School Beat: Coming Back to Commodore Sloat Elementary School

by Christine Leishman on December 7, 2006

My first experience of Commodore Sloat Elementary School was in 1962. Gabby Jackson was my kindergarten teacher and I loved her. I remember finger painting, the musical instrument basket, and sitting perfectly still while Mrs. Jackson traced my silhouette for a Mother’s Day present, which would hang alongside the silhouettes Mrs. Jackson had done of my older brother and sisters when they were in her kindergarten class.

During the 70’s the school went through a complete renovation, the building was divided into “pods” each with its own kitchen and communal class area. When I toured many years later the only part of the school that visibly reflected those early memories was the auditorium and a plaque honoring Mrs. Jackson. But the school itself felt familiar- something nostalgic seemed to emanate from the walls.

When my eldest son turned four I got caught up in the first-time parental panic of my child entering kindergarten. I toured almost every known public, parochial, and private school within a drivable range. We lived about one mile from Commodore Sloat Elementary School (CSS) but I worked at UCSF so there was quite an array of excellent schools. I toured Lakeshore, Rooftop, Clarendon 2nd Community, Commodore Sloat as well as Live Oak, and St. Gabriel’s to name just a few.

With both my husband and I working, we needed an affordable afterschool program at least three days a week. My son’s former preschool teacher was running the Clarendon afterschool program so that weighed heavily into our equation. There was the added allure of a school that everyone wanted to get their child into.

I had been equally impressed with Commodore Sloat upon touring, but knew if I wanted to get my child into Clarendon it would have to be my first choice. What I didn’t know was that Commodore Sloat has never had a problem filling its classes, so by identifying CSS as our second choice, and not getting into Clarendon, we were left hanging.

Instead of Clarendon or Commodore Sloat, we ended up joining a group of parents who had discovered Grattan Elementary School in Cole Valley. Despite low-test scores and a neglected facility, Grattan had the energy of a new principal, wonderful teachers, and a great layout. Although we loved Grattan, family circumstances forced us to look at schools again in order to find something closer and that started later.

And so my oldest son finally followed my footsteps and entered Commodore Sloat in the second grade. Two children and six years later, we are an extremely happy CSS family, proud of the many things that make our school what it is.

At CSS there is an expectation of respect, compassion, helpfulness, fairness and an opportunity for camaraderie between kids from all different backgrounds with all different abilities, strengths and challenges. Mind you, the kids are not all angels, and there are annual assemblies to reinforce the lesson but the expectation is palpable and for the most part the kids really get it. This environment is strengthened even more by the fact that Commodore Sloat is an inclusion school.

The teachers are remarkable- professional, caring, incredibly hard working, and grateful for parental support. I can’t think of a single exception to that from kindergarten through fifth grade in any of the classrooms. Because I have three children, boys I should emphasize, I have had the opportunity to work with many of the teachers over the years.

I have always felt that we were partners in my children’s education. As different as my three boys are from one another, academically as well as socially, they have each felt supported, nurtured, challenged, and respected. And I have watched them thrive in all arenas as they prepared for the next grades’ demands.

Parents have many opportunities to be involved at CSS, from the participating in the parent organization to chaperoning field trips to helping kids work in the Learning Garden. Due to parent efforts, we now have an integrated environmental education program. Currently, our school is undergoing renovations to comply with ADA requirements as provided in the 2003 Proposition A bond. Our green space will be increasing and the community is working on the plans together.

Now, working full time with three kids between the ages of 7 and 13, I do not have as much time to be a part of the school community as I did early on and I really miss it. CSS has been an incredible place for my children to learn and has been an important part of all of our lives. I know it can be the same for many other kids and their families too.

Christine Leishman, is the mother of three SFUSD boys attending Commodore Sloat Elementary School and Presidio Middle School. She is also a member of the 2003 Proposition A Citizen Bond Oversight Committee and a board member of San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance.

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