Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"So, this is like a working class school?" - Leaving some hidden gems hidden

Since mid-October I’ve attended one Kindergarten fair, the SFUSD enrollment fair, 4 public school tours and 3 private school tour totaling 22 hours of my time. This of course does not include the time spent discussing schools with my husband, friends and family and doing "research." From now and way into December, each week I have 1-3 school tours and/or open houses scheduled. Is it just me or is this getting ridiculous?

What I’ve been noticing on these tours is that I’m often in a crowd of white parents with a sprinkling of Asian parents asking questions about teacher credentials, spaces in the after school program, details about the specific artists that are being taught about in the arts programs, and the amount of money raised by the PTO. I have also asked our large extended family where their kids are going and, for the most part, they are going to their neighborhood schools (or just a little further) mostly in the Southeast. I even learned that the only reason two of my nieces go to Rooftop is that when the eldest daughter got her assignment years ago and her mom went to the district to get her transferred to the neighborhood school, the person helping her said, “I think you should think about this. This is the school everyone is trying to get into.”

The real questions that comes to mind during these tours is, who has the time to actually go on tours? Who can take time off of work to spend 1 – 3 hours listening to people boast about their school, ask 20 questions, create a spreadsheet of all the different pluses and deltas of the school and then crunch any necessary data available? Who has the resources to schlep their kids more than 15 minutes away from home to attend a “better” school? And while apparently “I do,” the system just feels so… annoying.

So I found a hidden gem in SF a few weeks ago. I had a private tour (nobody else showed up) with the principal of an amazing school, that, unfortunately, is a little too far from our home. None of the kids in any of the classrooms I attended were sitting in their chairs. Two kindergarten classes were doing movement activities. Two classes were having dance class in the cafeteria and auditorium. Two classes were having circle time on the floor. The school seemed vibrant, diverse. The teachers didn’t look stressed. The classes are under-enrolled so the teacher to student ratio is actually better than almost all the other schools I toured. The principal talked about the plethora of arts opportunities they had and collaborations with a number of non-profits and a local university. She spoke about their cultural and language programs that would give my daughter an opportunity to learn about her cultural heritages taught by women and men that look like her!

The principal laughed as she told me about a parent at a Kindergarten fair that asked her, “So, this is like a working class school?” And she replied something like, “Yea. It’s a neighborhood school.” I also spoke to someone I know who is involved in the parent community and has an older child at the school. She loves the school and talked highly of all the bilingual programs. She and the principal said my daughter, even as a fluent English speaker, could thrive in these programs.

And, I felt conflicted about sharing this school with this online community. With all the talk about “turning over schools” and “finding hidden gems,” all I want to do is leave this great school for the kids that already attend it and the kids in the neighborhood that go.

27 comments:

  1. I thought the whole point of this blog was to share your information about schools with other parents. Don't you think that there are parents who can't go to lots of tours and don't have all the resources that you mention that could benefit from knowing about this school? Wouldn't the school itself benefit from extra attention or is already so perfect that nothing could be improved upon?

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    1. I'm glad you commented, because those are great questions. But, the question I have to pose is, who is really on this blog? With all the anonymity I'm getting the impression that the folks reading, or still reading this blog, are parents that are fairly well-resourced, going on tons of tours and are spending lots of time doing research. Or it's parents that like to talk education and whose kids already go to school and have their schools chosen. Please tell me if you are reading this and are not in these two categories. I want to hear from you!

      The school is not perfect. But, after reading so many comments on this blog, I am truely annoyed by the belief that keeps getting thrown out there that schools NEED Asian and White middle-class to rich parents and kids to come in to improve the school.

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  2. i read this blog regularly (i don't comment as much). I toured 5 schools in all, and I am frankly too time crunched to do more. I am so glad this blog is helping me think of things i otherwise wouldn't. My school strategy so far has been an extensive spreadsheet, web research, toured 5 schools and don't plan to do anymore, am putting 6 on my list and hoping for the best. My main criteria has been logistics, after school care and school scores (i would love to factor in philosophies, the vibe i get from other parents and teachers, etc but frankly, that just makes my life hell). Unfortunately even though my criteria is logistics (i want it close to home as i have my younger kids to think about too) three of the schools on my list are trophy schools (they happen to be the closest--clarendon, miraloma and west portal). so this blog is giving me great insights into schools like Sloat. So there you go, you heard from me. And i am really thankful for this blog as it gives me some idea of other schools.

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  3. Is it Sanchez School? I've heard great things.

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  4. this is a really interesting conversation. I have several friends that know I am writing for SF K Files and on more than one occasion they have said to me "oh, please don't write about XXXX school" ...such competition and fear. The same friends work strict 9-5 jobs or several work down south so touring is not an option and they are relying on others inputs. We are in still close with all of our newborn mommy group families and each family member is contributing two schools to our separate info base.
    I felt teased by reading the post. I was so excited to hear about this 'hidden gem' but then sad to have found it not shared. Perhaps in the future just don't say anything at all.

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  5. I am of the group who can't take the time off from work to tour. I read this blog regularly and am extremely grateful to the bloggers for taking the time to post their thoughts. From the few tours we did, I think there's a lot of 'luck in the draw' in developing a good impression from what you see. We saw quite a few empty classrooms on one tour due to field trips. Seeing art classes at a non-immersion school resonated more than seeing a language immersion class (even though language immersion is on our list of important criteria.)

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  6. I've been on so many tours I can't count any more. Yes, tours are attended by resourced parents whose schedules are fairly flexible and who are really focused on education. Having more affluent families and more Chinese families does not make a school better. Rather, having more affluent families and more Chinese families makes a school's overall test scores look better, because statistically, those populations are more likely to test well on average. Test scores for kids in your family's demographic tell more than overall test scores. Whether your family will fit in at a school is a different question--one that you can get a better sense of by touring.

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  7. I just went on another school tour and I was a little afraid of what comments would await me when I returned. I'm sorry to the poster who I offended. It is hard not to offend people when you talk about race and class, especially when you are writing in this format. The politics of race and class in SFUSD's student assignment system could be a dissertation.

    It's also nice to hear that there are some parents who, in a way, "need" this blog to figure out their school situation because they cannot tour. I'm going to talk to my friend and/or the principal at the school to see what they think about getting their name out there more as a great school. Both of them, by the way, mentioned how they felt the school was a kind of "hidden gem." Do hidden gems want to stay hidden?

    I wrote this blog post weeks ago and didn't post it for so long because I was actually thinking I shouldn't post at all. But I posted it anyways because I needed to vent some of my frustrations about the Student Assignment System and I am just trying to figure this out for myself...

    In a way, it's kind of like gentrification. This hidden gem is awesome and so was The Mission back-in-the-day. Once The Mission became the "hot spot" and there was more and more demand for housing in the area the prices shot up. Communities were displaced and the whole culture of the area changed. We can argue about whether or not it changed for the better or for the worse, but it definitely changed. And once a school gets hot and starts attracting a different demographic of people... what happens? We affect the school environment we enter.

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    1. Hi,
      It sounds like you found a school that you really like which is great. As it has been said many times before, schools are subjective.
      I do think that if you are committed to writing for this blog, the intent of the blog is to share rather than withhold information. All the writers are writing from their points of view and their own set of school criteria which is a great asset for parents reading the blog who don't have time to tour. When the writers tell the readers what they are looking for and how a school fits with their "ideal," it is really helpful. We all have frustrations with the assignment system, that was the origins of this blog, but I think you're frustrated more by some of the threads and assumptions on the blog. Yes, I would agree that from what I've read, many parents do feel that having middle income parents at a school give it resources and advantages. I personally think middle class families can bring resources in terms of supplementing programs and adding school support. But that doesn't mean that I think a school suffers or is inherently bad if there aren't those economic resources available. I think a huge amount of the feel of school depends on the teachers, the principal, and the commitment of parents - whatever their economic status. I do think parents seek schools that reflect back to them their own socio-economic status in some way. For instance, white, middle class people might want to see at least a few other white, middle class students at a school to feel comfortable. In the same way that a Latino, middle class parent might want to see other middle class, Latinos in the classroom. But that's obviously pure speculation on my part.
      At any rate, it's great you found a school and everyone wins if parents like you who are involved and also able to decide for themselves what is best for their child stay in the district.

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  8. I appreciate what you have done to share what you've learned with other parents, although I'm not sure why you would even bother to mention what you don't want to share. Be that as it may, I don't think you have to worry about a hidden gem being "found" just by posting the name on SF K Files. If you manage to get a few more people to consider a school they might have otherwise overlooked, I think that helps the school. A school that is chronically underenrolled could eventually be on the chopping block. So you are not doing it any favors by keeping the name out of your post.

    I don't really believe in the idea of "hidden gems". There are many reasons why a good school could be underenrolled. Local parents know about their neighborhood schools. If they wanted their children to attend those schools that are not currently overenrolled, they would. But we've created a school system with a great variability of offerings so neighborhood schools have lost some of their appeal.

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  9. I'm pretty sure you're talking about Longfellow.

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  10. Ha. I was going to say Guadalupe or the very charming Junipero Serra. But let me say that I appreciate your presence on this blog and your willingness to tackle tough topics. The issue you raise is a real one -- working-class parents fearing that wealthier parents will take over, that a school serving their kids very nicely, thank you very much, will be stretched in directions that it doesn't have the resources for or that don't accord with their values. Now, it's PUBLIC school, so everyone's values have to be accommodated to some extent, but it is entirely reasonable that some neighborhood schools might not be hankering to become the next big thing.

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  11. One factor as far as the hidden gem vs. the next big thing is that schools get funded by enrollment. If as you say classes are under enrolled, it sounds like the school could use a bit of press. I think its a really sad thing that being under the radar can be a liability, but it seems a real factor. (Though I also really appreciate your honesty about the racial issues that come up when touring)

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  12. As a parent of an incoming kindergartener AND someone who is completely new to the city (moved here in July), rest assured that I have found this blog to be very resourceful. I also find the controversial topics to be intriguing, and the exchange of ideas/opinions here has led me to be MORE open-minded, more SF-like in a way, than my conservative southern upbringing. I love the diversity here and the more I think about it and continue the school search, the more important that is becoming to me as we look for a good fit.

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  13. I think you should feel free to keep the hidden gem info to yourself because at the end of the day, your family's hidden gem won't be anyone else's. If you mentioned the school's name, everyone would be "what ... you liked that school?" and it would influence you negatively. I love a small school that is frankly perfect and is one no one's radar and I'm also keeping it that way ...

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  14. I really don't think we should use the term "hidden" gem. A school is a gem because someone cares about it and puts thought and effort into it. Maybe it's just a school that's not talked frequently addressed on this blog so it's not in conversation here. That doesn't mean it's hidden from the students and families that love it.
    There are many schools aound in the SE that are great and not talked about here. ER Talyor, Longfellow, Guadelupe, Malcolm X Academny, Spanish Immersion at Bret Harte. In addition, there are many great schools in the north and western parts of town that are never mentioned on this blog like Arogonne and Francis Scott Key and Chin. I think this blog is realy focused on a certain set of schools which are located near the central south east part of town.

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  15. WOTM, do you find reviews on this site helpful? You bring a lot to this conversation and I hope you keep posting. I do think it's great that we even get to have these conversations. I doubt they are going on in a lot of other cities.

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  16. I love this review for having a POV and not being overly neutral - we're not robots, we're humans and I related to this review more than any other on SFK files this year. I appreciate the efforts of the other bloggers but the posts are "just the facts m'am" and lacking a voice, perhaps afraid not to offend anyone, and it has a muzzling effect. This blog became so popular because Amy extremely naked in her anxiety and emotions and the roller coaster that is this crazy K search, she won us over because she showed her vulnerability. Go WOTM go ... pick up the torch and run!

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  17. These comments are great. My initial post was very much a gut-reaction to things being said on the site, my observations during school tours and what I've been really feeling about the city's changing demographics. I'm just trying to figure this stuff out. I appreciate the support and the push back. There were things that I didn't think about... like under enrollment and, actually, I'm not really sure if I used the term correctly. What constitutes under enrollment in SFUSD? Maybe I will stop using the term "hidden gem."

    I also appreciate the comments that just reminded me that the readers have many different backgrounds and political beliefs. A lot of racist and classist stuff gets said on this blog and really goes unchecked. It's good to know that there are folks reading who think differently.

    I wish readers would consider creating a user name vs. remaining completely anonymous. As much as y'all are following the search of all the different bloggers it would be nice to start to learn more about how y'all are doing in your search.

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  18. Sorry, I hadn't realized there was a way to be non-anonymous without being tied to your real name! I'll try to be consistent. It's interesting because you and I are looking at some of the same schools (though I'm not looking at any privates) but I think we're looking for different things out of them.

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  19. I thought this post was really interesting back when you posted it. Now that you've chosen Hamlin for your child, do you think you could help out those of us who don't have the option to leave SFUSD and name the school you didn't want people to know about? I don't want to ruin anything for anyone and I would gladly send my child to our own neighborhood school, but we didn't get it.

    It could also help the school and the community it already serves. If it truly is under-enrolled, it could be slated for closure, as New Traditions was just a few years ago. Thanks.

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    1. Agree. Would love to know what it is now that you are not a public school parent and have nothing to lose by naming what sounds like a nice little school.

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    2. I got the impression that she didn't want to name it not to save it for her child/family but specifically so that it wouldn't be "spoiled" by outsiders, like all of us. It rubbed the wrong way when she posted originally and it does even more now that she's gone private.

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    3. 11:20, I think you're totally right about why she didn't want to give the name of the school. And I understand her concerns in a general sort of thinking about how the world works sense. But now that we're talking about reality here and she's going to a very exclusive private school with generous financial aid, I wonder if that has changed her perspective. I think she may have gotten the sense that not everyone is as lucky as her--a lot of other parents are lamenting on this blog and at my child's preschool the fact that they didn't get any of their choices (public or private or parochial). Some put down 20 options and got a school across town. We got a school far down on our (long) list that seems just OK, but not that warm of an environment and not that convenient. We will do Round 2 and would love to know about any more schools to check out. I also know a family that in no way can afford private school and frankly, didn't have the time needed to go through the application process or to do much research. They put down a lot (A LOT) of options and they were assigned Muir, which is super far from them and inconvenient. Those parents are really nice people, not trying to destroy anything, and they could be close by this school she doesn't want to name and just might not know about this school and maybe it would be a good option for their kid. We're going to stick it out at our assigned school if we don't get anything better, but the other family is thinking about moving, which is not what they want. They want to support SFUSD and urban public education, they just feel like they can't do Muir, it's too far and the things they hear about the capacity of the teachers to deal with so many kids with trauma in their lives just makes them too nervous. It just seems like it would be a nice thing for her to do to name the school now.

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  20. "It just seems like it would be a nice thing for her to do to name the school now."

    Why doesn't everyone just do their own research and figure out where to send your child. Does anyone really thing this unnamed school is that much a secret and that knowing the name of this top secret school is going to change anything significantly. The level of reliance on this blog and those who post is absolutely insane.

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    1. This blog is a part of the research and information is so fragmented out there, and not everyone has the time and resources to be so laser focused.I doubt few people are completely reliant on this blog, but it has so much input and back and forth that it is a must visit in the school search. I actually checked out some schools both public and private that I never even knew of or originally considered based on this blog. Of course this school isn't do or die but people are just curious and I think WOTM has tried to be honest in her posts, if not always immediately forthcoming.

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    2. Okay so my comment earlier today got deleted, fair enough. I'll refrain from my opinions on the blogger but I do think she shouldn't dangle a potentially great school in front of parents and then not reveal it. I thought we were sharing information here, not teasing each other.

      I just don't agree that it would be bad for the school or for its students, whatever school it might be, to not let more people know about it.

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