Saturday, January 11, 2014

Middle School Review: Aptos Middle School

A parent of a fifth grader contributes this review of Aptos Middle. Other reviews of middle schools welcome!

Aptos Middle School is a beautiful Art Deco building in a lovely neighborhood. It’s located just off Ocean Ave. in the Monterey Heights neighborhood. The school has about 1,100 students. The principal, Mr. Hannon, thinks that is just at the edge of too big. “Our school is getting rather large. We’re trying to strike a balance” between making it accessible to students who want to go there and keeping it workable and a good school. The class size is 33 students. School begins at 9:00 a.m. except on Wednesdays when it starts at 9:40 a.m. because teachers have a planning period. Students may arrive on campus no earlier than 8:30 a.m., when staff oversight begins.

“This has been a very strong, traditional middle school,” is how Hannon sums it up. It’s big, it’s got lots of opportunities and possibilities for students from every part of the city and with all interests. There are sports, orchestra, band, jazz band, drama and clubs galore. There are academically challenging classes and classes for students who struggle. “We have kids from all walks of life. They’re all going through puberty and trying to form their own identity.” The schools is there to help them do it, Hannon said.

Aptos’ feeder elementary schools are:
Jose Ortega
Starr King

Hannon said that he didn’t know exactly what the odds would be for a student who wasn’t from one of those feeders to get into Aptos. However “historically Aptos has had the longest wait list of any of the middle schools.”

The school’s overall API score is 818 (in a range of 0 – 1,000.) The API breakdown for 2012-2013 was:

African American: 649
Asian 909
English Language Learners 732
Filipino 838
Hispanic 706
Students with disabilities 553
White 943

Principal Hannon
The tour was led by Mr. Hannon. This is his first year as principal,. though he was assistant principal before that. He began his career as a special education teacher. He is a San Francisco native and attended Presidio Middle School and Lincoln High School. “I’m dedicated to being here. This is my calling,” he told the 30 or so parents and 5th graders on the tour.

Mr. Hannon is a young, energetic and very dedicated principal. He knew many students in the hallway by name and clearly is a strong presence. He seemed very much in control of the school. He has had the opportunity to hire 15 new teachers this year, which is allowing him to choose people he feels can work well to create the kind of learning environment he envisions.

“I lost 12 pounds coming to this job,” he said. “I told my boss I lost 12 pounds of ego.”

Easing 6th graders in
Each grade has its own floor. This helps students, especially 6th graders, feel a little more connected and less like they’re part of a very large school. Aptos works hard to nurture and support 6th graders as they make the transition to middle school. It uses a “core” model where a cohort of students has two teachers that they stay with all year, so that students can build relationships. This means that an incoming 6th grader would always have English and Math class with the same classmates for the entire year, but would be with other students for other subject. It gives them a social base.

There are six pairs of teachers for the 6th grade, so there are six cohorts of students. There are approximately 400 students in the 6th grade but students spend most of their time with the same 60 students.

The school has two lunch periods to accommodate all the students. The 6th graders have their lunch separately, at noon. Students have four minutes to get between classes. “So you’ll learn time management,” Hannon told the 5th graders on the tour.

There are two assistant principals, Mr. Alcantar and Ms. O’Neal. There are also four counselors, one for each grade as well as a head counselor and a full-time social worker. Assistant Principal O’Neal is working on implementing the new Common Core standards at Aptos, as is the entire District (and most states.) This involves a great deal of training for teachers and staff. This is a complex year “because we don't know what it will look like yet” she told the tour.

Assistant Principal Alcantar is in charge of the schools student community. He works with the counselors and other support personnel. One program is called “Tiger Stripes” and involves students getting a note “when they’re caught being good.” They can use this for things like going on the elevator (students normally must use the stairs.)

The school uses a Restorative Practices model to deal with conflict, in which all parties are brought to a mediation. You can read more about it here:

There is a half time on-site nurse. Mr. Hannon’s mom, a retired nurse, also volunteers.

The building
Aptos has two gyms and a gorgeous Art Deco auditorium that should be in the movies. Actress Carol Channing attended Aptos and she was one of the donors that made the auditorium’s renovation possible.

Class schedule
There are six periods each day at Aptos. The classes are:
Social Studies
Physical Education

PE is every day. “Physical exercise is crucial at this age,” Hannon said. Remember there is no recess in middle school. There is a girls and a boys locker room. Students were a gym uniform and showers are available. “Your children are changing, they’re starting to sweat,” Hannon told the parents on the tour. “I know it’s hard to believe, but they will. PE uniforms are a very good thing.”

Aptos has quite a few sports teams.


The teams are competitive. There are tryouts and there are cuts. “It’s brutal,” Hannon said. Much like life. He would love to have intramural teams that would take all students but needs more parents to volunteer to help create them.

Afterschool Program
There are 230 students in the Afterschool program, which is run by the YMCA and is sliding scale. It give preference to single parents and families with two working parents. There is always a waiting list. It offers academic supports and enrichment. Tutoring is also available after school and is open to all students, not just those in the after school program.

Aptos is known for its strong arts electives. The school has an orchestra, a band and a jazz band and a drama program as well as a visual arts course. In addition there is a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) elective that includes computer coding and environmental teaching and a college prep course called AVID for 7th and 8th grade whose “mission is to close the achievement gap by preparing all students for college readiness and success in a global society,” according to the Aptos’ web site.

Note: students in the Mandarin immersion and English Language Learners tracks DO NOT get to chose an elective, as their electives are Mandarin Language Arts or English. Some parents have spoken with Mr. Hannon about creating a seventh period so that the MI and ELL students could also do an elective but it is cost prohibitive and not likely to happen any time soon.
Lunch clubs
Aptos has dozens of lunchtime clubs for almost every possible topic. They meet once or twice a week, led by a teacher, and allow students to form friendships around a shared interest. For example there is an Anime club, a Knitting club, an Italian club, a Magic Club, a News Crew an Asian club and a Computer club, among others. Any student can start a club if they can talk a staff member into leading it.

Honors and GATE
There were many questions about Honors and GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) by multiple parents. There has been a lot of buzz about the District trying to do away with honors as inequitable and difficult to implement, to be replaced with differentiated learning. Hoover made the shift last year. However Hannon said that Aptos’ program would remain intact, though it would change. Currently about 50% of the school is in Honors, Hannon said. Next year he plans to make the requirements more stringent as he notes that it’s slightly ridiculous to say that 50% of the school has been tagged as “high potential.”

He said he has staff attending the California Association for the Gifted conference in February as well as a GATE Symposium. With the knowledge gained at these conferences Mr. Hannon hopes to “provide a research-based and rigorous program to all students. My goal is to make it more rigorous.” He said that Honors will change in 2014-2015 but he doesn't’ yet know what it will look like,

He said that while the District is talking about honors and equity but “I haven’t received any directives from the District. He said the decision whether to have honors is up to each individual school and Aptos will continue to have honors classes. The school also has GATE clusters for Math and Language Arts. I couldn’t tell what GATE actually meant in middle school. You can read more about the requirements here:

Algebra in 8th grade
According to SFUSD, algebra will be available to all 8th graders in the coming years. This doesn’t appear to be in place yet in the district as far as I can tell.
“Algebra for All (8th Grade) The vision of the district is that all Grade 8 students will take Algebra at Grade 8. It is critical that middle school students have access to 8th Grade Algebra in light of the new high school graduation requirements for the class of 2014 and beyond. Students will be expected to complete 3 years of mathematics in addition to the prescribed course of study in high school.”

[Side note: I spoke with one parent whose child’s school feeds to Everett Middle School, which does not have honors but instead uses differentiated learning. She said the day they toured her daughter told her that the 6th grade math class was doing math she’d learned in 3rd grade.]

Aptos has a “very strong” science department, Hannon said. It holds a yearly science fair and the winners go on to the Randal Museum’s annual San Francisco Science Fair. Thus far at least 15 students have won awards there and seven went on to regional competitions. The day I toured they were having a run through so all the 6th grade science fair projects were up. I recently saw a 6th grade science fair at the Chinese American International School and I must say that the two very comparable in terms of how well and how in depth the projects were. One of the Aptos students was isolating DNA, for example.

Mandarin Immersion
SFUSD’s two Mandarin immersion programs, at Starr King and Jose Ortega, both feed to Aptos. The program so far has reached 7th grade because the first class of MI students just got to middle school last year. Currently it is small because the beginning classes were small. Eventually when full classes begin to come in from the elementary schools it is estimated it will be between 200 and 300 students in the MI program in the school, depending on attrition.

Students in the Mandarin program do not get to take an elective because their elective period is used for Mandarin Language Arts.

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