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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

New School of San Francisco Answers Your Questions

The state recently approved New School of San Francisco (NSSF)’s charter and expanded it to middle school. I interviewed co-founder Ryan Chapman to find answers to your Frequently Asked Questions. 

  • What is NSSF’s educational philosophy? A: NSSF follows inquiry based learning, which starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios in order to develop deeper thinking and problem-solving skills. NSSF has created a constructivist school while still meeting Common Core Standards and accepting any child who wins a spot in the lottery. They have 4 mini arcs during the school year, a mini arc of 6 weeks at the beginning of the school year, and 3 larger arcs during the rest of the school year. They ask big questions that engage questions. Curricular content is interwoven into the arc while answering that big question. The autonomy of the students means that they can choose which aspects to explore within the arcs. Some aspects of the inquiry -- deeply collaborative, investigative, no need to get the answer right but to explore the process of learning. Exposition at the end of the arc demonstrates and shares what they learned. Kids make a lot of projects as an outcome of inquiry. The project is a means to an end, not the end itself. The focus is about the process of learning and not the right answer. 

  • What else is special about NSSF? A: NSSF provides an individualized learning plan for each child. Among children, a sense of joy. Kids are excited to come to school and learn. Kids feel heard and seen for who they are. Inquiry is a means towards differentiation for each child. There is no limit on differentiation. There is a massive range in academic level at the school, so as they personalize, they assess the child for math and reading. Some children need deeper exploration, while other children need more advanced work. The decision will be based on a whole look at the child and their needs. The goal is heterogeneous learning groups, and kids stay in the same grade group for all subjects. There are no reading level caps, but reading level does take into account comprehension, and content of books will be considered. Decisions are made in close consultation with parents when the child is unusual, and there are limitations, but after school enrichment is also an option. 

  • What is the student teacher ratio at NSSF? Does it change in 4th and 5th grades? Do you have combo classes? A: Ratio is 12:1 in K-2nd, 16:1 in 3rd-5th. Four teachers per grade in lower elementary, 3 teachers per grade in upper elementary. For 6th grade, it will be approximately 12:1. There are no combo classes.

  • Where will NSSF be located next year? A: NSSF is negotiating with SFUSD. Guaranteed space with the district. They will not be without a site, unlike recent private school situations, because SFUSD must rent NSSF a space. Due to the growth of the school, the site needs change each year, and politics may be involved, so NSSF is looking for a long-term site outside the Prop 39 space, and they have funds to do so.

  • How long was the charter renewed for? A: Five years, so NSSF will next apply to renew for Fall 2025.

  • How will the new CA charter laws affect the next renewal? Will NSSF still be able to appeal to the state? A: AB 1505 restored the appeals process to the state for renewing charters, so the NSSF process is not affected.

  • How do I enter the lottery for NSSF? A: NSSF has an online lottery. It will work on a phone or laptop. If you applied last year, you need to apply again for the future years. More information is available on their website, if you still have questions. Applications are due Friday, March 6th, 2020.

  • Can I apply in person if I don’t understand the website? A: Yes. You can send in a hard copy application, take a picture on your phone and send by text, fill out a form at the school, or attend the outreach events in neighborhoods. Applications were translated into Spanish and Chinese. Call, text or email, and they will help. admissions@newschoolsf.org is the best contact. Ms Christina is Director of Community and speaks Spanish.

  • What is the new tie breaker system for NSSF? A: (1) SF residents who qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL) until that grade level has 50% children who qualify for FRL, with siblings who qualify for FRL at a higher priority than nonsiblings who qualify for FRL, (2) siblings, (3) faculty, (4) SF residents, (5) anyone else extremely unlikely. The tie breaker is based on enrollment, not just offers.

  • What are the requirements for Free or Reduced Lunch (FRL)? A: Please see the attached, which lays out benefits such as food stamps, which automatically qualify a family, and maximum household income for everyone else.

  • How will NSSF confirm the qualification for FRL for children not yet registered in SFUSD, ie preschoolers not in SFUSD preK or private school/out of town transfers? A: Families will complete a standard SFUSD form, which is then processed the same way that all public school FRL forms are processed, and the results will be sent to NSSF. *Please be honest in the application, and it will be verified.*

  • What happens if all applicants who qualify for FRL are accepted, and it’s < 50% of the class? A: School Mint will run a lottery for FRL families first and see who accepts. Last year, NSSF had 128 kindergarten applications of families who self selected as qualifying for FRL, so NSSF expects to reach the 50% threshold. If, within that pool, however, it changes, and they don’t reach 50% threshold, would go to the general pool.

  • How many spaces does NSSF expect available aside from attrition? A: For kindergarten, there are 48 spots, of which the first 24 will be offered to and filled by children who qualify for FRL. Approximately 10 spots are expected after faculty and siblings, but this is just an estimate. For 6th grade, NSSF will add 12 spots each year, taking the total number of students from 48 to 60, and likely all of those will be assigned to FRL families. NSSF will add 7th grade in the 2021-22 school year, and 8th grade in the 2022-23 school year.

  • What else would NSSF like to share? NSSF is still a startup school. They are still growing, evaluating, and modifying each year. If you are excited to be part of the beginning of a school, then this is the school for you. As a public school, NSSF is diverse by design and needs to take equity into account. For instance, those who are advanced in a subject will get less teacher time than those who are struggling. They do get some teacher time at their level, but the priority needs to address those who need more help. NSSF spends time discussing race and equity in the classroom. Fairness vs equality is a discussion. The school offers three parent-teacher conferences per year, and home visits, which is one more conference than the district schools, which rarely run home visits. NSSF has a strong special education program. Reach out to the school directly at admissions@newschoolsf.org with any specific questions.

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Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco. Email to learn more about her services.

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