Noe Valley Voice November 2007

School Report

Here's the latest from parents and volunteers at Noe Valley's public schools: James Lick Middle School on Noe Street, Alvarado Elementary School on Douglass, and Fairmount Elementary on Chenery and 30th.


826 Valencia Embarking on a Writers' Room

826 Valencia, San Francisco's non-profit youth writing center on Valencia Street (and the closest pirate supply store to Noe Valley!), is hosting a town hall on Nov. 29 to share some exciting news. In January 2008, 826 Valencia will open a Writers' Room at James Lick Middle School. Looking less like a classroom and more like the cabin of a ship, the new Writers' Room will provide all 556 students at the school with a place where they can be creative and have fun while working with a salty crew of tutors from 826.

According to Erin Neeley, 826 Valencia's educational programs director, the approach is simple: a teacher will send half of her class to the Writers' Room to work with volunteers from 826 Valencia, while she works with the other half. By reducing class size and providing one-on-one tutoring, the program will allow teachers and mentors to carry out exciting new projects and provide more in-depth instruction. The Writers' Room also should boost confidence and improve the writing skills of the students, a third of whom are English-language learners.

This fall, 826 has been busy raising funds to reach the Writers' Room's $57,000 budget, Neeley says. "We're trying to get everyone involved right now, whether it's making a donation, getting involved with our January building weekend, or tutoring at James Lick--community involvement is the most essential and one of the most rewarding parts of the Writers' Room project."

Meanwhile, the school can hardly wait for 826's ship to sail. "I am so excited about the opportunities that this collaboration with 826 Valencia will afford our community," says assistant principal Bita Nazarian. "Our students are a diverse group, with a wide range of skills and strengths. They will greatly benefit from the personal help of one-on-one tutors."

826 Valencia invites anyone interested in the project to attend the town hall meeting at James Lick, 1220 Noe Street, on Thursday, Nov. 29, at 6 p.m. In addition to a pep rally for the Writers' Room, 826 will hold a raffle. For more information, go to

Get Ready for High School!

An assembly held last month by another non-profit, Calfee School Guide, produced quite a buzz among the eighth-graders at James Lick. They suddenly began thinking about high school -- and in new and different ways. After watching a presentation describing San Francisco's public high schools, and then listening to former James Lick students talk about their new schools, the kids were suddenly talking about high school on the playground, in the hallways, and in the lobby. One student began to question the wisdom of choosing Lincoln just because he had friends there: "That's not really the school that meets my needs," he decided.

San Francisco boasts 17 public and charter high schools, making the task of finding the perfect match for each of our students a challenge. Still, the families and kids who attended "High School 101," a workshop that included a panel of students from Lick's Class of 2007, loved hearing about the array of public school choices. Some boys who are now at Lowell (enrollment 2,671) and Lincoln (enrollment 2,343) used a lot of body language and swagger as they spoke of learning to deal with their tough academic workload, the modular scheduling, the high standards of their teachers, and the thrills of "off-campus lunch." They said they were "making the school smaller" by joining special-interest clubs.

Students who chose Gateway (enrollment 441 students) showed sincere appreciation for their closeknit community: "All the teachers are so dedicated! They all stay after school to help students. The science teachers all go to one room. They tell us, 'We are here to help you.'"

Students from School of the Arts (enrollment 806 students) were very passionate. They spoke of the challenges of "balancing academics with keeping up my art" and how they had to "be open to constructive criticism." They were excited by "learning about the other students' disciplines" in arts class, and they appreciated "how unique everyone here is." They also liked the fact that "students come from very far away to attend the school, even from out of the country."

To begin your own public high school search, go to

Open House for Fifth-Graders and Their Parents

You can discover why James Lick is becoming such a popular school choice, and learn what our school can offer your child, by attending an open house on Friday, Nov. 9, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Come meet some of exceptional staff, lively students, and supportive families.

If you're interested in James Lick's dynamic new arts programs, come to our Fall Showcase of Music and Dance the following week on Thursday evening, Nov. 15. You'll see the talented students in our dance, drama, and music programs, performing in the James Lick auditorium. The fun begins at 6:30 p.m.

Unique Partnership with Alvarado

Students will have fun helping others in a new tutoring program that will bring 30 Alvarado Elementary students to James Lick Middle School on one or two afternoons a week. The Alvarado kids--primarily English-language learners--will walk to James Lick for 30 minutes of tutoring in reading from eighth-graders in Sarah Jones' Peer Resources class. (See more in Alvarado section.)

Chats with the Principal

A chance to meet and talk with Principal Carmelo Sgarlato is yours on the third Friday of the month from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., in the school cafeteria. The next chat is scheduled for Nov. 16. Food and beverages are provided. Call the school to confirm date and topic.

In addition, James Lick School Tours for parents of fifth-graders will continue every Thursday morning through Dec. 13. Meet in front of the school office at 9 a.m. No reservations are needed.

-- Sue Cattoche


Students to Walk to Tutoring

It takes a village to fend off a state, so when Alvarado Elementary School learned it needed to boost test scores to meet federal requirements or risk losing control of its curriculum, parents, teachers, and students teamed up to make the difference.

This fall, new principal Robert Broecker helped kindergarten parent Todd David, PTA president Gabriela Tinoco, and Excel Afterschool Enrichment Program site director LaRon Smith identify about 50 third- and fourth-grade students needing help. The students now come after school Monday through Thursday and read with a parent volunteer for an hour.

"These are kids who can really benefit from one-on-one attention," David says. Because the Excel teachers work with about 20 children at a time, the tutoring helps lighten their load, he points out. "We're trying to supplement the teachers [so] the teachers can work with smaller groups."

Since then, David has expanded the program by enlisting the aid of eighth-graders at James Lick Middle School. The eighth-graders, who are also peer counselors under the supervision of Lick teacher Sarah Jones, will tutor the younger kids on their Noe Street campus at the end of Alvarado's school day.

David will walk the students from Alvarado to Lick two days a week -- on Tuesdays and Thursdays -- for a half-hour of reading with the older students.

"On one level, you're helping kids develop a love for reading, which in itself is a wonderful thing," says David, adding that many educators believe reading comprehension is what helps students jump through the hoops required to pass the state tests.

Anyone interested in volunteering should contact the PTA's Gabriela Tinoco at or call the school at 695-5695. Help us make the difference!

Spare a Donation?

Of course, we'll always take cold, hard cash, too. Alvarado kicks off its annual fund Nov. 1, and we hope neighbors will join parents and teachers in donating amounts both small and large. The money supports our part-time science and arts teachers, afterschool arts and culture clubs, motor skills classes, a computer teacher, and computers. Your donation makes all of Noe Valley a better place by enriching our children's lives. Thank you!

We'll also take any spare handypeople who can lend a hand on Nov. 3, our Work Day. Alvarado is a beautiful old building, thanks in large part to the volunteers who come and spruce it up on this organized work day.

Our Day of the Dead Assembly happens Nov. 2, though Day of the Dead artwork can be seen all around the school. Come and see how the school celebrates its great cultural diversity!

-- Heather World


Higher Scores and Hot Chocolate-- Both Translate Well

It was a rainy Friday evening, yet the group of families congregating inside the Fairmount cafeteria to look at last year's student achievement scores was surrounded by a warm glow.

The evening began with a festive dinner that featured the school's new salad bar, which makes fresh veggies available every day for students at lunchtime. After dinner, the students left for activities in the classrooms while their parents settled in to hear an analysis of last year's student test data prepared by members of Fairmount's School Site Council.

Reports from Data Night showed that for the fourth year in a row Fairmount Elementary's students made gains in language arts and mathematics. The crowd of parents learned that the math gains were most likely the result of teachers working together and sharing strategies.

The School Site Council now funds additional time for teachers to meet outside the classroom to focus on those students who need extra assistance. Principal Karling Aguilera-Fort explained how Fairmount's new ELD (English Language Development) program grouped students of similar abilities to advance their language skills through a systematic approach. All of the school's Spanish-immersion students have a separate English teacher who works with them in a group that may contain students from different classes.

The meeting was conducted in Spanish, and English-speaking parents wore headphones to hear the translation provided by parent Andy Kuster. While translation is often provided in Spanish at other schools, Fairmount is known to be a city leader in conducting meetings in Spanish, with the English-speaking parents only seconds behind in joining the laughter when a joke is made.

The advantage of the meeting being led in Spanish was obvious to the attendees: the room was filled with many more Spanish-speaking families than in the past. The involvement from Spanish speakers has jumped tremendously since we began, a few years ago, alternating which language was spoken first at meetings.

After meeting as a large group, the parents broke into small groups and brainstormed suggestions for better ways to help students learn, expand parent and community involvement, and improve school climate. Data Night ended with even more warmth as Aguilera-Fort brought a large pot of hot chocolate to the cafeteria for all the parents and kids to enjoy.

Little Kids Keep Rocking

Fairmount's music programs continue to be a wonderful asset for the students. In addition to the regular music classes for fourth- and fifth-grade students, the school supports a chorus group and Little Kids Rock, which teaches beginning and intermediate guitar classes in an after-school setting. A highlight of this program is that students keep the guitar they learn to play on. The program, which was begun by recently retired teacher Diane Meagher, is being carried forward by current teacher Christina Velasco.

Come Take a Tour

School tours continue every Tuesday morning. Call 695-5669 for details or drop by to see our dual Spanish-immersion program in action and chat with our principal, Karling Aguilera-Fort.

-- Tom Ruiz


Fairmount Elementary School
Karling Aguilera-Fort, Principal
65 Chenery Street at Randall

Alvarado Elementary School
Robert Broecker, Principal
625 Douglass Street at Alvarado

James Lick Middle School
Carmelo Sgarlato, Principal
1220 Noe Street at 25th Street