Friday, December 28, 2012

Sunrise Sunset: A Few Notes on McKinley--and a List of Schools I Wish I Had Time to Tour

A commenter asked if I could share some notes on McKinley since apparently tours have ended and he or she won’t be able to get there. Unfortunately, I toured McKinley a year ago and my notes aren’t the greatest (and I believe the principal has changed since), but I’ll offer a brief description and maybe if any of the other blogging parents have been to McKinley, they could weigh in as well.

My tour at McKinley definitely stands out in my memory if for no other reason than because the building is cra-cra-cra-zy. It is some serious 70’s business in there! You enter through a very normal looking front hallway with an office, but that leads into an unusual space, an open sunken library that is the center of the school. The wood paneling and orange accents reminded me of a ski lodge (and also my parents’ kitchen but that’s another story). Classrooms radiate out from that center library area on the first floor, and then I think there’s a separate second floor you reach by stairway. There’s also a multi-purpose room that functions as a cafeteria, gym, and auditorium as needed. The floorplan could be funky and great, but parts of the school felt a little dilapidated and some of the classrooms felt a little crowded and cramped. One parent mentioned that the school was going to have new windows put in that should bring more light into classrooms, so that sounded great. The play yards are spacious but didn’t blow me away either; but again, I think a greening project is underway.  

I definitely perked up when talking to current parents leading the tour, who were incredibly enthusiastic about the school, possibly the most enthusiastic of all of the tour-giving parents I have met. According to them, some of the school’s highlights include the strong parent community committed to both academic excellence and equity for students from different backgrounds, the school’s relationship with Mission Science Workshop, a strong set of teachers, and the school’s Spanish and Mandarin afterschool immersion programs. I was especially interested in the Mission Science Workshop connection, but I can’t say I totally understand what the program offers, I would love to hear more if anyone out there wants to comment.

The Mission Science Workshop activities are funded by the McKinley PTA, which has gotten increasingly strong over the past few years. It sounds like they are turning into a real powerhouse and they also seem to have some of the most creative and fun-sounding events in the whole city. Several times over the past few years, they have hosted an event where candidates for citywide office like Mayor or Board of Education participate in a big car wash. I have heard that DogFest, the annual dog show slash festival held at Duboce Park in the spring (looks like the next DogFest is coming up April 13, 2013) is really fun AND raises $90,000, which is amazing (if that’s true, I think I heard that third-hand, so take that with a grain of salt). A note on the McKinley website mentions that a direct appeal to parents asking them to give this fall yielded $88,000. Wow. With only about 350 students, that works out to an average of about $250 per kid (not per family). That kind of blows me away. Of course, a lot of PTA money doesn’t mean much if it’s not spent well, but it certainly sounds like McKinley parents are active and committed participants at the school as well (there were quite a few parents participating on that tour).

I don't have much on arts or other extras but I did gather some limited information about the afterschool program. It sounds like there are clubs that meet until 3, the Mandarin and Spanish immersion programs are offered afterschool 4 days a week, and there’s also a regular non-immersion afterschool program that goes from 1:50 (McKinley has an early start time so also an early end time) until 6. I don’t think I got any information on cost.

So, that’s what I have on McKinley. I didn’t fall in love with the building the same way I did some other schools, but there’s a lot to like. Oh! And a family I know socially told me that one of their kid’s best teachers at another school is now at McKinley--hard to beat that.

Any other thoughts on McKinley?

As for me, there are a number of schools I wish I had time to tour before the deadline to enter the lottery, but I don’t think I’ll get to all of them. Below are the top ones I’d like to get to--has anyone out there been on a tour at any of these? Any current parents want to offer their perspective? Any insights would be great.

Dianne Feinstein
Rosa Parks (JBBP and General Education)
Harvey Milk


  1. I toured Di Fi and was very impressed. I don't think it's the best choice for my family (due to early start, lack of after care and proximity to our home) but the school had a positive feel to it. The facilities are brand new and beautiful- huge library/computer lab, spacious and bright classrooms (K grade have attached bathrooms), wonderful play structures on a huge yard etc. Kinders have their own play area with a nice structure. The principal has been there since she opened the school several years ago. She was very friendly and has a strong science background. She started the tour in the library/computer lab and showed a power point about Di Fi test scores, restorative practices, PTA, enrichment activities etc. She mentioned that the real life Di Fi donates a nice chunk of change to the school. All the tour guide parents were very happy with the school. Our family friends send their daughter to Di Fi and are very happy. The big issue for me is the after care- it fills up quickly and there is only the one program - I think it's GLO but not 100% sure. In fact our family friends must pick up their daughter at 1:50 everyday! Impossible for me to do...Hope this helps.

  2. Thanks! Bummer about the limited afterschool spots.

  3. Thanks for the McKinley review. Super helpful.

  4. I toured McKinley in December and yes, that building is crazy! The principle is new this year and I thought she was great. She is young and super enthusiastic. I've been on a number of tours and I thought she was one of the most impressive principals I saw. She was very articulate and answered some pretty tough questions head-on. I could feel her love for education.

  5. My kids are at Mckinley. I'm not sure how the school building in crazy, except that the classrooms are sort of like pods around a central library. Maybe it the 70s orange color that gave people the 70's sense. One of these days the money will come through for a new exterior paint job.

    The new principal has been good. She seems to care deeply but admits she's still learning from the community. That seems fair. I liked the old principal too, who had a completely different style.

  6. My son is in the 3rd grade at McKinley after a transfer mid-1st grade from Paul Revere. He loves it as do I. The after school program is excellent and gears to both academeics and enrichment and yes, the Mission Science connection is strong and my son has a HUGE interest in science. The PTA does indeed have it's act together. The principal has been very good, as she was slipping into the shoes of a very popular leaving principal. The school is mixed with evey ethnicity and income range and provides a safe learning environment. I have to say I feel like I can take a breather after getting out of Revere, which just wasn't a fit for us and landing at McKinley, where my son has thrived. Both the principal, the PTA and the afterschool programs work well with each other and often themes run smoothly through the day, as do concerns. I feel like we won the lottery, getting into this school. And getting into the afterschool program isn't hard, you just have to be on the ball about meeting the deadlines. My son loves his Lego group on Friday, his beatboxing class and his nature clsses he had last year.