Monday, December 29, 2014

School Tour: Lakeshore Elementary School

Lakeshore Elementary School


Location: 220 Middlefield Drive, San Francisco, CA 94132, Lakeshore (near Lake Merced)

Grades: K-5

Total Enrollment: Approximately 500

Kindergarten Size: 88 – four classes of 22

Hours: 9:30am-3:35pm

Before school care: Multiple options, starting at 7:30am

Aftercare: Multiple options, the latest ending at 6:30pm

I arrived at Lakeshore after about a 15 minute drive. The parking was pretty easy, although the tour was scheduled about half an hour after school started. Lakeshore is fairly convenient on the map, right by Stonestown. However, the most direct route involves that horrible Sloat Blvd./Juniperro Serra Blvd./Portola Dr./West Portal Ave./St. Francisco Blvd. intersection that also includes MUNI streetcars, so waiting through at least one light cycle for five minutes or so is not unusual. The idea of sitting through that every day is not appealing, and, if we ended up at Lakeshore, I would definitely explore alternate routes.

The tour that day was atypical for the school as the principal was offsite. One of the kindergarten teachers (I will call her the “K Teacher” for convenience and because I unfortunately did not catch her name) was leading the tour in his place. I would have liked to meet the principal, as I have definitely found that principals can influence my feelings about a school – even though I know that it is possible that the principal will not be there the entire time my family attends the school or even by the time my child starts. Another downside was that the K Teacher was not always familiar with the upper grades, and the parent helping on the tour was a kindergarten parent with the same limitation. The tour was also a bit all over the place with no formal Q&A, but lots of different topics discussed and questions answered as we walked around.

The upside of a teacher as tour leader was that we got an interesting perspective that we may not have otherwise received.

The K Teacher was in her 14th year at the school. Her daughter attended the school, and their experience inspired her to change her career plans and obtain a teaching credential. On the tour she mentioned a few other teachers who had been at the school a very long time and who had also had their children attend Lakeshore.

General Information

As I mentioned, there was no formal Q&A on this tour, so below is some interesting information that was shared on the tour or in response to questions.

Teacher Professional Development – As with all the schools, Lakeshore has been implementing the Common Core, and the teachers have been working with a consultant and getting a lot of professional development surrounding that. Last summer the teachers all were trained in Readers’ Workshop from Teachers’ College Columbia. The teachers also have a literacy coach. With regard to implementing Common Core math, they have received many new tools and, among other things, are being trained in how to increase number sense.

Teachers have a Wednesday Meeting with the principal where they get together in groups and share strategies that have been effective.

Homework – Homework is about 20 minutes per night for kindergartners, although it is mostly reading.

Arts Enrichment – Students receive eight weeks of music instruction. Fourth and fifth graders have the chance to play musical instruments. The school has a Native American consultant who teaches dance. The students get studio art for eight weeks per grade level.

Student teachers and aides – The school tends to have a lot of student teachers because they are close to San Francisco State University. All the classrooms generally have one or two student teachers. Paraprofessionals are also in the class where required for students with a designated need in their IEP.

Field trips – The kindergarten students have at least have one field trip per month.

After-school Enrichment – After-school enrichment classes include Mandarin, Cantonese, chess, drama, and keyboard.

Diversity – As we sat in one of the gardens during the tour and watched the kindergarten students have recess, the K Teacher noted that we could see that Lakeshore is one of the most diverse schools in the district. It definitely looked like one of the most diverse schools I have seen and the official stats bear that out.


Community Room

We started the tour inside the main entrance to the school, which was just outside the Community Room. We peeked in to see a strings instruments music class in the large, open room. The room is also used for motor class for K-3 students. It is used as well for the Halloween parade, multicultural night, the school potluck, the winter concert, and also math and literacy nights for families.


We then went to the cafeteria, which was bright and open. The school has staggered lunches, but the four kindergarten classes all have lunch together along with the K-3 special day students.

K-1 students all eat lunch in the cafeteria whether they buy it or bring it from home. Students in second grade and up can eat outside if they bring their lunch from home.

Outside Space

There are 3 yards – one for kindergarten, one for first grade, and one for second through fifth grade, although their recesses are staggered.

We went outside and saw the large top yard which is for the older students. It had a blacktop, a track, a play structure, and basketball hoops. We saw a PE class. The big kindergarten and first grade yards also had nice, large play structures.

There were also a few portables, although we were told that they are newer portables that comply with ADA requirements. There is at least one kindergarten class in a portable.

Kindergarten classes

We poked our heads into two kindergarten classes in the main building. The classes shared a bathroom that was between the classrooms. The rooms were quite large, and, in both classrooms, the children were gathered around the teacher and sitting on rugs while the teacher was explaining something to them, but I did not catch the subject matter. The children appeared interested and engaged. The rooms also both featured several rectangular tables for the students. In one class the teacher was using what I assume was an ELMO.

Garden & Garden Classroom

We saw the large, main garden (of the 7 gardens!), and spent a few minutes sitting on the benches asking questions. We also visited the impressive garden classroom where the consultant was with what I believe was half of a kindergarten class. Although it was a portable, the classroom was vibrant and decorated with great posters and other items. The children were learning about the season of autumn. The other half of the class was with their teacher back in the classroom doing a different science lesson. The garden consultant was energetic and dynamic, and was a former Lakeshore parent. She explained to us that one of the things she teaches the kids is about the roots of the words they use, and she had a big chart on the wall about many of the words. For example, they learn about temperature and so she shows them how each part of the word is derived from its Latin roots. No pun intended, but that seemed like a great way to plant the seed for a skill that will be so useful to them in the future.

Library/iPad lab

The library was one of my favorites so far. It was big and open and bright. The library is a double classroom with books in one half and an elab with tables for working on iPads in the other half. Students visit the library weekly. In grades 1-5, students alternate between books one week and working in the elab the next. Kindergarten students visit the library every week but only for books.

The K Teacher was frank about why the school did not have an actual computer lab. She noted that with the cycle of budget booms and then budget cuts, what happens is the school gets a nice computer lab with a computer teacher when times are good. When budget cuts roll around, the computer lab teacher is the first person to go, and eventually you have machines that are older and need to be repaired or updated but the funds do not exist for that to happen.

Grade 1-5 Classrooms

We visited or peered into a few 1st-5th grade classrooms briefly, but in most the students were out at recess or some other activity or we just looked from the doorway. Unfortunately, that meant we did not have much chance to see classes in action. Most of the upper grade classes are single grade, but there is one 4/5 class because of how the numbers shake out when class-size increases from 22 students after 3rd grade.

Most of the classrooms had rectangular desks, pushed together to make tables, as seems typical of the public schools I have toured. One of the 3rd grade classes we saw had tables instead of desks, while one of the 4th grade classes arranged the desks such that they were placed touching each other side-by-side in rows. It looked crowded, but as we could not look all the way into the classroom, it was hard to tell how the whole space had been utilized.

I was quite impressed by one of the fifth grade classrooms we were able to walk through where there were shelves on one wall filled with baskets of books organized by levels and by categories. There really appeared to be lots of choices for every child at his/her reading level. Hopefully, all the teachers will embrace Readers’ Workshop as enthusiastically though it definitely requires a lot of teacher preparation and effort.

Art Classroom

We ended our tour at the art classroom and spoke with the art teacher. It was a very exciting space, and the art teacher has been at the school for several years and has started art programs at other schools as well. They have a kiln room too. The art teacher emphasized that they do “art for art’s sake” and it is meant to be very hands on. She takes half of a class at a time. She was preparing for upper grade students who had been studying Rothko – both his life and his art – and they were going to do paintings in his style.

Final thoughts – Overall, I really liked Lakeshore. I came away with a very positive impression of this warm and welcoming school. Lakeshore has a small attendance area despite having four kindergarten classes, so, if you really want the school but live outside the attendance are, it would seem you have a good shot of getting the assignment. We also happen to know more families at Lakeshore than any other school (none of whom live in the attendance area), so, for us, the built-in community is a plus.

It is definitely going on our list - still need to figure out where though! It is a school that could be a good fit for lots of families, including ours.

What are your thoughts about Lakeshore, readers?

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