Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunrise Sunset: Rooftop

Rooftop, a K-8 school with two campuses on Twin Peaks, is one of the city’s alternative schools. As far as I can tell, that designation means mostly that it was not a neighborhood school years ago, back in an earlier iteration of a neighborhood-based school assignment system. Today, it remains a city-wide school for the purposes of enrollment, but I think it uses the same general curriculum as the rest of the district and has the same class sizes. Enrollment is about 600 and it’s routinely one of the most requested schools.

Tours are held at the Burnett St campus, which houses grades K-4. Our tour guide told us that the 5th grade is part of the elementary school, but housed at the second campus a few blocks away. I’m not sure if they hold tours of that second campus--I should have asked. On the tour with me about a week ago, there was a large group of parents, maybe 50 or more. It was probably one of the biggest tours I’ve been on. Maybe touring season is really ramping up, or maybe it’s that this centrally-located and highly requested school is on a lot of people’s must-tour lists. The tour was coordinated by a group of current parents. First they had us all take a seat in the school multi-purpose room and the principal, Jeffrey Burgos, said a few words. He seemed like a caring and experienced professional. I think it’s his first year at Rooftop. He mentioned he would send his children to Rooftop--if he could get them in! The materials about the school that we received also mentioned a Vice Principal, which I don’t think I’ve heard about at other schools.

After the Principal’s comments, the parents split us up into groups (it was very well organized, with color-coded name tags) and led us around the school. The kindergarten classes seemed creative, with engaged students, and particularly well-staffed. All had at least one and sometimes two parents volunteering. One teacher was doing an interesting lesson on geography, having each student read out the place where his or her shirt was made (Cambodia, Vietnam, El Salvador, etc.) and then place a pin in that place on a map.

We also saw a computer class (starts in 3rd grade, I believe), with a teacher who seemed very interested in helping the students use the technology to connect to other people and learn more about the world. The class was just 11 students; at the same time half the class is in the small computer lab, the other half is doing another activity. After visiting the computer class, we walked through some of the 6-8 bungalows Rooftop has, where we  saw the school’s library and and a class paid for by the PTA called Sensory Motor that looked interesting. It sounds like it includes physical activities and problem-solving to get kids working on their fine and gross motor skills and paying attention to the world around them. Materials passed out by the school say these skills have been found to promote academic achievement.

Rooftop is known for great test scores, and the principal and the parents also sounded really proud of the way the school focuses on social and emotional development. They also mentioned a program with reading buddies, where kindergarteners are paired with older students for reading time and to develop cross-grade friendships.

The tour guide emphasized a few things as she guided us around. First and foremost, she talked about parent involvement and the extensive role that parents play at Rooftop. In addition to parents leading tours and parents volunteering in classrooms, we also walked by an art closet with parents sorting items. Our tour guide also mentioned that a new teacher proved lacking a few years ago, and the parents really let it be known that they weren’t happy, which apparently started the process to get the teacher removed. The other main theme of the tour was art. The principal mentioned that the school’s philosophy is that there should be no one place for art, but that art should be part of the entire curriculum and school day. There is a visual arts instructor and it also sounds like there is a parent art coordinator who trains teachers and parent volunteers to present weekly art lessons. Middle school students have daily art lessons. In addition, Rooftop has an arts-focused afterschool program, Children’s Afterschool Arts (CASA). The program sounds amazing, with a focus on creative and performing arts, including the development of a full-length original play every year. Unfortunately, there aren't enough spaces for all interested students. Finally, it sounds like the staff are super committed. One example of staff commitment: when we toured the library, it became clear that it was not an actual paid workday for the librarian. She usually works three days a week, but had come in to “catch up with her work”.

We ended our tour in the school's charming garden and then went to yard to see morning circle. A teacher (or maybe the Assistant Principal?) made announcements, led the group in the pledge of allegiance, and then had the students link arms to sing a song. Sweet. Looking back at my notes, this all sounds great, but for some reason, I didn’t have the greatest reaction while on the tour. I think some of that had to do with the bungalows, which seemed a little depressing. In addition, as we stayed to ask questions for about 20 minutes after the morning circletime, the yard seemed rowdy and kind of unfocused, even though there were plenty of adults around. In fact, one kid got hurt while we were chatting with our tour guide and was bleeding, so had to be helped off the play yard by a teacher. Of course, rowdy playtime sounds good for releasing energy and accidents can happen anywhere so I don’t want that to color my impression but I’m afraid it might have.  Maybe it was just the incredibly high expectations I had for this school that left me a little deflated? Or the fact that the principal’s in his first year makes it hard for him to speak about the school’s accomplishments in a way that connected with me? Hard to tell. I think I may try to circle back and talk to a current family on this one--maybe set up a phone call via Parents for Public Schools? In the meantime, I’m not sure. While it’s not too far for us, it’s not a neighborhood school and I think it would involve a driving commute (I know there are buses, but I don’t know the details yet). So, Rooftop will be on the list, but I don’t think it will be our first choice.

Finally, one more note: Our tour guide mentioned that students eat lunch outside in the yard or the garden, unless it’s really raining, in which case they eat in their classrooms. I think I also might have heard that at another school as well, although now I can’t for the life of me remember which one as they are all blurring together!  Lunch outside on your own seems like a strange practice to me, especially when some other schools seem to pride themselves on having shifted recess before lunch so kids can get their ya-ya’s out and actually sit down at lunch (at a table) and focus on eating for a bit. But maybe this isn’t really that weird? Am I just focusing on something trivial here? Any thoughts from other parents?


  1. I really enjoyed my tour of Rooftop and thought the parents seemed organized and thoughtful. That said, I believe that tours are a great tool for honing in on schools that really feel like "home". While touring is incredibly time consuming, it is ultimately the best way to find 5 or 6 schools to list as top choices on our application forms. Statistics tell one story, the tour tells another and between the two, you start to create your list. That's the irony of selecting a schools in San Francisco, I think the choices drive people crazy and they just give up. If you can put anxiety aside, have a little flexibility, and trust your intuition, there are so many options!

  2. it is all so subjective. i toured claire lilienthal and was underwhelmed, but i know it is a coveted trophy school.

  3. I toured Clarendon and the school did not click with me and it is also a trophy school. It is really subjective and there are so many good choices now that I think families are really looking at a combination of factors like commute distance, before & after care, and start time in conjunction with how a school feels to them. It's possible that as many SFUSD elementary schools improve and add more socio-economic diversity into their mix that the notion of trophy school might give way to an array of good to excellent school options. With the new assignment system, I don't think we're in a climate of "I must have X, Y, or Z school or else I will leave the system," which seemed to be a prevailing attitude of 7 or 8 years ago.

  4. I toured Rooftop with expectations it would be high on my list. I too walked away feeling a bit let down. Amazing programs and happy kids but the K teachers did not seem engaging to me. I could not decipher who was a teacher vs. the 3-4 parents in the room. On the other hand the computer teacher was very enthusiastic as was the 1st grade teacher we met. The principal did leave a good impression. I also thought for such a large space, classes seemed cluttered, not in the creative sense but more of a fire hazard! It will still be on our list but not ranking as high as I originally planned.

  5. As the parent of a kindergartner at Rooftop, I have to say I couldn't be happier.

    My daughter reads and writes at second-grade level, so I was worried she was not going to be challenged. However, she seems to be completely stimulated and engaged by her classes--she seems to learn something new every day--and her teacher goes out of her way to provide her with differentiated education in the areas where she's ahead of her peers (second-grade reading-comprehension exercises, journal-writing, etc.).

    Prior to Rooftop, BTW, she attended a "trophy" private preschool where the teachers seemed to be so beholden to their ideology of "play-based learning" that they actually resented her for often wanting to read rather than play.

  6. I'm also a parent of a kindergartner at Rooftop.

    My son's teacher is engaged, committed and experienced. My child is having a wonderful experience at school. She is making friends, loves learning and wants to go to school- all positive signs.

    The kindergartners do eat lunch inside with supervision and then go out for recess afterwards.

    I do believe the school is working on providing more structure for recess. I know this is something that is getting attention.

    I think these so called "trophy" schools have a harder time meeting expectations and it's easy to feel underwhelmed because you have high expectations. Sure Rooftop isn't perfect, but what school really is.

  7. One thing about Rooftop is that the programs seem really integrated. For instance, the students go to the garden once per week all year long instead of just 10 or 12 times per year.

    Also students have weekly music lessons in the classroom with credentialed music instructor, Mrs. Flora Wong. The Rooftop site says K-2nd grade focuses on teaching musical concepts through singing and in 3rd and 5th grades, students learn to read music through lessons in playing the recorder. So the music program is really integrated through the school and not just in 8 or 10 times in the school year.

    Rooftop made an impression on me in this regard because most arts and gardening programs I have seen come in 8 - 10 week 1x per week sessions which means that the children will only have that subject for 8 to 10 times the entire year.

    West Portal and Chinese Immersion at DeAvila also have weekly music instruction.

    Like Rooftop, they also have good test scores so maybe there is a correlation :)

  8. I heard a rumor that all 3 K teachers are leaving. True? Any info?

    1. I also heard all the K teachers were leaving? Does anyone have any information on this?