Thursday, January 15, 2015

School Tour: New Traditions Elementary School

New Traditions Elementary School


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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