School Beat: James Lick Middle School Grows in Stature, Not Size

by Heidi Anderson on January 26, 2006

Four years ago I took a seventh-grade Language Arts class, at least for a couple months. I’ll tell you what: Beowulf would’ve made more sense when I was 13 l if I’d had my 38-year-old brain with me at the time.

But more importantly, I got a first-hand look at James Lick Middle School, where my oldest son might attend the following year. I saw the incredible organization and heart the teacher brought to the classroom each day, marveled at the complicated relationships among the girls, and observed the boys try to remain seated while the large yard outside beckoned them.

Does Big Equal Good?
As the deadline approached to choose a middle school for my son, I thought a lot about what kind of environment he’d do well in. As a graduate of Argonne Alternative Elementary School in the Richmond District, my son’s friends were headed to Presidio Middle School. This well-regarded site, also in the Richmond District, boasted good test scores and 1300 students.

Thirteen hundred! My days in the classrooms and hallways at James Lick, student population 540, seemed more than enough for me. My son was a quiet kid easily distracted and prone to drifting in and out of the class woodwork, and I thought he might easily be never heard from again among 1300 classmates.

Yet, the bumptious James Lick classes, the boisterous hallways. Back and forth my thoughts went like kids on a basketball court.

Two things clinched my decision to send him to James Lick: the school was within walking distance from our house and the staff, warm, competent people, seemed prepared for just about anything.

Growing in Stature, not Size
Fast forward to this year, where I happily lead the James Lick PTSA. We have navigated a large change in staff this year, held our potlucks and planned our silent auction. We’ve grown our overall fundraising from $40,000 to a projected $50,000, and the parent energy behind our silent auction this year promises we may surpass that. Like all PTAs, our group has struggled to coax shy parents to volunteer, keep meetings on track, reach for the stars for our students’ education. All that time and money every year goes to classroom supplies, sports equipment, teacher support, capital improvements and international field trips.

My dealings with the school staff have been remarkably open and honest. And it’s one hard-working group. For years we’ve had an award-winning art program, and now can boast blossoming media and music classes. Our Peer Resource Program was commended at a recent SF EdFund event. A long-time counselor this year received the Golden Apple Award for his “Peace Initiatives Project.” We host an annual Science Fair, where students display their scientific ideas to the community and submit their projects to a citywide competition at the Randall Museum. Students and parents train all year long to be part of “Carnaval San Francisco” each May. Two field studies, one to South America and one to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, are organized every year.

Yeah ÷ But What About the Test Scores?
Last year James Lick’s students made a 38-point gain in the school’s Academic Performance Index (API), one of the largest gains in the school district.  This number is calculated by how much student standardized test scores improve each year, then compares the scores with schools of similar demographics elsewhere in California. On a scale of 200-1000, our students jumped from 573 to 611.

Outside the classroom, our school offers all the interscholastic sports you find in other schools and, because of our smaller size, students have more chances to participate.

And, after the last bell rings at 3:30, the Lick afterschool program offers homework and tutoring support, provided by our own staff. When the homework is done, the kids are off to dance, fencing (and other sports), or the yearbook club.

Finally, after three years of all that test taking and art-making and tutoring and fencing is done, our graduates go onto some of the best high schools in the city: Lowell, School of the Arts, Lick-Wilmerding, Sacred Heart, Leadership and Gateway Charters.
Spanish Immersion Program Growing
The number of SFUSD elementary schools offering Spanish Immersion Programs has significantly increased, and we are expanding our Spanish Program at the sixth-grade. Our staff and community have worked hard for years to maintain the high standards set by elementary and high school Immersion Programs – Mission High begins its Spanish Immersion next year.
Well, How’d He Do?
My son has now plowed his way through 6th, 7th and most of 8th grade. I can’t say it’s been all peaches and cream (what middle school experience is?) but he’s gotten a great deal of care and attention from his teachers and whenever I had a question, the staff was right there for me. He has a classic 13-year-old sense of injustice and irony so at the moment he might report something different about All Things JLMS, but I see a bigger picture. He may never know how blessed he was.

Heidi Anderson is the parent of three children in the San Francisco Unified School District, two attend Argonne Alternative Elementary School and one attends James Lick Middle School. She is the current James Lick Middle School PTSA President (


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