Monday, October 14, 2013

DadintheFog: Sunset Elementary

I have survived the first tour.

Sunset Elementary has always been one of my top schools to review.  We live fairly close by (15 min walk) and have spent a lot of time at the Ortega Public Library and playground.  Back when I was home with the kidlet before he started preschool full-time, we used to visit the area at least once a week.  I also really like the demographics of the school as it has a good mix of ethnicities (for the West side), high test scores, high parental education and very strong PTA.  I will not go over every point of Sunset Elementary and highly suggest you read Sunrise Sunset’s excellent tour review from last year.

Getting in:
In all the excitement of my first tour, I somehow managed to arrive at the school over 30 minutes early.  This gave me an opportunity to watch the highly organized drop-off process.  I was immediately surprised by how engaged the parents were.  While some obviously were dropping off and heading off to work, a large percentage were parking and walking into the school with their children.  I was very fascinated at how orderly the students were in lining up for the general assembly at 8:40am.  When I checked for the tour, I was greeted by two parents immediately and made to feel very welcomed.  One parent brought me out the school yard to watch the general assembly.  On Thursdays, one student from each class is given a Shining Star award –and allowed to have lunch with the principal later that day  – for demonstrating a positive trait (Caring, helping friends, walking safely, etc.)  The students really seemed to appreciate the recognition.

After the assembly, there was a meet and greet with school parents.  They were very engaged, spoke highly of the school as a whole. The principal mentioned on many occasions how she partners with the PTA to provide resources/classes for the students.  Also, the PTA has a very well-defined fundraising structure, with focused Annual Giving Campaign at the beginning of the year rather than many smaller activities.  Overall they seemed like a very effective team and the bedrock of the school.

The Tour:
The tour was led by Principal Lee.  She’s been at Sunset Elementary for over 12 years and should be commended for creating such a great environment.  While I was thoroughly impressed with her administrative accomplishments, I was not overly inspired by her. While she definitely provided a strong overview of the school, she seemed to rely more on the brochure to direct the tour than her own passion.  Likewise, for many of the questions related to extracurricular activities, the default answer was that it was ran by the PTA rather than under her purview.  My (possibly incorrect) expectation was that a principal would still be able to easily discuss everything happening on the campus.  For example, several times it was mentioned that language classes were offered, only later to have a PTA member clarify that there were currently no language classes taking place due to lack of enrollment. 

During our tour, we visited two kindergarten classes, one 1st Grade and a 5th Grade class.  In each class, students were focused on their activities, organized and attentive.  (This may be due to the large tour of parents invading their classroom, but I was still impressed.)  The lower level grades had colorful student assignments on the walls, abundance of play/exploratory and overall a good creative vibe.  The higher grades had interactive white boards for presentations as well access to netbooks.  It felt like a good balance between a traditional classroom and a technology.

My Take Away:
I would be thrilled if were able to get into Sunset and would considering it “winning the lottery”.  I have questions on the aftercare and how we personally would managed the Excel program, PTA sponsored activities and our own outside enrichment (music/gymnastics).  But I truly could not find anything that would turn me away from this great school.

DadintheFog Stats (Here are a few I found important):
3 Kindergarten Classes (66 spots, around spaces 20 taken by siblings)
Times:  8:40am to 2:40pm
Aftercare:  EXCEL program (free), PTA managed Enrichment programs
Pre-Care:  YMCA (fee)
Total Requests (Fall 2013 Start, Round 1):  760  (117 in 1st Choice)
API Score (Base 2012):  917
Ethnic Breakdown (from API):             
                African American             2%
                American Indian/Alaskan Native:              1%
                Asian:    52%
                Filipino:  2%
                Hispanic/Latino:                6%
                Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islander:  0%
                White:  25%
                2 or More Races:              5%
English Learners:  20%
Free/Reduced Lunch Eligible:  29%
Parents Completing College/Grad School: 44% / 28%
PTA Raised (per Charitycheck):  $129,092 / $322 per student
PTA Website:

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