Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mini Reviews: Jefferson, Miraloma and Adda Clevenger

Before joining as a guest blogger, I always read the SFKfile reviews wondering if had been on the same tour, would I walk away with the same impression.  So far, I am amazed at how similar my views of the schools are to past reviewers.  I assume most of this has to do with how each school structures their individual tour and what items they focus on.  Some schools love to focus in on their specific programs while others simply highlight the activities offered in every SFUSD elementary school.  The tours also are limited in the amount of detail they can provide. The reviews (and comments) tend to change a bit with more familiarity – parents at a school often can almost always provide a deeper understanding as to what is happening at the school, but even those opinion can vary.   Below are a few mini-reviews for the tours from the previous week. I urge you to read the linked articles and their comments for a more thorough review.

Last year, Sunrise Sunset toured Jefferson and provided a great review.  I’ll follow-up on her comments and re-iterate that Jefferson was a great little surprise.  I know parents at this school and had heard great things about it – from the involved parental community to the dedicated teachers. The building itself is charming – and feels small even though there are over 500 students (4 kinder classes!).  There are two play areas (one used for kindergarten classes / kinder drop off and a large one for the older students).  They have a full time gardener and the school grows enough food to hold a mini “farmer’s market” several times a year!

The school does have a strong “urban” feel as it is located with one side of the building on 19th Avenue.  There is a lot of traffic around, but the school seems secure and well-planned.

Given the space constraints of the smaller campus, the auditorium is also used as the gym.  This seems to work fine.  On my tour, we were able to see students running about and enjoying the challenge if jumping over cones.

During the tour, the principle called out the need for improving the technology available in the school and that this would be the next major PTA focus for the coming year.  The school has a few older laptop carts, but most classrooms did not have laptops for teachers or students.  To me, tech was definitely missing in comparison to other SFUSD elementary schools.  I did not see any modern computers nor smart boards in classrooms.  Given California’s new school testing (which requires access to computers to complete), Jefferson will need to address this issue quickly.  I trust the school will be able to raise enough funds to update the tech without impacting other programs.

Overall, Jefferson is definitely worth a look.

Miraloma offers a self-guided tour of the school, complete with a podcast to guide you along  (You can listen to it here.  The school to me was the platonic ideal of a neighborhood school.  Now, this may have been due to the fact that there was a PTA School Clean-up day happening during the tour and we were able to get a different view, but the school had a very strong community vibe about it.  Every class had technology both new and old computers and smart boards.  Classrooms were large (and some were a little cluttered) but most felt clean, bright and appropriate for the grade level.

The school is one of the few predominately white schools in the district with around 52% of the students being white.  In speaking with the Principal, he mentioned how he continues to hope to pull in more diversity to match the City’s demographics.  Of the schools I’ve toured to date, this was the first where the administration openly mentioned diversity.  As an LBGT parent, I was happily shocked to see a rainbow flag immediately upon entering.  In another area of the school, posters celebrating LGBT families were also visible.  The school obviously prides itself on acknowledging the different family structures that exist in every school.

Kindergartners have a great, self-contained play area outside and huge classrooms.  There was a great mix of art, play areas, and academics in each room.  The school has a large gymnasium (with climbing wall), cafeteria and an auditorium!  The school is about to undertake extensive renovations which will make the facilities even nicer.

The PTA is active and raises around $300K per year – with most of the funds raised through an auction and a FunRun.  I love that they sponsor a run for the community.

Miraloma has become a highly requested school … and I can clearly see why.  Getting to Miraloma is not the easiest for us – but is not that far off our normal commute pattern.   I worry about the traffic getting to the school up the curvy roads (and my need to try a few test runs).  That being said, Miraloma is a school for which I would go out of my way.

I highly recommend reading Kate’s review from 2007 as well as visiting Miraloma’s web page for more info.

Adda Clevenger
Adda Clevenger is a private, performance arts based school in the Mission/Noe Valley area.  The school has been reviewed here to differing opinions:  positive review / negative review.  I didn’t know much about the school, but have learned heard for other parents how much their kids love the school.  Since our kid is a natural performer/musician, we put the school on our list.

To begin with, we did not “tour” Adda Clevenger.  Before you can tour, you must attend one of their events to experience the performance art aspect of the school.  We attended the Harvest Fest which had an admission of $10/person. After this visit, we were then given the secret info for an actual tour.  While I don’t mind fundraisers – and would have happily paid to see the students perform – it felt strange to do so as part of the required admissions process.

We were able to walk around the school freely and peer into classrooms.  The building is basically a nice auditorium with classrooms on the level above.   There is a separate area which was functioning as the art gallery, but normally is the gymnastics room.  There was one room which definitely was a kindergarten space, but all of the students move from space to space throughout the day.

I was very happy to watch some of the performances and the kids definitely had both talent and passion for their art.   I could tell that for the right kid, Adda Clevenger could be perfect.  However, I didn’t find anything to make me believe it would be right for ours.   I really can’t put my finger on what it was that was lacking or missing, but the experience just didn’t pull me in enough compared to the other schools I have already seen.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

School Tour: Alvarado

I must say I was pretty excited about Alvarado.  It's supposedly the Spanish Immersion school in San Francisco and after checking out a few others I was ready to view the one everyone talks about.

Prior to showing up we had to sign up via EventBrite and then print our tickets at home.  We were told these would be checked, but that didn't happen.  We all filed in to their cafeteria space and eventually we were greeted by a volunteer mom of a kindergartener.

She discussed her reasons for choosing Alvarado, we were told the Principal wasn't there that day but we could get questions to him via her.  Then we watched a video on Alvarado which gave us some basic facts (below).

The parents (about 60+) were divided in to two groups and we were whisked away by another parent volunteer.  This woman was friendly, has had three kids at Alvarado and is very excited about the school.

We first traveled to the art room.  Alvarado has a kiln and the art room shows a ton of the projects the kids have worked on throughout the years.  Our parent volunteer spoke about all the projects that have returned home and been too special to discard.  This does seem like a great space for a child.  I was a little unclear (and maybe a current parent can clarify) but she mentioned a kindergartner gets one day/week for 16 weeks in the kiln room.  So it doesn't seem to be ongoing throughout the school year for each child.  Alvarado does have a strong focus on arts & creativity.  Their playground has murals & mosaics that date back to previous classes.  This seems like a strong focus for the school and parents.

We then went to a Kindergarten room which was english speaking, we weren't going to be able to see a Spanish Immersion class.  We quietly observed before we moved on.  I must say I thought the teacher was crabby and did not speak with the typical "kindergarten voice" that I've observed in other classes.  As we entered the hallway the parent volunteer said "Can't you just feel the nurturing?"  I looked at some of the other parents and we all exchanged looks...Really, that was nurturing?  One parent murmured as we made our way out, "If that was nurturing, I'd hate to see strict".

I started to notice that aside from the Parent Volunteer telling me how special and nurturing the community was, I didn't actually see it in the faces of anyone in the hall.

We then headed to the library, which is the smallest library I've seen yet.  We went outside to view the playground and the garden (outdoor science lab).  Both were fine.

We went back to the cafeteria to get our questions answered by two additional parents who are involved in the PTA and have had numerous kids at Alvarado.  They seemed like nice folks and people who are committed to public schools.

The main take-away from that was that the After School program for 2014-2015 is unknown.  It's TBD and the Principal doesn't yet know what's the plan is.  I guess currently there is a paid program and a free program for those who need it.  I believe they're trying to determine how to serve more students.

I was impressed with their homework for Kindergarteners.  I'm looking for less homework, not more.  They gave a sample sheet of homework for K's and it includes fun activities like "Bring in something to share that begins with the letter Tt".  and "What color are your eyes?"  It seems completely age appropriate and something that would be fun for kids, rather than tiresome and make them dislike school.

Alvarado Details:

Strong PTA
Raises $400K last year
$200K comes from their auction

Big arts focus:
They have a Artist-in-residence on site
Art room w/ their kiln
Music for 4th graders+ for one hour/week
3rd graders learn to play the recorder

There is no GATE program aside from a letter in the mail saying your chid has been "GATE identified"

There are 22 kids in every class
2 Spanish Immersion classes/grade
2 English classes/grade

Kindergarteners have separate bathroom and water fountains

There is a separate computer lab and children have classes there every other week.

The staff has low turnover
Our parent volunteer mentioned this and also said it can be a drawback because there is less innovation.

Playworks is on-site and they have a yard coordinator

Parents volunteer time to come and work on art projects throughout the weekend as a way to build community and restore past murals, etc.

The feeder middle school is James Lick.

There is no neighborhood preference to Alvarado for the Spanish Immersion Program.

School starts at 7:50am and there is a curbside drop-off.

Overall, I thought Alvarado was just okay.  It certainly didn't WOW me like I was expecting.  After some of the other tours where I've really felt community and school spirit I was let down a bit.

Did any other parents feel this way on the tour or were you all wowed?   Current parents I'd love to hear from you as well!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

School Tours: Monroe

While arriving at Monroe Elementary I saw families biking to school together and big kids holding hands with little kids as they crossed streets.  Immediately I felt like I was in a smaller neighborhood where local kids went to the local school.  I liked the feel of it.

I entered what I hoped to be the main building and the super friendly women in the office directed me to the cafeteria.  I was the first to arrive and started looking at the walls.  There was a lot of info on recycling, composting, gay pride, eating healthy and field trips within San Francisco.  Again, I liked it.

A few parents started arriving and we all chatted.  Most of them lived nearby, this is their neighborhood school, and they want Spanish or Chinese Immersion.  The other parents were friendly, informed and very interested in finding the right fit for their child.

Our tour was led by a PTA parent who was exuberant and informative.  The school is currently under construction and grades 2-3 are off-site at another facility until construction is done (early 2015).  They are working on one building now, when that is complete all students (minus grades 2 & 3) will move to it while they work on their current building.  A Kindergartener entering in Fall of 2014 will deal with construction for a few months until the project is complete.  (Obviously this could be a big problem for those with health issues, ie Asthma, etc.)  I didn't actually hear or notice the construction while we were there so I didn't feel it would be a huge impediment to learning.  And in early 2015 all grades will return to the Monroe campus and the school will be done with construction.

Here are the basics covered in the tour:
-There are about 450 students at the school

-Kindergarten has 5 classes with 22 kids in each class
-Two classes are Spanish Immersion
-Two classes are Chinese Immersion
-One class is English Plus Pathway
-It's a very multi-cultural school

The school is:
45% Latino
30% Asian

They wear uniforms of a white top & navy bottoms
Friday is free dress day

School runs from 8:25-2:25pm
There is an early dismissal on Tuesday at 1:25
Earliest drop-off is 7:45 and they do serve breakfast.

Like most immersion programs, Kinders spend 90% of their instruction in Spanish/Chinese and 10% in English

They do not have a dedicated PE teacher.  Rather the teachers have been trained in PE and they do about 100 minutes/week.

-There is one music teacher for the Upper Grades
-Two dance teachers on site for the lower grades
-Artist Residents on Tues & Thurs (during which time teachers collaborate)
-They are currently trying to bolster their arts program

They have an after school program: the YMCA is on-site to help children with their homework.  The Excelsior Rec. center walks kids over for their after school program (I head a parent say that one is run by the Boys & Girls club).  Also Buena Vista has an after-school program and some kids are bussed there.

They do not have busses aside from that though.

Homework for Kinders: about a 1/2 hour each day

The Feeder Middle School is Hoover.

We began the tour and went to the Library and a Kinder classroom.  Since I toured some schools that were K-8, what struck me about Monroe was it's size.  It really felt like an elementary school and it didn't seem like a young child would be overwhelmed by its volume.  The library was decent size - it has books in all three languages.  And the Kindergarten classroom was very cute with a lot of artwork on the walls.  However, these exact rooms will be gone before my daughter would arrive there due to construction.  According to the Principal, the library will be much bigger in size.

As we walked on, we viewed the playground which seemed of average size.  Recesses are done by grade so the Ks wouldn't mix with the 5th graders.  There was a large solar panel that I asked the Tour Leader about and he said it powers a few classrooms and they're very focused on being green at Monroe.  They talk a lot about composting, etc.

Solar Panel on the playground

We moved on to an outdoor amphitheater.  So in addition to the stage in the Cafeteria they also can host events here.  Nearby there was a garden, including a veggie garden, and a beautiful gazebo that was built by a parent.  Apparently the garden is also in limbo because of construction but they're hoping to either keep it or rebuild it.

Outdoor Amphitheater

I really got the feeling that the community works hard to make Monroe thrive.  When asking about the PTA we were told they raised $62k out of a goal of $60k.  The Principal stressed this is a HUGE amount for their community to raise.  Our Tour Leader said the PTA President is named Frank Lau (sp?) and he is very involved.  He actually passed by our tour later so we got to see him on campus.  Our Tour Leader had great things to say about Frank and mentioned that the parent community was very involved at PTA meetings and they were fun, lively events where the cafeteria gets packed with people.  At the school I felt a lot of community spirit, saw lots of volunteers and felt how much parents care for this school.

Garden built by parents

We also received a pamphlet of more details about the school.   What continued to impress me was they really stress no junk food - even packed in lunches.  No candy, no cookies, no potato chips, etc.  There are no vending machines.  They offer on-site lunch by Revolution foods for $2.50.  Your child can opt in and the bill would then be sent monthly if they don't qualify for free lunch.  Parents can come and have lunch with their child any day but again cannot bring junk food.

They don't have any formal "buddy program" where a 4/5th grader meets regularly with a younger child.  But they do have 4th & 5th graders who volunteer to help at the Kindergarten lunch.  They might open milk or clean up trash for the younger kids.  It gives them an opportunity to have a leadership role and to be helpful.  They also help resolve conflicts amongst kindergarteners if necessary and can learn from that as well.

The average teacher time is 7-9 years.  Although they have 2 new teachers this year.  The principal has been on site for 2 years.

Overall I really liked Monroe.  It reminded me of a 'normal' school, one you might find as your neighborhood school in the burbs; it's small, parents get involved, they are making a lot of progress and it has a big community feel.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Monroe Fall Festival THIS SATURDAY 10/26

If you're interested in checking out Monroe, you can do it this Saturday to see the community in action and support their PTA.

Get spooked in the haunted house, discover pumpkin delights in the pumpkin patch, capture the costume craziness at the photo booth, and have a blast playing games and rocking out with your kids to live music at Monroe's Fall Fun-Fest! All proceeds benefit Monroe and their PTA.

Bring the whole family and join us for a fun filled day!

Live Performances, Haunted House, Pumpkin Patch, Food,Games and Prizes, Photo Booth, Arts & Crafts and more.
RAFFLE: Grand prize is two 49er tickets!
Everyone encouraged to come in costume!

12pm - 4pm

, Sat

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Data: Private School Enrollment by Race and by Grade

For families looking at private schools, here are two sources with detailed information on enrollment by race and by grade.

Private School Universe Survey: Enrollment by Race and Ethnicity

This survey, conducted every 2 years by the US Department of Education, asks schools for information about enrollment by race and grade. The most recent data is for school year 2009-10 but still provides a useful baseline. I was holding out for the 2011-12 survey results, but will have to leave it to a future guest blogger.  I also added Marin Prep, which did not participate in the 2009-10 survey, after finding data on in a recruiting brochure for their Head of School.

12/2013 update: Table updated to include 2011-12 Private School Universe Survey (PSS) data.  The old version of the table with 2011-12 data from school websites is archived here.

SCHOOL Source and Year White Asian Latino African American Two or
more races
SF SCHOOL* website 2013 47% 32% 10% 11% -
website 2011 43% 29% 14% 15% -
PSS 2009-10 52% 20% 13% 15% -
SYNERGY website 2013-14 47% 53% students of color
PSS 2011-12 42% 34% 12% 4% 8%
PSS 2009-10 45% 22% 17% 15% -
CHILDREN'S DAY* website 2013-14 52% 48% students of color
PSS 2011-12 54% 9% 14% 1% 22%
PSS 2009-10 57% 8% 8% 1% 25%
PRESIDIO HILL* website 2013 53% 8% 10% 3% 23%
PSS 2011-12 67% 5% 9% 4% 14%
PSS 2009-10 56% 9% 9% 6% 21%
SF FRIENDS website 2013-14 56% 44% students of color
PSS 2011-12 63% 7% 5% 1% 23%
PSS 2009-10 (K-7) 67% 6% 4% 4% 19%
HAMLIN website 2013 60% 40% students of color
PSS 2011-12 61% 10% 1% 3% 24%
PSS 2009-10 61% 10% 1% 3% 25%
SF DAY website 2013-14 60% 40% students of color
PSS 2011-12 63% 8% 3% 4% 23%
PSS 2009-10** 65% 8% 7% 3% 17%
CATHEDRAL website 2013 62% 38% students of color
PSS 2011-12 76% 9% 4% 6% 5%
PSS 2009-10 66% 8% 3% 4% 19%
LIVE OAK website 2013-14 66% 34% students of color
PSS 2011-12 71% 4% 4% 3% 18%
PSS 2009-10 71% 4% 4% 3% 18%
ADDA CLEVENGER    website info on race/ethnicity not given
PSS 2011-12  69% 11% 9% 9% -
PSS 2009-10 69% 12% 9% 8% -
BURKE website 2013-14 70% 30% students of color
PSS 2011-12 67% 14% 5% 2% 12%
PSS 2009-10 70% 13% 3% 1% 12%
TOWN website not given***
PSS 2011-12 70% 16% 6% 5% -
PSS 2009-10 72% 15% 7% 5% -
KITTREDGE website not given
2011-12 PSS 83% 10% 5% -   -  
2009-10 PSS 82% 9% 1% 0% 6%
MARIN PREP website not given
Head of School 
recruiting brochure 
90% 10% students of color
BRANDEIS-HILLEL website not given
PSS 2011-12 91% - 1% 1% 6%
PSS 2009-10 91% -3% 6%
*PSS does not include preschool/transitional kindergarten enrollment. Percentages from school websites may include preschool/TK enrollment (ie SF School, Presidio Hill, Children's Day).
**Conflicting data for SF Day 2009-10: website stated 45% students of color in 2009-10, but PSS survey response for same year was 35%.
***Town reports 36% from "diverse families," not broken out by race, LGBT or family structure

Source: Private School Universe Survey, National Center for Education Statistics.

As the table above shows, the higher the percentage of white students, the less information schools tend to give about their racial/ethnic enrollment. There are exceptions, but a rule of thumb is that if a school doesn't provide info about racial/ethnic enrollment, it's probably over 70% white.

Students of color does not equal parents of color.

A significant number of Asian, Latino and African-American children at the more expensive private schools are adopted or multiracial. Parents of color looking for a community of other parents of color, take note. At one popular school last year, of 3 Asian kindergarteners, two were adopted and the other was biracial. Does this mean there was only 1 Asian parent for the entire kindergarten class? On the other hand, this can be a big draw for multiracial and adoptive families.

Staff of color does not equal teachers of color.

Many school websites list the percentage of staff of color. This percentage may not reflect who interacts with students in the classroom on a regular basis. For example, it may include the development director, janitor, IT, or the admissions director. Some schools try to have at least one teacher of color in each grade. Others prioritize having a Spanish-speaking teachers. Others aim for equal numbers of male and female teachers. If this is important to you, browsing school faculty directories can be useful.

California Private School Directory: Enrollment by Grade

California law requires all private schools to submit information on enrollment by grade, staffing information and religious affiliation. The California Department of Education compiles the information into an annual private school directory.

Private School Enrollment by Grade, 2012-13

School K12345678UngradedK-8
Adda Clevenger 11 11 16 16 22 10 24 23 15 - 148
Alta Vista 32 30 12 15 - - - - - - 89
Brandeis Hillel 62 60 72 65 62 61 70 69 67 - 588
Brightworks - - - - - - - - - 32 32
Burke 45 47 46 44 50 37 46 43 46 - 404
Cathedral 25 24 24 41 25 30 35 35 31 - 270
Children's Day 47 47 43 45 26 17 23 21 20 - 289
Chinese American (CAIS) 63 61 58 49 40 42 37 44 34 - 428
French American (K-12) 84 80 75 72 68 67 62 59 62 - 629
Hamlin 46 45 47 45 46 44 44 45 43 - 405
Katherine Michiels 13 7 6 6 4 4 - - - - 40
Kittredge 7 6 6 8 9 8 11 15 13 - 83
La Scuola 10 2 - - - - - - - - 12
Live Oak 23 23 22 23 21 43 37 33 46 - 271
Lycee Francais 99 95 97 74 73 80 62 70 54 142 846
Marin Prep 30 19 9 - - - - - - - 58
Presidio Hill 19 19 14 17 18 17 26 32 27 - 189
Presidio Knolls 16 - - - - - - - - - 16
Russian American Int'l 10 6 13 - 12 5 - - - - 46
SF Day 45 46 44 45 43 46 44 45 46 - 404
SF Friends 44 44 44 44 44 48 55 55 53 - 431
SF School 24 21 18 23 20 20 32 32 32 - 222
SF Schoolhouse 11 4 4 - - - - - - - 19
SF Waldorf (K-12) 64 27 29 29 28 27 20 30 17 - 271
Stratford 33 41 20 22 15 - - - - - 131
Synergy 23 18 18 17 22 20 24 23 21 - 186
Town 47 45 44 45 46 42 45 42 44 - 400
Source: Private School Directory, California Department of Education

Declining enrollment going from K to 8 in language immersion schools (CAIS, FAIS and Lycee).

The table above shows how much enrollment declines in the upper grads for language immersion schools. It's harder for language immersion schools to fill spots in the upper grades because new students at the school must be at grade level in both English and the immersion language. This leads to a situation where middle school enrollments become smaller instead of larger, at an age when many students are developmentally ready for a bigger pond.