Daniel Webster and Starr King elementary schools started the 2016 school year with new principals and freshly renovated campuses.
As reported in the October 2015 issue of the View, 10 percent of Webster’s student body left the school last year, reflecting parents’ lack of confidence in school leadership, as well as concerns about what middle schools graduating fifth graders would be directed to. The loss of students dealt a financial blow to the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), and was disheartening to the community. This year, however, enrollment has started to climb, with 32 new students.
Last year, Webster shared space with the now defunct International Studies Academy at the Enola Maxwell campus while its 465 Missouri Street location was being renovated. With the updated Missouri Street campus nearly finished, students and staff started the new year back on their home turf. Last summer, Carrie Betti was appointed Webster’s principal; she started her new role by helping to unpack and setup the newly remodeled educational spaces.
“We’re open, and everything is up and running, it was a great first day,” said Betti. “The remodeling is beautiful. It’s been a great transformation, something really special. Daniel Webster needed a re-vive and we got it.”
In addition to completely remodeled classrooms, the newly renovated campus features a larger library, flex meeting spaces, activity room, and new play structure. The school also has updated plumbing, electrical and roofing done by local contractor, Thompson Builders.
This academic year marks Betti’s eleventh as a principal, and twentieth working in education. She served as principal at outer Mission’s Longfellow Elementary School for four years. She’s also worked in the Oakland and Cabrillo unified school districts. A San Francisco resident for 25 years, Betti has a Bachelor of Arts, teaching credentials from San Francisco State University, and a masters in educational leadership and administration from California State University, Hayward.
Daniel Webster offers the California State core curriculum and two language tracks, English Language Development and Spanish Immersion. For kindergarten through third grades, two Spanish Immersion classes are available for each grade, with one English Language Development class. For fourth and fifth grades, there’s one Spanish Immersion and one English Language Development class for each year. According to Betti, in the bilingual education program native Spanish speakers are in the same classroom as students who want to learn Spanish as a second language.
The school is known for its integrated arts curriculum, with classes and daily activities that incorporate art, music, dance, drama, and visual thinking strategies, which helps students develop critical thinking skills, visual and language literacy.
“We’re a unique and diverse school; students see themselves and their culture represented,” Betti explained. “I’m bilingual in English and Spanish. What I really want to provide is a sense of diversity and inclusion. I want all our families to feel welcome. There are socioeconomic as well as race and cultural differences. It’s a school with a truly rich diversity.”
At 1215 Carolina Street, Starr King Elementary School’s renovations were completed last year, though according to Christina Quiroz, San Francisco Unified School District arts coordinator, there are still some finishing touches being done, such as greening projects. The campus was modernized to meet accessibility standards, with structural and seismic upgrades. There’s a new administration and library building, added toilet facilities, and classrooms upgraded to meet the latest in sustainability and technology standards. As a result of the renovations, the school now fronts Coral Road, though it retains its Carolina Street address.
When the greening projects are completed the asphalt play area will be transformed into a planted, green area that features a play structure made from natural materials. BHM Construction Inc. and HKIT Architects were involved in the campus modernization project.
“The re-model is lovely,” offered Christine Van Aken, school parent and Mission resident. “It really improves the feeling of the building. It was challenging having some of the school unavailable during the remodeling. We’re also getting a new play structure soon, and are excited and hoping for a good year.”
Van Aken, parent of third grader Benjamin and first grader Rebecca, is starting her fourth year as a Starr King parent and looks forward to getting to know the new principal Darlene Martin. She hopes that Martin will bring stability to the school, as the former principal, Wendy Cheong, was in her position for just two years before becoming principal of the Chinese Immersion School at De Avila.
Martin served as principal of International Studies Academy before joining Starr King; she also worked in Boston public schools, with 13 years’ experience as a school administrator. Martin has Bachelor in human biology from Stanford University, 2nd masters from California State University, San Bernardino and Harvard University.
During a barbecue to welcome new families and staff to the school. Martin met many families and a number of the 150 parents who regularly attend PTA meetings. “In terms of focus, we’re working on balanced literacy,” said Martin. “We want to make sure we’re keeping students engaged and have adequate access to books and opportunities to develop literacy skills. There’s also focus around social and emotional learning. Students learn how to have both academic and social conversations while building emotional and social skills. Seneca has been onsite for the past two years. They work with us and have led a lot of the social and emotional curriculum.”
Martin, who described the school as being diverse in terms of ethnicity and socioeconomic status, has been getting to know the surrounding community, in part by attending Potrero Boosters meetings and becoming involved with Hope SF, an initiative to revitalize the City’s public housing sites, including the Potrero Annex-Terrace complex.