Our guest blogger Laura Lifland (super mom and emerging writer) was taken aback at the responses from friends when she told them her child had been assigned to Cobb in the first round of the SFUSD lottery this year. Dismayed that people were willing to share negative viewpoints on a school they had never visited nor taken the time to learn about, Laura decided to visit the school herself. Her impressions of the school highlight what we miss when we rule out a beautiful school in a great neighborhood with a talented, caring teachers based on test scores alone, or worse, racial and socio-economic demographics and vague, baseless impressions from people who know nothing of the school.
I arrived at Cobb for their scheduled Thursday morning 9am tour, and was fortunate enough to get to spend an hour one-on-one with the principal, Chad Slife (“Mr Slife”, as the students call him fondly). This is his first year at Cobb. Previously, he was Assistant Principal at Gateway Middle School (a charter school), which he helped launch. During his time at Gateway, the school grew from 100 6th graders at inception, to full capacity of 312 6-8th graders last year (with a wait list of 400 for 100 spots!). Before Gateway, he was a teacher at Claire Lillienthal.
Cobb is one of the smallest schools in SFUSD, with 140 students currently enrolled, including preK. This allows for very small class sizes (current K has 14 children). That said, they have capacity for more enrollment and would love to add more students.
Cobb is in a great location (at California and Divis) with a large outdoor playspace and brightly lit, spacious rooms. There was a feeling of warmth and engagement throughout the school. They were having a “publishing party”, with a focus on “persuasion”. We ran into the literacy coach who excitedly told us about a persuasive piece that one of the students had written about one of the current candidates in the US presidential race, as well as another on the case for non-violence. I was also able to witness collaboration between classes (5th graders helping K students with reading/writing projects). Kids said enthusiastic hellos to Mr Slife when we went into a classroom or crossed paths with them in the hallways.
Average tenure of teachers at Cobb is currently 8 years. I met many of the staff during my walk around and was uniformly impressed with their warmth and professionalism. As many of you know, my child defies all traditional gender norms, and my number one qualification for the K he eventually attends is that the staff be aware and supportive on the topic of gender identity. I found Mr Slife, and all of the staff I spoke to, fully fluent on children’s gender development and other matters of diversity and inclusion.
The school has undergone a massive integration of arts into the curriculum. Children have 2-3hours of arts per week, fostered by partnerships with the SF Opera, Ballet and Symphony, as well as with an SFUSD VAPA teacher who comes into the school, and a teacher from the Nagata Dance Company in Japantown.
The school is also slotted to participate in a World Language Pilot (see article in SF Examiner). Every student would get 30 minutes of instruction in Mandarin, 3x week. At the moment, Cobb and one other school have been identified as pilots for this program, which would eventually roll out to other schools.
They are working with Coast 2 Coast Coaching for lunch recess this spring. They hope to have Playworks on site next school year with a full-time coach to support all recesses with safe and fair play.
Speaking of recess, K-2 have morning, lunch and afternoon recess. Grades 3-5 have morning and lunchtime recess. Younger kids are encouraged to take “brain breaks” by moving (Mr Slife used the example of 3rd graders doing a conga line from one activity to the next, or having dance it out moments during the day).
The school provides full-time aftercare through the YMCA at no cost. Regular school hours are from 8:40-2:40pm, and aftercare is from2:40-6pm.
The school does require uniforms (blue pants or skirt, blue or white shirt) for all students, with the exception of PreK. The uniform policy is intended as a socio-economic support in the community. I confirmed that my child would be able to, without hesitation, wear a skirt or pants. Kids looked relaxed and comfortable in their attire, and other than the uniformity of color, their clothes looked of their own choosing in style, cut, layers.
Academically, the school (as with all of SFUSD) adheres to the Common Core.
The school practices RTI (Response To Intervention) for both academics and behavior. This means the first tier, which includes everyone, receives a certain degree of intervention, followed by a second tier – a select group – receiving another level of intervention, followed by the third tier – individuals – receiving personalized intervention.
In terms of discipline, the school (like many SFUSD schools), engages in Restorative Practices. In addition, students are awarded “Golden Tickets” for acts that reflect the school’s commitment to Be Safe, Be Respectful, and Be Responsible. Prizes are given out at the individual, class and school level once a certain # of Golden Tickets are collected. Class prizes include popsicle parties; school prizes include dance parties.
There is an active parent organization at the school and a school site council. Most families come out for events that engage and showcase their kids (performances, Back to School night). There are small-scale fundraisers.
In terms of resources, the school has:
1 full time social worker
1 full time instructional coach
1 full time literacy coach
1 full time elementary advisor (supports attendance)
1 full time RSP (supports Special Ed)
1 half-time family liaison
1 half-time school nurse (who trains all of the other nurses in SFUSD)
1 librarian, 2 days/week
1 Phys Ed specialist, 2 days/week
3 VAPA (Visual and Performing Arts) teachers on campus one-day-a-week each.
Volunteers further support the school, including:
San Francisco Education Fund
Experience Corps (retired adults who want to give back to the community)
Tzuichi, a Buddhist Foundation that provides supports for families in need
High school volunteers from Gateway, Drew, Towne who help with reading, recess, etc
Did you tour a great public school that people need to know about? Tell us all about it in the comments, and/or email firstname.lastname@example.org.