Frequently Asked Questions about Rooftop School
What core values are you teaching kids?
Aside from using the arts to inculcate problem-solving, critical thinking, and academic and creative curiosity, we coach kids in how to be respectful, responsible, safe, helpful, kind, and fair. Since that involves identifying and managing emotions, we’re sure to teach that too. We also introduce character strengths, focusing on a new one each month. Past examples include kindness and courage.
How diverse is this school?
As of the 2020-21 school year, Rooftop’s student body was 38% White, 24% Hispanic/Latino, 9% African American, 8% Asian, 2% Filipino, and 0.5% Native American. An additional 11% of kids identify with two or more races. We are aware of no school in the district that comes closer to mirroring the population of our diverse city. (As of the 2010 census, the ethnic makeup of San Francisco was 48% White, 33% Asian, 6% African American, and 5% from two or more races.) About 30% of our children are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged by the state of California. Around 7% speak a first language other than English and approximately 14% have a documented disability.
How many classes are there per grade? Kids per class? Total number of kids on each campus? Do you have combined classes the way some schools do?
There are 16 slots in our one preK classroom. Each grade from kinder through eighth has 66 seats. Grades kinder through third have three classes each with 22 students per class. In fourth grade at Rooftop, as in every other public school in the state, the number of students allowed increases from 22 to 33. As a result, the fourth through seventh grades have two classes each. Thanks to class-size reduction funded by our PTA, eighth-grade Math classes have approximately 22 students per class. We do not have any combined classes. That means the Twin Peaks campus hosts approximately 350 students. The Mayeda campus hosts an additional 265. All told, Rooftop serves about 600 students.
What’s the deal with K-8 and the two campuses? Where is the other one?
The Twin Peaks campus sits at the geographical center of San Francisco. That’s where students in grades preK through four come to school each day. The Mayeda campus is about a football field’s length down the road, and it houses grades five through eight.
What time is drop-off and pickup?
School begins promptly at 9:30 a.m. Students can be dropped off anytime between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m. Earlier drop-off requires enrollment in before-care. School ends at 3:45 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday for K-5 and on Wednesday at 2:30. For grades 6-8, it ends at 4:00 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday and at 2:15 on Wednesday.
Holy crow, that is a late start and they get out super early on Wednesdays. What before-school programs are available? Is after-care available too?
Our on-site partner is called CASA. It is an independent arts-based program that focuses on social justice and social-emotional development, and you can learn more about it at http://casasf.org/. You can add your child to their waitlist at https://www.casasf.org/enroll-info. CASA offers before-care beginning at 7:30 a.m. and after-care until 6:30 p.m. Prices vary based on which days of the week you select. Extensive financial aid is available for qualifying families. Several off-site after-school programs have historically provided busing to their location. You can learn more about those at http://rooftopk8.org/afterschool/afterschool-programs-offsite/. Parent-organized sports teams can also help fill the afternoon hours and some families coordinate afternoon co-ops and nanny shares as well. There have always been lots of good options, though the pandemic presented challenges in this area for Rooftop as for pretty much all schools.
Is there transportation available? How do people get to school?
SFUSD has historically offered bus stops in the following zip codes: 94110, 94112, 94124, and 94134, however the routes change from year to year. More information is available at https://www.sfusd.edu/services/student-services/transportation/general-education-transportation-services. The 37, 33, and 48 MUNI buses all stop a short walk away. Many families carpool, and some students from nearby neighborhoods such as the Castro and Noe Valley have a walk pool.
Can you drop your kid off or do you have to find parking?
Many families drop their Twin Peaks students off at the base of the staircase where Romain St. hits Corbett Ave or at the driveway entrance off Corbett Ave. School personnel receive kids and see that they make it safely up the stairs and into their classrooms. PreK parents must park and walk their children to the classroom.
What does “alternative” mean in the school’s name?
Great question! The “alternative” designation is essentially a relic of the school’s creation, sort of like a vestigial tail. In the late 70s and early 80s, SFUSD opened a bunch of schools that functioned like magnet schools in other cities. Over time, the designation has meant less and less. Today, schools that have “alternative” in the title are just public schools, each with their own feel but no other special mechanics. Rooftop works hard to integrate art into the curriculum, offer big art projects including ceramics instruction, and make sure kids have exposure and access to both visual and performing arts—but it would be a stretch to call it an arts school.
What if my kid has no interest in or talent for the arts?
No problem! The vast majority of our students do not end up at Rooftop because they have any particular propensity for the arts. Research has shown that art is great for all kids, developing fine motor skills, higher-level thinking, problem-solving skills, executive function, and much more. Our arts-integration at Twin Peaks and dedicated art class at Mayeda are engaging, enjoyable, and beneficial for all.
What should I make of your listing on the GreatSchools.org website?
Nothing! Compare what you see with your own eyes as you tour schools to the numbers that website spits out, and you will learn to pay it no mind. You can also read these two articles to understand why GreatSchools gives Rooftop a low score:
The gist is that GreatSchools relies heavily on test scores which say more about the advantages a student has at home than at school. It also looks at absolute test scores rather than change over time. Read on to see why this is all problematic.
What’s your take on test scores generally? The achievement gap?
The achievement gap between students of some races and others is endemic to the United States. It is a travesty that SFUSD and Rooftop are taking extremely seriously. At the same time, it is not going away next year. When you focus on test scores or a gap between high and low performing students, you will discount a school like Rooftop that has a diverse student body. Why? A school with an incoming group of students that is wealthier will almost always have higher test scores. A school will also tend to have less of an achievement gap between some students and others if it has fewer low-income families and fewer Black and Latinx families. A school that serves the whole spectrum of families racially and socioeconomically will thus have lower scores and a bigger gap. That Rooftop scores so high in this current state of affairs is impressive.
On test scores in general, we will say this: They are one measure of one aspect of learning. As Albert Einstein said, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” There are many schools that have low test scores and nonetheless are doing a wonderful job educating their students. There are many bright students who are learning at an incredible pace but score low on tests. Michelle Obama counts herself among them: “If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test,” she has said, “I wouldn't be here.”
How much physical activity do students get at Rooftop?
A lot! From kindergarten through fifth grade, students get 200 minutes of PE every two weeks. K-2 students participate in sensory motor once a week for 45 minutes to an hour. K-5 students also have 20 minutes of recess per day as well as their lunch recess which ranges from 35-50 minutes depending on the grade level. In addition to these guaranteed minutes, students also take “brain breaks” that involve stretching or dancing, walk to and around the garden, leave class for weekly library outings, and even take mini “field trip” walks around the neighborhood. For sixth through eighth grade, students get PE for 200 minutes every week.
What is “sensory motor”?
Sensory Motor Groups at Rooftop are an innovative resource serving all K-2nd grade students. Groups are facilitated by licensed occupational therapists who utilize gross motor movement, sensory integration techniques, and a psychosocial approach to promote self-regulation, impulse control, self-efficacy, and social skills. Through our strengths-based model, students gain increased opportunities for positive social interactions, build self-confidence within a novel environment, and learn techniques to self-regulate using proprioceptive, vestibular, and tactile senses. Ask the kids, though, and they’ll say it’s like an indoor playground. Think AcroSports.
What is your homework policy?
A few years ago Rooftop joined a handful of other schools in the district in piloting a program drastically limiting elementary homework after data showed no evidence of academic benefit, no evidence that it effectively builds study skills, that it can have a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school, that it can displace more beneficial afternoon and evening activities, that there are equity issues when some children have more access to an environment conducive to completing it than others, and that homework can damage family relationships by creating power struggles. Every year, each grade-level teaching team decides how much and what type of homework to assign, but homework is limited on the Twin Peaks campus with most children being asked to complete, at most, a reading log and some special project work (like a “me” collage).
What is your discipline strategy? Do you have a lot of bullying? How do you address it?
After working with the UCSF Hearts program, which trains educators to recognize students’ trauma, Rooftop implemented a positive behavioral intervention support (PBIS) approach to schoolwide discipline. That includes the Super Raven Cape-able Program for K-4 and Rising to the Top for grades five through eight. Individual teachers manage incentive systems within their classrooms, but we can say that, overall, we are not a place that relies on shaming and suspensions to manage everyday behaviors. Instead, we have teachers trained in restorative practices, a wellness center, and social workers. We host a day-long interactive workshop for seventh- and eighth-grade students, teachers, and community members to experience the effectiveness of compassion and connection in response to troubling behaviors.
As you can likely guess from all this, bullying is taken very seriously. Every child has a right to feel physically and emotionally safe on campus. But the student doing the bullying is not villainized either. We look at the root causes of behavior—the experiences and emotions driving bullying—and try to get all kids what they need to be ready to learn cooperatively.
How else do you focus on social-emotional learning?
Oh! So you’ve heard of social-emotional learning, have you? Yes, our discipline practices are informed by the knowledge that academics is just one piece of our school’s mission. Kids also need to learn how to manage their emotions so as to effectively interact with others. We have a Kimochis kit for each kinder classroom that helps teach feelings, and we use the Second Step curriculum which includes puppy and snail puppets. We also focus on character strengths.
I know a couple of buzzwords actually. Do you do project-based learning?
We do-ish. Project-based learning is exactly what it sounds like. Instead of receiving information in discrete pieces, a project teaches math, art, science, language arts, and more in an organic, hands-on way. Not all of our learning is project-based. There are times assigned to different subjects and traditional workbooks. But all of our teachers pride themselves on incorporating several large projects over the course of each school year as well as smaller experiential learning projects during each week. For example, last year second graders did STEAM projects connected to the books Iggy Peck Architect (a bridge) and If I Built a House (a house), while fourth graders did comprehensive and interdisciplinary roller coaster and rain forest projects.
How much of kindergarten is play-based?
We aren’t going to lie, our kinder is not entirely play-based. There are some worksheets. That said, we have worked hard to recruit teachers who can get inside a young child’s brain and understand that our kinders need a preschool-like experience, not a mini-first-grade. They try to keep the kids up and moving as much as possible. Their activities include circle time, garden, library, P.E., dance, art, sensory motor, choir, recess, lunch recess, and sing-along in addition to periods of traditional instruction, story time, and free play.
Where are you guys at with issues of gender and sexuality? Do you still treat boys differently than girls? Is it a good place for a LGBTQ kid and/or family to be?
Though we can’t combat all of our gender-based implicit bias, Rooftop teachers and staff work hard to treat children like children. We have a gender-neutral restroom. Several Rooftop students have self-identified as transgender and been readily accepted by the student body as well as the adults on campus. Many of our parents identify as LGBTQ+. CASA, the on-site after- and before-care program, has a heavily LGBTQ+ teacher core, including a drag queen.
Are you doing anything about implicit bias when it comes to race? Making school culturally relevant for everyone? How diverse is your teaching staff?
We’re trying. All teachers have received and continue to receive implicit bias training. Our African American Parent Group invested in books for the library featuring kids with brown and black skin (not that we didn’t have any before, but we didn’t have enough). Both staff and parent leaders have worked with BeTheChange Consultancy on foundational aspects of equity and developing common goals toward combating institutional bias and racism. We are doing our best to get updated info on our current teaching staff. As of 2020, the breakdown was as follows: Twin Peaks had 16 teachers, 11 of them white and 5 of them people of color. Our Mayeda Campus had 12 teachers, 8 of them white and 4 of them people of color. Our administrative staff now numbers 5, with 1 of them white and 4 of them people of color. Schoolwide 10% of our staff were LGBTQ in 2020
Who’re the bad teachers? C’mon, do us a solid. Who are they?
Though no one among us has zero naysayers, you will hear positive things about every single teacher at Rooftop.
Is there academic help for kids who need it? What about social workers and stuff?
All teachers provide differentiated instruction, meaning that they pay close attention to students’ individual needs and skills and respond with appropriate scaffolding to keep them challenged and engaged. When it comes to literacy, Fountas and Pinnell assessments are administered to all K-3 students. Data drawn from them is used to provide leveled literacy instruction with small group instruction and guided reading groups. Students have access to leveled texts during guided reading time. Two literacy specialists provide intensive small group coaching in reading recovery practices for students who are not meeting standards. Math and speech intervention are also available as is after-school tutoring on the Mayeda campus. Teachers strive to keep families in the loop, especially if a student is falling behind.
Rooftop administrators do everything they can to get students with disabilities the additional services they are guaranteed under the law, including IEPs, Section 504 plans, and attendant paraprofessional support.
A full-time social worker on each campus sees to social-emotional needs that are not being met in the classroom and provides additional support.
How much does your PTA raise each year? What sort of obligation will that mean for my family? Where does the money go?
The PTA raises between $350,000 and $400,000 each year. That does not mean you need to have extra cash on hand that you’re able to part with. Rooftop’s parent community values any contribution, whether it be your time or simply sharing your child with us.
Funding is complicated, but most of the “extras” that make Rooftop stand out would not be possible without PTA funding. That includes garden, full-time librarians, the wellness center and social workers, sensory motor, robust art programming, literacy intervention, and more.
What sorts of opportunities are there for parents who have the bandwidth to volunteer?
In addition to traditional routes like joining the PTA and becoming a Class Liaison (a.k.a., Room Parent, but we changed it because not every caregiver is a parent), Rooftop caregivers can volunteer in the classroom, as teachers often use the extra hands on deck to free themselves up to do small-group instruction. They are also welcome (and necessary!) to help facilitate library, garden, and sensory motor pull-outs. Rooftop’s robust, parent-led art program recruits Art Coordinators to develop and lead art lessons in class and organize our many incredible schoolwide art events, including Winter Workshop, Trim-a-Tree, and our Children's Art Auction. Also accepting new members are the Welcome Committee, the Tours Committee, the First Friday Coffee committee (organizing caregivers to get together over coffee and pastries once a month), the Greening Committee, and our Fundraising and Auction committees. Working parents, fear not! We are experts in matching school needs to parent availability and ensuring successful participation by all who are interested and able.
With parent volunteers and classroom aides, what does the student-to-adult ratio usually end up being?
Lower. Though there will be many times when a teacher manages 22 or 33 students alone, there also are many times when other adults are present. That’s because parents and caregivers, often more than one per class, frequent the Twin Peaks campus in impressive numbers, some students have dedicated one-on-one aids, other paraprofessionals assist an entire classroom, and student-teachers often train at Rooftop.
Do I have any chance of getting in?
Yes, you do. There is no question that the SFUSD assignment process is too arduous, but it ultimately places almost all parents who stick with it at the school they desire most. Seats routinely open up over the summer and during the first two weeks of school. This past year, Rooftop cleared its waitpool, meaning everyone who put Rooftop down on their paperwork at each step of the way eventually got a seat, even if it took until the first week of September. Caregivers often worry that getting a school placement that late—or even moving their child after a week of school elsewhere—will be destabilizing for their children, but kids do this every year and thrive.
Do you teach any language other than English? Spanish? Mandarin?
Niet. Nein. Nee. Na. Non. Ne. No. Rooftop is not an immersion school. Some years there is an on-site after-school enrichment class provided by an outside organization called Estrellitas en Español. A few years ago parents organized after-school French and Mandarin classes. You’re welcome to breathe life back into those or pull together another language enrichment class after-school, but Rooftop does not offer language instruction. Except for English. We do English real good.
What’s your take on tech?
Rooftop has traditionally been a low-tech school. We have always taught basic computer literacy beginning in third grade. We have also begun integrating technology into classrooms more, blending learning. Both campuses are now equipped with a variety of technology including laptops, iPads, and desktop computers. Our students learn basic computer skills at the Twin Peaks campus while at the Mayeda campus, fifth- through eighth-grade classes have access to laptops and tech support on a daily basis. Students in grades six through eight also attend a weekly Computer Science course taught by a credentialed teacher. Students will increasingly use technology to create projects and receive information from teachers in engaging ways. That does not, however, mean kindergarteners will sit in front of screens if there’s any other option. We are aware of both the promise and pitfalls of screentime and endeavor to strike a balance that promotes competence in learning and life.
How do you communicate with families?
When parents first join the Rooftop community, the Welcome Committee communicates with them by email or text, depending on caregiver preference. Once kids step foot on campus, we do our best to get everyone on the ParentSquare platform, an app and website that allows administrators and teachers to communicate with one person, one child’s caregivers, a whole class, a whole grade, or the whole school. Flyers still go home in backpacks sometimes. Teachers pick up the phone when needed. Families are always welcome to reach out to teachers, and each teacher will provide guidelines describing the best way to reach them at back-to-school night. You can start communicating with the school now using the address email@example.com if you have any follow-up questions or concerns.
What parent groups do you have here?
Rooftop has an active Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Our African American Parent Group (AAPG) provides a forum for the African American parent community to share ideas and responds to them in consultation with the districtwide African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC). The group also hosts events that make the Rooftop community more cohesive and thriving. Our Rooftop Inclusion Group focuses on strengthening schoolwide inclusive practices and advocating for resources and support for students with disabilities and other unique concerns. Rainbow Ravens is our Gay-Straight Alliance. Additional affinity groups include the Latinx Parent Group and Asian Pacific Islander Family & Friends.
What’s the vibe in the halls here on a spectrum of silence to chaos?
With a Curriculum Team and Climate and Culture Team in addition to a School Site Council and our parent groups (above), “collaborative” is the word we’d use to describe the relationship between teachers, administrators, and parents at Rooftop.
When it comes to the kids, Rooftop is proud of its “controlled chaos” atmosphere. The trains run on time. The kids are safe. But they’re still allowed to be kids, laughing and moving their way through the day.
Are the little kids getting run over by fourth-graders on the schoolyard? Going to the bathroom together?
As we tour, we’ll point out lines on the yard. Kinders have their own area. They also eat lunch in the MPR when public health guidelines allow. Since only kinders and first-graders attend class in the main building, the bathrooms here are almost always populated only by kinders and first-graders. A separate bungalow of bathrooms on the yard is where second- through fourth-graders relieve themselves. Also, teachers and staff monitor the yard before school and during all recesses. Most importantly, Rooftop fourth-graders are overwhelmingly supportive of their younger schoolmates. Just like ours, their voices tend to go up an octave when they bend down to help a five-year-old find a missing treasure.
Are there adults around at recess time? Is there free play for kids who want it? Are there organized activities for kids who want them?
Adults are always present on the yard during recess time. Many children cherish the freedom to run and play as they see fit. Others engage in Rooftop’s adult-organized activities which include “Roofworks” games and soccer on our astroturf managed by San Francisco Youth Soccer.
Is there music instruction?
Kinders participate in a two-month choir seminar. An after-school enrichment class is offered for choral singing as well. A SFUSD credentialed music teacher provides general music theater instruction for all K-5 students and teaches third-grade students how to play the recorder. District music instructors also provide once a week instruction to fourth- through eighth-grade students who enroll in the instrumental music program (violin, flute, trumpet, or clarinet). And we are pleased to participate in the San Francisco Symphony’s AIM program.
What do you have cooking when it comes to the outdoors?
Our garden is a truly incredible and unique space. Research shows that just five minutes of fresh air and greenery can cause a significant reduction in stress levels and otherwise benefit humans, young and old. Outdoor education also builds community, strengthens students’ personal relationships with nature, and increases their commitment to maintaining the environment. Our Twin Peaks kids get 45 minutes in the garden once a week. (They also occasionally receive Science instruction in the garden.) Whenever possible the garden is open to students at recess and lunch. First-graders go on an overnight camping trip, and fifth-, sixth-, and eighth-grade outdoor education experiences have included multiple overnights to places such as Marin, the Santa Cruz mountains, and Yosemite. We have recently applied for funding from the District to increase our outdoor learning opportunities.
What’s the deal with lunches? Where do they eat? Is lunch provided? If we pack lunch, can it include nuts? How long do they get to eat? Will someone make my kid eat?
Lunches are staggered with younger kids eating earlier. All students currently eat outside, though when public health allows, kinders eat in the MPR. SFUSD now offers free meals to all students. Details can be found at: https://www.sfusd.edu/en/nutrition-school-meals/nutrition-overview.html
Rooftop allows nuts, but special arrangements are available for children with nut allergies. Students are encouraged to eat, but no one will force them. Kinders play first and then have time to eat to make sure they aren’t rushing or refusing food so that they can get to play faster. They usually end up with about 20 minutes to eat once they’re seated.
Do you do field trips and have outside groups come do assemblies and stuff like that?
The short answer is yes. Lots. Though offerings change from year to year and the pandemic impacted things considerably, in ordinary years kids go to museums, Davies Symphony Hall, parks, plays, and more.
I’ve heard your middle school doesn’t offer as many electives as the big ones. Does that hurt the kids’ odds of getting into a high-demand high school?
Nope. Rooftop’s eighth graders routinely get admitted to the city’s most high-demand high schools, including Lowell, SOTA, and private schools.
What is this kinder switcheroo thing?
Classrooms that have a balance of gender, activity level (and those aren’t the same thing!), introverts/extroverts, cultural background, and more will benefit all children. In the older grades, administrators and the prior year’s teachers have enough information to craft balanced classrooms. In kinder, however, we pretty much only get kids’ names. We provisionally assign them to a class, and then a few kids in each class do a “switcheroo” after two weeks. They might have a little anxiety on the first day in a new classroom, but these kids actually end up feeling even more comfortable at school long-term since they have a close relationship with two different adults on the kinder team.
I’m here to look at your preK program. What’s the deal there?
Our preK program has only 16 spots. Since some students start the program at three-years-old, not all 16 spots open up each year. Half of the spots are reserved for families that income-qualify. That means tuition-based spots are in extremely high demand with many families placing their child on the waitlist just after their second birthday. The class has one credentialed teacher and one paraprofessional resulting in a ratio of 8:1. The preK day ends ealy, and these children are not eligible for our on-site after-school program due to licensing restrictions.
For those who get a spot and can manage the early end-of-day, our preK provides a mix of teacher-directed activities and child-led exploration of the classroom and its materials. The classroom’s teaching philosophy is based on the California Preschool Standards, the “Creative Curriculum,” and the “Building Blocks” curriculum. However, the preschool team believes that all children learn differently and that the child knows what they need to learn. They therefore follow the kids’ lead with support and coaching. This approach inculcates internal motivation, independence, confidence, desire to learn, social skills, responsibility, safety, and more.
The children are provided breakfast and lunch, but are also welcome to bring lunch from home. There is “rest time” during the middle of the day where each student lays down or sits on their own cot and looks at books while quiet music plays. Children are welcome to sleep or simply practice relaxing their body and mind. PreK students have their own bathroom in the classroom and their own play structure in a fenced-off yard. That said, their teaching team regularly utilizes other parts of our campus, including the garden, library, and sensory motor room. They also participate in dance, visual and performing arts, and choral music programs.
What else do I need to know about Rooftop?
The whole Twin Peaks campus gathers for circle time on the yard four days a week, singing the school song and doing a rotating show-and-tell of class work products. It’s a special time. On Fridays, all Twin Peaks classes gather for Sing Along. These traditions contribute to a feeling of unity and belonging among the kids.
We want to leave you with one other thought: We are just one in a handful of awesome schools in SFUSD. Please don’t listen to rumors. Go tour as many schools as you can. See the kids and teachers in action. This district has loads of phenomenal educators and learning environments.
This page was last updated on September 15, 2022