Photographs by Don Nolte

Photographs by Don Nolte

Wendy Cheong, Principal of Starr King Elementary School

March 2014

Starr King Elementary School Principal Discusses Opportunities and Challenges

Liz Melchor

This is the first of a series of View interviews with principals of public school located in the neighborhood. A different school will be featured throughout the winter and spring.

The 2013-2014 school year marks Wendy Cheong’s first year as Starr King Elementary School’s principal. Before coming to Starr King, Cheong was an assistant principal at Gordan J. Lau School, and worked at the San Francisco Unified School District’s central office as the Mandarin immersion curriculum coordinator. She started her career as a classroom teacher at Jefferson Elementary School.

View: What should the community know about Starr King?

Cheong: We are a very diverse school, with balanced representation of all cultural groups and ethnicities, including Asians, African-Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians. We have four different programs at the school. These are pre-k, Mandarin immersion, special day class, and general education, meaning English only. Mandarin immersion is the larger program, with 200 to 220 students right now. It begins with 80 percent instruction in Mandarin in kindergarten and first grade, and slowly increases until it is about half-half English-Mandarin by the fourth and fifth grades. Special day class is for our students who have moderate to severe autism and require specialized instruction from both teachers and paraprofessionals.

View: How many Starr King students live in Dogpatch or Potrero Hill?

Cheong: While we are a citywide school, roughly one-third of our kids come from the neighborhood. Generally speaking, neighborhood kids are in the general education or Mandarin program. However, the Mandarin program draws children who come from all over the City.

View: What are some recent or ongoing initiatives at Starr King?

Cheong: We have many programs at one school, so we are always working on creating a united culture as one school. We want a culture of peace builders, and we encourage the use of words to resolve conflict. We develop social skills and work on the academic curriculum. It shouldn’t matter what program students are in or where they come from; we want all students and parents to have the same access to activities and programs. That is our mission.

View: Are there any physical improvements on the horizon?

Cheong: We will be renovating our school and implementing a new green schoolyard initiative. The greening will help build up our environmental education program, eco-literacy if you will. Currently, we have a gardening program where the gardening coordinator and teachers work hand-in -hand to provide experiences that coordinates with their science units. Our new green yard will transition the children from play in a more traditional sport environment to a more nature setting. Reconstruction will begin in March. Bungalows, serving as temporary classrooms, will move into the schoolyard. The completion date of the whole project is October 2015. The construction will be in phases, and we are trying to make sure there are minimal disruptions.

View: How can community members volunteer or get involved with the school?

Cheong: We welcome volunteers. To work in the school, we can refer them to the San Francisco Education Fund at They are an agency that works with potential volunteers to provide training, fingerprinting, and the proper documentation so that they can work with children. We have many parent volunteers. We would welcome volunteers to tutor in reading, math, or whatever they might have an interest.

View: What are some current challenges?

Cheong: One is the reconstruction. Our space is going to be very precious. We are going to have to rearrange schedules and be ingenious about space usage. Another is reaching out to all families to have them come and participate in activities to help the students succeed.

View: What are some of the school’s strengths?

Cheong: I would say our strength is a very dedicated staff, volunteers, parents, community, and Parent-Teacher Association who invest an enormous amount of time, energy, and funding to help our kids be successful. Additionally, we are a diverse representation of San Francisco, and our diversity is a rich piece of the school. I am very proud of that, and it makes us strong.



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