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I reviewed Alta Vista and I have an (unpublished) review on Marin Prep as well.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? 

103 comments:

  1. Great topic! We are applying to Kinder in the Fall but have already begun to tour ahead of time. We are also very intrigued by Brightworks (have seen Tulley's TED talks and know about the tinkering camp already). We toured and liked Alta Vista, but loved Marin Prep. MP is such a darling school, great schoolhouse vibe and strong teachers engaging kids with interesting things. Great art and science projects on the walls and all over the school. Has anyone met their new head (Jeff Escabar)? I wonder what his vision is. We'd love to read your reviews on MP and Brightworks 1+1.

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  2. Wow, I drive by Brightworks every day and had no idea that was a school! It sounds a lot like Nueva, where my kid goes. I would love to see a review.

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  3. Yes, I'd be interested in tour notes for Brightworks too! Sounds novel and interesting.

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  4. Can you add Stratford to the list...I'd love to hear some feedback from real parents there as well...

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    1. My next door neighbor sends her daughter to Stratford and it is VERY academic. They tend to teach at least 1 grade above public standards. For example, her daughter's homework last week was to write a two page book report with plot dissection and identifying protagonists/antagonists and other fictional elements. Her 1st grade class is expected to have 1.5 hours a day of homework.

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    2. Gosh...I wonder if that is such a good thing.

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    3. It does sound pretty intense. Are the kids stressed out I wonder?

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    4. If you read current thinking on education and academics, there's pretty compelling evidence that piling homework on in the early years is of little to no benefit and if anything can be detrimental to kids. That's why when you tour most of the independent schools you will find that they assign little if any homework in kindergarten, a bit in 1st grade and it goes up from there. An hour and a half for a six year old is nuts and I bet they can't produce any evidence that it makes a difference compared to schools that assign a more reasonable amount.

      Here's an article from Harvard GSE on the topic. One notable quote from a recent meta-analysis of current research: "for elementary school students, the average correlation between time spent on homework and achievement … hovered around zero.”

      Read more: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/2012/01/are-you-down-with-or-done-with-homework/#ixzz2Qwjpxxcl

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    5. I'm the one that posted about the neighbor and as wonderful as her daughter is - and she really is a bright AND fun kid, they find they spend a lot of time trying to balance out the rigor of an intense education. They are trying for public this year (putting only Clarendon and Miraloma on the list). I have never seen the Stratford campus so it this part is hearsay, but she said that socialization takes a backseat in that school - partially because of it's demands which leave little room for other activities and also because the school attracts families who are academically obsessed - many immigrants - Chinese, Russian and Indian families who grew up with that kind of rigor and see it at "normal". School has been "hard" as long as they can remember!

      Stratford starts at preK, so as far as the kids go, they don't know any different - this is how I grew up in Asia, so I can understand that 10 hours of school is normal to some - still that doesn't necessarily mean it's healthy. That said, there are also families who have their kids play 10 different sports, play and instrument, take dance class and have schedules more complicated than I have as an adult! I think that is equally stressful...finding the balance in a modern and diverse society where dual-income families require care - either in the form of academics or extracurriculars is definitely a challenge.

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  5. Judging by the reviews on Greatschools.org, Brightworks is off to a very rocky start:

    http://www.greatschools.org/california/san-francisco/25509-San-Francisco-Brightworks/?tab=reviews#revPagination

    Some excerpts:

    "They took until April of this year to roll out any math curriculum. The hands on tool area that the school showcases as part of their maker tradition was unavailable for the first 2 months of the school year and little effort is made to incorporate it into activities. The director is ineffectual and her three children have the run of the place, disproportionately commanding the resources of the school and openly questioning any authority in the school, greatly contributing to the unruly environment noted below."

    "If you are seriously considering Brightworks, think long and hard about how interested you are in paying $21,000 a year to have your child be a guinea pig for a curriculum and structure based on pipe dreams, not on "well-worn and innovative progressive education methods." Examine the credentials for the administration and the Board of Directors. There is one educator on the board."

    "This is not a school. It is a daycare center. I went and visited to see if my child were a good fit. They advertise themselves as offering child-directed project based learning. I did not witness any learning."

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    1. Whoah. I am very interested in all this b/c I am watching a lot of business-y people found schools or curricula based on the idea that children and young adults learn best from each other or by themselves. As an educator, I am unimpressed with this idea. It takes years and years and years of training and classroom experience to understand how best to facilitate learning, and I see a lot of this as part of a larger movement to discredit teachers, bust unions, undermine public education, etc. We don't assume that, hey, if you put people in charge of their own surgery they'll do great! Or that self-representation is the way to go in the courts! But I am also aware that I have a very vested interest in teaching as a profession. So I am keeping my eyes (and at least one part of my mind) open to all of these developments.

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    2. I'm glad you're keeping an open mind 2:34pm. I'm trying to keep mine open too. That said, it seems hard to make the leap equating the creation/running of really innovative, unstructured, investigative summer camps (The Tinkering School -- and by the way, there are tinkering opportunities elsewhere, like the Exploratorium) and the creation/running of a school. They just seem like different animals. The camps by all reports are great, but they're camps and are designed to do the best of what camps can do during a time of the year when people are often sick to death of structure. Wish there could just be way this all could be collaborative -- wonderful camps or supplementary learning opportunities, even "internships" from Tinkering/Brightworks to work with and alongside more traditional school-year programs elsewhere (run by trained educators with deeply honed class management skills.)

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    3. Agreed. Camps and after school enrichment should be and can be experimental, but I'm less comfortable with the idea of an "unschool" the way Brightworks is designed. I know we're designed to like start-ups in SF: it's the new culture. What's the newest restaurant, technology, ice-cream concept, etc.? But I think start-ups are not always good things. They're just novelties. I do think there is too much demand for independent schools in SF so we need more. Marin Prep is less risky as it's affiliated with Bright Horizons, already in the education business. Alta Vista seems more start-upy, funded by Twitter money. And Brightworks seems just weird.

      I think our kids deserve more. I've seen a lot of weird in SF schools during the last year of tours. Forty-five minutes of silence sitting on hard benches at Friends, Learning specialists for every grade at SF Day, no wrong answers at Live Oak, but Brightworks seems to take the cake.

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    4. How in the world is having a Learning Specialist in every grade at SF Day "weird?" Most everyone who goes to public school (or private for that matter)thinks that is a great idea, something that every grade should have. strange....

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    5. In some ways traditional education is not given enough respect but children learn a lot through it and it produces well rounded students. It doesn't always have to be rigid or just dead white men curriculum, but emphasis on discipline and intellectualism, not what kind of job you'll slog away at for the next 50 years. Also, a lot of these schools talk about equality or justice or whatever, but sorely lacking emphasis in good manners and respect of teachers/elders. Too much being so pleased with oneself and being smarter than everyone else.

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    6. I love the Friends silent period. With all the electronics, over-scheduling and stimuli our kids are subject to, I think it's wonderful that they have time and space to learn to be comfortable in their own company with their own thoughts.

      As to the value of traditional, rigorous education, IMO it cannot be understated. It need not be hours every day of soul-numbing drills, but children need to learn to speak and write at least our native language correctly. I work with the business community, and spend an inordinate amount of time copy-editing my clients' creations because these B-school grads don't know "they're" from "there" or subject-verb agreement. Children need to learn to do math in their own brains so they understand the processes and will have the computational skills to know if a machine-generated result was based on faulty inputs. They should learn about culture, history and science so they can understand the world around they live in and become true citizens. They are not going to learn that stuff from each other or by building bridges out of popsicle sticks. They need to learn it from trained teachers who know how to work with different learning styles and abilities. Hands-on project based learning is a wonderfully enlivening component of education (I still remember the lessons I learned about capitalist economics playing a game called "Marketplace" in fourth grade where we ran pretend grocery stores), but kids still need to acquire competence and knowledge.

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    7. Friends is one of 85 schools in the US certified by the Friends Council on Education. They all have silent meeting for worship as it is an important element of the Quaker values and traditions that are central to the school. It's hardly "San Francisco weird".

      Most kids really don't love meeting for worship, but I see my kids turning into thoughtful and reflective people and I'm sure that the time to pause and think each week contributes to that.

      As for the comments made by the 11:00 am poster, I agree heartily about what kids should be learning in school and I'm very glad to say that my kids are learning that at Friends.

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    8. It seems like a lot of parents at SFFS regularly comment on this board. Can you confirm if students can opt our of Friends' meeting for worship as a personal choice, or are they forced to attend and do silent worship too? I'm asking because I'm interested in the school, but my hubby is somewhat uncomfortable with things like "meeting for worship" and "quaker testimonies" and so if I can let him know it's optional, not mandatory, he may be more open.

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    9. Is there a direct relationship or link between the famous Sidwell Friends school the Obama daughters attend in Washington DC and the SF Friends school here, or is it more of a loose affiliation? Thanks in advance for any insight!

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    10. 11:33 - As far as I know there is no "opt out." I would be really suprised if such a possibility existed since it goes against the grain of several Quaker testimonies that are truly part of the everyday life of the school, such as equality and community. I suggest that you and your husband check it out and see if the reality makes him uncomfortable. I can't imagine that someone would find the Quaker testimonies objectionable since they're things like "integrity" and "service", but I know some people get turned off by Friends.

      11:42 - The Friends schools (including Sidwell Friends) all operate under the review of the Friends Council on Education. I think the fact that the Obamas chose a Friends school for their daughters is a good vote of confidence in an education that includes quaker values! You can look at the FCE website to learn more about what it means to be a Friends school.

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    11. Thanks 12:08, what does operate under the review of Friends Council mean exactly? Is there a similar curriculum or standards of some kind, is there common hiring criteria, or is each Friends school free to operate as they like without the seal of approval of the Friends Council on Education.

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    12. I'm just a parent at the school so I'm not the best person to answer that question. I would suggest that you look at the website, and the school will be glad to talk about it when you visit on tours.

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    13. We asked this question when we toured SFFS. What were were told was that there was not a standardized, consistent Friends curriculum from school to school. So Sidwell Friends wouldn't necessarily have the same curriculum or approach than SF Friends does. They may share some best practices, but there seems to be quite a bit of freedom for each site. We were hoping there might be more consistencies across schools, as the Friends on the East Coast in particular have much longer, established track records.

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    14. We were told that Friends was modeled off Sidwell Friends by some of the existing parents. I have to believe that some of the other schools that influenced their curriculum and approach are Head Royce, where Cathy Hunter spent 12 years as Head of Upper School and Nueva where the Head of the lower and middle school came from. I think Cathy brought some other teachers over from Head Royce.

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    15. Ditto to 1:58, my husband went to Sidwell many moons ago and found the Friends tour quite different in feel to his memories of Sidwell. For example, Sidwell Friends seems less like a quaker school, in that there isn't as much focus on Quaker testimonies, long periods of silence. My husband wasn't even sure they had a meeting for worship regularly at Sidwell. Cathy Hunter is herself a Quaker (most heads at Sidwell Friends have not been historically) and I think it was important for her to form a school that didn't shy away from being a Quaker school. In contrast, Sidwell Friends is more like a stand alone private school and less like other Friends schools. There really are a lot of differences among Quaker schools even back east. In Philly, for example, Friends Select is much stronger than Germantown Friends in the suburbs.

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    16. One very important distinction between SFFS and the Friends schools back east is that SFFS is only a K-8 school (while both Sidwell Friends and Baltimore Friends are K-12 schools). Sidwell Friends has a lower, middle and upper school and two separate campuses (in DC and Bethesda, MD) that splits the school populations. Cathy Hunter said that every year she gets asked why not make SFFS go K-12, and every year she says no because they are just figuring out the upper school (middle school) now and there are very different and distinct challenges to managing a school that goes through high school, as college placement becomes a big part of the school and how it's measured. I wish people would stop expected SFFS to live up to Sidwell; they're not the same and SFFS is its own model.

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    17. @3:08. Not sure about Sidwell not having Quaker heads but Tom Farquhar the current head, Bruce Stewart the previous head, and Earl Harrison who was head in the 70s and preceded Bruce were all Quakers. Sidwell also has the weekly meeting for worship. I actually thought there were a lot of similarities between the schools when you factor in the cultural differences between the two cities.

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    18. There appear to be very many SF Friends parents who read this blog still and regularly comment - thanks for all the information! We're applying to K this Fall and I'm not sure I'll be reading or posting once this crazy process is over!

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    19. Thanks. I actually have older kids - middle school and high school- but I think that gives a helpful perspective. Also, it's interesting to see what's being said about different schools.

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  6. Any thoughts on the San Francisco School in the Portola District? I didn't even know it was there until I happened to be on the Portola garden tour 2 years ago and they were one of the stops.

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    1. I know one family with elementary aged kids there who loves it. Also know a middle schooler leaving Presidio Hill to go to there. All seem happy.

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    2. It's a great school. Best points of entry are in Preschool or TK (which is Montessori-based). Otherwise, wait until Grade 1 or beyond. They have very few spots available in regular K (2-4) because they have a true preschool/TK feeder of their own that fills the class.

      But honestly, the spots are not much less than Synergy (which also has its own TK).

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    3. The school is dedicated to creating a community of varied socio-economic backgrounds and means. It has the feel of a public school in that most parents drive Toyotas, Hondas, and other practical family cars. The school devotes a lot of its resources to tuition assistance, I think the highest in the City. Obviously, there are some monied families at the school, but it is not like the Big 5 schools or Friends in terms of the percentage of families coming in with huge amounts of wealth. The school is very small with only one class 1st-5th grade and then expanding by 12 students in middle school so each child is really known by all the faculty and staff. Academically, it's on par with Live Oak with very strong and integrated music and Spanish programs that begin in preschool. San Francisco School has similar high school placement as other privates. I think as many parents are more middle-class, they might look at publics just as seriously as other privates for high school. The school does have attrition as families move out of the City and would be a good choice for a family looking to go private after 1st grade. In middle school, there are a lot of applicants from public Spanish Immersion programs.

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    4. The San Francisco School was established in the 1960s so while it's not as old as some other independent schools it is not exactly new either. To the person who posted the question, what were you interested in knowing about the San Francisco School?

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  7. OK, not Floyd, Kris here, maybe I read that before and kind of agreed with it, sorry won't say again. I do think people should think not just of how these decisions affect their kid but also how it affects what kind of society we want to be and if it is fair to the other kids, I saw 'Waiting for Superman' and really think we need innovative ways to bring up the poorest kids. I think most people have given up on this and think it'd be a waste to send their kid to public if they're rich, but I think it's still possible to bring it up for all. Sorry, I won't ruin anything, just throwing in my $.02 and I'm not Floyd. Good luck to all.

    If I lived in Portola, I'd drive the 2 miles or so to Buena Vista, very good school that will teach your kid to be fluent in English and Spanish. Visitacion Valley E.S. actually has very good test scores by groups, meaning the kids in the public housing do bad but the Asian and white kids there do quite well. I know a teacher at VV MS and the honors program is good there. Balboa is a good high school now and is close.

    Sorry to ruin anything, won't talk about the private school opinion again, I remember reading how one President believed this so it's kind of one point of view, I think oddly enough if I recall Jimmy Carter and Dan Quayle both sent their kids to public school, though maybe Quayle is a bad example as he thought they spoke Latin in Latin America.

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  8. Some parents on a few threads have mentioned they've has children in both public and private/parochial. Is this due to switching schools? Do private schools consider it a red flag to switch schools? Considering the trouble to apply to and get accepted at some private schools, why would you leave before going all the way through (unless moving or job transfer). Did a school ever just disappoint or just become too much to force that decision?

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    1. We have one kid in private, two in public, none in parochial (though would be open to it.) It really came down to what seemed like the right fit for each kid. The one that is now private switched toward the end of elementary school. The others may well stay in public through and beyond the end of elementary school. We'll just have to see what works. We didn't switch all to the private because that's a cost way beyond what we can manage, and the public is working well for two out of three, and did for quite some time for the third. We also tried to switch to another public for that child, though that didn't pan out. When applying, we thought the private seemed actually interested in a family that (would) consider and send their kids to very different schools. What we had to stay was pretty informed and specific at that point about what we wanted for our child. There also were test results by that time, so the private had something concrete to actually look at.

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    2. Schools understand that kids' needs and parents' circumstances change over time. If a family is struggling to pay the tuition at a popular independent or the kid develops issues that make it hard to keep up with the program, the school will be able to fill the space so they're not going to be all mad and sad if you leave. I think the main thing is to be honest and open about your thinking and, except in extreme circumstances, not burn your bridges.

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  9. I am curious about AV and MP - how far they went into their waiting list? Did everyone applied to either get t? Did people not get in?

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  10. me again 7:42, I am also curious if MP or AV was first choice for people or did people see them as back-up or safety schools?

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    1. We liked and applied to MPS, and did get in. We initially applied as a "back up" (but I hate to sell the school short as it was so much more). As the process continued, MPS went up higher and higher in our estimation. We ended up getting into our first choice dream school, and had to turn them down, but honestly, would have been very happy to go there. That said, we only applied to one newer "back up" school initially as it's a big time commitment to apply and we wanted to make sure we picked a newer or easier to get in school we truly loved, and selected MPS over AVS, SchoolHouse, Adda Clevenger, KMS, and other options. I do know people got waitlist letters. I do know one family for which it was their first choice, and they got in. I think you'd get in if you wrote a first choice letter to MPS or AVS.

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    2. MPS was the only independent we applied to and we got in and we are going. very excited.

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    3. I know a family from our preschool who didn't get in AVS and another waitlisted but didn't get in in the end either. Not sure if it was their first choice but certainly for the one who didn't get in, it was not seen as their safety either. It seems like an up and coming school. The class sizes are small I think so might not be as easy to get in as one might think for a newer school.

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  11. Although not a new school, we'll be new to the area, and would love to read some comments about Marin Montessori. We're also curious about for thoughts on why there are no independent Montessori schools with elementary programs in the city.

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  12. I would love to hear from some of the families who were at Friends in the early days -perhaps parents of current 8th graders or thereabouts. Also if there are any families who were at Live Oak in the early days or SF Day for that matter. What were these schools like in the early days? The 8th graders at Friends were once what the Ks are now at AVS and MPS. They were there during the move, etc. I think some of the newer schools have a lot to offer not just in the future but right now. I'm guessing the SFFS, LOS, and going back a few more years SFDS also had a lot to offer even in those early days. All that was missing in the early days was the fancy new building and the status.

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  13. We are an early day family at Friends. We are a white and blonde family, and have not a bit of diversity to offer, so we probably wouldn't get in now, LOL! We have a daughter in 8th grade and a second daughter in 4th grade. Our second daughter did not have a great assessment, and they didn't want to take her, but we fought that. It left a somewhat sour taste because honestly, she's absolutely thriving, so they were dead wrong in the way they do assessments! The school has good points and bad points like all schools. The humanties and writing are great. Spanish has been a disappointment, it's introduced in K but really super basic and my eighth grader does not have many Spanish skills despite 9 years of instruction. The early days were wonderful; Cathy Hunter used to drive kids herself on field trips. Now, I've heard that families have hardly any access to her unless she becomes your upper school advisor, which is a shame. Jennifer Arnest was great, very sassy. We're just getting to know Andrew, he's a bit stiff, but seems adequate. Most teachers were excellent, except for one grade which was the opposite. Physical education (gym, sports) are not a strength of this school, but music/art is great. I've noticed that the boys are really sweet, and not particularly active or hyper. Outdoor play equipment is adequate but not great. Looking at new entering classes, they do seem much more "brown" and diverse than our older child's year. I think you really need to offers some diversity (religion, color, economic, etc.) now to get in. They can afford to be very choosy now. It was relatively easy when we applied for our daughter. She is going to SOTA for high school, one of her top choices and is happy. Best of luck everyone!

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  14. Our son is a 9th grader at Urban and went through Friends from kindergarten. when we applied it was not our first choice but we didnt get in any where else. no doubt our son got a great education but the last three years the school seemed to really change in terms of the number of very wealthy families. We were also very underwhelmed with the academics in 7th and 8th grade and several of us parents met with heads of school to try and get an accelerated curriculum for those kids who wanted more. the school refused. we have a younger daughter who goes to charles armstrong and one entering kindergarten who is not going to Friends (but did get in).

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    1. Thanks so much for this invaluable and candid feedback. It's tricky because everyone always says glowing things about their school and new parents don't get the unvarnished truth. I'd heard whispers about this kind of thing (an acquaintance has a daughter going into grade 7 who is academically advanced, and they are tutoring her to keep her stimulated, they love Friends socially, just not academically as much as they would like). Thank you 4:38 for your honesty!

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    2. @4:38. Thanks for the comments. It's easy to see how Friends would not have been competitive admissions wise at the beginning. The middle school academics at Friends seem to be an issue for some families. What did you find underwhelming about the academics? It seems that they have a decent amount of success placing kids at the top high schools in the city and with boarding schools? I have no idea what the HS process consists of but would have to assume academics would play a big part.

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    3. "the school seemed to really change in terms of the number of very wealthy families."


      meaning many more wealthy families more recently?

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    4. yes, friends is especially focused on both diversity and wealth in current recruitment efforts. they will take non-wealthy folks who bring some diversity table, or wealthy folks who don't but there's almost no chance for white, heterosexuals who are middle class to get in. they are also currently focused on high pedigrees and the education background and position of parents since they believe this is the highest predictor that the kids will be success and get great HS and college placement, which will in turn help the prestige and credibility of their school. friends is currently in evolution, and becoming bigger, more establishment than it used to be. mps and avs will decide what direction they want to change into a few years.

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    5. 4:38 here. yes, the school has definitely grown into a much more wealthy community over the years. no question about it. we knew it would grow but it seems like it has gone very far from its roots.


      The math component was noticeably lacking beginning in middle school.

      also, to clarify, my other child is at charles armstrong which is for children with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia..not a fancy boarding school..

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    6. 4:38, thanks for your comments. Where is your daughter going for K?

      And since you have a child in high school and another with different learning needs, what advice would you give parents of children to be entering Ks of how best support them in their schools and ensure they are getting what they need? Thanks!

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    7. 4:38 our daughter is going to Hamlin. Which yes, talk about wealthy but we know that going into it. Friends didn't start off that way which was one of the many attractions for us.

      gosh, advice. well with our middle kiddo we knew he had learning differences (and sensory stuff early on). he went to Friends for kinder and grade one and then pulled him. it was clear that his needs couldn't be met at friends.

      with our oldest we had no basis of comparison other than he started to say things like "this is boring" when it came time to math. he also had a noticeable shift in interest in school in general around sixth grade.




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    8. Do you feel comfortable sharing where your middle child went after moving from Friends? We just learned our boy might have sensory issues (starting to look into occupational therapy) and wonder if there are any independent schools that are better experienced to help support this? We are looking in the fall for him.

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    9. to clarify, not sure what I was doing when I originally posted. our middle is a boy. we moved him to charles armstrong after first grade. he has sensory stuff but his learning differences and dyslexia are the predominant issues.

      you might want to look into Laurel School.

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    10. 4:38, what made you choose Charles Armstrong over Laurel? Where do you plan to send your son after his time at Charles Armstrong? Any good advice for other parents of children with learning differences?

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  15. This approach makes some sense, but I still don't understand how having a big gap in the social fabric of the school -- less of a middle and two polarized extremes - makes for a fully successful school.

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    1. I think the diversity that many of the private schools are currently seeking is racial diversity rather than socio-economic diversity.

      So, they probably aren't ending up with polarized extremes, but instead with some of the wealthiest families of San Francisco alongside some of the merely well-off.

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    2. @9:20am That certainly seems the case at SFDS, but I'm not so sure about Friends. Know at least one low-income AA family there. That's only anecdotal, but it's someone. Also know Friends is planning to seek out low-income minorities from the neighborhood for middle school. Wonder how that will work out. Seems a really hard age for it to work socially (more for the kids.)

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  16. I have a 9th grader who graduated from Friends las year and a 6th grader at Friends. My 9th grader is getting terrific grades at a very rigorous (boarding) school. I feel like Friends prepared her extremely well, although at the time she was in middle school that wasn't always apparent. What I mean by that was that she didn't seem to have that much work, but I can see now that the skills built through the schoolwork are the ones that she needs now in high school.

    One thing that parents at Friends have a little trouble with is the math in middle school. They want the kids to learn how to figure out how to do problems, and it's much more about the process than about getting the answer right. While I believe that this ultimately serves the kids very well, it's frustrating for them and for the parents, and you feel like your kid is not doing well in math. I would say that among the first classes of graduates there are more kids ending up in Algebra 1 in high school than one would prefer - about half of them went into algebra and half into geometry. My 6th grader definitely had some gaps in his early math but the school provided a supplemental program and now he's doing very well. I think the overall approach to math works well but they do need to go back and emphasize some of the boring rote stuff and formulas more.

    The humanities in middle school are excellent. I think the 8th grade humanities program is one of the best academic experiences my daughter had at Friends.

    Science has been a area of growh and emphasis, and the kids get good lab skills in science class which is what they need going into high school.

    One this I really appreciate about the academics at Friends is that if a kid doesn't do well on an assignment or a test, they're expected to redo the work. You don't just get a bad mark and move on. As a result, they learn the material, AND learn from their mistakes.

    Socially, it's been strange for me the last few years not to know all the families at the school. In the earlier years we knew everyone! Now I feel somewhat less connected to the school than I did then.

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  17. 9:33 am, I could have written your post except for the ages of my kids (who are younger by a few grades)! I really miss the smaller feel the school had even just a few years ago. The community has definitely changed, and I mostly socialize and know the families in my two children's respective grades only. I'm not sure how I'd describe the feel of the wider community, as it feels like there are so many new faces each year at the Blue party I don't even recognize!

    I couldn't agree more on the excellent humanities: SFFS clearly excels here! But I also share your frustration on math. Some of the tactics have struck me as odd and not effective. But it's great to hear your older child is thriving at their boarding school. We have hired a tutor to help our child with math (we're using a tutor recommended by other SFFS parents), so we'll see how that goes.

    Finally, I think most families pick their K-8 schools based on things like "it feels right" or the community and how comfortable they feel or fit in, but I think the curriculum and teaching philosophy and academics are more important as the child gets older.

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  18. I too could have written the same but with younger children
    I have talked with others and we ALL (different schools/same age kids) feel that ALL schools lack in Math preparation :(

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    1. Can any parent at Alta Vista School comment on how they feel the math is at that newer school? Since it is supposed to be math and technology and science focused?

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    2. I have good friends who son is in grade 1 at AVS, and although not a perfect school, I do think it's academically stronger than SFFS. We have several friends at SFFS and they have repeated the earlier posters comments that bright kids started saying in grade 5 (upper school), "I am bored". We went to a well regarded preschool and our director cautioned us to avoid SFFS for "weak academic development" since that was one of our primary concerns for our son. We loved the warm feel and social aspects of SFFS, but our PSD's words literally haunted us. Our son is currently at Town and I have to say I have no regrets academically, although I may miss some of the social-emotional strengths of SFFS (we had a choice and selected Town based on our PSD's recommendation 2 years ago). The academics at Town are top notch; it just didn't sit right for us to pay $25 K to a school that wasn't going to academically challenge our bright boy. Oh and BTW, we are a Diamond Heights family, barely upper middle class and doing just fine at Town in terms of those issues.

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    3. I'm the poster whose child is in boarding school; I have to take issue with this idea that bright kids are "bored" at Friends. Both of my kids are bright and neither has been bored at school. I don't think the academics are weak at all; in fact, what bothers people about math is that their kids have to work hard at it because they don't feed them the formulas on a silver platter. While my 9th grader could get through Friends without spending much time on homework most of the time, the school days were interesting and stimulating. The curriculum challenges lots of kids in different ways, and pushes them outside of their comfort zone a lot.

      "Bored" is code for pretty much any form of pre-adolescent discontent. I wouldn't take it very seriously. I also don't know that a preschool director is the most familiar person with the academics of upper grades at a K-8.

      But, to be fair, the weekly silent meeting at Friends is truly kind of boring.

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    4. What math program does Friends use? Both the publics and at least some of the privates (Town, for sure) use the not-generally-loved Everyday Math program. It's not generally love because it's sort of circuitous. Ideas and concepts are introduced, but not mastered initially, and then they're reintroduced later in a circular, developmental manner. That opposed to say more practice-till-you-get-it approaches like Singapore Math. I wonder if Friends uses Everyday Math too..or is it something else? I can't imagine they've invented their own curriculum....

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    5. 7:04, do you realize that you pretty much said in your post that SFFS is for not-so-smart kids, and also got in a little jab at Alta Vista for not being "perfect" too?

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    6. Lighten up 12:44. Can't anyone be opinionated or candid on this blog, or must everyone be so politically correct and neutral? Maybe 7:04 thinks SFFS is weak academically (notice the poster said bright kids have said they felt bored, not that they weren't smart to begin with!). And maybe, it's also possible that AVS is not perfect although strong academically. Didn't think the post was that bad at all. I also applaud and get more out of posts that are frank and take a position rather that forever worrying about offending some parents or schools. Let's have more honesty please, not less.

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    7. Honestly though, NO school is perfect. But I'm with 12:44, and would like to hear the reasons of why AVS is not perfect, yet. Instead of just a jab.

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  19. I'm curious what the people with kids who have already gone through SFFS thought of the earlier posts touting the superlative (best around) academics at SFFS. It sounds like many of you found many reasons to like the school and to value your and your kids' time there, but those reasons often seemed tied to other qualities of the school.

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    1. Like I've said above, I couldn't be more pleased with how well prepared my child was in terms of her study and learning skills. It's not a curriculum that's going to make the academic stars shine - there's too much variety in the kind of work they do to make any one kid stand out in everything.

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    2. I'm somewhat reluctant to post this as I think it may be apparent who we are by this post.

      We were a Friends family until recently. There are many wonderful aspects to the school, my older daughter has liked many of her teachers, and field trips are great. However, academically, my daughter started to glaze over by 4th grade. My partner and I had several meetings with teachers, admin to figure out if we could provide an accelerated curriculum. We wanted to work with the school first, and find another one as a last resort. The school made an effort with respect to reading level, but less so in other areas. To cut a long story short, we began touring other schools in her 4th grade with idea of changing in 5th grade. I have to say, it's hard on everyone changing schools mid-way. We found an ideal school but didn't get a spot, so we kept her at Friends and hired a tutor until we were able to find a spot at a school which ended up being single-sex. I know I've outed myself now if the Friends admin are reading this, but I was quite frustrated by the lack of flexibility in the Friends curriculum.

      Another poster spoke that the weekly meetings for worship (nearly an hour of silence and squirmy kids) is truly boring. It was for my child too. I don't know if this is helpful for any new parents, but I felt there was so little transparency and true insight when I was searching for a school and I wish there had been so I'm being a bit blunt here! I have to say, I fell into the trap that has been referred to in other posts of picking a school that fit my husband and I socially, and not our child intellectually. Although we've rectified it now and our eyes are wide open going into HS, I still regret how little I knew then.

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    3. 1:30- Thank you for your honesty. Which girls school did you end up at?

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  20. Sorry to change the subject but not sure where else to post this question -could someone fill me in on what are considered the top private high schools in SF? We are years away but I'd like to have some understanding -I'm completely clueless on this topic. I know w/ the k-8 there is this sort of understanding of "tier 1," etc that has been discussed on this board a lot. But then it's also a lot about fit, location, philosophy, newer vs older school, etc. I'm guessing w/ the high schools the tiers are more well-definited? It seems that since the admissions committee at a high school has more to go on at this point -grades, extra curricular, a real interview w/ someone who is older than 4.5, etc, etc that this would have to be the case and the best candidates would end up at the best schools.

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    1. I'd say University, Urban and Lick are the three strongest private HS, academically and otherwise. Each is pretty different so it's hard to compare. UHS is the most traditional and emphasizes--in some ways--more rote content; though there's lots of discussion and critical analysis too. Urban has the block schedule and more 'progressive' in its roots and probably is best suited for kids who are genuinely curious and who thrive off of inquiry and not competition, Lick has always been the most popular with folks who might otherwise go public. There is a material arts emphasis in its founding and cultural roots; very diverse and has the shop programs where kids learn welding and stained glass. They're each great for different reasons. International, Bay and Drew seem to be for students that are not quite as strong (though IHS has the IB which can be very rigorous). More LD kids seem to attend Drew and Bay is still so new I think they often come up a bit short. Convent and Stuart Hall are smaller and more supportive but single sex and therefore outliers. Saint Ignatius and Waldorf also have their niches.

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    2. Keep in mind some of the best high schools in the Bay Area are not in SF proper - Branson, Head Royce, College Prep, Crystal Springs come to mind. All draw from SF, as do (seemingly more and more) boarding schools, mostly on the east coast.

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  21. Most academic private - Lick Wilmerding and University. International also has many who like it. Maybe then Urban, then Bay School and Drew. Sacred Heart pleases a lot of people - and very strong in sports - and has a much more diverse student body; Riordan less diverse.

    Most academic public - Lowell and SOTA. Though several of the other high schools are improving as well.

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  22. I don't believe there is one right answer to the "best high school" question. By that age, your child's strengths and interests will be more readily apparent and most kids will want a voice in the decision. The "best" school going by SAT scores and brand-name college admissions may be a poor fit. We know lots of people with kids in HS and have done it ourselves, but these anecdotal comments could be out of date by the time your kids are ready.

    The school that selects the "smartest" kids purely on grades and test scores would probably be Lowell, our public college prep high school. Maybe we just know the wrong people, but our acquaintances with Lowell experience have either opted out because it was too much of a pressure cooker or expressed extreme frustration at the lack of actual TEACHING going on there. There seems to be a culture of "these kids are so smart they can teach themselves." Friends with kids there spend a fortune on tutors, especially for math. I realize some kids at very expensive private schools seek out tutors as well, but the problem seems to be endemic at Lowell.

    As to privates, Lick-Wilmerding and University seem to have powerhouse academic reputations among the private high schools, though when our daughter in high school, University also had a fairly druggy reputation. Friends with kids at Lick-Wilmerding were, depending who you asked, pleased with the academic support or felt there was too much hand-holding. Like all privates, they look beyond grades and tests scores at the person, and sometimes select kids due to strengths or passions in other areas, like sports or performing arts.

    I am a fan of French-American and Lycee Francais for academic rigor, though those would not work unless your kid is already fully fluent and literate in French.

    I've heard only good things about The Bay School but its newer.

    I have met several happy Urban parents and one "meh" Urban parent. As described on the web site, the block schedule, where kids focus in depth on a few subjects each semester rather than having short periods of a lot of subjects, sounds cool. Urban strikes me as an environment where kids need to be brainy self-starters to take full advantage of what's on offer.

    Our daughter want to Convent. The single-sex environment (her preference) and combination of nurture and push were very effective. Although incoming grades and test scores probably were not as high as some privates, girls who seized the opportunities available got fine educations and got into prestigious colleges.

    A friend is about to graduate from Gateway (charter) HS and feels she has been very well prepared for college.

    All the St. Ignatius graduates I've met say they would send their kids there. If your kid loves to play sports and is a decent student, it seems like it could be a good match at a more favorable price.

    Right now our kid wants to be an architect. Thanks, Minecraft. Yeah, I know, he'll change his mind a thousand times, but I'm a plan-ahead person too when it comes to schools. The only SF high schools I've found that have programs for kids to apply to undergraduate school as architecture majors are Lincoln (public, and I think the most requested HS in SFUSD) and St. Ignatius (I was told by 8th grade parents at our K-8 that there were only 60 non-sibling openings for the class of 2017). Long odds, but that's where our sights are set at the moment.

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  23. Can someone start a SF H Files blog already? I think it's very clear that many parents with older children are posting on this blog to not only give insight on K experiences, but also to get insight and start a conversation on High Schools!

    Can we at least start a separate high school (HS) thread?

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    1. I think that's a great idea to start an SF H Files blog. I'll be entering the HS lottery in a couple of years and am just now starting to think of how to approach that process. I currently have two not-so-little-kids enrolled in SFUSD.

      I don't want to offend anyone, but I believe the HS outcome is "heavy-duty" as, in my opinion, it can have a significant impact on the college process.

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  24. Please, not another trash Lowell post. Lowell has good teachers, a couple bad ones, but Lowell's average SAT score is better by hundreds of points than any public or private high school in SF. There's no comparison. It's not Lowell is OK at this, XXX is OK at that, the people at Lowell could have gone to the other schools, at least if they had the money, the people at the other schools for the most part couldn't. Who would spend 15-40k a year on a school with worse average results? Here's a hint, 99% of people who say they got into Lowell and chose not to go there are lying. They have a supreme court graduate and the best rep of any school. Give me a break, quit trashing Lowell. It's not based on any facts but jealousy. Other high schools are fine but none are anywhere close to Lowell.

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    1. You are absolutely right!!

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    2. In my daughter's 8th grade graduating class, 12 kids got into Lowell (including my daughter) but only 6 enrolled.

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    3. Brilliant daughter of a friend went one year, then said that what was happening there was not an education.

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    4. That's not correct. Lowell's average SAT score is 1826. University, Lick and Urban are all 2000+.

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  25. I think what many kids find having gone through private K-8 is that Lowell is HUGE in comparison. There are far more kids, far less handholding, fewer teachers per student, and lots, lots more Asian kids. This is jarring for many kids (and parents) who have grown up in a more sheltered environment. If the brilliant daughter who enrolled at Lowell had gone to private K-8, then Lowell would seem very, very different, and by her limited knowledge (only have been in school through middle school, then one year of high school) it may well have not seemed like an education, because would have been nothing like the education she previously experienced and understood.

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    1. So what if it's huge. It gives your child more choices and electives. When will you allow them to grow up and start interacting with the wider world? What do you think schools like UC and Stanford look like? These schools have 10'000 -20,000+ students and there are lots of Asian people there. What city do you think this is? Will you also tell her to avoid travelling outside Western Europe and Canada because it's too jarring. The ignorance and handwringing is just mindboggling.

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    2. No -- the brilliant daughter went to a huge public middle school (and a very large public elementary), where she was extremely happy with the academics. I can't name names, but neither were trophy schools at the time she went through them. Both were extremely diverse, and she has friends from Pac Heights to the projects. She's been a public school advocate her whole life. She was thrilled to get into Lowell. This is NOT a child who needed hand-holding; she was doing college-level work by grade 7. She left Lowell because she said it was not a place where she felt she was being educated.

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    3. The student we know who has struggled with inadequate teaching at Lowell happily and successfully attended Jefferson and Hoover for elementary and middle school, both large public schools with majority Asian populations.

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  26. "lots more Asian kids". One of the best arguments against private school, it can make you blindly racist and critical of a race that achieves more academically than whites and on average studies more hours, more than double. Also, it makes you soft so you can't handle things for yourself. You need to learn to handle much bigger groups in college, the tough can handle it in high school. As a Korean American I was offended at that comment. We work hard to achieve and then people say places are "too Asian". We commit lower crime, study more, and you treat us like we smell bad or something. I don't appreciate that attitude. It's not earned and it is your problem you feel that way, not mine. I hope you do send your kids to Lowell so they can work past the racism you hold in your heart. It's very hurtful.

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  27. I'm so sorry my skin color and good grades are "jarring" for your white girl on a pedestal. Sorry to disturb your sense of what's right, everyone being white.

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  28. Wow I'm in a state of shock. I feel like we just went back 50 years, let's bring back the Asian Exclusion Act. I just showed this to 2 friends here at work and we're kind of in a state of shock that someone would say that, I always suspected it but to hear it is just, well...wow, that's all I'm going to say.

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  29. Are you kidding? I agree! I'm not saying for a second anything about what I think about Asian kids. I think you can't generalize, but generally and statistically their performance supersedes most everyone else. Agreed! I think many people are culturally surprised at the number of Asian people. They are not making a comment about Asian people - they just notice that there are more of them at Lowell than at, say SFDAY. And many of these white people have not spent lots of time with a large population of predominantly Asian families. Now a white kid that goes to many schools in the Richmond and Outer Sunset for elementary and/or middle through SFUSD has a different experience. It's not different than my Japanese friend who looks at my kids elementary school and says, wow, there are a lot of white kids there and not that many Asians. She's more comfortable with her kids being at a school with more kids that look closer to the way they do (though they're still a small minority.) Sorry to offend - was not intended to. But you're wrong if you think people don't look at Lowell or many schools in certain areas of town and think to themselves they look more Asian than they're used to. And the jarring comment? That was more about the size of the school.

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  30. As a brown person, I admit to being shocked by how many "white kids" there are at Live Oak or Friends. I may even be "jarred" by it ... just saying ...

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  31. I don't know about you but I think you grow a lot by going to schoo people different than yourself. For most of our life, we are around people of our socio-economic level, school is one of the only chances we have to really integrate on an equal level, not a she's a scholarship girl level. That's why I didn't even look at private schools for my kids, I didn't want them sheltered and uncomfortable with large numbers of people or with people who are not white. Maybe it comes from a lot of people from other states who think whites and Asians can't be friends, whites date whites, Asians date Asians, blacks date blacks, Georgia just had a school with their first integrated prom. I'm white and I didn't want my kids to have that kind of feeling about other races. I see a lot of these people in my church and there's this attitude that you can't get as good of an education in public school because it's for minorities, you won't get as good of an education, and then Asians get better SAT scores and grades and get into a school that's more selective than any other based on merit and then school is "too Asian". You just can't win with these types unless you're all white. It's not a good way to think. Most whites in SF think it's jarring to go to any school that has any poor nonwhite kids in the school. Sure, anything is jarring if you're sheltered, which is why I never considered this route for my kids. We have a half white, half black President. We need to get over this kind of thinking and give Asians a little credit. I've been in the minority plenty in my life and it's never hurt me.

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  32. Why is it OK to point out that other private schools seem really, really white? Plenty on this board say they think some private schools have disproportionate numbers of white overly privileged people. Poor Hamlin got lambasted for that. Hamlin will survive - just noting the irony. People are people - they notice when there is a majority of one race of type of people at a school, or when they think they perceive that. That doesn't have to affect their actions - whether they go there - it just means they see it. The reviewers on this board periodically broke down the racial make up of schools in their reviews. They did that because people are generally curious and have some interest in it - they might want more evenly spread groups.They might want less so. They might just want to know,

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  33. It is because it is very important to fight racism that we integrate our schools. Hamlin stands against that and for the idea that rich white people should be protected and separated from blacks, browns, even poor whites. The concept is despicable. Also, you won't solve racism if you don't equalize education and integrate our schools. It means whites are doing something to keep the racist advantage they had and pass it on, so that instead of solving racism, we perpetuate it. This is the Hamlin philosophy. No one complains that a school in Redding is mostly white, but when you see a private school that's almost all white a few blocks from a public school that's mostly black or Latino, that is anathema to the idea that integration is important to fixing racism. Those kids at Hamlin will grow up suspicious of and afraid of blacks and keep their kids away from them, so instead of breaking down the walls of racism, we perpetuate the divide.

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    1. Girls at Hamlin won't grow up suspicious and afraid of black people ; the head and leader of their school is a brilliant, black women and she is very inspiring to them and a role model. What nonsense 9:56!

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    2. Could you please state the source(s) of your assertion that Hamlin's "philosophy" is to protect and separate white people and perpetuate white privilege?

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    3. I'm not the above poster, and I have nothing against Hamlin, but while it is great that Hamlin has African American leadership, that is very different from going to school in an integrated environment and certainly provides no assurance about racial attitudes among the kids. I have older kids and I have seen among their peers, who like everyone else are affected by the racism (subtle and not) around them, that kids can maintain very racist attitudes about kids of a certain racial background while seeing adults of that background very differently ("Well, Ms. So-and-so is different"). Again, my point is not to attack Hamlin, but don't think having adult role models will solve the problem. Also don't think that racism necessarily comes from the home. Many parents of my kids' peers were mortified to hear things their kids were saying to their (few) African American classmates, because it was anathema to their own attitudes. But kids pick up ideas from the world around them and are aware of race from a very early age. It takes a lot to counter that, more so if the environment's lack of diversity perpetuates it.

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  34. Why is hamlin being attacked here? it's no different than any of the other independent schools is it? Why does Burke's name never come up? People say it's in the "richmond district" and not pac heights, so maybe it seems more accessible, but really, Burke's is in Sea Cliff and it's demographically quite similar to Hamlin I think.

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  35. I don't think it's about race so much as class, but what is sad about it is the idea that class becomes immutable and the parents of the rich kind of treat poverty as a disease, we must keep our kids away from the poor or they may be infected with their culture. There is something these parents want to keep their kids away from but it's not purely racial though that may be a component. Instead of working together to create equality, we avoid each other and stay on our own side of the railroad tracks. At the Republican Convention, all of them were bragging about how they were poor and rose up, but then they do everything they can to make sure their kids stay away from the poor, at least in situations where the poor aren't highly controlled and under threat of expulsion for fighting. Remember, Romney would pick on kids for being too poor who were upper middle class, cut one guy's hair off for being gay, so it really is about conformity and building walls between different socio-economic groups. It isn't any wonder that we act like class mobility is important to us but in reality have less quintile movement than most "socialist" European nations. A poor kid in France or England, meaning bottom quintile, has a better shot. I may be the exception to this, I grew up near L.A. and took a long bus ride to a white school nearly an hour from my house, usually an hour with traffic being what it is. I'm African American and I gained a lot from my friendships with middle class white kids and became an attorney. I don't think I would have done it if I'd gone to my neighborhood school, no one knows but I don't think so. Some of the whites didn't like me but most were open to being friends with me at that time. The flight to private school came a few years later and really cut back on opportunities for kids like me. I hear similar things were happening at that time in SF. I'm nearly 60 but I really personally think integration was a good idea and we abandoned it to our detriment. The idea that kids should be protected from the poor is a pretty despicable idea. We all know it's happening and it makes me sad. I could have gotten my daughter a scholarship but I wanted her to set an example and give back to her community, not be a token somewhere to make rich people feel better about creating a less equal world both in terms of social interaction and opportunity, and I agree with the previous poster that studies do prove kids do just as well on the SAT in public and private based on income, I'll try to find that study and post it.

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