Noe Valley Voice September 2008

School Report

In this month's School Report, parents Heidi Anderson and Jan Goben contribute features on the enthusiastic new principals at two local public schools.

Assistant Principal Takes Reins at James Lick

Bita Nazarian Begins with a Bonus: More Teachers, Smaller Classes

By Heidi Anderson

The auditorium was packed on a recent Friday night at James Lick Middle School as Principal Bita Nazarian took the floor and welcomed nearly 200 families to their child's new school. Parents leaned in to hear Nazarian describe everything from new art classes to P.E. uniforms, in both English and fluent Spanish. A string of teachers then "detailed" to the eager group.

This is Nazarian's first year as principal, but she is a familiar figure on the James Lick campus at Noe and 25th streets. She joined the staff as assistant principal three years ago with Principal Carmelo Sgarlato, who moved on this fall to the top job at School of the Arts (SOTA).

During a busy Saturday at the office, greeting new teachers and working on the master schedule, Nazarian took a moment to talk about her plans for the school.

"We will be sustaining but also strengthening the work we've been doing, all the elements of teaching that relate to our students' rising test scores," says Nazarian, "and we'll continue working together to share teaching strategies so all students can do better."

To make sure this happens, teachers will have an hour each day to plan lessons together, and two Wednesdays a month will continue to be set aside for school-wide planning and professional seminars (known as "early release days").

"Our teachers are all great, but the more we learn from each other, the better we all become."

Test scores have risen rapidly at Lick during the past three years, but this year showed a less dramatic gain. Nazarian expected this. "It's normal to level off a little at this point."

But to make sure scores do continue to rise, Nazarian is bringing in experts from a group called California Subject Matter Projects, to help students tackle academic language--words students encounter in textbooks, such as "categorize" and "indicate" --that might slow them down as they read.

"One thing we're good at right now," says Nazarian, "is moving a lot of our kids from low scores to basic scores. We want to focus on getting more of them from basic to proficient and, of course, to advanced."

Art and Music, Outside and In

Nazarian is joined by her new assistant principal, Marilyn Zoller Koral, who was most recently assistant principal at Lawton K-8, and has taught at Everett Middle School. Within days of her arrival, Koral had maintenance crews in the building who took down and cleaned all the chandeliers in the large Art Deco auditorium, brightening the space for the new families the night of orientation.

Koral has a background in art and is passionate about the school building, which is now 75 years old.

"This is a beautiful building," says Koral. "It just needs some tender loving care. But what I'm most excited about," adds Koral, "is the strong and growing arts program at this school."

Lick now boasts arts electives such as Ballet Folklorico, chorus, crafts, and Blue Bear School of Music rock 'n' roll. In addition, visual arts classes continue to attract young artists to the school's large basement studio. For students with a taste for Broadway, this year's spring musical will be Bye Bye Birdie, set for early March.

Community Potluck Sept. 25

Some other news for James Lick this fall:

Thanks to a Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) grant, there are more teachers this year. Middle school class sizes can be as large as 33 in San Francisco's public schools, but Lick's classes are approximately 25 students for each academic class.

The school day starts at 8:30 a.m. (adult supervision for students who arrive early begins at 8 a.m. in the schoolyard) and lets out at 3:30 p.m. Early release days continue this year, which means the school day ends at 12:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month to allow time for teacher training and interdepartmental meetings.

Back to School Night will be Thursday, Sept. 18, at 6 p.m. Parents will attend their child's classes to meet teachers and learn what the curriculum is for the year.

The Community Potluck and PTSA meeting will be Thursday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. in the school cafeteria. All new and returning families are invited to bring a favorite dinner dish and get acquainted with each other.

Prospective families for next year can get a tour of the school on Tuesdays this fall starting Oct. 7, from 9 to 10 a.m., beginning at the school office.

Open House, for families wanting to enroll their child next year, will be the evening of Friday, Nov. 14.

Fairmount Principal Faces a Bundle of Bungalows

'Togetherness' Is the Theme for Ana Lunardi's School Family

By Jan Goben

As she prepares to take on the role of principal at Fairmount Elementary School on Chenery Street, Ana Lunardi knows she's got a lot on her plate. But she also knows that, in a sense, she's coming home again.

"This is my 19th year with the San Francisco School District, and I'm so happy to be back at Fairmount, where I taught kindergarten years ago and watched the beginnings of the Spanish-immersion program, which has been flourishing under all the great teachers here."

Lunardi, who moved to San Francisco from El Salvador when she was 7 years old, started attending school over the hill, at Glen Park School, when she first arrived in the city. When she began her career as a teacher, she went back to Glen Park, teaching kindergarten. She taught in a Spanish bilingual program, which differs from Spanish immersion in that it aims to teach native Spanish speakers how to speak, read, and write in English. (Immersion teaches students from both languages how to use both languages.)

After teaching at Glen Park, Lunardi moved on to teach kindergarten at Fairmount for four years. She taught at Moscone for a few years, then was principal at Monroe, and then worked as a coach helping new teachers learn the ropes.

Lunardi has two grown children and three grandchildren, ages 3, 6, and 10.

Last year, she took a sabbatical year, and she and her husband (her high school sweetheart from Lincoln High) traveled extensively around the United States, including Montana, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and her first visit to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. They also traveled around El Salvador, bringing with them their 10-year-old grandson, who attends the Spanish-immersion program at Monroe Elementary.

"It was wonderful to see him play with the children he met and use the Spanish he has learned at school in San Francisco to make new friends in El Salvador," she says. "My daughter resisted learning Spanish when she was growing up, but now it is very important to her that her son speaks Spanish. She was very happy that I took him to El Salvador."

Lunardi has been working at Fairmount since the beginning of August, meeting the teachers, getting organized for the beginning of school, and trying to explain to everyone who stops by what all the bungalows are doing in the lower yard.

The answer to that question: As the school district works to make the buildings handicapped-accessible at Kate Kennedy Child Development Center and Mission Education Center (both at 1670 Noe Street), the students and their teachers will hold classes in bungalows at Fairmount. Fairmount in turn will move into the bungalows next year, when the Kate Kennedy/Mission students are back in their new, improved classrooms and while Fairmount gets its own ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) upgrade.

Lunardi has met with the principal and teachers at Mission Education and Kate Kennedy, and they all made a pact to work as a team this year while they are sharing a small space, she says.

"I know there are concerns about the bungalows, but we all agree that we are in this together, and these children are all of our children. We will work together to help the kids, and make sure they get to know each other and enjoy each other's company."

Lunardi met many parents and students at last spring's FiestaVal, and she appreciates that people have been stopping by the office to help her out in the weeks before school. "I'm glad we've got an involved PTA and an active parent community," Lunardi says. "This first year, I'm going to observe and build on what we're doing well, while getting to know everyone."