Noe Valley Voice October 2007

School Report

Our stringers at James Lick Middle School and Fairmount Elementary report on the fall adventures of students and staff.


State of the School, Fall 2007

A crisp hint of autumn filled the air as James Lick Middle School opened the 2007-08 school year with an enrollment of 556 students in grades six through eight. Parents arriving for Back to School Night on a breezy September evening were welcomed by Principal Carmelo Sgarlato, PTSA President Julia Harrison, and key staff members in the school's beautiful foyer. Many of Lick's bilingual students were also on hand to assist non-English-speaking parents and to translate the teachers' classroom presentations.

The crowd was happy and excited to hear that the school's arts and after-school programs are expanding, the Spanish-immersion program is thriving, and a new wellness center for students is set to open on the second floor of the school this month.

Blues Artist Wows Young Musicians

Chart-topping blues musician Joe Bonamassa treated James Lick music students to a solo performance and a discussion of the blues, in the school's auditorium on Sept. 18. Playing selections of popular music, Bonamassa demonstrated how the blues became the foundation for the hip-hop, jazz, rock, and country music the students enjoy today.

Thirty-year-old Bonamassa, who began learning guitar at the age of 4 and touring with B.B. King by the time he was 12, has recorded 10 albums. He was recently named Best Blues Guitarist in Guitar Magazine's 2007 Readers' Choice Awards. When students expressed awe at the smoothness and speed of his playing, he attributed his success to years of dedication and hard work, and then played a classical guitar riff to illustrate the kind of music he studied as a child.

Why the switch to blues? In a word, freedom: "Classical music is written to be played the same way every time. The blues is all about interpretation and improvisation." Bonamassa's appearance was sponsored by Blue Bear School of Music and the Blues in the Schools program.

More Than Just the ABCs

James Lick's Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) elective programs have expanded to include art, dance, drama, instrumental band, and rock. Students are especially revved up because this year they will be able to change electives every eight weeks and learn more skills.

After school hours, students can try out to play in bands or audition for plays. Gary Soto's play Novio Boy will be offered this fall, and the musical Hairspray will be staged next spring. Basketball teams have formed, with volleyball and soccer due later in the semester. These opportunities are in addition to our Beyond the Bell after-school program, which has added Aztec dancing and beginning Spanish to its diverse selection of classes.

Altar for Día de los Muertos Goes to De Young

Students from James Lick, working in partnership with the de Young Museum and S.C.R.A.P. (Scroungers' Center for Recyclable Arts Parts) and artists Aiko Cuneo and Lilli Lanier, are proud to be making two altars for El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) this year. One altar will be installed in the school lobby, and the other will be installed in the Media Room of the de Young Museum from Oct. 31 through Nov. 7.

Well Done, Families

A family workday on Saturday, Sept. 22, focused on setting up the new student wellness center in Room 223. The school's families moved stacks of books, repaired equipment, and cleaned up the room, preparing the new center for its debut in October. James Lick is one of only two San Francisco middle schools selected to host this innovative program, which is designed to improve health, well-being, and educational outcomes for the students. A barbecue lunch concluded the busy morning.

Chat with the Principal

Principal Sgarlato met with parents on Friday morning, Sept. 21, to discuss the State of the School, 2007. Topics included the results of the most recent California Standards Test, and tips on how parents can support their children's learning at home.

Chats continue on the third Friday of the month from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. throughout the school year. Food and beverages are provided. The next chat is scheduled for Oct. 19. (Call the school to confirm date and topic.)

Take a Tour of Campus

James Lick School tours for parents of fifth-graders resume on Thursday, Oct. 4, and continue every Thursday morning through Dec. 13. Meet in front of the school office at 9 a.m. No reservations are needed.

Park for a Good Cause

The James Lick parking lot on 25th Street near Castro Street will be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13, for the Noe Valley Harvest Festival and Hayride (or shopping at the Farmers' Market). For a $10 donation per car, you can park close to 24th Street and help the James Lick PTSA fund our outstanding student programs.

--Sue Cattoche


Mayor and Superintendent Bring Town Hall to Fairmount

In mid-August, Gavin Newsom, joined by San Francisco's new schools chief, Carlos Garcia, held a town hall meeting on education, at Fairmount Elementary School. Neighbors, representatives from the PTA and Parents for Public Schools, and members of the Fairmount school community packed the cafeteria to hear remarks by the mayor and school superintendent, followed by a question-and-answer session.

As the two officials mixed serious discussion with humorous banter, a common theme of emerged. Mayor Newsom reiterated his commitment to helping the city and school district work better together, and promised continued support of after-school programs and student wellness centers by the city's Department of Children, Youth and Their Families. Newsom also trumpeted how Proposition H resources, approved by the voters in 2004, would continue to roll out and provide millions of dollars for sports, arts and music, and counseling programs for schools during the 2007-08 school year.

Superintendent Garcia, who in the 1980s had served as principal of Horace Mann Middle School in the Mission District, enthusiastically expounded his vision of all students being capable of achieving success, especially if they are reading at grade level by the third grade. He said he and the school board would meet to develop a short list of priorities focusing on all aspects of the school district, which, based on the latest test scores, continued to be the highest performing urban district in the state. He made it clear that one of those priorities would be closing the achievement gaps between the various ethnic and socioeconomic groups in the district.

While speaking about budget difficulties, Garcia mentioned that, in the face of declining enrollment, the district might have to reduce the number of schools, or at least combine a number of small school programs at a single site, to consolidate resources for the academic benefit of students.

Both he and the mayor spoke about the importance of leadership and cited Fairmount Principal Karling Aguilera-Fort as an example of a school leader who continued to make a big difference in the lives of students. For his part, Aguilera-Fort asked all members of the school community to redouble their efforts to meet the students' academic needs. He noted that Fairmount's academic performance continued to improve, with the latest state test results showing schoolwide gains in language arts and mathematics.

Harvest Raffle Follows Car Wash

Fairmount's fall car wash on Sept. 9 was a big success, raising more than $2,000, as parents, kids, and staff got their hoses and sponges out and cleaned that summer dust and dirt off the cars rumbling into the schoolyard.

The second annual Fairmount Harvest Festival, which features a fundraising raffle, is now under way. Look for Fairmount munchkins selling tickets on 24th Street, Church Street, and throughout the neighborhood.

The community is invited to the free festival at the school on Sunday, Oct. 28, when prizewinners will be announced. First prize is $500 cash, second prize is a $150 gift card from Cole Hardware, and third prize is an iPod Shuffle.

Fairmount raised $15,000 last year from the Harvest Festival raffle, which helps fund art, music, dance, P.E., library assistants, and other enrichment programs for our students. This year, we hope to do even better.

This event will also be a good time to check out our dynamic school community, for parents who have children entering kindergarten next year. School tours will continue during the fall on Tuesdays. Contact the school office at 695-5669 for tour times and details.

A great way to determine whether Fairmount is the school for your child is to come take a look at our dual Spanish-immersion program in action.

--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