Thursday, December 19, 2013

DadintheFog - Dianne Feinstein Tour

We received the best Christmas present ever a few weeks early this year:  We have completed all of our kindergarten tours and can now chill over the holidays.  Between my husband and me, we toured 17 schools and attended multiple open houses, teacher panels, school events, and kindergarten strategy meetings.

In the end, our neighborhood school – Dianne Feinstein – was quite possibly our favorite public school.  Without a doubt, Dianne Feinstein is one of the nicest buildings in the district.  The building is only 8 years old and replaced the former Parkside Elementary.  The space is extremely green in design, with natural light throughout.  The day of our tour was dark and stormy, but inside the space still felt bright and welcoming.  The building and classrooms are large, with a beautiful multipurpose room (including stage), art room, huge outdoor play area and a modern library complete with large computer lab.

Principal Michelle Chang has been at the school since it opened and hired all of the staff.  She spoke very eloquently on her vision for the school.  The school utilizes the Caring School Community curriculum in addition to Restorative Practices and Kimochis (feelings based role-play) to help develop their intellectual and emotional cores while engaging the students directly with the school.  They are already in their first year of implementing Common Core for English, with teachers gaining more freedom in their daily lesson plans.   The school focuses on differential learning and she often spoke of ensuring that all kids at level or above.

Principal Chang was a scientist prior to becoming a teacher and brings her love of science to the school.  All of the upper grade teachers are “Wise Trained” in science via collaboration with UCSF.  Several teachers have also engaged with Stanford on science and writing course.

The school has a strong arts program and kids are offered 16 weeks each of visual art, music, creative writing, dance and movement.  They have an outdoor/garden instructor.  Overall, the school looked great, felt great and hit most of our requirements.  The parent tour guide obviously loved the school and felt it met her family’s needs.

My only concerns for the school stem from the aftercare and after school enrichment.  GLO provides the aftercare and offers several options for enrichment classes.  The PTA also provides enrichment through a Mandarin program (no language requirement) and a Russian Heritage program (must be fluent in Russian). For our family, we would love to see Spanish as an option. However, as with all of the other schools on the West side, Spanish is not offered.  Additionally, we heard rumors during our tours of division within the PTA between the two programs.  But when questioned directly, those providing the rumors never could provide specifics.  (If any current parents have info, please add your comments …)

I really wish we would have been able to tour this school earlier in the process.  The tour season started at Dianne Feinstein later than at most other schools, and by the time the sign-up was available online, we were left with a fairly late date.  If we would have seen our neighborhood school earlier, we probably would have trimmed our tour list substantially.

DadintheFog Statistics:
4 Kindergarten Classes (88 spots, around spaces 39 taken by siblings)
School Enrollment:  520 students
Times:  7:50 am to 1:50 pm  (7:30 am to 7:50 am drop off)
Aftercare:  GLO, PTA managed Enrichment programs
Total Requests (Fall 2013 Start, Round 1):  656  (117 in 1st Choice)
API Score (Growth 2013):  892
Ethnic Breakdown (from API):             
                African American                                          4%
                American Indian/Alaskan Native:              0%
                Asian:                                                           35%
                Filipino:                                                         3%
                Hispanic/Latino:                                          10%
                Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander:             1%
                White:                                                           35%
                2 or More Races:                                           5%
English Learners:                                           21%
Free/Reduced Lunch Eligible:                     34%
Parents Completing College/Grad School: 43% / 30%
PTA Raised (per Charitycheck):  $150,986 / $470 per student

Request for Feedback on Gateway Middle School

We have received another request for feedback. A family doing the middle school search has written in to ask if any families with children at Gateway Middle School could share their experiences. The parents also asked us to solicit other suggestions for a middle school (public) with small class sizes or one that would otherwise provide a supportive environment for a student with ADHD. What say you, parent readers? Any suggestions? Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Immersion Schools Language Test

I'm writing this post for any of you that are considering Immersion Schools and are curious about the language test at SFUSD you can opt to have your child take.  It seems like everyone we spoke with had different answers to the same questions regarding the test.  Now having been thru the process I'm still confused. (Thank you SFUSD!)

We first wanted to know if Language abilities was a factor in the lottery.  Would we get preference if our daughter is bilingual vs. a child who only speaks English.  I don't have a definitive answer on this one. According to SFUSD's website it doesn't play a role in which school your child gets in to - at least not outright.

However, they admit they try to get the class to be 1/2 - 2/3 Native speakers (In a Spanish Immersion program this would be the kids that speak Spanish fluently), and 1/3 English speakers (Or those who are learning the targeted language).  I've been told this is the ratio that makes Immersion Programs work.  My thought here was that your child's language abilities must play a role in which school they get into.  Otherwise, what if they composed a class without this ratio and none of the kids understood and/or could translate the teachers instructions?    This would go against what they know to be a necessary ratio for a successful program.

Maybe it plays no bearing on which school your child gets in to but does effect which class they are placed in.  Perhaps there are 2 Spanish Immersion classes and they try to balance those to create the ideal ratio.  I have no idea, despite the number of people I have asked.

When we went to SFUSD to apply we filled out the language section with one question answering "Spanish", the rest were answered with "English".  I think it was "What language(s) are spoken in your home?"  We wrote "English/Spanish".  The woman said that my daughter needed to take the test to determine her abilities.  I asked, "Her english ability or her spanish ability?"  It was her Spanish ability.  I followed up with, "Could this help her get in to an Immersion program?".  She said, "Yes, it has an effect".  Ok....

We scheduled our appointment and came down to take the test.  I had heard that your child is rated on a scale from 1-5, with 5 being fluent in the target language.  This is incorrect.  Your child is either Fluent or Limited.  Those are the two outcomes of the test.  My daughter, despite 2 years of Spanish Immersion preschool, is not fluent in Spanish, atlho she does understand most instruction.  This was quickly discovered in the test and we signed a few papers and left.  (We did have to sign a paper saying we understood and accepted that instruction and materials would not be in English.  I'm not sure why they have us sign this now since we haven't actually been accepted to an Immersion program.)

Then my husband asked on the way home, "Is being in the "Limited" category the same as not having taken the test?".  Ie, Will she be placed with all the students whose parents answered the Language section on the application with just "English"?  Or are there Three categories from which they draw students - "Fluent", "Limited", and "English".  I don't know the answer to that and can't find info on SFUSD or Parents for Public Schools.  Erg!

Despite the lack of knowledge that I have I'm pleased that our application and test are done!  We begin the waiting process....which could be hard for a 'Type A' like myself but is actually a lot less stressful than touring and/or thinking about the application all the time.  It's out of my hands.  Wish us luck!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Private School Questions and an Opening in First Grade

We haven't had too many bloggers reporting on private school visits this year, but I think we may hear more about some visits down the road (possibly after applications are in or decisions are made). We have had some parents write in with a request to learn more about a few private and independent schools, though, so we wanted to throw it open to comments. Is there anyone out there who wants to talk about their experience at the Katherine Michiels School? Or even just their impressions from touring? We've had some inquiries. There's also interest in learning more about some newer schools, including Brightworks and Alt School. Many thanks in advance!

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Schoolhouse has written in to let folks know they have an open spot in 1st grade. Here's their blurb: 
This is a unique opportunity to join a wonderful, growing community. Our child/teacher ratio is 10/1, with an engaging, hands-on, progressive curriculum and affordable tuition. Our 1st grade teacher has over 30 years experience. Find out more at, or to set up a parent-led tour, email

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

School Tour: Creative Arts Charter

When my husband and I first met, we were globe-trotting hipsters that loved the liberalism of San Francisco, the intellectualism of urban life, and believed that our work would make the world a better place.  If we’d had kids then, Creative Arts would have been the ONLY school for us.

But we didn’t have kids then.  We have kids now, fifteen years later, at a time in our lives when we’re cynical, busy, middle-aged executives.  Going on this school tour made us a little grumpy and wistful. 

It seems like a very engaged group of parents, staff, and teachers that are committed to their community and to their shared worldview.  Our tour started with the daily all-school meeting, which included shout-outs to the birthday kids, a whole pile of students expressing various forms of gratitude to others in the CACS community, a nice rendition of “Thank you Mrs. Parks”, and the absence of an American flag to which students should be muttering allegiance.  Several school parents were using sign language to participate (by signing applause, attentiveness, thank you’s, etc).  I wasn’t sure if these parents were deaf, their children were deaf, or they were simply practicing inclusiveness. 

It’s hard for me to describe the mix of embarrassment and excitement that I felt on this tour.  Two points to illustrate:  
  1. Their upcoming fundraiser is a “We Are All Makers” fair.  A maker fair?  Is there anything more hopeful, privileged, urban, and educated than a MAKER FAIR?   
  2. At one point, a prospective parent asked the principal to address recent criticism that the school had received from the Board of Education.  The principal, to his credit, took on the question directly and answered that the school had essentially been criticized for being too white, and that the entire community was actively engaged in addressing the issue. 
I believed him that the community was concerned about increasing diversity.  I also could see why they’re not getting the diversity they’re aiming for.   For many parents who come from a poor, immigrant, minority, or conservative background, this place might seem like a risky bet.   CACS isn’t walking the traditional, beaten path of public education – instead they want to develop global citizens and liberal leaders.  But if those parents don’t have the resources to ensure that their kids get into a good school after CACS, I can see how they might not want to take that early bet with a place that has middling test scores and an unconventional reputation.

I summarized my take on CACS to my husband as “a young, hopeful, idealistic, vision of the urban future”.  My immigrant husband’s response was “Look, all of these kids here are clearly happy dolphins, swimming in a warm and sunny sea.  But what happens when happy dolphins are thrown into the deep, dark, cold shark tank of real life?” 

We’ll probably apply to this school, because despite our cynicism, CACS appeals to our values.  Any CACS parents out there that have experience with how their dolphins do once they’re in that shark tank, please let us know!

School Tour: Stevenson

I immediately did not click with this school.  We waked out of this tour part way through, so take my below impression with a grain of salt: 
  • Displayed prominently on the wall at the entrance of the school is Stevenson’s API score:  an impressive 933.  This score was also printed on the front of their brochure and mentioned twice by the tour leader.  Too bad I don’t care about test scores.  
  • To my husband and I, the place definitely had the feel of an institution (which, to be fair, public schools are).  Cold, bright lights, indifferent people, sterile.
  • In one Kinder room, the teacher was using some kind of read-out-loud book, the kids seemed engaged in listening to the pre-recorded book, but it seemed like weird methodology to me - why wasn’t the teacher reading the book herself?  Why had she chosen that particular assistive technology (which reminded me strongly of the kind of blinky-talky branded annoying toys that we ban from our house)?
  • In the other Kinder class, the kids seemed pretty restless and not engaged in the activity, which was some kind of rote learning call-and-response large group lesson.
  • Every single child that we saw in each classroom was Asian, and we do want our school to reflect at least a little of the diversity of the city where they’ll grow up and the family they belong to.  
  • There seem to be a lot of extra resources that the tour leader and the handout indicate are available at Stevenson:  a full-time librarian, a full-time PE teacher, multiple enrichment and extracurricular activities like gardening, student council, arts, etc.  

Ultimately, walking the halls of the school left me literally and figuratively cold.  It would be great if some Stevenson parents could comment on their experiences with this school for other readers - the impression I got in my 15 minutes on campus is probably quite different than the reality of being a student there.

School Tour: Francis Scott Key

I almost skipped this tour, after my bad impression of Stevenson and my meh impression of Lawton.  In fact, we were starting to give up on the hope of finding a traditional public school near us that we felt good about, and were thinking that we’d need something like Public Montessori or Creative Arts Charter.  I came to the FSK tour with very little information about (or enthusiasm for) the school, and came out happy and excited.  Here’s why (in no particular order of importance):
  • Library:  I loved the librarian (who is onsite MWF)!  Each class visits the library once every two weeks, and the library is also open for lunch reading every day.  The librarian talked about how her programming is connected to that in the classroom, and also to the activities in the computer lab (for example, she collaborates with the teachers and comp lab staff to teach 3rd graders research skills for their 3rd grade report). I got the impression that staff in the library, the computer lab, and the classrooms all work well together to create an integrated, thoughtful learning environment. 
  • TechnologyAll classrooms have a cool Prometheus board that they use to enhance learning.  There is also a nice computer lab with 33 computers (so each student in a class will have their own workstation).  The computer lab has a full-time staff person (!) in recognition of the importance of technology literacy for the kids in general, as well as for future test-taking.  I liked the proactive, practical, competent attitude that the school seems to have about technology.
  • Administration and staffThe principal had been a teacher before being “promoted up the ranks” to being a principal for the past 15 years.  What this says to me is that she understands the work of the teachers as well as how to maneuver within the bureaucracy of the district.  She seemed competent, genuine, and caring about the school.  The other admin staff that I encountered were professional and friendly. Each of the 3 or 4 classroom teachers that we met were young-ish, approachable, and engaged.  In general, FSK seemed like a stable and pleasant environment full of responsible people that got along well together.
  • AcademicsThe principal spoke at length and enthusiastically about how the school is preparing for the new “common core”, and proudly noted that several of the teachers are already developing pilot common core curricula in their free time.  Rather than waiting for GATE-identification in 3rd grade, teachers start identifying “high potential” kids in kindergarten, and do differentiated learning for them within classroom activities.
  • Special needs:  The school seems to do a lot with accommodating all kinds of special needs.  There is a peanut free lunch table, and two peanut free kinder classes.  12% of the student population are “special needs” learners, though I didn’t inquire into this so don’t have any details.  I did learn from the tour leader that the special day class (I think severely impaired) is right next to the kinder classes, which he said was a good thing because it "demystified" special needs for the kids.  I got the impression that inclusion and accommodation are important to the school community.
  • School environment:  As mentioned above, the school was recently renovated and the renovations are quite nice.  There are 3 permanent bungalows outside, which actually look like they’re LEED certified.  One houses the library, and the other two are for first grade classes.  The recess yard is great, and there was talk about additional greening of the outdoor space, including the creation of a reflective area on the playground for the kids who want / need a little quiet time.
  • FundingThe PTA raised 65k last year, which seems really low.  One of the tour leaders pointed out that they aren’t paying any staff time with this money, because the school administration is good at managing their budget and able to pay for staff using other funds.  Another parent tour leader said that they do about 12 fun community events per year (movie night, international night, etc), and that the two big money-making events (a raffle and an auction) don’t require the kids to try to sell books or candy to strangers.
Overall, we were really impressed with FSK.  I’d be happy to send my kids to this school and to be a part of this community.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Seeking information on Francis Scott Key, West Portal Lutheran and more

Several readers have contacted us because they are seeking information about schools on their lists and coming up empty. So they are wondering if there are knowledgeable K Files readers out there who could help. Specifically, there's a family looking for information on Francis Scott Key and a dad looking for any insights into West Portal Lutheran. What about it, parents? Anything to share?

As all you parents deal with more tours over the next month or so, are there other questions you have about schools you've seen or schools you haven't gotten to visit? Let us all know in the comments and hopefully, we can find some folks with some insights.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

2013 API Scores for SFUSD Elementary Schools

This is a straight data dump of API scores, including API 2011 Base, 2012 Base and 2013 Growth.  I've color coded the scores against a 829 reference point (the district's median).  I'm still trying to figure out how to post data via Blogger ... so I apologize for the formatting.

Overall, SFUSD schools are doing quite well.  The district average is 821, with a median of 829.

API scores do not fully represent how well a school performing, but it is one of the few standardized reference points we have.

This will be the last year that API scores are reported in California.  With the onslaught of the Common Core curriculum, new testing measures are forthcoming which will replace API.

Name API 2011 Base 2012 API Base 2013 API Growth 2012 to 2013 change
Alamo  896 909 898 -11
Alvarado  847 848 864 16
Argonne 883 895 885 -10
Bryant 701 730 703 -27
Buena Vista/Horace Mann 682 725 748 23
Carmichael, Bessie (K-5) 750 795 783 -12
Carver, Dr. George Washington  698 741 755 14
Chavez, Cesar  661 690 29
Chin, John Yehall  939 989 997 8
Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila  944 951 934 -17
Clarendon  945 950 956 6
Cleveland  665 674 708 34
Cobb, Dr. William L.  755 708 726 18
Creative Arts Charter  777 825 844 19
Drew, Dr. Charles R.  612 675 665 -10
Edison Charter Academy 780 795 795 0
El Dorado  700 695 688 -7
Fairmount 764 758 820 62
Feinstein, Dianne  889 872 892 20
Flynn, Leonard 710 737 694 -43
Garfield 812 862 829 -33
Glen Park754 777 720 -57
Grattan  882 922 917 -5
Guadalupe 804 819 804 -15
Harte, Bret  650 658 648 -10
Hillcrest  706 723 756 33
Jefferson 897 909 924 15
Key, Francis Scott 884 899 889 -10
Lafayette  907 919 913 -6
Lakeshore 772 771 -1
Lau, Gordon J.  829 832 852 20
Lawton 919 928 932 4
Lilienthal, Claire 906 904 921 17
Longfellow  825 811 793 -18
Malcolm X  790 725 711 -14
Marshall  774 770 783 13
McCoppin, Frank  866 805 841 36
McKinley  824 863 900 37
Milk, Harvey 823 854 828 -26
Miraloma 865 884 898 14
Mission Education Center  489 401 -88
Monroe  818 806 806 0
Moscone, George  845 798 822 24
Muir, John688 714 731 17
New Traditions 835 853 873 20
Ortega, Jose 803 842 857 15
Parker, Jean 844 830 830 0
Parks, Rosa 747 793 799 6
Peabody, George 902 926 905 -21
Redding 832 835 834 -1
Revere, Paul 683 754 772 18
Rooftop 868 877 880 3
S. F. Community 773 778 747 -31
S. F. Public Montessori  808 732 -76
Sanchez  693 760 744 -16
Serra, Junipero 745 712 752 40
Sheridan 788 770 803 33
Sherman 932 906 932 26
Sloat, Commodore  887 883 901 18
Spring Valley  831 834 844 10
Starr King 786 791 812 21
Stevenson, Robert Louis  928 931 934 3
Sunnyside 807 825 863 38
Sunset 914 917 925 8
Sutro  866 876 906 30
Taylor, E. R.  887 879 873 -6
Tenderloin 736 745 709 -36
Ulloa  936 937 932 -5
Visitacion Valley 806 781 801 20
Webster, Daniel  672 703 754 51
West Portal  902 905 914 9
Yick Wo 905 915 908 -7
Yu, Alice Fong 955 954 955 1