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By Laura McHale Holland
Last May, when Italian-born Patrizia Guiotto accepted the post of principal at St. Philip School, a 68-year-old elementary school on Elizabeth Street, she welcomed the opportunity despite the challenges of a shrinking enrollment. The number of students at the parochial school had gradually declined from 250 in 2000 to about 200 last year.
Utilizing her past experience as an administrator of a small private school in Switzerland, Guiotto began implementing what she calls a child-centered approach to education. She is confident it will translate into success for St. Philip's students--and for the school as a whole.
"I'm progressive in the sense that I look forward rather than at what has been done before," says Guiotto. "I believe in progressing in small steps, and I look at the whole child. I don't just look at the educational goals. I also look at the best environment and the best way for each child to achieve them."
Word must have gotten out already. Enrollment is up by several students this year, Guiotto reports, and there's a good chance it could go higher.
Recognizing that all students learn differently, Guiotto has recruited a full-time reading specialist and an after-school educational therapist for St. Philip's. She has forged alliances with organizations such as 826 Valencia, the de Young Museum, and the San Francisco Symphony, in order to offer free after-school tutoring, writing workshops, and arts and music programs. She also plans to expand existing after-school programs.
"We have tutoring and guitar lessons in place. And I'm in the process of gathering resources, contacting companies and individuals," Guiotto says. "I sent out a questionnaire at the end of last school year asking for input on what programs parents would like to see at the school. I really want to give the community a voice in what activities we provide. So we'll see what they have in mind when school starts."
Guiotto observed that the teachers at St. Philip's are among the best she has ever worked with, both in public and private schools. (Her background also includes founding a consulting firm in Boise, Idaho, which specializes in designing and implementing training to improve students' performance.) She hopes Noe Valley parents will consider St. Philip's a viable alternative to either private or public school.
"I think the steady little decline in our enrollment had a lot to do with people moving out to the suburbs," she says. "Also, since the dot-com bubble burst, the economy hasn't been as good as it was. People have been afraid they can't afford a parochial school. A lot of them don't know that a private school is more than double what we charge, but the quality of education is way up there [at St. Philip's]. Almost all of our students who apply to Lowell, for example, get accepted."
For more information about St. Philip School, please contact Patrizia Guiotto at email@example.com or 415-824-8467.