Thursday, January 15, 2015

School Tour: New Traditions Elementary School

New Traditions Elementary School

Website: http://www.newtraditionssf.com/

Location: 2049 Grove Street, San Francisco, CA 94117, NoPa

Grades: K-5

Total Enrollment: Approximately 253

Kindergarten Size: 44 – two classes of 22

Time: 9:30am-3:30pm

Before care: YMCA (fee based, scholarships available)

Aftercare: YMCA (fee based, scholarships available); PTA-coordinated enrichment

New Traditions was a last minute addition to the touring calendar, and a bit outside the radius of some the other SFUSD schools we toured. I decided to tour because a couple of friends independently suggested it might be a good fit, and, consulting the map, we realized it was pretty familiar and not too a bad drive.

The reminder e-mails advised that street parking would be tough and parking in Golden Gate Park was a good option. It took longer to find a spot and I underestimated the length of the walk so I was a few minutes late and missed the beginning of the Q&A. So travel time is a serious consideration.

The Q&A was held in their cafeteria, which had a stage and looked like it could also be used as an auditorium? The school building and grounds are small (as it has a small population), but it is a great-looking building in a nice location.

Q&A

The opening presentation and tour were led by several current New Traditions parents.

Garden Education

As I walked in, the parents leading the presentation were explaining that students get outdoor class one time per week all year long in their garden as opposed to only for a semester. The garden teacher is from Education Outside. As with other schools, in their garden classroom, the kids explore math and science concepts and the lessons are integrated into the curriculum.

Aftercare and Enrichment

There are two after school options. First, there is PTA-coordinated after school enrichment which includes things like Spanish, chess, engineering for kids, ceramics, yoga, soccer, Tree Frog Treks, etc. There are three different sessions each year. It is fee based but scholarships are available.

The other aftercare option is the YMCA, which does before care and aftercare. It is also fee-based and there are scholarships available. It sounded like everyone who wants a spot in the YMCA program can get in. I believe kids in the YMCA aftercare can also participate in the PTA-coordinated enrichment.

Arts Focus

The school has always had an arts focus and so they do many art projects that are meant to supplement the curriculum. As an example, a few years ago, when the fifth grade was a learning the U.S. states and capitals, they made a quilt of the United States, and each child was responsible for a state.

4th and 5th Grade Classes Breakdown

The tour leaders noted that because they only have 2 kindergarten classes of 22 (and classes 2 each for grades 1-3), those numbers do not work out neatly into 4th grade classes of 33 students as class sizes are bumped up at that point. Normally, the 4th and 5th graders would break down into one 4th grade class, one 5th grade class, and one split 4th/5th grade class. However, because of attrition, it does not always work out that way. For example, this year there are two 4th grade classes and one 5th grade class. They are not sure what will happen next year because they do not know yet how many 4th and 5th graders they will have.

Fundraisers

New Traditions has four big fundraisers. There is the Dragon Walk (a walk-a-thon) in the fall, a community fund drive which starts in the fall and continues for a few months, a winter auction, and a spring carnival.

Tour

We then broke into smaller groups for the tour of the school. They noted in particular that we should pay attention in the classrooms to how the children were broken out into centers, which are utilized for differentiated learning. The centers allow kids to work on different things at different levels at the same time. I thought it was interesting (in a good way!) that they noted this, as effective differentiation seems like it should be important to everyone and all schools should be touting their efforts.

Garden

We started in the nice-sized garden. The garden teacher described some of the work the students do, including that the fourth graders are currently learning about decomposition and first graders are about to start learning about the garden animals, including worms. She noted that the science in the garden is aligned to the standards in the curriculum. Students who help tend the garden get cooking lessons and eat the food produced by the garden. The school also has two additional green spaces – habitat gardens – in the school as well.

Second Grade Bungalows

We next walked by the second grade bungalows. They were painted the same color as the rest of the school and I would not have realized they were bungalows if that was not pointed out.We did not actually enter the bungalows, but we were told that they are bright rooms as they have a wall of windows on the far side that we could not see from the path.

Just outside the bungalows we walked by the butterfly garden, which was one of the other green spaces.

Outdoor Play Space

We then saw the main play yard which is L-shaped, and actually seemed rather large given the school’s small footprint. There is a small play structure for climbing and with slides. There are also the usual yard markings, foursquare, etc. The recesses are staggered K/1, 2/3, and 4/5, as with the other schools I have seen. K-3 students have three recesses – a morning recess, lunch recess, and an afternoon recess. Kids in 4-5 only have one recess in addition to their lunch recess.

Students primarily play on the main yard for recess. There is a lower PE yard, although that is rarely used for recess. The main yard is large enough to accommodate the 88 kids who would be out at recess at any given time. There is a PTA funded recess monitor.

There is also very small upper yard, but it is not used for recess. It is the site of the staffed drop-off that starts at 9:15 AM and where morning circle is held.

Classrooms

We only visited two classrooms – a first grade and a kindergarten.

In the first grade class, students had small desks put together as tables. Most of the students appeared to be doing math and were going through Everyday Math workbooks. However, some students were working on reading, while others appeared to be writing. The teacher was helping some kids individually. The kids all seemed pretty on task.

We then went into a kindergarten class where students were working again in different groups on different things. There was a small group of students who had headphones on and were presumably listening to audiobook versions of the physical books they were each flipping through. A few kids were actually working on the computers that were at one end of the classroom. The teacher was going between a group of students working together on the rug – they seemed to be doing something related to English Language Arts as they had small cards with one word on each – and another group who were sitting at a table.

Given that New Traditions is now over 50% white, I was a little surprised (though pleasantly so) at how diverse the kids in both classrooms appeared.

Computers

We were told there are computers in the classrooms, as we observed. There are also computers in the library as well as a laptop cart.

Art Room

We then visited their dedicated art room. They do have one art teacher supplied by the district and then they fund a ceramics teacher. We were able to view the neat United States quilt referenced during the parent presentation before the tour.

Library

The last stop was the library. It seemed small and did not appear to have a lot of books, as they only filled half the room. There were indeed several computers at one end of the library. I did see books in the classrooms, so perhaps the total number of volumes is much higher than it looked.

Q&A

The Q&A itself was fairly brief. The parents leading the tour answered some questions, brought in some 4th graders to answer questions, and then the principal, Maria Luz Agudelo, spoke with us.

We were told that there are a lot of long term teachers and the principal has been at the school for about 10 years.

Mini Q&A with Fourth Graders

Four fourth-graders came and answered questions about the school, similar to what happened at Miraloma. As with Miraloma, obviously kids who could make a great impression were selected, but again it was a nice twist because these kids were awesome and unfailingly honest. All the kids were overall satisfied with the school. The one funny moment was when someone asked if bullying was a problem and the two girls said “not really” and the boys were like “uh, yeah, sometimes.” However, all the students felt their teachers help them work through conflicts, including with bullying.

The parents on the tour mentioned that the school is starting to use Response to Intervention as part of conflict resolution.

At this point, the kids left and the principal came and fielded a few questions.

Differentiation

The principal again emphasized that they are really focused on doing differentiation, particularly using centers. Because a class does not work on the same subject at the same time every day, given that there is enrichment on certain days (e.g., garden, art, etc.), the teachers are able to be flexible and have students working on different things at different levels at the same time. She really hammered home their efforts at differentiation.

Common Core & Balanced Literacy

The principal noted that they are implementing Common Core as is the rest of the district. She added that they are also using Reader’s Workshop, Writer’s Workshop, and Balanced Literacy.

How Can the School Improve

The one thing principal said the school wants to work on is to have even more integration of art into the curriculum.

Grade Promotion/Skipping

Asked about grade promotion (meaning grade skipping, not end of the year promotion), the principal noted that it was something that could be considered, but was obviously always decided on a case-by-case basis. She noted that it is not only about the academics, but it was important that it was appropriate weighing social and emotional issues. She said the same considerations would go into an assessment for grade retention.

Final Thoughts

New Traditions seems like a great school, and the arts focus is unique and appealing. I appreciated that they really emphasized that effective differentiation was important to them as it is important to me too! While it will be on the list, I think there will be schools listed higher that we like just as much that are a little bit closer or more convenient.

School Tour: Glen Park Elementary School

Glen Park Elementary School

Website: http://www.glenparkschool.org/

Location: 151 Lippard Ave., San Francisco, CA 94131, Glen Park

Grades: K-5

Total Enrollment: Approximately 329

Kindergarten Size: 66 – two General Education classes of 22, one Spanish Biliteracy Pathway class of 22 (for native Spanish speakers only)

Time: 8:40am-2:40pm

Aftercare: ExCEL and SF Arts & Ed

As expected, it did not take me long to get to Glen Park Elementary. Familiar as I am with the area, I decided not to bother trying to find parking super-close to the school. So I drove halfway – just far enough to get me down the hill – and then walked the rest of the way. It was about 12 minutes all in. Not too bad, though it would be a slower walk with my son.

Unfortunately, I missed the Morning Circle out in the yard, although it must have been rather short because it started at 8:40 and I walked up to the yard at about 8:44!

The formal tour did not start until 9, so after I checked in at the office, I looked at some of the information and colorful art and projects on the hallway walls.  The hallways were wide and open with lots of bright sunshine coming in – it all set the tone of a very warm and inviting space.

Tour

Principal Jean Robertson, who is in her third year, introduced herself and started the tour. She may be my favorite SFUSD principal this touring season. She seems like she really loves the community and has big goals for the school. She answered questions and discussed various topics during the tour and at the brief Q&A at the end. We were joined for the whole tour by Michael, a special staff person, and were joined by the PTO president partway through the tour.

Literacy Lab

The first stop on our tour was the literacy lab. They use an online program called RAZ, which is a leveled literacy program. Each student has an account and can use the program when they visit the literacy lab and at home. Small groups of students work in the literacy lab in the morning, and an entire classes can visit the lab in the afternoon. The school specifically identifies first and second grade students who are not reading at grade level, and those students in particular get daily literacy intervention in the lab so the school can get those kids to grade level as early as possible.

We entered the literacy lab where the literacy specialist was working at a table with four students. There also happened to be a group of biliteracy pathway students working in another area of the room.

The literacy specialist is half time, although they are trying to get her funded full-time next year.

Kindergarten Classrooms & Yard

The school has three kindergarten classes. Two are General Education and one is the Spanish biliteracy pathway for native Spanish speakers. In each K-3 grade there are 2 GE classes and 1 biliteracy class. At 4th grade, the biliteracy pathway students are combined with the GE students. We were told that the school and district are moving toward trying to have a biliteracy period for 4th and 5th grades so that while these students are still mastering English, they do not lose their native language and literacy. Apparently, SFUSD is working on plans to try preserve some biliteracy through 12th grade.

The first kindergarten we visited was the biliteracy class. The classroom was generously-sized and had big windows. When we walked in, the students were on their backs on ground counting and moving their legs like they were riding bicycles while the teacher was singing and banging on a drum. The kids were clearly enjoying it. They then gathered on the rug with the teacher and began working on days of the week in Spanish, reciting the names while looking at the words on cards the teacher was holding. The teacher was really lovely and the kids were so responsive to her, though my kids would not be lucky enough to be her students if we landed at Glen Park.

We then visited one of the GE kindergarten classrooms. The classroom was a corner room so there were big windows taking up much of two of the walls, making it very bright and cheerful with all that natural light. I believe there was a bathroom in the classroom and that all the K classrooms have their own bathroom. We were told that once the kids get to first grade, they use the main hallway bathrooms with all the other children.

The teacher was about to begin reading Jack in the Beanstalk. She was talking with the kids about how the day before they had read a different version of the story and that day they would see how a different author and illustrator told the same story. This was apparently in part in preparation for them to go see a live performance of Jack and the Beanstalk, and to think about differences they might see in the version of the story in the play. The kids were engaged and so focused. They were seated on the rug, and there were rectangular tables in the room with their names at their places.

We then visited the kindergarten yard, which seemed a bit small. The principal noted that she thought it was kind of small when she first arrived, but she said the kids do not seem to mind and both parents and teachers find it to be a good size for the kindergartners. There was a climbing play structure with a couple of slides. The kindergartners also have their lunch recess in this yard.

The principal emphasized that there should be a balance of play and academics for kindergartners because they are still kids and play is learning. For her, kids should stay kids as long as possible. I absolutely agree with that.

We did visit the third kindergarten (other GE) classroom even though there was a substitute, as the teacher was out doing professional development. The substitute was one that teacher regularly uses. The students were gathered around the teacher on the rug discussing a story they had just read. The kids were incredibly sweet and focused even with the substitute, answering questions from the principal and even thanking her when she complimented them on how nice their classroom looked. This class was a corner classroom as well so it also featured big windows on two sides and lots of natural light.

Grades 1-5 Yard and Garden Space

We then went out to look at the big yards for the older kids. There were several sections to the yard space and, along with the garden, which is between two parts of the yard, the main outdoor space stretches the length of the Brompton Avenue side of the school. I love that there is a huge amount of space for play.

The first section of the yard was large with basketball hoops and various yard markings. We saw the Playworks coach setting up for recess. Playworks is funded by the PTO. They Playworks coach monitors recesses and students have “game time” with her once per week where they play cooperative games. There are also fourth and fifth graders who are selected to be junior coaches and given special training so that they can help at recess.

The next stop was the nice-sized garden. Currently, the PTO funds the garden teacher, who is subsidized by Education Outside. Although next year, that fee will increase. We briefly listened in to a first grade class that was learning about meteorology in the garden. The school is also planning to continue to expand the garden to other parts of the outdoor space.

Past the garden was another play yard, and then a third lower yard. That third yard area had a large canopy, which was apparently required by the bond money used to renovate the school. But there was no money provided to put anything under the shade so the school applied for and received a grant from Lowe’s for picnic tables. That seating area is used for a variety of activities, including chess club meetings.

We did not see it, but we were told that there is another small yard on the Bosworth side of the school with a play structure, but only one grade at a time has access to it. So, for example, first and second grade will be at recess together and all will be on the big yard. But, for the first recess, perhaps only the first graders have access to that smaller yard and structure, and then, at lunch recess, the second graders get access to it, etc.

There also outside bathrooms accessible from the yards.

Cafeteria & Aftercare

We next visited the cafeteria, where the students have lunch and the after school program starts. It did not look that big, but it sounded like they had up to three grades having lunch at a time. For K-2, the kindergartners come down first and get about 10 to 15 minutes on their own in the cafeteria. Then the first and second graders come down for lunch. After this point, the kindergartners are slowly moved out to their yard for after-lunch recess as they finish eating. The first and the second graders get escorted out to yard in groups, as different tables finish up. And then the same thing is done with the third through fifth graders.

Aftercare starts in the cafeteria. The after school program is fee-based and generally everyone gets in. There are currently 255 kids in the aftercare program. The program is run by SF Arts and Education. Lots of enrichment is offered, including photography, movie making, tae kwon do, cooking, STEM, and knitting.

Auditorium

We then moved to the school’s lovely auditorium, which had a stage and an open floor. They use it daily for aftercare, for big physical activity on rainy days, and for assemblies, including author visits, the SF Symphony (which visits all the SFUSD schools), etc. When Principal Robertson arrived, the school did not have many assemblies.

They have a weekly Tootle Tuesday assembly. Tootles are the opposite of “tattles”, and are notes from teachers thanking students for doing good things. The tootles are presented at the assembly. They also have two kids per month who get to be the mascots, dressing up as Tootles. They have an inspirational speaker at the Tootle Tuesday assembly, and it is usually someone from outside the school who comes to speak to the kids.

Fifth Grade Classroom

We also were able to visit a fifth-grade classroom, which was huge and possibly the least crowded-looking public school upper grade classroom that I have seen on a tour (though lots of school do not really let us see those upper grade classes). The room was rather long, but not that narrow. The students had the big rectangle desks, organized into tables of 2 to 4 desks. There were also computers in the classroom.  The classroom just had a great vibe and the kids were buzzing about actively learning.

Library

We ended the tour at the library, which upon entering I realized was actually twice as big as I had initially thought when I peeked in before the tour. It was huge and packed with books. They have a half time librarian, supplemented by parent volunteers.

Q&A

PAX & Restorative Practices

The school is a PAX school. PAX is a program for teaching “self-regulation, self-control, and self-management while collaborating with others for peace, productivity, health and happiness.”

The school is also starting to implement restorative practices and restorative circles.

Michael, the staff member who accompanied the principal on the tour, has a unique role at the school. His job is a stipend position where he supports the kids in third through fifth grade as an additional adult encouraging positive behavior. He writes the grants that fund the position. He is also the activities director for the mascot so he helps pick the two kids each month for the role and works with them for the assemblies and other appearances. He supports the PAX program as well as the restorative practices efforts. He previously worked in other public schools, including at Harvey Milk in their aftercare program. His role seemed like a great extra source of support for the school and its students.

Differentiation

Regarding differentiation, they do assessments throughout the year, and I did see Fountas and Pinnell chart in the literacy lab. In terms of lessons about phonics for kids who are already reading, the principal noted that it is still valuable for early readers to sit through those lessons. Sometimes when students do group work, it is with kids of the same skill level but sometimes the groups are heterogeneous because that can be useful for learning too.

At this point, the principal had to leave and the PTO president and Michael took over.

Homework Policy

For the two GE kindergarten teachers, one assigns one sheet per day and the other class gets one packet per week. The PTO president’s first grader gets a weekly packet. They noted that in the fifth grade classroom we visited, for some of the homework, the kids have the choice and the opportunity to either complete it in class or at home. Aftercare does include homework help although it is not meant to be an academic program.

PTO Fundraising & Involvement

Last year the PTO raised $60,000. They anticipate they are going to raise a lot more than that this school year. The PTO’s big priority is supporting Playworks. They also fund some field trips, 4 Family STEAM nights, and technology. The PTO also just gave teachers $1000 per grade level to fund whatever the teachers need.

Parents volunteer quite a bit in the classrooms, in the library, and on field trips. Parent involvement tends to be highest in kindergarten and first grade, and as kids get older there seems to be less in-classroom involvement as parents go back to work.

No Sugar Policy

The school has a no-sugar policy. The PTO also has a Healthy Families Committee that is working to get healthy snacks into the classroom.

Recent Changes in School Population and Leadership

The PTO president was asked how the school has changed since she has been there. She noted that there was a big change from the old principal to the new one, as well as the school becoming more of a neighborhood school. She noted that Principal Robertson is very open to parent involvement and proposing ideas.

Final Thoughts

I left wondering whether I should have put Glen Park a little higher on my list. It is definitely an exciting school with a growing PTO and what appears to be a pretty fantastic principal with a great vision. We are just outside the neighborhood, but close by enough to hopefully not feel out of place as it becomes more of a neighborhood school. And as with some of the other schools I have toured, we know a few families, and the built-in community is a plus – I even ran into a Glen Park Elementary parent I knew on the tour! Overall, it would another great place to land.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

School Tour: Miraloma Elementary School

Miraloma Elementary School

Website: http://www.miralomasf.com/

Location: 175 Omar Way, San Francisco, CA 94127, Miraloma Park (West of Twin Peaks)

Grades: K-5

Total Enrollment: Approximately 365

Kindergarten Size: 66 – three classes of 22, starting in 2015-16

Time: 7:50am-1:50pm (early release one Thursday per month at 11:20am)

Aftercare: MEEP until 6:30 p.m. (full or part time, fee based), YMCA until 6:00 p.m. (full or part time, fee based), SF Rec & Park until 5:30 p.m. (fee based)

Miraloma is the school of my dreams – well, at least the dream of walking my kids to school. As it is our Attendance Area school, my husband came with me on this tour. It took us about 5 minutes to walk there, which we expected as we often visit Miraloma Playground next door. So refreshing to not have to allow extra time to find parking!

The Miraloma tour was self-guided, which made it a little bit different than most of the other tours I have attended. The tour document was very detailed and there were parents at every stop ready to answer questions, but at the end of the walking tour portion, I was not really sure what I had gotten out of it. We were not able to enter any classrooms – I was glad we were not interrupting any instruction (I always feel bad about that), but at the same time I missed having that chance to get a peek at the classroom experience (even though I am the first to admit it is a random snapshot that does not tell you much at all). You can review the Miraloma tour document here - http://www.miralomasf.com/newsletter/docs/miralomatour.pdf.

We were very rushed at the end of the tour because we were told (and the information in the confirming e-mail says this too) that the principal’s Q&A would start at 9:30, but at 9:10 when we were about to view the kindergarten classrooms and yard, we were told that the principal was about to start. We did not want to miss seeing the kindergartners, so we ended up missing the beginning of the Q&A.

Tour

Because the tour document is pretty thorough and the in-progress construction obscured some of the physical appearance of the school, the tour recap will be brief.

Library & Auditorium

The tour started outside the library, which appeared to be decent-sized but maybe smaller than Lakeshore’s. We were not able to enter the library as there was actually a woodwind music class taking place inside.

Across from the library was the auditorium. The auditorium is apparently only large enough to fit about half the school at a time, which sort of makes its existence a bit curious.

Garden

We went outside to visit the huge garden, which runs almost the entire length of the school on one side. We also got to visit the four chickens, who my kids already know well from our post-Miraloma Playground visits.

Kindergarten Classrooms & Yard

We went downstairs to look at the kindergarten classes. Again, unfortunately we were not allowed to enter the classrooms. The kindergarten classes are all on one end of the building and two of the three classes face the kindergarten/1st grade yard where we could view them through their large windows. From the windows we could see that the kindergarten classrooms are very large, and looked well-stocked and decorated.

Their yard is great with a slide and climbing structure, and some imaginative play structures. During recess, the kindergarteners share the yard with the first-graders. On Fridays, half of the kids go to Miraloma Playground next door for their recess, and that is staffed partly by parent volunteers and paid monitors.

Upper Yard

We then saw the upper yard where the 2nd-5th graders play in staggered recesses. The yard is big and open with basketball hoops, a play structure, and a slide. Currently, part of it is taken up by three portables that will be going away at the end of the construction over the summer.

During the Q&A we could see recess going on and despite the fact that there were lots of kids in a variety of activities, the yard seemed spacious.

Cafeteria and Gym

The school has a separate cafeteria and gym. As with other schools, they stagger lunches. The cafeteria is nice and bright as it has one wall of windows looking out onto the upper yard. The gym was small but seemed appropriately sized for elementary school students.

Notes/Comments from Current Parents Along the Tour Path

Regarding aftercare, we were told that are enough spots for all the kids who want to do an afterschool program, as there are three – MEEP and YMCA, which are both held on campus, and SF Rec and Park’s program, which is held next-door at Miraloma Playground. Unfortunately, there are currently no language programs as part of aftercare enrichment. The Rec and Park program is mostly free play so most people do not choose it for kindergartners as it is a bit much for them.

There is a rolling drop-off in the mornings staffed by parents as parking is somewhat hard in the neighborhood.

As for technology, some of the teachers have iPads, and some have other computers. There is no computer lab, but according to the tour document, there are computers in the classrooms. Students do get some of their homework via Google docs and some work is required to be done online, including some research, so they do learn to use technology.

Q&A 
The tour ended with a Q&A in the cafeteria with the principal, Sam Bass. As I mentioned, there was conflicting information about when the Q&A was supposed to start so we missed at least the first few minutes.

This is the principal’s first year. I had heard great things about the school’s very popular and well-regarded former principal, but friends touring earlier this season told me that they really liked Mr. Bass. I could see why – he seemed quite personable and dynamic.

Loss of QEIA Funding

The first question we heard asked about the impact of the school losing its QEIA funding, which is a big part of why the school has been able to have smaller class sizes. The principal responded that in the past eight years, there has been a lot of improvement at the school, partly due to the leadership of the prior principal and partly attributable to the QEIA grant. That grant plus money raised by the PTA helped fund reduced class sizes, a K-2 reading specialist, a full-time social worker, a PE coach, a garden teacher, etc.  Next year (2015-16), the grant is going away, and the school has been having discussions about how to prioritize what they want to keep. They have decided that smaller classes are the most important priority. Starting next year K-3 will increase from 20 to 22 students, as in the rest of the district, but for 4th-5th grade, class size will stay at 25 or fewer students rather than going up to 33 students.

It was disappointing to hear that the school is going to lose the smaller class size in the lower grades, which was definitely appealing to us and many others I am sure, but it is great that they are planning to maintain the reduced class sizes for 4th-5th grades. Although I wish I knew how feasible it is for the school to really afford to do that long-term (though I know Miraloma has been one of the top fundraising schools), and it was not clear which extras are going away.

The upside of the increased lower grade class size is that there will be six more spots in kindergarten next year, increasing the odds of getting in, assuming interest remains the same.

Mini Q&A with current 4th Graders 

At this point, four fourth-graders came in to talk about the school and field questions. While they obviously picked kids who would make a good impression, it was a nice twist and they did great. Two boys, two girls, racially diverse. They talked about how they really love their teacher – apparently they have a teacher with a very dry sense of humor. The kids noted that they sometimes work in large groups, sometimes small groups, and some things are done individually.

They talked about the different afterschool programs, cementing the impression that the Rec and Park program really is mostly playtime. The YMCA program is a mix of homework and recess and MEEP is a mix of homework, playing, and enrichment.

For homework, they said in third-grade they got a packet on Monday that was due on Friday. Now that they are in fourth grade, they received longer-term assignments that are more substantial, such as reports and essays.

The students all said they enjoyed getting to work in the garden, and three of the four kids loved eating things out of the garden while the fourth loved the chickens.

Diversity

At this point, Principal Bass took over again and was asked about diversity.

He noted that the school only has 16% percent of its students on free and reduced lunch, which he states was unusual for the district. It was interesting to me that he did not elaborate what made it “unusual” is that it means Miraloma has a significantly less economically disadvantaged population than the district average. The principal noted that they have a small number of English language learners. As for racial and ethnic diversity, he stated that the school is 50% white, 18% Asian, and then approximately equal proportions of other ethnicities. There was no further comment about racial diversity. There are lots of LGBT families and staff (including the principal). He considers it very inclusive population.

He noted that the school also has students on the gender spectrum and the teachers go through gender sensitivity training. The younger students get presentations about differences. The school’s social worker, who they call the feelings teacher, also works with students regarding these issues.

Common Core

Regarding Common Core, the school anticipated the changes and started moving toward the new standards in English Language Arts before the curriculum was adopted. Moving towards the math standards has been more recent. Principal Bass noted that the school understands the challenges for parents with the Common Core teaching being very different than how parents learned in school, and so they are trying to help parents better support their children. For example, two nights before the tour, the school hosted a math night for parents to help them understand how to support math learning when students are home.

Curriculum & Differentiation

For math, the school uses the district curriculum of Everyday Math, but also uses Singapore Math, which they believe is a more effective way to teach math so kids have a depth of understanding.

For several years, the school has been using the Readers’ Workshop Balanced Literacy program from Teachers’ College Columbia, which ensures that students are reading at the right level. The school also uses Fountas and Pinnell assessments for K-5 and does three reading assessments year. This is the third year that the school is using Writers’ Workshop. The PTA has sent teachers to Teachers’ College for more professional development.

Even kindergarten students generate written product, and learn about narrative versus opinion writing. One of the parent volunteers noted that even though it sounds very daunting and academic for kindergarten, she feels it is taught in a manner very appropriate for their level. She gave the example of her daughter, who at the end of her kindergarten year wrote four-sentence letter to Barack Obama about an issue she was very passionate about.

Regarding differentiation, teachers are trained to provide it in the classroom, and the principal felt that where kids need more of a challenge, the teachers can provide that in the class. An example he gave was a class where they were working on “10+_”, i.e., adding 10 to other numbers that were less than 10 (10+5, 10+6, 10+7, etc.). Some kids have already mastered that and so the teacher can have those students work on adding 10 to numbers above 10. Other kids might not be ready to do “10+_”, and so with those children the teacher will have them working on adding within ten. Teachers also have resources to send additional material home.

Inclusion

Regarding inclusion, they have a new K-2 special day class. They have paraprofessionals weaved into the classroom for students with IEP warranting that support.

Special day kids are mainstreamed into PE, garden, and recess.

Care Team

The school has a care team made up of the principal and certain other staff, including the social worker, who meet when there are students who have issues warranting greater intervention and support. They try to come up with a plan to resolve the issues and work with parents.

Conflict Resolution

The school uses RTI (Response to Intervention). The staff has had a lot of training and teacher professional development on this approach. It is focused on motivating positive behavior. Tier 1 is school wide tools to motivate everyone’s positive behavior. Tier 2 is students who perhaps need a daily check in with an assigned staff member to make sure that things are going well and they are on track. Tier 3 would be students who need even more support than that.

Kindergarten Orientation

The kindergartners usually have an orientation the Friday before school starts. The first couple of weeks of school are all about structure and easing the students into the routine.

Cell Phones

One parent asked whether cell phones are a problem. The principal said that it has not been a problem. A couple of kids have them for special reasons. For example, if they walk home by themselves or they take MUNI. He noted that he used to be the assistant principal at Denman, and cell phones were a big problem there.

Student Population

More and more of the younger grade kids are from the attendance area. The current parents encouraged families to stick it out through the start of school if they really want the assignment. Last year, there were six spots open on the first day and four new kids came in after the 10 day count.

Social-Emotional Curriculum & Bullying

Regarding the social-emotional curriculum, they use Second Step, which is a once per week class where they address different issues like bullying or trying to be a better friend.

The principal stated that he deals with discipline maybe one time per week. They also use restorative practices. He again talked about how much easier things were at Miraloma than at Denman Middle School where he dealt with fights, phones, and bullying.

I was a bit amused by how much he was not selling Denman in comparing it so unfavorably to Miraloma given that Miraloma now feeds into Denman. That is the place where next year’s K parents are supposed to send their kids in six and a half years (and current Miraloma parents in even fewer years!), so if you are freaked out by the middle school feeders, all that talk probably did not help.

Principal’s Final Thoughts

Principal Bass described Miraloma as, to him, "a magical place on the hill”. He feels there are no weak links on the staff and that they have a very supportive PTA, not just regarding the money they raise but the high level of parent involvement and volunteering. And he goes home happy every day.

My Final Thoughts

So I definitely am a bit smitten with Miraloma. The proximity is a huge plus – seriously, walking to school would be amazing. We know a few families there, including a couple siblings starting K in the fall, and having visited the playground next door and the chickens in the garden for years makes us feel we can fit right in. But the assignment system and the fact that our attendance area has way more kids than kindergarten seats make it dangerous to get too attached. And I agree with one of the parent volunteers we talked to who wished the school was not a 7:50 start time school and that there was language in the aftercare programs. The diversity is definitely a consideration too, though I have come to be a bit more flexible about that by necessity.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Parents, Post Your Lists (and a Few Questions from Readers)

Happy New Year everyone!

The SFUSD application deadline is approaching very quickly: the last day to turn in your form at the EPC for Round 1 is January 16, 2015. Please feel free to post the lists you have already submitted or are planning to submit or in the comments.

We also have a few reader questions that have come in, including:

1) From a reader applying for SFUSD schools, we have a question about language immersion programs. Does anyone know what score one needs to pass the language assessment test and if there are levels above just passing, such as fluent, proficient, etc. Does one have to get a classification of a certain level (say, fluent) in order to be put in the lottery pool for speakers of the target language?

2) We also have reader questions about parochial schools! We haven't seen too many comments about those schools lately, but we know there's perennial interest. Is there anyone who can weigh in on parochial schools, particularly St. Thomas the Apostle and St. Monica?

3) Finally, from a reader in the South Bay, we have a question about any progressive schools in San Jose or nearby. The reader who wrote in has recently moved from another state and writes that her family has found the schools in Bay Area very academic (perhaps too much in the early grades). She has one child in preschool at a private school and all seems to be going well, but for kindergarten this parent is hoping to find a school that might have a better mix of academics and play-based curriculum. Any suggestions for her?