Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Icing and Cherries

Oy gevalt, I am so confused. Just returned from our fifth and final kindergarten tour--our neighborhood school, Foster Elementary.

And it was awesome. I mean, really. I can't find any fault with it. The 90-minute tour was led by Principal Downey, who is just a big mensch of a man. (You can tell I'm overwhelmed from my use of Yiddish.) He was so warm and personable and all the kids kept calling out to him with genuine affection "Hi, Mr. Downey!" We met a bunch of teachers from all grades, and every last one seemed great--engaged and caring. We watched the students in their rooms--some chaotic, some orderly, but all seeming like an enjoyable and stimulating educational experience.

I had a lot of questions this time, and some of the answers were pleasing and surprising. For instance, 85-90 percent of the students live in the neighborhood--good for Jarrah and making friends. The other 10 percent are kids of people who work at the hospital down the street, giving the school a truly international diversity. Technology is rolling out at the same rate as the other district schools--two of the teachers showed us how they do math with a combination of Netbooks and Smartboards. But the kindergarten rooms were wondrously low-tech, with drawings and books and toys everywhere. I liked the messiness of it--the rooms seemed well-loved.

But that was another surprise. I thought the school would seem run-down, having been built in 1955, but it was actually quite cheery and orderly. Kids were practicing for their variety show next week, and we saw other kids running laps for prizes on their recess. The school is currently being recognized by the state for the work they've done with students in the past couple of years. It was clear that the principal takes great pride in the school and its students.

I liked the quiet privacy of the kindergarten quad, which has its own playground, and how all the rooms had windows. Oh, and the library! It's pretty new, very cheery, and filled with light. Probably the nicest one we've seen.

Of course, they have problems, like any other CA school right now. They lost seven teachers last year, and their kindergarten ratio has gone from 16-to-1 to 24-to-one in one year. They have too many students for the three kindergartens, so there's one K-1 combo. The principal told us that parents opt to take background checks so they can drive students on field trips, since they can no longer afford buses for those trips.

And then there's that one nagging detail, which actually means nothing to me except that it's a mathematical statistic, right there in black and white: The other schools we've seen all have an API score of 10. Foster's is 6. It's actually down a point from last year. What does this mean? Why don't their students test as well? Who knows?

But at the end of the day, it's a relief to know that--if we can't have our top choice or even our second choice in the lottery--Jarrah could do a lot worse than her neighborhood school. In fact, it no longer seems like a last resort at all. But what should our FIRST choice be? That I still don't know, and it's only a matter of days before we have to decide.


Stephanie said...

Hey, I think you're confusing the Great Schools rating with the API--I don't know what the GS rating is comprised of exactly, do you?

Sounds like J wins no matter what.

Sam said...

Hi Steph,
No, I know what you mean, but they gave us the SARC this morning, and Foster is a 6, down from 7 last year, on the API. Coincidentally, their GS ranking is the same (but yes, like you I have no idea what the GS ranking is based on.)

Jennifer said...

Sounds really great! The class size does seem large for kindergarten, but I also have too many kindergarten students so I get that. It stinks, but funding all over the country has been cut. Last year I had 24 and it is tough to get to all the students when I need to and to spend that extra time with them, but it can be done. This year I have 21, but several behavior problems and one severe behavior problem so I would prefer my 24. ha!

I know about the school report cards in Michigan and Texas, but not too up on the ones in CA. Probably use the same things to score that others do. I did a search for you and came up with this: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/sa/parentguide.asp
I would definitely search all the schools you are considering and see how they score in each category. The school today could have went down due to class size, but again, I don't know. I don't know your school so I can't get more info. Let me know if you have any questions...I might be able to help.

Good luck in your decision making!

The Wades said...

Man, the pressure. I'm glad I put virtually no thought to where I sent my children. It's easier that way. ;)

I kid. Sort of .

I bet you have a really good gut feeling. Go with it. I know you'll choose well.

Stephanie said...

Ahhh, yes, I forgot we get the API in two different formats--good lord I'm ready for this to be over too. I can't keep all the #'s straight and who knows whether they're worth a damn anyway. I suppose it's all we've got..other than gut instinct, but in my case that tends to get blown off course rather easily.

Lisa Gillespie said...

Hi Sam!

Anton's class size shot up to 24 this year too.....sigh!! (and some schools are at 26) You can tell it is hard on the teachers. I have a theory about the API score. Curie has NO toys in Anton's classroom. I call it the cut, color, paste, write, write, write curriculum (all things he is not particularly good at....sigh!!). He can have anywhere from 1/2 to 1.5 hours of homework a night. I have a lot of anxiety (personally) from asking him to do things I would have done in 1st and 2nd grade.

Some schools (Curie, Torrey Pines, all the "10s") "prep" the kids to do well on the tests, so they can get that high API score, and the "No Child Left Behind" money. This comes at a price (IMHO), of social and emotional development that only comes through play. I think it is great that Foster still has toys in a Kindergarten classroom (it is age-appropriate, again IMHO). Perhaps more play means a lower API score, but perhaps the faculty has made a decision to preserve a little of our kids' childhood?

Hope this helps....

P.S. We LOVE going to school with kids from our neighborhood--it is a HUGE plus. You guys will do great wherever you end up. :-)

Lisa :-)