Thursday, January 15, 2015

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.

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