Monday, December 3, 2012

Bernal visits SF Community School (SFC)

I was warmly greeted by the head of school, Nora, and directed to the brightly painted bungalow that housed the library.

I am equating this school search to our reason house hunt - there are gong to have to be concessions, but what concessions am I willing to live with? Obviously I knew this but today it just hit me. Everything was sounding 'perfect, promising' etc and then BOOM - no foreign language! Can I be ok with this for K-8 (I don't think so).

SFC is a public, kindergarten - eighth grade school located in the Excelsior District. The school has been operating since 1972. The school is "small by design" at 290 kids. School hours are 9:15 - 3:30 for K-4/5 and 8:55 - 3:35 for 5/6 - 8th grade. School gets out at 2:15 PM on Tuesdays for staff development/collaboration. There is no formal AM program but there are at least two adults supervising on the yard starting at 8:30 AM. The after-school program is through EXCEL (5/week). The school is next to the Boys & Girls Club and that is an after-school option  (but kids must be at least six years old).

SFC is teacher run and project based (only school in district with this model).

What is project-based learning?
For the second and fourth quarter , children participate in a nine-week, challenge based, project learning curriculum. During this time, the kids still have their core classes (in the AM) and the afternoons are dedicated to the project.  At the end of the nine weeks, there is a project open house where the children display their projects. The next one is on Thursday, December 20th (time of day had not been set).
All of the students create a portfolio which includes all of their best work. Eighth graders have a formal portfolio presentation.

What does it mean to be teacher run?
All decisions are based on a committee and all staff are involved in school-wide decisions.The head of school is a three-year, rotating position and is someone who has been a teacher there.  This is the current head of schools first year in this year. (she is a middle school math teacher)

There are mixed grade and some single grade classrooms. Class size is never more than 25 students. Classes are K, K/1, 1 - 2, 2/3, 3 - 4, 4/5, 5, etc, etc. Teachers are will children for two years.

Every teacher is trained in Balanced Literacy out of Teachers College in NY. Balanced Literacy is not a curriculum, but rather an approach or philosophy. From what I understand, SFSUD is planning on adopting this in the next few years but SFC has already been doing this for the past two year. Each classroom has their own Balanced Literacy 'library'.

SFC has been selected (as one of three)  restoration practices demonstration school. Here is some more info on restorative practices. Taken from Heathier SF website: "Restorative Practices, when broadly and consistently implemented, will promote and strengthen positive school culture and enhance pro-social relationships within the school community.   An improved sense of community will significantly decrease the need for suspensions, expulsions and time that students are excluded from instruction due to behavior infractions. This shift in practice will result in a culture which is inclusive, builds fair process into decision-making practices, and facilitates students learning to address the impact of their actions through a restorative approach.   Students will learn to accept accountability, repair the harm their actions caused, recognize their role in maintaining a safe school environment, build upon their personal relationships in the school community and recognize their role as a positive contributing member of the school community.   Ultimately, they will learn to make positive, productive, and effective choices in response to situations they may encounter in the future."

The school is a Parent Action Committee (PAC) which raises between 80-100K annually. SFC put one hundred percent of money received from SFSUD goes to teacher salaries so therefore PAC money goes to office supplies, teacher project planning days, field trips, outdoor learning opportunities.

Arts: K-6, 1/week through a 10-week artist in residence program
Library: 1/week (PT librarian)
Music: 4th grade and up
Garden: K-5, every other week
Sports: K-4/5, weekly in a shared gymnasium with the Boys & Girls Club
No foreign languages

Three of the classrooms I peeked into were working on literacy either in small group or individual instruction. I am definitely realizing that this part of the school process is telling me the least. Over and over I walk into a class and it tells me nothing. Anyway, the classrooms were large and bright.
The 4th grade class was about to start science but again were were in and out before I could gather anything.

Some interesting PROS and a few CONS...not sure which outweighs which....


  1. I am afraid that if you want a foreign language instruction, but not immersion, the only real option is private. Our SF public schools have a feast-or-famine approach to language instruction. Either your child gets immersed OR your child gets no language instruction until 9th grade. The only public options that offer non-immersion language are charters -- Edison, which I believe offers Spanish language instruction in the lower grades and may be slowly rolling it out to higher grades (check with them), and Gateway Middle, which offers Spanish language instruction in 7th and 8th grade. The real benefit of SF Community is for those of us who don't want to do immersion but do want a small class/small grade middle school experience. SF Community is a good option for that. I have friends who've been very happy with it. Of course, the real question is whether you can tell that your kid needs that small-grade middle school experience. In retrospect, we wish we had realized our elder kid did need that. We would have pushed harder to go to SF Community for K. But how much Monday morning quarterbacking can one do?

  2. What about Japanese at Clarendon and JBBP or Italian at Clarendon? These are of the FLES model, not immersion. Or even at an immersion school (CIS) the FLES mandarin that gets introduced in second grade? Also, just toured middle schools and Roosevelt is adding Mandarin.

  3. Some schools offer language after school. McKinley has a 4 day per week Spanish or Mandarin program. Miraloma offers a 3 day per week program. I think Sunnyside also offers some after school language, too. I don't know anyone who has participated in these programs but they are there.
    Yes, SF Community is definitely a good option for those wanting consistently smaller classes.

    I think if there was strong parent interest, SFC seems like a school where parents could organize some sort of after-school language program like they have done at other publics. So if you did end up at SF Community and wanted some language and had some other interested parents, it seems like a community that would be open to putting something in place.

  4. hi, i'm an sfc parent, just want to clarify a few things. projects incorporate multiple subjects, and a fair amount of arts too. for example, a 4th grade health and human body project could involve hiking all the peaks of SF while measuring and mapping the route, studying the respiratory and circulatory system and documenting the effects on the students' fitness, and creating an illustrated guidebook. teacher run leadership model - i think she meant to say, decisions are based on consensus. sports - K-4 students have PE with SFC's fabulous PE teacher once a week (it's not thru the Boys and Girls Club), there are also after school sports. starting in grade 5 or 6 there is daily PE for 6-8, and opportunity to participate in middle school sports teams - soccer, basketball and track. we've been very happy with the school.

  5. what I meant about the Boys and Girls club was we were told they share the gym (not that the PE is run by B & G club)

  6. Yes, it's a shared, full size gym in the Boys and Girls Club building, which is on the SFC school site. SFC has exclusive use of it until the Club opens in the afternoon, for PE, assemblies etc.