FAQs

General

How cohesive is the parent community?

Our family community is one of the school’s greatest strengths. Because participation in school activities is so central to our progressive model, parents are a regular fixture on the playground, in the classrooms, and as part of school operations. Each classroom tends to become a closely-knit group, and there are also many opportunities to socialize with other families at the school-wide level, such as community service events, our Chinese New Year celebration, and frequent “Count Me In” events. 

At the same time, we understand that parents are busy, so we also strive to ensure many activities and opportunities for participation are outside of normal school and work hours.

What does it mean to be “progressive” or “inquiry-based” or “Reggio-Emilia inspired”? How does this differ from what I experienced at school?

PKS’s pedagogical approach is deeply connected to the principles of progressive education. Progressive education is neither new nor new-fangled, but traces its early roots back to philosophers John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, both of whom championed observation, experience, and critical thinking as the key to knowledge rather than rote memorization of given ideas. The Progressive Education Movement in the United States was led by John Dewey starting in the 1880s.

Like learning itself, progressive education is a dynamic and challenging journey that is not easily confined or contained within tidy definitions. Schools that embrace and commit themselves to progressive education widely share these core beliefs and principles: whole child education (social, emotional, physical and artistic as well as academic); integrated and experiential learning (aka “project-based” and “inquiry-based”); rigor viewed through the lens of meaningful learning and authentic assessment; incorporation of student voice to nurture intellectual curiosity and internal motivation; and engagement with the broader community to foster a sense of social justice and responsibility.

How do non-Mandarin speakers learn Mandarin?

Many PKS families have no Chinese language experience at all. Our targeted immersion approach allows children to absorb the language and adapt to it naturally. At the preschool and kindergarten stages, children do not need every word to be translated for them, because by observing and interacting in an environment that immerses them in the language, they are able to figure out meaning from context, thereby picking up vocabulary. Our teachers use a variety of verbal and nonverbal communication techniques to facilitate understanding, and they adjust their strategies to the individual level of each child as the school year progresses. Read more about Mandarin immersion at PKS.

How often do you host parent-teacher conferences?

Twice a year, generally in the October/November and March/April timeframes.

Do you provide lunch and snacks?

Lunch is not provided. Parents either pack lunch or sign up with a provider. For preschool students, snacks are provided twice a day (a starch and a fruit), as is milk at lunch. Elementary students bring their own snacks to school. Water is available throughout the day. 

My child has allergies. How do you address this concern?

We maintain a strict no nuts environment on school grounds and field trips. If your child has other allergies, we can develop a plan to accommodate these at the classroom level.

What are the expectations around fundraising?

We ask all families to contribute to the Red Envelope Annual Fund and the Capital Campaign. Together, we are building what we hope to be a longstanding San Francisco institution, and we expect families to share this vision and participate in our growth.

How is discipline handled in the classroom?

Through positive guidance and behavior modeling, teachers help children self-regulate and act responsibly. In our approach:

  • Expectations are limited to what is realistic for the developmental level of the child, and they are clarified so that the children understand what is expected of them.
  • Teachers model appropriate behavior.
  • Teachers encourage children’s efforts to build feelings of self-worth.
  • Children are given alternatives, which enable them to turn destructive situations into constructive ones.
  • Natural and logical consequences are used to motivate and empower children to make responsible decisions about their behavior.
  • Behaviors such as cooperating, helping, negotiating, and problem-solving are encouraged and acknowledged.

If, in our judgment, any child’s behavior places the well-being of other children in jeopardy, we will work with parents to develop a plan. If the behaviors continue, we will act quickly and decisively to resolve the situation.

Does the school teach traditional or simplified Chinese?

Presidio Knolls School teaches simplified Chinese, the standard for mainland China.

What are the school hours?

Early drop-off begins at 7:30am, and aftercare (including specialized classes) is available for all ages through 6:00pm. Regular classroom hours are:

P1: 9:00am-3:30pm

P2-P3: 9:00am-4:00pm (3:30pm on Tuesdays)

Elementary: 8:30am-3:30pm (2:30pm on Wednesdays)

Preschool

How many teachers are in each class? What is the student-to-teacher ratio?

Typically, there are 3 teachers per preschool classroom, with some including up to 4 teachers depending on the size of the classroom and the age of the children. For 2-year-olds, the maximum student-to-teacher ratio is 5:1.  For 3-5 year-olds, it is 8:1. For the elementary school, two teachers co-teach each class; the typical ratio is 10:1.

What is a typical day at the preschool like?

A typical day depends on the specific age group and class, but will include meeting time, small group activities, snack time, indoor and outdoor playtime, story/reading time, lunch and nap. Read more about our preschool program.

Do you help with potty training for young children?

Yes. Our preschool teachers support P1 children and families in the process and can accommodate pre-potty trained children. Our expectation is that P2 and P3 children should be potty trained.

How can I learn about what is happening in the classroom?

Preschool teachers send daily newsletters via email, and elementary school teachers communicate regularly over email and through our (login-only) class pages.

What should I expect with regard to parent involvement?

We believe parent involvement helps create a thriving and well-functioning school community, and demonstrates to children that their schooling is a family undertaking. PKS families are expected to contribute an average of three hours per month or a total of 40 hours a year on various parent committees and projects. There are numerous ways to get involved, accommodating for a range of time constraints, such as serving on committees, helping with admissions, chaperoning field trips, planning special events, or helping with landscaping. There are also off-site or non-school day opportunities to accommodate our many two-parent working families, single-parent families, and parents who travel frequently.

Elementary

Why are you 80% Mandarin “full immersion”? Will my kids be prepared for US high schools and college?

Your kids will be well prepared. Research has found that for immersion students there is no detriment to progress in their native language or to subject-matter achievement. English-proficient immersion students are capable of achieving as well as, and in many cases better than, non-immersion peers on standardized measures of reading and math.

Because students will learn primarily through multidisciplinary units of exploration, language learning will arise naturally from the content of units, and the content of units will be expressed through the target language of Mandarin. As with our mother tongue, we learn language by genuinely needing language and by using language every day for real and immediate purposes.

Elementary students also have English class one period a day with a native-speaking English teacher and many of the specialist teachers conduct their classes in English as well.

How can I help my child with homework if I don’t speak Mandarin?

Parents are not expected to help with homework at all, whether in Chinese or English. Progressive pedagogy cultivates and values independence in children, so we encourage our students to take pride in working through Chinese homework and assignments on their own as they get into the upper grades. To make sure students are supported in learning and using Mandarin, Presidio Knolls School is structured to have a somewhat longer school day and more days in the school year, allowing students to learn more during school hours. Moreover, as students get older and begin to have homework, the school offers Mandarin-speaking tutors after school to answer homework-related questions.  We encourage parents to continue to support their children’s English abilities and vocabulary development by reading to them nightly.

I want to make sure my child has a strong foundation in math. What is your math program?

At PKS, math students are encouraged to take an active role in their learning process, to ask questions, and to search for patterns and meaning while developing a solid foundation of skills. Our math program is multilayered and challenges students to become mathematicians through hands-on projects, integrated assignments, direct instruction, and skill practice. The program provides a balance between the development of number sense and computational fluency, as well as between the development of conceptual understanding and the application of math to real-world problems. As we seek to support all students on their path to becoming both mathematically literate and able to apply mathematical concepts to their study of science and the humanities, our rigorous and comprehensive program meets or exceeds state and national standards and attends to the developmental needs of children and their varying abilities to move into increasingly abstract areas of math. 

My child has unique learning needs. How will PKS accommodate different learning styles?

While PKS is not able to support all learners, our intimate learning environment allows teachers to get to know each student and his or her passions, strengths, and areas for continued development. From high-achievers to students with learning challenges, we seek to provide an environment that understands and embraces each child’s needs. We carefully cultivate a learning experience that will allow all of our students to reach their full potential.

Will there be after-school enrichment options for my child?

Yes. PKS will provide a multitude of after-school enrichment and club options both in English and Chinese for our students from preschool through middle school. These options will range from art to athletics to engineering to music - all taught by PKS faculty and community experts. For our middle school program, we envision joining the San Francisco Independent School Athletic League and participating in the following formal athletic teams:  soccer, cross-country, volleyball, futsal, and basketball.

Middle School

What does "progressive learning" look like in middle school?

Our middle school program will be philosophically aligned with the progressive, student-centered aims of our preschool and elementary schools. We believe that far too often, the joy, connection, empathy, and curiosity cultivated in young children evaporate in middle school. Our program will assiduously defend these progressive aims.

We do so in the name of rigor. We believe that in the 21st century, the old definition of rigor-- which could be met by lining students up and racing them through material-- is not only out of date but downright counterproductive. Cramming for tests, covering material for temporary retention of content, obsessing over boilerplate standards, or narrowly focusing on any single discipline are practices that inhibit creativity and choke off habits of innovation. Schools designed around these old measures of so-called rigor stifle students’ abilities to lead in a world that requires flexibility, a willingness to disrupt, and a habit of asking bold questions.

Middle school students at PKS will engage with one another in rigorous, collaborative, hands-on learning. They will work on interdisciplinary, life-worthy projects. Our teachers will foster their curiosity, empathy, and resilience. Throughout PKS, we believe that learning happens by doing! 

Why is immersion at the middle school level beneficial?

The benefits of Chinese language immersion for young children are now widely known. Elementary school students in good immersion programs stay at or exceed grade level in English, and, by 4th or 5th grade, many out-perform the most advanced AP high school students in Chinese.  

What is less recognized, unfortunately, is that the most astounding benefits of immersion accrue during middle school. It is here that metacognitive gains fully crystallize, as do measurable differences in executive functioning and nonverbal problem solving. At PKS, we follow the research on both the importance and challenges of achieving bilingual proficiency (an achievement that occurs toward the end of middle school for most students). Fully proficient bilingual middle school graduates outperform peers who graduate from monolingual middle schools in areas such as divergent thinking, pattern recognition, and problem solving. They also exhibit greater empathy and score higher on high school entrance exams (particularly in math).

We want our graduates to stand out in a crowd, and one way they will stand out is that they will be bilingual and bicultural. Our goal is to graduate Middle Schoolers who will read Shakespeare alongside 鲁迅, and research and write thoughtfully in both languages. This can only be achieved with long-term commitment to bilingual education.'

What else should I know about the PKS curriculum?

In “eduspeak,” our middle school curriculum is project based and interdisciplinary. What this means in practice is that the student experience is one of sustained, deep, authentic examination of complex issues. Our students will not be shuttled through classes that divide the world into simple silos. At each grade level, students will be asked a series of challenging, open-ended questions, and will need to construct and present complex answers. This work will require research, long-term planning, real world application, and lots of tinkering. In the end, we don’t want our Middle Schoolers thinking of themselves as science students, English students, or music students; we want them to think of themselves as scientists, writers, and musicians. 

As part of real-world learning, what opportunities will my child have to travel nationally and/or internationally?

We will educate our students for the world they will inherit, not the world that we remember. This requires them to be global citizens. Thus, PKS will offer rich, sustained experiences off campus and outside of San Francisco.  

We hope, for example, to offer 6th graders the opportunity to stay overnight in a Buddhist monastery as part of a memoir project. We imagine 7th graders examining Bay Area microclimates, then traveling to Beijing to complete a comparative environmental study. And in 8th grade, we envision students heading to Shenzhen to tackle a project examining Google and Baidu translation algorithms. In all cases, our travel will be built around academic, social-emotional, and communal needs, and will be natural extensions of the curriculum.  

Our students will be travelers, not tourists, and will graduate as confident, curious, and engaged citizens of the world.

Where will PKS graduates go after 8th grade?  Will they be prepared for the standardized testing required for high school admissions?

We believe education is a joyous exploration of the world and the self, not a means to an end. We also work assiduously to ensure that all graduates will find an ideal next step beyond PKS. Our middle school curriculum will be designed in consultation with admissions officers and curriculum specialists at top Bay Area high schools and national boarding schools.  

As is common at independent middle schools, we will not offer specialized test prep as part of our curriculum. Rather, we will benchmark our math and literacy programs beyond “grade level” so that our students will excel in both authentic and standardized settings.

I know that PKS does not give traditional grades. Why?  How do you assess students in lieu of grades?

For decades, social scientists have been telling us that grades diminish student interest in whatever they are learning. We have known that schools that grade implicitly encourage students to choose the easiest possible tasks. We have known that grading tends to reduce the quality and depth of student thinking.  We have known that grades get in the way of meaningful, clear feedback. Most significantly, we have known that over time, grades undermine students’ abilities to be creative, empathetic, and innovative.  

Thus, PKS eschews traditional grades, ranking, and prizes in favor of clear, frequent, meaningful dialogue and written feedback. Parents will hear often from teachers, and they will understand exactly how their child is progressing through the curriculum. The discrete skills our students develop will never be hidden within an opaque letter grade. Our kids will be clear on what they are learning, how they are growing, and where they need to work.

We are proud to be leaders in a growing community of schools that have moved beyond the factory model that gave us the A-F grading system. This community of schools is able to do both what is best for learning and growth, and also help students thrive in the world of competitive admissions to high school and college.

I want to make sure my child has a strong foundation in math. What is your math program?

At PKS, math students are encouraged to take an active role in their learning process, to ask questions, and to search for patterns and meaning while developing a solid foundation of skills. Our math program is multilayered and challenges students to become mathematicians through hands-on projects, integrated assignments, direct instruction, and skill practice. The program provides a balance between the development of number sense and computational fluency, as well as between the development of conceptual understanding and the application of math to real-world problems. As we seek to support all students on their path to becoming both mathematically literate and able to apply mathematical concepts to their study of science and the humanities, our rigorous and comprehensive program meets or exceeds state and national standards and attends to the developmental needs of children and their varying abilities to move into increasingly abstract areas of math. 

My child has unique learning needs. How will PKS accommodate different learning styles?

While PKS is not able to support all learners, our intimate learning environment allows teachers to get to know each student and his or her passions, strengths, and areas for continued development. From high-achievers to students with learning challenges, we seek to provide an environment that understands and embraces each child’s needs. We carefully cultivate a learning experience that will allow all of our students to reach their full potential.

Will there be after-school enrichment options for my child?

Yes. PKS will provide a multitude of after-school enrichment and club options both in English and Chinese for our students from preschool through middle school. These options will range from art to athletics to engineering to music - all taught by PKS faculty and community experts. For our middle school program, we envision joining the San Francisco Independent School Athletic League and participating in the following formal athletic teams:  soccer, cross-country, volleyball, futsal, and basketball.

What is the tuition?  Will there be tuition assistance available?

We invite you to visit our Tuition page on our website for our current year tuition information. Tuition and program fees for 2018-2019 will be posted by January 15, 2018. We recognize that the cost of independent schooling can be a burden for many families and provide tuition assistance to current and incoming families. Please view further details about our tuition assistance program on our Tuition Assistance page on our website.

I know PKS is growing and that the campus expansion will transform the community.   How will the phases of this growth impact my child’s learning environment? 

Throughout our campus expansion process, the possible impact of construction on the learning environment is the number one priority of the Master Planning team, our architects, and our staff. We maintain a construction update page on our internal community portal to ensure transparency and communicate significant construction work in a timely manner.

While the challenges of growth and transformation are myriad, we also recognize that the campus construction is an exciting and real part of all of our students’ lives. We therefore incorporate various aspects of this opportunity in our curriculum.  For example, our architects worked with our elementary school students on a mapping project; other students joined age-appropriate hard hat tours of the new building(s). Sixth graders will use design thinking skills to propose jungle gym equipment for our new playground.  Fourth graders will learn about the principles of feng shui and how our new campus design honors these principles.  First graders will learn the differences between moon gates (月亮门), courtyard homes (四合院), and sky wells (天井) and study our versions of these traditional architectural principles.

When construction is complete, we will have a campus purpose built for our curriculum, and facilities that will rival any in the country. In the meantime, we do our best to turn challenges into advantages.

What are the requirements for the admissions process? 

The formal Middle School admissions process will be available on September 1, 2017 for fall 2018 admission to sixth grade. Please visit our website at that time to view the admission process for Fall 2018.