Tuesday, December 23, 2014

School Tour: Creative Arts Charter School

Creative Arts Charter School

Website: http://www.creativeartscharter.org/

Location: 1601 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA 94115, Western Addition/Fillmore

Grades: K-8

Total Enrollment: 366

Kindergarten Size: 44 – two classes of 22

Hours: Kindergarten (Mon., Wed.-Fri.): 8:30am - 2:15pm; Grades 1-8 (Mon., Wed.-Fri.): 8:30am - 3:15pm; Grades K-8 (Tue.): 8:30am - 1:05pm (Early release for staff development)

Before school care: None was mentioned, but the campus opens at 8:00 am

Aftercare: Until 6pm (fee-based)

The first pleasant surprise of the Creative Arts Charter School (CACS) tour was that it took me less than 20 minutes to get to the campus, and with parking I got to the school right at the tour start time, which was just after the school’s actual start time. Although I am still not sure I want to make that drive to any school five days a week, it was nowhere near as bad as I expected.

Community Meeting

After signing in, we joined the whole school on the yard for the weekly Community Meeting, which was being led that week by the sixth graders.

It was great to see the entire school in one place, and even though there were presumably well over 300 students, it did not feel like a huge number of kids. The younger students were sitting and the middle school students were standing.

The student population looked pretty diverse, especially the older students.

The meeting was quite lengthy and included appreciations where several students each took a turn at the microphone to thank teachers, parents, other students, and even the janitorial staff for their various contributions, which was nice.

Principal and Staff Introduction

After the Community Meeting, we went to the cafeteria where the principal and staff gave us some information about the school. FYI, lunch is provided by Revolution Foods.

The principal explained that the Community Meeting is held three times a month on Friday and each one is led by students from one grade.

It is the 20th year of the school, which was founded by parents. The core values of CACS are community, respect, responsibility, and excellence. The principal shared that the school has received awards, including the California Distinguished School Award and the California Department of Education's Exemplary Arts award.

The principal explained that he felt that other schools generally either do rote learning, which produces great test takers who are not necessarily creative thinkers, or are focused on project-based learning but the students cannot multiply or have bad handwriting and are just not prepared. Principal Aguilar felt CACS bridges the gap and lets the project-based learning happen but also produces kids who are prepared for high school. He is also a parent of a first grader.

Arts education – He introduced Rita Lane, who is the director of arts. There is theater, visual arts, music, and dance for K-5 students, who get 50 minutes a week in each area. Students in the 6th-8th grades commit to one of those areas for at least one year and get 50 minutes of it three times a week.

Arts is also integrated into special units of study, some of which are with Rita Lane or visiting artists. For example, in first grade, the students did a unit on “change makers,” which was about activists. The students made posters about each person and the final product was a large, colorful book, which was displayed at the Q&A.

Conflict resolution and prevention – We were then introduced to Summer Sanders, the middle school administrator. The school has a “peaceful school” program, which was started to deal with bullying. They go into classes and give presentations about it. Kids, parents, and teachers sign agreements regarding how to treat each other. They also use a program called CARES where they teach students to use “I” messages, which empowers kids to work with each other. They also use Responsive Classroom in grades K-5.

Each day’s class starts with circle, morning message, and greetings. In grades 4-6, they have advisories, which are groups of 14 students that get together and in 7-8, the groups are 19 students. The groups meet with an adviser and the groups help students get to know each other and work through their issues.

Admissions – Jenny Kipp, the admissions director spoke next. She explained that the admissions process is a pure lottery, except that they do try to maintain no more than a 60/40 gender split, in addition to the tiebreakers of sibling preference and preference for San Francisco residents. She noted they had several hundred applicants for their spots last year, which was far fewer than 44 because of by siblings and children of staff. She did note that their wait list often has a lot of movement.

Tour of School

We then left the cafeteria and crossed back through the yard to the building where we first entered the school. The yard was very large and in addition to a decent-sized play structure with slide, I noticed for the first time a very large pole with solar panels on top. I did not get a chance to ask about what exactly it powers or how it came to be.

We started at a first grade classroom. It was a very large room and they had a loft, which was apparently a good spot for kids to do independent work. There were huge windows, making the room seem even larger and airier. The classroom walls were covered with lots of posters and projects. There were benches around a rug in one corner of the room. The kids had circular tables with their names on them. The kids were having choice time so there was a lot going on and kids were all over the place.

The school loops classes so that kids have the same teacher in kindergarten and first grade and then they move on to a teacher that they keep for second and third grades. They do mix up the students in the classes between first and second grade. As students stay with the same teacher for both kindergarten and first grade, they also stay in the same classroom, and all the kindergarten/first grade classrooms are designed for both grades and they all have lofts. The teachers design their own classrooms.

Next we went to another first grade classroom, also with a loft. Instead of benches, the classroom had a couch next to the rug. Again there were circular tables and lots of books, including a box of leveled books. The teacher was working with small groups while others were quietly working independently.

We saw a second grade class very briefly. The students did have desks, but they were pushed together to make tables as I have seen in many, many classrooms now. We popped into a third-grade classroom with a similar configuration using larger rectangular desks put together as tables.

We visited a kindergarten class. The kids were seated on benches around a rug for “kimochi” show and tell, though I do not know what that exactly means and it looked like regular show and tell to me. What surprised me though was in that kindergarten class, nearly every child in the room appeared to be white. Obviously, it is impossible to know if that is really the case just by looking and other kinds of diversity are certainly invisible, but, it was striking, especially compared to how diverse the middle school students appeared at the Community Meeting.

We dropped in on the other second grade class, where the students were writing scripts. The scripts were based on a project that they had done about how families come to San Francisco. The students were now collaboratively writing a play about someone coming to San Francisco for the first time. The kids were sitting at tables and seriously discussing what to put in their scripts.

Our tour leader noted that the school actually shares facilities with another charter school, Gateway Middle School, but the two schools have separate yards and different start and end times so there is no interaction between the two populations.

Post-Tour Q&A

We met the principal back in the cafeteria for a Q&A.

Math and Science – One of the parents asked how well math and science are handled given the arts focus. The principal said that they use TERC investigations. Students get real world problems and develop the skills to figure them out. He acknowledged that the method does not work for all students.

One of the current CACS parents mentioned that she was somewhat she was concerned about the science aspect of the school as she is a science person, but she feels project-based learning is perfect because it is about observation and doing projects, which is a great way to learn science. She noted that in the upper grades they do have textbooks. The principal added that the school does well in state tests at fifth and eighth grade level in science so they feel like they are effective at teaching science.

Because they are a charter school, they have autonomy in terms of the math curriculum. Teachers can suggest alternate approaches if they feel it will be more effective.

High schools attended by graduates – The principal also noted that the kids who graduate do well in terms of high school acceptances. They had 8 kids accepted to Lowell last year, and four went. Eight students got into SOTA and all attended. Graduates also were accepted to many different private schools.

Special education & other support – CACS contracts special education services through SFUSD. The school pays a flat amount to the district based on the total number of students enrolled, and the services meet whatever the student’s IEP says is needed.

Kindergarten and first grade each have one assistant teacher per grade. There are reading intervention specialists.

Addressing behavior problems – Regarding behavior problems, they have a guidance counselor and 2-3 interns who run six week-long small social/friendship groups to help kids with their social issues.

Kids who need more of a challenge – One parent asked what the school does with kids who need more of a challenge. The principal explained that 1-2 weeks before school starts, the kindergarten teachers meet with the kids and parents at their homes to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Once school begins, there are ongoing conversations, conferences, and report cards to determine what level each student is at. If students are bored, parents should meet with the teacher as the teachers are willing to work with families.

Teachers – The principal stated that another benefit of being a charter school is that they have the autonomy to hire and fire teachers. They have five new teachers this year and had the ability to conduct a nationwide search to find candidates. He said that the school offers teachers more prep time than other schools, and noted that the day of the tour the second grade teachers were meeting with an educational consultant.

The school also has contracts with subs so that they have the same regular substitutes and their substitutes are people who know the school.

Stability of the school – The principal also told us that the school just got its charter re-approved by SFUSD, and they have a good deal on the rent.

Technology – CACS has Chromebooks for research, which are used by students in grades 4/5 and up. Some of the middle school teachers received training from Adobe in special software for movie-making.

Parent Involvement – Their PTA is called the Family Association (FA). All families are automatically enrolled and they ask all families to donate 40 hours per school year. There is a class representative who is a liaison between each class and the FA. They also have parent education nights. For example, the night before the tour they had a program on the Peaceful School program.

The school holds two fundraisers – the Fall Fair in October and an auction in February. They also have an annual fund.

The FA uses money for a number of things, including a scholarship fund for field trips, such as the overnight school camping trip. They also pay for coffee for community meetings and the staff.

Aftercare – Aftercare runs until 6:00 pm and it is fee-based and run by staff. Some of the enrichment during the aftercare includes Blue Bear Music guitar lessons, Spanish immersion arts, tae kwon do, Academic Chess, and Tree Frog Treks.

Diversity – The final parent question was focused on the diversity of the school. The principal said that he recognized that as the school gets more popular, it gets more white, especially in the younger grades. They want to get more diverse kids. They are working with the San Francisco Coalition of Essential Small Schools (SFCESS), which focuses on equity.

He also acknowledged that CACS has an achievement gap – their API for white students was in the 900s, for Latinos it was in the 800s, but for their African-American students it was below 700. They want to figure out why they have an achievement gap and what they can do better.

Final thoughts

There were parts about CACS I really liked, including the emphasis on arts (obviously) and the project-based learning combined with wanting academically successful students. There are some drawbacks, including the location and the interesting diversity issue they have. That all said, it is hard not to think that an artsy place that seems to simultaneously push rigor in academics would be a good fit for my son, and we will most likely apply.

No comments:

Post a Comment