Noe Valley Voice September 2005

School Report

This month's School Report features a profile of the new principal at James Lick Middle School, as well as a review of the summer happenings at Fairmount Elementary. After school starts, we'll check in with Alvarado Elementary School.


New Principal Well Prepared for Challenges

When the doors swung open at James Lick Middle School on Aug. 29, the students were wearing their traditional black and white uniforms and the Art Deco building was still painted creamy white and green. But there were a lot of new faces inside, including a new principal and assistant principal, who spent most of the summer meeting with parents, staff, and community members, listening to their ideas and preparing for the new school year.

Days before the opening of the fall semester, incoming principal Carmelo Sgarlato leaned back comfortably in his chair as he discussed the journey that had brought him to James Lick. Dark eyes that are at once warm and piercing revealed the focus and caring of the man who returned to college to study psychology, fell in love with science, and seized an opportunity to share this passion with disadvantaged learners.

Describing himself as "an ex­New Yorker, educated in the New York parochial schools," Sgarlato arrived in California in 1974. Two years later, he found his way to San Francisco, where he earned a degree in biology from San Francisco State University. When a friend told him of the acute need for science teachers in the city's public schools, he sought a job with the San Francisco Unified School District.

As a beginning science teacher at Washington High in 1984, Sgarlato made a point of wearing a tie to work every day, "so people would know I was serious." When the district came under pressure to desegregate its schools, he was eager to transfer to Phil and Sala Burton Academic High School, the city's first consent-decree high school. He saw it as a chance to help historically disadvantaged and academically challenged students.

Following 10 years in the classroom, which included stints as a chemistry teacher and science department head, he moved to the district office, where he advanced from science resource teacher to curriculum supervisor for all science, math, and technology programs for grades K to 12. But after 10 years away from the classroom, he felt the need to be in contact with students again.

Although he considered other positions, Sgarlato found the vacancy at James Lick "intriguing." As a former Valley Street resident with firsthand knowledge of the Noe Valley community, he was mystified that the school was not performing better academically. Sgarlato seized the opportunity to help the school fully realize its potential, placing his number-one focus on the goal of raising student achievement.

Working alongside Bita Nazarian, the school's new assistant principal, Sgarlato has spent the summer applying their shared backgrounds to fine-tuning the school's academic support programs for less-proficient students; strengthening instruction in language and math skills; and expanding the school's schedule of electives with a new music program, a full sports program, and a program for students to learn real-life skills as assistants to teachers and staff.

Petite, outgoing, and fluent in Spanish, Nazarian shares Sgarlato's enthusiasm for working with the James Lick community and kids. She says she's felt inspired by the energy that parents bring to "the sometimes daunting task of educating our children." Formerly the instructional reform facilitator at Everett Middle School, Nazarian brings experience directing professional development programs for teachers and coordinating the school's intervention and enrichment programs for students. Working very comfortably together, the two new administrators also plan to create a more positive school climate.

As a scientist, Sgarlato understands that the earth's resources are limited, and tries to live without using more than is needed. As the parent of children ages 20, 12, and 2, he notices when students make poor food choices or need dental work, and looks for solutions. At the end of a very full day, he drives back home to Marin County, where his wife is at home caring for their 2-year-old. He'll wash the dinner dishes, "because my wife has been working all day, too."

Keeping in Touch: Please call 695-5675, or the James Lick message number, 436-0349, for information, or drop by the school at 1220 Noe Street at Clipper.

PTSA Meetings are held the third Wednesday of each month during the school year from 6 to 8 p.m. The web site for the parent/teacher group is www Thank you for sharing your ideas, talents, enthusiasm, and support for our public schools.

--Sue Cattoche


Parents Stay Busy Over Summer

When the Fairmount students and staff step into the school's cafeteria/multipurpose room, they will notice a shiny new blue tile floor.

Following up on last summer's school renovation project, which stripped out funky old carpeting and replaced it with new tile in all the classrooms, Fairmount's intrepid parent renovators turned their sights on upgrading the cafeteria.

Over the course of two weekends, parents rolled up their sleeves, got down on their knees, and retiled the cafeteria. The new colorful multipurpose room serves various functions and is scheduled to receive upgrades during the school year utilizing proceeds from the Lion King benefit held last year. One new addition will be a portable stage, says Fairmount principal Karling Aguilera-Fort.

Test Scores Shoot Up

Aguilera-Fort received some good news upon returning from summer vacation: Fairmount students made significant gains in language arts last year. They also held steady in mathematics. All through the year, the school's staff focused on enhancing classroom instruction.

"Although it was difficult going through the process of restructuring and redesigning the instructional program, it paid off in the end," notes Aguilera-Fort. "Teachers and staff worked really hard with the support of the school community to make it a fruitful process."

In addition to continuing to improve language arts and math instruction for 2005­06, Fairmount will seek to integrate more arts and technology into the curriculum, Aguilera-Fort says. "We're looking forward to an exciting future based on the results of last year. The horizon looks promising."

Fairmount Parent Named Mayor's Education Adviser

Hydra Mendoza, a parent of two Fairmount students, was appointed this summer by Mayor Gavin Newsom to be his education adviser. Mendoza, former executive director of Parents for Public Schools, says she is looking forward to solidifying the links between the city and the school district. Superintendent Arlene Ackerman told the mayor at Mendoza's appointment ceremony that he "had picked the right person, one who would give 400 percent effort."

School Visits Start in September

Contact Fairmount at 695-5669 to attend one of the scheduled school tours conducted by parent volunteers.

The annual car wash and schoolwide yard sale will be held on Saturday, Sept. 17. Enter the schoolyard on Randall between Chenery and San Jose.

--Tom Ruiz


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

Alvarado Elementary School
625 Douglass Street at Alvarado
Clementina Duron, Principal

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

Public or Private School--You Decide

The San Francisco chapter of Parents for Public Schools (PPS) will sponsor a free back-to-school session at James Lick Middle School on Saturday, Sept. 10, from 9 a.m. until noon.

Parents can get information on choosing a public school, improving parent involvement, leveraging resources and fundraising, and building such things as an English Language Advisory Council at their children's school.

Participants will also get to meet the new PPS executive director, Lorraine Woodruff-Long. Call 468-7077 or e-mail to register for childcare during the session. To find out more about Parents for Public Schools, visit the web site at James Lick is located at 1220 Noe Street.

The following day, Sunday, Sept. 11, at 1 p.m., Cover to Cover bookstore will host a book-signing and discussion of Finding a School for Your Child by Susan Vogel. Now in its fifth edition, Finding a School is a guide to the private school admission process and to more than 80 private and parochial schools in San Francisco and Marin counties. For more details, call Cover to Cover, 1307 Castro Street, at 282-8080.