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.

30 comments:

  1. What exactly is Spanish infusion? How is that practically applied? Is there a formal Spanish class while rest of the instruction is in English? Is it a solid alternative to immersion, which is not for everyone. Do any other schools do this?

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    1. If you click on teh words 'soanish infusion' above it will take you the MPS website that describes Spanish Infusion.
      Spanish Infusion accomplishes language acquisition in 4 stages:
      •Introductory – Grades TK and K
      •Interactive – Grades 1 and 2
      •Proficiency – Grades 3 through 5
      •Fluency – Grades 6 through 8

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    2. *spanish infusion

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  2. This blog seems to have much more of a focus on private schools than it ever did before--judging by the majority of recent posts on the front page. Just wondering why that is...

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    1. I honestly think that until Round 2 results come out, there is not much to say about the publics right now.
      Also, a lot of critical posts about private or private vs. public are being deleted so those threads are just shut down. Don't understand why that is.
      I would like to know what is going on in some of the publics/charters in regards to principal staffing or turnover so any info appreciated.

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    2. I think it is due to the recession being over, and more people are increasingly looking at private school as a viable option. In 2008 (shortly after this blog was created), there was an economic recession and many lay-offs and other economic issues that made going private a non-option for many families. These things are cyclical so probably there will be another recession in a few years again ...

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    3. But didn't the number of applicants to public schools actually increase this year? I just checked and yes, there were 169 more K applicants this year than last year so I don't think privates are necessarily more popular this year.

      I'm in agreement with 3:28 on both counts - not a whole lot to say about public schools right now since we're waiting on Ruond 2 results. Also, I've been noticing a lot of deletions as well if anyone says anything critical. I wish it were a little more clear about what's okay to say and what isn't.


      (Also, the term "independent" school when used to describe a private school really bugs me.)

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    4. I noticed posts being deleted too. I actually think some of them were written more with aim of being supportive of public schools rather than to be critical of private schools. And some were in response to really misleading statements about public schools which are still sitting out there on the threads.

      Ah well.

      I do feel that in years past people posted more about spots they were not registering for at the publics.... I do agree that the SFUSD Round 2 results will get people posting about the publics again.

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  3. The term "independent" doesn't bug me at all. I think it's used more in SF than private, which is used with pride in NYC and London more. Why does it bug you, arabelle?

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  4. Because to me, it seems like a softer, more political correct way of saying private and that parents who choose the private route feel some sort of guilt over it but don't want to own up to it.

    Independent sounds fun! spunky! revolutionary! novel! (see: indy music, indy filmmaking). Private seems to have associations that some parents are uncomfortable with and perhaps they should be but sugar coating it with a better name doesn't change the fact that they are private schools.

    And then if one type of school is "independent" that leaves public schools to be the "non-independent" - the stodgy old hide-bound stick-in-the-mud traditionalists. It sets up a dichotomy that I think is unfair.

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    1. Actually "independent" is the correct term and is meant to differentiate from parochial schools. All private, non-parochial schools refer to themselves as "independent" schools.

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    2. I'm sure they do.

      Indeed, that's precisely why I agree 100% with arabelle.

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  5. Just wanted to get the comments back on topic. 1+1+1, thank you for your helpful review. I have been curious about Marin Prep, and now I am very excited to tour it this fall as it sounds like it might be a great fit for my son and my family. Did you get any feedback on your tour as to why the school chose Spanish infusion instead of immersion? I'm just curious ...

    I'm glad Marin Prep was able to secure a wonderful head of school. I've heard only great things about Jeff Escobar. It sounds like the school is heading in a positive direction. Any feedback from current Marin Prep families?

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    1. Marin Prep told us that they chose Spanish infusion instead of immersion because their sole focus is not upon teaching children Spanish. They feel that the infusion approach enables children to learn Spanish (but they don't claim they will be fluent) while still focusing upon other subjects and areas. The emphasis upon Spanish increases as the children get older. Marin Prep distinguishes itself from a Spanish immersion school. If you are strongly keen on a Spanish immersion school, Marin Prep may not be the right fit. But I would strong encourage looking at it as I thought it was a wonderful school.

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    2. Thanks 11:33am -- that's helpful insight. I think the real impulse behind the infusion curiosity/questioning is more based on the word choice - infusion -- it just seems sort of vague and more appropriate for a restaurant menu than a school description. But their logic behind why they're not an immersion model makes sense.

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  6. I just read the old postings on what happened with the original head (Ed Walters) - that he left Marin Prep (broke his contract?) to become head of Alta Vista, taking along much of the Marin Prep kindergarten class with him. I'm sure there is more to the story, but what I read has really turned me off of Alta Vista - a school I was very excited to tour - mainly because it doesn't sound like Ed acted very ethically. I'm not comfortable sending my son to a school with a head of school that may be a questionable role model.

    Can any Alta Vista parents out there speak to this? I'd love to be proven wrong ...

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  7. I am an Alta Vista parent and can speak to this -though I am not one of the original parents so all of my information is second hand. My understanding (as taken from a conversation with one of the founding parents at AVS) is that Ed left MPS at the end of the school year (so did not break any contract). His reason for leaving was that Bright Horizons had gone against many of the things that they and Ed had agreed to when they started. One of these things was small class size -Bright Horizon had decided to increase class size to bring in more money. There were other things -all issues with the corporation of BH that Ed did not agree with. The families that founded AVS saw in Ed an amazing educator and felt that they wanted their kids and other kids to be able to benefit from his amazing talent -that is why they convinced him to start a school with them. Ed is amazing. I feel I should mention that there have been some issues with Bright Horizons in this past year -for one thing they were doing some questionable competitive internet advertising. They paid google to have their homepage pop up when Alta Vista School was searched for. I don't mean to say anything negative about MPS -I've actually heard great things and love the idea of Spanish infusion. But I do think that Bright Horizons has some questionable practices -the schools really should not be in competition.

    I don't know much about MPS but I do think that the two schools have a few things in common and if one appeals the other might as well. Both have small class sizes (16 w/ 2 teachers at AVS and more at MPS though still small). Both schools start homework in K -at AVS it is only 10 mins or so and my daughter LOVES doing her homework and has learned a lot from it. But I think it's worth noting that these 2 schools might be the only independent Ks in the city that have daily homework and a pretty rigorous curriculum. Both schools also incorporate Spanish into the curriculum though MPS has much more Spanish than AVS. From what I understand MPS is much smaller than AVS? Can someone tell me if MPS is only one class per grade or two? AVS has 2 classes per grade so while classes are small the school is not tiny.

    I have no motive to encourage you to look at AVS -I don't work for the school or anything like that. AVS is an AMAZING school. Ed and all of the teachers are incredibly passionate about what they do. The curriculum is incredibly engaging, progressive and advanced all at the same time. The community is tight-knit. My child is incredibly happy at the school and has learned SO much. The extras are also great -ORF music program, Spanish from K, art, drama (performances such as plays and presentations are an important part of the curriculum because as Ed says -if you have an idea and can't communicate it what good is it?), garden (where they learn about sustainability and community service as well), etc. It's such a special school and we feel so lucky to be a part of it -I encourage you to check it out and see if it's a good fit for your child. Good luck with your search.

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  8. Ahh I see now that there are 2 classes per grade at mps also. Not sure why I heard mps is smaller than avs. And I wanted to clarify my previous comment BH did not have AVS google results go to Bright Horizon site but to MPS's website. Very shady.

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    1. To call what MPS does as shady, shows a lack of understanding of how SEO (search engine optimization) works on your part.

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    2. I would agree with the comment above. The fact that AVS is a school ostensibly focusing on science and tech, and wouldn't understand SEO, is kind of remarkable.

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  9. Not sure why you are trying to smear MPS, so what if they try to increase their google search results? Not sure hwy thiis is so bad?

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  10. Ed seems like a cult leader - uch

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  11. I absolutely do not want to "smear" MPS! In fact I know little about the school but as I mentioned I have heard great things! I am so upset that you think my statement came across as a smear on MPS. I am the AVS parent who wrote the post which included the detail that Bright Horizons/MPS had made search results for "Alta Vista School" go directly to the Marin Prep website. It was a big deal to some of us at AVS and took some work to undo. I really feel that this was very wrong on the part of Bright Horizons and I couldn't not mention it in a response to a question about Ed Walters and MPS. But really I do not want this to come across as a negative about MPS. And to me what was so upsetting about the google incident is that someone would think that the 2 schools are competition for one another. Both are out there to provide a great education to their students -one family might fit better at one and another family at another. The same goes for all of the schools out there!

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    1. So you "absolutely didn't want to smear MPS" but in one of your posts you use the word "shady". "Shady" is usually not viewed as a positive thing.

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  12. The Google search issue is a non-issue. That's exactly how Google search works. If you don't like it, don't use Google. Just about every site/listing you see is rank ordered with purchased links at top. It may "offend" someone who gets bumped, but that is an issue with Google not those that buy positions.

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  13. Is there any academic research on the outcomes associated with "Spanish infusion"? I've been searching the literature on bilingual education and as far as I can tell, this is something MPS made up?

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    1. The Infusion model introduces the target language gradually allowing for important social/emotional support in the early grades as students navigate new routines, expectations, and an experiential learning environment."
      This is from Marin Preps website. Sounds a bit florid and overwrought. It's Spanish, not Sanskrit. How much emotional support do you need to learn some new words and learn a bit of geography and culture?

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    2. The former (temp) head of school at MPS said that she views the transition to Kindergarten as one of the biggest educational (and social/emotional) transitions of a life time. Conducting life in a language that is new to you can be exhausting and frustrating (as well as stimulating and enriching of course.).

      What on earth is wrong with having an option that allows exposure to a second language more intensely than a class or two, but less overwhelming than immersion? I found this aspect to be very appealing.

      To the Sanskrit poster above, have you ever had an immersion experience? One where you had to communicate in a language that was new to you? Did you not find that to be challenging?

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    3. I 100% agree with 12:01. I know two families at MPS and while it is definitely not the classic immersion model, it is far beyond having language class once or twice a week. Each class apparently has teachers that speak only Spanish. There are aspects of the curriculum that are only in Spanish. In addition, the after-school program is also in Spanish. Immersion is not for everyone nor is it an option for everyone given how hard it is to get into those programs. Bottom line there are lots of different ways to give your child exposure to a second language.

      I can definitely understand why the interest in MPS is starting to grow.

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  14. There are lots of different ways but we must all remember, it is extremely common for parents to intend for their children to be bilingual and then drop the ball and somehow they lose sight and their kid ends up far short of being bilingual, so you have to be vigilant in making sure once you set that goal, you do whatever it takes to make sure by age 10 they are bilingual. The immersion programs are amazing, it's very impressive to see 10-year old white and African American kids make a speach to the board in Japanese, or to see so many kids learning Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, Italian, and Korean. They should do a French school as it would increase integration and bring more with recourses into our public schools, and they should do Russian as there's a strong need there, Cabrillo should be made into a Russian Immersion school and those jobs moved somewhere fewer kids want to go to school. Cabrillo Russian Immersion, or French, would fill up in a New York Minute and some schools struggle to get enough kids.

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