the fact that the current K class was not hand picked to represent a rainbow my daughter's classmates represent several races, religions, nationalities, same-sex couples, adoptive families, different languages spoken at home, kids on financial aid, etc, etc -it really is a pretty diverse group. I interpret Ed's comment to mean that while they have not been able to pick and choose up to this point it has worked out in a way that the school does represent many backgrounds. I am positive that he did not mean that diversity is not important at the school! My daughter has had quite a bit of exposure to different cultures while at the school -the no water day where they learned about helping to distribute clean drinking water to those in need, they learned about day of the dead, etc. Diversity/cultural awareness is not absent at AVS and diversity does exist!

    AVS is an amazing school. The small class sizes are unmatched (16 kids w/ 2 teachers). The curriculum is an amazing blend of progressive and strong core basics which I feel is hard to find. The kids do math, reading, etc well above grade level and at the same time experience an amazing hands-on science curriculum. It's truly brilliant. A kid can never be bored in this school and all of the kids learn to read above grade level, do fractions in K, the list goes on and on! The teachers are amazingly dedicated, smart, talented. Ed is also amazing. A common scene while walking through the school is to see Ed with a group of kids making something or other -a rocket, a car -yes a real moving car. The idea is that kids can do anything! My daughter is so inspired each day. The special programs are great too -music, art, drama, Spanish. The reading specialist works with all of the kids. The community is great too. I really cannot say enough wonderful things about this school.

    There is a school for every family/every kid. If diversity is the single most important thing in a school to you I would recommend public school or a few of the private schools that have chosen diversity as the thing that defines them first and foremost. There are at least 2 schools in this city where this is the case. If the most important factor is an amazing academic program AND you want a school with a diverse student body then I recommend AVS.

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    1. OK, I'll bite. In your view, what 2 schools "have chosen diversity as the thing that defines them first and foremost?"

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  31. And by the way the outdoor playspace is now up and fabulous and includes a climbing wall, a build your own stuff to climb on element, and a standard play structure. And let's not ignore the incredible outdoor classroom and garden.

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  32. No thanks, AVS parents, I'm just not buying it ...

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  33. 8:26 -what exactly are you not buying? Why would several parents at the school bother to come to the schools defense we didn't feel passionately that the original poster is mistaken? Do you not "buy" that the head of school is not dismissive of the issue of diversity? Do you not "buy" that many AVS parents are thrilled with the school? Finally, I really don't get what your motive is to trash a school on this board -I don't know if anonymous who doesn't "buy" it is the original poster or not but really why are you so intent on posting negative comments about a school that you don't have to have anything to do with ever? It is clear why several of us AVS parents have come to the defense of the school and it's head but I really can't for the life of me understand your evil motive.

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  34. This topic appears to be getting quite heated. With all due respect, I don't think responsible parents choose a school solely on the basis of anonymous reviews on the sfkfiles anyway. Everyone is allowed their opinion, and not all schools are everyone's cup of tea and that's ok. In fact, if a few less people like a school, than the it's great for interested parents as it means less competition! No reason whatsoever to get frustrated with other posters or call them evil. I don't think any concerned parent has bad motives really - we all want what's best for our child and that's also different for each family.

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  35. Yes, I see what you are saying. You are right. I was just frustrated that individuals with no experience with the school other than perhaps having toured would take the time to argue with those of us who do have kids there and know the school best!

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