Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The SF H Files: High Schools

By reader request, a thread to "get insight and start a conversation" on specific high schools. If you would like to discuss private vs public high schools in general, please use the previous thread, Private vs Public: High Schools

Your comments become a resource for parents to read for years to come. Please try to keep comments cordial and on-topic. Email the if you would like to start another topic.

Please choose a name when adding comments; this adds credibility for readers and helps readers follow the longer threads.  The name you choose is not traceable back to your email. Thanks to arabelle, Private_Mom and Eponymous to name a few.

Recently, flame wars, personal attacks, name-calling, and responses with a low content to snark ratio have been deleted as being unhelpful to future readers. Humorous responses tend to stay (yes, I mean you, reader who had to lie down with your smelling salts! I laughed out loud). 

Private vs Public: High Schools

The benefits of private or public high schools in general. Does it make a difference? Does it matter more for high school than elementary or middle school?

Your comments become a resource for parents to read for years to come. Please try to keep comments cordial and on-topic. Email the if you would like to start another topic.   

Please choose a name when adding comments; this adds credibility for readers and helps readers follow the longer threads. The name you choose is not traceable back to your email. Thanks to arabelle, Private_Mom and Eponymous to name a few.

Recently, flame wars, personal attacks, name-calling, and responses with a low content to snark ratio have been deleted as being unhelpful to future readers. Humorous responses tend to stay (yes, I mean you, reader who had to lie down with your smelling salts! I laughed out loud). 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bernal visit MPS (back in December)

I decided to tour on a whim, almost against my better judgement.  It did, however, have location, small size and the Spanish component that I so desperately want. My concerns were the lack of consistent leader and the fact that this school is owned by Bright Horizons, a for profit company.

Most of my notes from today are impressions or anecodtal as we were on a private tour with the admissions director, Cameron Story, and I felt awkward transcribing every last word.

Marin Prep is a co-ed Spanish Infusion school located in the Castro. They are currently in their fourth year of operation. Ultimately they will go through eighth grade. They also offer a junior kindergarten (JK) program.  There will be two classes per grade and they anticipate about 16-17 children per kindergarten class.
My husband and I were both very impressed with Cameron. She is clearly dedicated and passionate about the school. We are also learning that this is the job of the admissions director. They are, in essence, the first face of the school. 

The actual building is just charming. The classrooms are large, bright and airy. Its the building that housed both Live Oak and Friends as they were just starting out.  The outside play space is lacking. There is one small space behind the school that has structures and blacktop. I *think* I recall Cameron saying something about trying to be able to officially use the park/green space next door (I could be wrong here).

Cameron did not flinch when I asked her point blank about the (lack) of head of school.

In case you don’t know, the original head of school was Ed Walters who left halfway through the first year, taking with him many families to start Alta Vista. After Ed left a fabulous woman named Flora stepped in to help out. She was with Bright Horizons at the time but now is at Town School. From there they hired another head of school, Patrick Gaffney,  who one day was there and then he wasn’t. He lasted approximately six months. In stepped Debbie Highsmith who is with Bright Horizons (Vice President of Operations) act as head. Paul Wenninger , an interim head of school was hired for the 2012-2013 school year. Phew.   Cameron told us that they had a person of interest that they really liked to come on as head of school. She did not say anything else.

Addendum, April 15: Jeff Escabar was named as the new head of school. Jeff is currently the admissions director at Marin Country Day School. I immediately called my two teacher friends at MCDS to get the scoop and both of them raved about Jeff. I also spoke with three families who attend MCDS and all the feedback was glowing.  Lastly, I had an opportunity to get feedback from admission directors here in SF and again, everyone had fabulous things to say about him

I also asked Cameron about the relationship between MPS , MDS and Bright Horizons. MPS is part of the Marin Day Schools (MDS) community. MPS is governed and guided by the MDS Board of Directors, who has retained Bright Horizons (BH) to manage the school, as they do at all MDS campuses.   From the website, “By contracting with BH to manage and operate its programs, MDS benefits from the business infrastructure and resources necessary to maintain the excellent programs. Support includes financial, human resources, recruiting, education and training and allows the organization to move forward in a fiscally responsible manner. The MDS/BH organization provides the foundation and funding for Marin Preparatory School.  MPS has wonderful programs with professional administrators, dedicated teachers and strong educational leaders”.

We spent a good 10-15 minutes in each classroom. In each class we visited there were a variety of things going on - kids in small groups both at their desks and huddled on the floor and kids working independently. The children were focused and working hard while seemingly having fun. There is a dedicated music specialist and art teacher on staff. All of the classrooms have two teachers, at least one of which is fully bilingual. They also have an after school program, Ademas, for an additional monthly cost.

There are some definite unknowns and their newness I think could turn out to be one of their greatest strengths.  They aren't set in their ways (no dead wood), their decisions will be very purposeful and the parent body will be made up of like-minded people who were willing to take a little risk.

My husband and I both walked out surprisingly ‘wowed’. It seems like the one big question is the head of school. The turnover to date doesn’t really bother me its more the thought of moving forward. Everything else seems right on the mark for us!

I also have to admit that the word ‘preparatory’ makes me cringe. Preparing for what? For me, its right up there with ‘academy’. Oh well, we can stick to MPS.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Independent Schools

At the request of readers, this is a new thread talking about the newer independent schools in SF - Alta  VistaMarin Prep, Brightworks, SchoolHouse, Presidio Knolls, La Scuola......

I reviewed Alta Vista and I have an (unpublished) review on Marin Prep as well.  We are very intrigued by Brightworks and will be meeting with them next week. 

Alta Vista has gotten a lot of talk on this board this year. Does anyone out their have feedback and/or commentary on any of other newer schools? 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

WARNING! UNSOLICITED ADVICE: How to use the SFKFiles without driving yourself crazy!

Sometimes I read things on this blog that sound downright crazy. And I laugh. I assume it's a troll or that it's some "extreme parent" that is likely not in any of my circles. But then someone responds and it sounds defensive and angry.  Other people say that they are "hurt" by comments or they were getting "worried" about failing their kids. And I wonder, are those people really trolls or just real parents with some real anxiety? I hope not. But just in case, here is my unsolicited advice on how to use the SFKFiles without driving yourself crazy...

1. Believe that there are NO absolutes and question broad generalizations.  If an anonymous commenter said, "All private schools are better then all public schools" OR "The artwork on the private school walls are clearly better then the artwork on the public school walls" OR "All the children and parents at this private school are entitled snobs" OR "Most teachers find the brightest and best high school students are from this school." It should raise a red flag and you should ignore such a commenter (chances are they are a troll). We ALL know the world is much more complicated than that.  If you need to respond, respond with facts. 

2. Be weary of "scripted" responses to any criticisms of private or public schools.  I'm pretty certain some of them are from parents, teachers, and administrators of schools that are trying to maintain a better public image and are not the unbiased reports from "anonymous." This leads me to the next tip…

3. Take comments and blog posts with a grain of salt. Use issues raised to ask further questions when you actually tour the school or talk to a parent/teacher/staff member you know and trust at the school.  Form your own opinion.

4. If you think something is mean-spirited or crazy, ignore the comment. It's just not worth it. Nobody wins comment wars. But if you just have to respond, be witty and not moody.

5. Get advice from Parents for Public Schools! Ignore advice and rumors on how to “win the lotto” from anonymous. Parents for Public Schools is legit. Send them an email and they get back to you quickly. 

6. Do not take the bloggers or commenters school decisions personally.  Okay, so a blogger or two may have passed on your dream school. You are not them, they are not you. Their child is not your child. And they could not give you their school placement, even if they wanted to. In the end, the decision is very personal (for the family making it).

7. Believe in SF Public Schools and have an open mind. There are some real hidden gems if you can just give-up your list of "must-haves." You need to find them for yourself. 

BONUS: Talk to other parents face-to-face: the mamas and papas at your preschool, at your work place, and in your neighborhood. Discuss these things in person and get advice and information from people you actually TRUST, not these unknown school-obsessed weirdos who frequent this blog daily (me included).

Saturday, April 6, 2013

SFUSD Lottery - Lessons Learned

How to Play the San Francisco School District's Enrollment Lottery - Lessons Learned

When we moved back to the United States and started looking for housing in San Francisco, I had done a little research on the school district assignment process and I'd heard of the terms attendance areas, CTIP, and tie breakers but I didn't fully understand most of it.  We bid on two other properties in the city neither of which were in a CTIP area and were outbid on both properties.  When we did bid and finally buy our home I told you in my first post that I had begun inputting the address of prospective properties before we bid on them to know their status and this property had a CTIP address.  At that time I thought, well, that's a plus.  I didn't realize how much of an advantage that an address was going to give me in this lottery.  I knew it would help.  I didn't think it was game changing.  It was only after living here for a few days (I kid you not),  my neighbors (with kids) began saying, well you are going to be glad you bought here and relating their own SFUSD lottery stories. These are my thoughts on the lottery and some tips and guidelines I'd give to those coming after me.  Some of these insights are as recent as yesterday, like this first thing...when my husband and I were rereading for probably the 20th time the Frequently Asked Questions on the SFUSD webpage and saw and fully understood the phrase: hierarchical order.  I will be using my own words as much as I can because I myself find the terminology used to describe this process very confusing and misleading.  I'm not saying that it is meant to intentionally be confusing and misleading I'm just saying that it was for me.

First read the rules for school assignment
Each applicant for a school will be stack ranked into pools based on SFUSD's published criteria (siblings, CTIP, preK plus attendance area, attendance area et cetera).
Applicants are placed into pools in a hierarchical order.
Each school will draw from each ranked pool sequentially until all available spaces are filled at that school.
Depending on the number of requests a school receives and your ranking, no one from your pool may be drawn.

For example, if a school has 40 spaces available and 10 siblings and 30 CTIP ranked kids apply to that school you cannot win a lottery ticket for that school if you are in a pool of  lower rank than CTIP (as I understand it).  This does not mean you cannot get a placement at that school eventually, but this will be from a swap or from further rounds in the lottery or some mysterious space time continuum Quantum Leap hiccup.

Second, determine your ranking and understand your odds in each school lottery you enter and manage your expectations 

Each applicant's odds for receiving their highest ranked request are not the same because each applicant is stack ranked.  This means one pool gets in first - siblings.  Another pool will go second, another gets in third, if your pool is ranked fourth or fifth chances increase that available openings will be filled before your pool even gets a chance.  Some pools (like Attendance area only applicants) effectively never even get a shot for certain schools (like Rooftop and Clarendon).

Again, certain schools have an extremely high number of requests for their open spots and unless you are in a highly ranked applicant pool you have little to no chance of getting an open seat at that school.  Know your hand and play your hand.

Third, decide if you want to improve your ranking lawfully if you can before your turn at the lottery
If you are interested in your attendance area school for an incoming Kindergartener and that school has a pre-K within your attendance area... send your kid there.  That boosts you into a higher ranked pool and improves your chances for an assignment at that school.

If you would truly consider moving OUT of the city altogether if you can't get into a public school you can live with... Consider moving out of your non-CTIP address in an attendance area with a highly requested school and move to a CTIP area or an attendance area for a less requested school with the intention of living there.  If you don't like it or your lottery playing experience proves unsuccessful you can move out of the city and play the school selection game of another city's school district by moving into a certain neighborhood in that city (if that's how they determine their school assignments).

Fourth, this is outside the San Francisco Lottery but relevant because it falls into hedging your bets
Apply to charter schools. If you can afford them or could afford them with some financial aid, apply to private schools and parochial schools.

Fifth, due diligence
You will want to tour schools.  Create a strategy for doing so.  If you tour in the same year you apply you have to tour them within a 5 month window (Sept-Jan), if that's not acceptable (or is just plain insane to you) do what works.  Start forming an opinion of what sort of criteria you have for ranking your school choices (Man, that would've been helpful earlier rather than later).

The swap and limbo-land--two good reasons to list all the schools possible for you (whether it is 7 or 22)
Swaps happen once assignments are made for all applicants and the computer registers that a mutually beneficial trade between applicants is possible.  Swaps can more a lower ranked applicant into a highly requested school.  It happens.  I'm not sure what the odds are but it happens.

Finally, submit your application and fast and pray (I'm only half-kidding)
When March comes and your letter arrives before you open it, pray or perform your preferred superstitious action, spit over your shoulder, wear a lucky hat... then tell yourself this is a really difficult public policy and I agree with it (or I disagree with it) and my family will be ok because I will not accept a result that will not be ok for my family.  Then read it.  Don't forget to breathe.  If you are happy with your assignment, great, if not I'd say decide in advance what your walk away point is. Fight a good fight. Play the hand your dealt. If you find yourself at your walk away point. Fold with no regrets.

Now whether I think this public policy is good public policy is a subject for another blog post. The School Assignment Process of San Francisco -- Is it what the Framers Intended?

Also, I wanted to apologize for basically not posting at all compared to the other bloggers.  I knew that it would be a stretch for me to find the time to blog with four kids under four and I was correct.  I could have tried harder and prioritized this blog more than I did.  I didn't for a lot of good excuses, I promise.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Dear Admission Director:

Hi. You might remember me from the school tour or the two open houses we attended? Or, you might remember us from parent social, Q & A panel at school or our interview (which you were 35 minutes late to)? Maybe you even remember us from our daughter’s play date or perhaps our application and essays ring a bell? I am hoping that you do remember us from at least one of the seven events we attended to learn about your school.

You were so nice and welcoming at the time. I guess that’s your job – a sort of sales person, per se.  Gosh, you even sent us a holiday card and a thank you card. I was beginning to feel like this was the start of something beautiful. I sent you emails, you responded. I left you messages, you called us back.

Everything was going so great until March 15, 2013 when you broke up with me and didn’t even have the decency to call? Sure, you sent a letter which is a bit more personal than an email but you spelled my daughter’s name wrong (maybe we actually don’t want this school)? No biggie given that you referred referred to my friend's son as a "her" in their break-up letter. You even had someone else do your dirty work – our letter from you came from the head of school. I like so remember having my friend break up with someone for me in fourth grade! In all seriousness, she did at least leave us a hand written love note saying how sad she was that you didn’t have room for us.

I called and emailed you right away. No response.  I left another message and sent another email – still nothing. Finally, on Monday you respond telling me “please don’t freak out. It’s not over”. Oh THANK GOODNESS – please tease me, let me cling onto something! It’s in this email I find out you have six (girl) spots and you have accepted ten girls so you need four to decline before going to your waitlist. Your friend down the way tells me she has 12 girl spots and had accepted 19 so she needs seven to decline before going to the waitlist.

Since we are talking about waitlists, why do you torture me with false hope? I have an idea - Why don’t you reject everyone with the exception of the very few who are truly waitlisted? By doing this it might hurt those so much less who actually got an rejection? And, for those that got a true waitlist, they will have an idea as to where they stand. Ohhhh, but that would be too transparent and we can’t have any of that can we??

Transparency. I have used this word about times since we broke up.  I know now that you were cheating on me with about 220 (200-250) other families for six spots? Of course I didn’t know about this at the time; maybe I wouldn’t have fallen so in love with you if you were honest. Your other friend down the way told me their numbers within five minutes of meeting us. I still love them.  That’s a nice little chunk of change you made ($20,000ish) from all of us vying for your love.

I still can’t get over you. I called hoping to get a better understanding of why you broke up with us. I have no choice but to accept your decision but please remember, I have feelings.   Your response, “I’m sorry but as a general rule I don’t meet with families that did not get in. I am sure you can understanding how time consuming this would be if every family wanted to meet”.  WOW – I am wondering if that would be more time consuming than the time we spent falling in love with you?

Like all relationships there is something to be learned here, on both sides.  I wish you the best.
I hope that none of my friends want to date you in the future.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Prop 13 - So what's really going on?

My previous post had a lot of comments regarding taxes and Prop 13. I wanted to give space for a fuller conversation. I appreciate folks telling others to "talk to your legislator," but there has to be some more organized efforts going on then that, right?! Maybe this is a good place for people to share what they've been working on in their organizations, schools and community groups and to invite people to community meetings going on around this issue.

I used to work for an educational justice non-profit that advocated for adequate and equitable funding for schools.  The sentiment, at the time, was that Prop 13 was too big to take on. Is that still true? I hope not.

When current Assemblymember Phil Ting was running for SF Mayor a few years ago his whole platform seemed to be on Prop 13, it may have also been part of his platform for Assembly. He was promoting the website. But what is happening now? Does PPS do any work around this? Are any PTAs looking into this? What about other advocacy organizations in SF?  How about statewide or regional groups?

In case you don't know the basics about Prop 13, here are some basics.  Everything below is pulled directly from -

Prop 13 Facts

When Proposition 13 passed in 1978 it was originally sold to voters as a protection for homeowners, helping ensure lower taxes for average Californians. But because of a tax loophole, commercial property can avoid reassessment - even though there's a change in ownership. The biggest beneficiaries of Prop 13 are large companies and corporate landowners who use tax loopholes to avoid paying property taxes. And because property taxes fund education and public services, California residents have been directly short-changed by the current system.

What is Prop 13?

When Prop 13 passed, it altered the way property values in California were assessed in five ways:
  1. It rolled back assessed property values to what they were worth in 1975.
  2. Property values cannot increase more than 2% per year.
  3. Property tax is capped at 1%.
  4. Property is only reassessed upon change of ownership or new construction.
  5. It mandated that all local and state taxes need a two-thirds majority vote.
Prop 13 triggered short-term tax breaks - but has had serious long-term consequences.

How Did Prop 13 Affect Taxpayers?

The passage of Prop 13 resulted in a devastating ripple effect of catastrophic consquences. By rolling back property taxes, revenue dropped nearly 60% and funding to county and city governments dramatically declined. County governments and our schools (especially!) had to rely on the state's general fund, correlating directly to a shift in power -- the state now had the authority to allocate local property tax.
So how did this affect you? While the state received a boom in property tax revenue, the general fund surplus increased, while local funding remained stagnant. And to cope with the steep decline in funding, cities and counties raised local fees and taxes -- ultimately raising your taxes. So homeowners thought they were paying less, but in fact they were paying more.

How Did Prop 13 Hurt Education?

According to the California Budget Project, “immediately prior to the passage of Proposition 13, local revenues provided nearly half (47.1 percent) of the funding for California’s public schools.” Today, with Prop 13 in place, our schools are forced to rely on Sacramento for most of their funding and our revenue-starved state has not kept up with its obligations.
California School Spending is at a Historic Low
Prop 13 has had a direct effect on reduced education funding. And in case you have any doubt, here are some figures on education in California today:
  • School spending in California is at a 40-year low.
  • Since 1981-1982 California has consistently spent less on education than the rest of the US. Today, we now spend about half as much as New York or New Jersey.
  • 16 of California’s largest school districts are reducing the number of school days this year because they can’t afford to stay open.
  • Per pupil property tax revenue reduced by more than half.
  • California now ranks 44th in per-pupil spending among all the states (2009-10).
  • California ranks 50th in the ratio of students to teachers (2009-10)
California’s educational system is in a race to the bottom. Isn’t it time we united to reform an obvious broken system?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Parents for Public Schools Workshop - Round 2 & 3

PPS-SF Network Meeting: Surviving Round 2.
  • Tuesday April 2, 2013; 6-8 pm at Glen Park Elementary School; 151 Lippard Ave.

(I'll be the one with a million questions)