Reviews of Park Day School from Current Families

I would love to hear from current or recent Park Day families about their experience with the school for 4th-8th grades.  I have a 3rd grader and am considering sending him to Park Day for 4th grade next year.  I don't have a sense of the curriculum and what the middle school program is like.  I talked to some friends of friends who indicated that the school is great through 5th, but they plan on transferring out for middle school.  I also know there's been a lot of turnover with the head of school, other key staff, and teachers.  Can anyone speak to that - why all of the turnover?  I heard great things about the prior head of school, but he was only there for 1 year.  Thank you for your help!

Parent Replies

Parents, want to reply to this question? Sign in to post.

We had a wonderful experience at Park Day. However, we began to notice some academic gaps and strange curricular issues appear after one year in the middle school. This feeling also became more apparent when we viewed other independent middle schools in the east bay. The PD middle school has some solid teachers, but the school has not paid the same attention and financial investment to it compared to the lower school. They also have not had the same clear and sustained leadership at the PD middle school compared to other parts of the school. Great community and campus. I’m happy to talk to you offline about this as well. 

We have two kids who have been at Park Day School since K (daughter/6th and son/8th). They have had classmates join at 4th and 6th and all of the students -- no matter when they  started at Park Day -- find a joyful learning experience.

The K-8 curriculum is rigorous in a way that meets students where they are at; challenges them to be problem-solvers; and values everyone’s knowledge. For example, at the beginning of a geometry lesson, when a shape is on the board, the teacher might start with the question, “what do you notice about this shape?” (Notice that the question isn’t “what’s the name of this shape?”) 

By asking “what do you notice about this shape?” all students are invited to comment on it. The lesson then builds from there to talk about the characteristics of an isosceles triangle, how to determine area, etc. In middle school science, the question before they start a dissection might be, “what do you notice about this sheep’s brain?” What a great way to engage all students in mathematical and scientific thinking!

What we love about the Park Day education is that our kids don’t just memorize their math facts. They get a strong foundational understanding of why numbers work the way they do. That is applicable for a lifetime of learning! They might not memorize the dates of historical events but they go deeper to explore and think critically about why an event happened and its outcomes (both intended and unintended). 

Regarding staff changes, the most important thing to know is that our children have continued to thrive despite the changes. As adults, we can get nervous when faces change, but all of the staff at Park Day (teaching and non-teaching) have kept our children at the center of what they do. Discussions in the classroom about change (and how to deal with it) allow students to voice their wonderings; allow teachers to address it in an age-appropriate way; and allow the engaged learning to continue fully. This speaks volumes about the strength of Park Day not relying on one person but truly being a community. 

Broadly, it is considered good school practice to have a third of teaching staff veterans; a third mid-career; and a third early career. That’s where Park Day is now. Previously, there were many more veterans, and some of them retired and returned to mentor new teachers. We are grateful to founding staff who cultivated what many of us call the magic of Park Day. I was on the Board of Trustees during a bulk of the transition, and I can say with confidence that current staff are just as dedicated to upholding Park Day’s mission as the founders, while carrying on the legacy of what makes Park Day wonderful, and at the same time they are innovating for the 21st century. It was difficult when our head of school stepped down last year but it was due to circumstances beyond the school’s control and it was a personal decision made by him.

Just as Park Day teaches our kids to see opportunity in change, the school is modeling for them how to navigate change – all the while continuing to foster in our children a deep love of learning and being partners with us parents in raising the next generation of "informed, courageous, and compassionate people who shape a more equitable and sustainable world" (from Park Day's mission statement). 

Our child is in 4th. Academically (and in how my kid is becoming a thoughtful human, aware of the world outside herself), we have been really happy. The emphasis at the school is on critical thinking, and the skill-based learning is embedded in larger, deeper projects. In math, they solve problems using multiple strategies, focusing on understanding the big mathematical concepts. In social studies they are teaching the kids to analyze from the point of view of different parties and perspectives, which I appreciate. There seems to be a lot of direct lines to the kids interests in writing, reading and absorbing basic skills around research, persuasion, and presentation. Genius hour where they go deep on a topic of their own choosing. They are about to start a big individual research project in 4th, and my kid loves giving book talks where she writes-up and pitches her favorites to the class. There's also a ton of group work and collaboration which is helping my kid negotiate other people's ways of thinking alongside her own. The focus on academic depth, persuasion, and using data to make a point was in the lower grades too, but the dial has been cranked in 4th, and from what I hear from parents in the higher grades, it keeps climbing steeper. The emphasis on questioning and critical thinking may not be for everyone-- they don't do a ton of memorization and cramming facts for the sake of regurgitation, but it works really well for my kid-- she truly loves going to class. In terms of leadership, all I can say is my child is supported, our teachers seem to be happy, and we have had a smooth and respectful experience with the team in place. There have been a couple shifts, including the head last year due to a health thing, but despite, it feels like a stable core. From talking to friends at other places, I don't get the sense there is more teacher turnover than at other Bay Area schools. I know it's hard to be an educator in our economy, but from the new to veteran teachers that we've had so far, our kid has been doing really well.

My 5th grade daughter has attended Park Day School since she started kindergarten. Our family has had a very positive experience, and next year our daughter will be continuing into Park Day's middle school along with her friends. During our time with the school there have been staff changes and turnover, but it hasn't negatively affected our daughter's experience. On the contrary, the administrative staff have been forthright in communicating these changes and have provided support to ease the transitions. For example, before my daughter started 3rd grade one of the established 3rd grade teachers left to take an administrative position at another school. I understand that becoming an administrator was one of her career goals and that it was a good opportunity for her. The Park Day administrative staff was timely and direct in sharing the news with the 3rd grade families and in explaining their plan. They filled the vacancy with an experienced assistant teacher (already at Park Day) and recruited a new assistant teacher. My daughter had one of her best years with the two teachers (both with great personalities) supporting one classroom of around 16 students.

More generally in regards to the turnovers and transitions, I'm seeing it more as a generational and Bay Area phenomenon than anything specific to Park Day. I work at a large Oakland employer that is seeing similar transitions, with a wave of retirements and others jockeying for positions as the Bay Area becomes a more expensive place to live. What I think is interesting about the change at Park Day is that the school values and culture have stayed solid. It makes me realize that the values and culture don't depend on individuals, that it's the community that holds those values, and new staff are brought into that culture in a stable and positive way. 

Regarding the curriculum, we have enjoyed and benefited from the school's focus on socio-emotional development, hands-on learning, teaching through what interests and excites the kids, multidisciplinary projects, and the school's explicit commitments to racial justice and sustainability. For me, Park Day is a special place because of the progressive curriculum, the beautiful campus, and the cohesive and energetic school community. I hope our family's perspective is helpful, and I encourage you to visit the school and talk to teachers, staff, and parents. Tom Little's book "Loving Learning" is a very good resource for learning about the school's pedagogy, as well as some of the traditions in the school community.

 I went through the "search for the best middle school option" twice... once for my now freshman, and then for my current 6th grader. Two VERY different kids ...  i toured all the schools with very different profiles in mind ... My current 6th grader is now attending Park Day and 75% through the first year I can say WOW - this was a great choice!   We were not sure how things like the evaluations instead of grades would work but it is actually IDEAL! The academic evaluations provide the opportunity for him to get full credit for all the really great things he is contributing and learning while also being specific where improvement really needs to be made or his future success will be negatively impacted. The whole picture look allows momentum of the good things to continue and because you are not “paying for your mistakes with a bad grade”--- we all know how one bad period can destroy a grade point average. My child is smart but not self-driven – he will avoid homework like the plague if given the choice and to be honest, when I manage his time for him I am enabling him and driving myself bonkers—he needed to learn to be responsible for his own school work and no better time to learn by trial and error than middle school –before the grades count towards college. Park Day teachers stress students take personal responsibility for their work, their own ideas and their actions—both academically and socially.  My son – who is also engaged in music and competitive sports-- has been learning the hard way about procrastination and natural consequences but without the label a bad grade might bring—he has had a better opportunity to improve without judgement.

What has impressed me the most with the middle school at Park Day is the real focus – not lip service- to diversity, community building and development of interpersonal communication skills.   Kids are confronted with their own real middle school behavior and how their social groups impact the community – they address exclusion, inclusion, language, and what it means to work together head on.  There is real problem solving both academic and social and it has made an incredible difference in classroom success.

I work at a UC and recently listened to the Academic Dean report on the research around the student body served today with critical deficits identified in analytical thinking, problem solving and writing skills—all things my child is getting in middle school.  Park Day is helping my kid to investigate with a team – listen to different ideas in the room- ask people for input-- but make his own conclusions – and that is a great foundation for high school and for life.

From what I understand about the staff turnover from recent alum parents and my experience is that most transitions have been personal, health, maternity issues and have been well managed and largely improving over the past 5 years and I can say it is MUCH LESS turnover that we experience at Thornhill Elementary, one of the best schools in OUSD.  A tribute to the leadership and teachers, I believe my child will be better prepared for his high school and beyond because he is able to thrive not just survive in middle school.

Hello,

I am glad to hear that you are considering Park Day for your child. My child started Park in Middle school and I can only speak about our own personal experience. We are very happy with our journey so far. My child has thrived in a very closed knit and nurturing environment. I see for myself how my child is better able to self -advocate and is also more compassionate. Teachers really place an emphasis on having students take charge on their own and I see valuable time management skills learnt as a result. 

There were some kinks in the first year and that was brought up to the administration and I do see some tangible improvements being taken. For example, there was an issue with controlling a particularly rowdy bunch causing disruption in class and at the same time there was concern that there was not enough differentiated learning happening. As a result, this year's math class has been split into two groups per class, making the class size a nice number of 9 kids per class. It is certainly not the magic bullet solution but it seems like an appropriate response to parents concerns and I do appreciate that the administration was responsive.

And yes, the head of school last year was excellent and we are immensely sorry to see him leave. Unfortunately it was due to health issues beyond his control. I am sure the steering committee will put in the same dedication into finding our new head of school as they did the last, we will be in capable hands. Hoping this might answer some of your questions.

I cannot speak more highly about the middle school teachers and program at Park Day. The team is just stellar, both individually and as a group. Beginning in kindergarten, my daughter's love of learning, confidence, and sense of self have grown each year, but in 6th grade the curve became a spike, which has continued through 8th grade. To me this is remarkable in adolescence, and I credit the teachers at Park Day for helping to nurture these qualities in her.

I am impressed by each and every middle school teacher at Park, some of who are seasoned and some are newer. All espouse a progressive education philosophy, differentiating high expectations for each student, depending on where they are, emphasizing critical thinking and project-based and real-world learning. My daughter benefits from increasing challenges, and by that I mean she is encouraged to reach toward a place of stretch not panic. The support in this realm is so valuable for students as they prepare for high school in terms of academic rigor, skills to advocate for themselves, work in groups to solve complex problems, speak out against injustice, and contribute to our school-neighborhood-world communities.

Equally important, the middle school teachers have a palpable passion for teaching adolescents. They show this in similar and also complementary ways in their academic classes, in sports, and in advisory. The advisory program provides an opportunity for small groups of students to bond, promote social emotional learning, tackle topical issues and current events, and be silly.

The 8th grade trip to Mexico for years has been a life-changing event for students. The trip is not a community service event; it is an immersion experience that the students prepare for, live, and reflect upon indefinitely.

I believe other post have covered the turnover topic. Some turnover can be good, and some can be unexpected. I agree that the children are held at the center, and their day to day experience is stable.

I could go on and on about Park Day, but I'll end with this: No school is perfect. And its a very individual choice when it comes to fit. For our family, all of these things were paramount: personalized instruction/rigor; deep relationships with teachers; joyful learning environment; thoughtful/intentional curriculum, not canned; integrated curriculum, drawing connections across all disciplines including art, music and drama, and gardening, maker space, etc.; caring community. And for us, Park Day has exceed expectations, for which we are immeasurably grateful.

We have a 7th grade daughter at Park Day and this is her first year there, after leaving a Montessori school. We are beyond thrilled with what Park Day has done for our daughter, academically and developmentally. The small classes, engaged teachers and caring staff have made a world of difference for her growth this year. Within days of starting the school year, she had a group of welcoming friends, her interest in a greater variety of subjects began to soar, and she was excited about math at a time when many girls her age start to lose interest or confidence. Her math teacher in particular is very strong, and offers an invaluable creativity in his teaching approach and has a deep care for children to really learn in a way that is both applicable and exciting. Her music teacher is absolutely incredible as well, and offers a depth that I have never seen. Park Day leadership had been very warm, helpful, and considerate about our family's experience and although every school, organization, and family has their struggles, in our experience these are far outweighed by the benefits we've experienced.

I am responding as the parent of a new to Park Day 7th grader. My daughter attended Walden K-6th, so we were looking for a similarly progressive pedagogy. The curriculum has been appropriately challenging and my daughter has always seemed engaged with what she is studying. Most importantly, she is eager to go to school every morning. Socially, I have been amazingly impressed by the warm welcome she (and we) have received. The girl drama has seemed nearly non-existent. My daughter has a core group of close friends and, though there are other “groups”, the kids seem to migrate in and out of these with ease. The 7th grade has been as close to a seamless transition as we could have hoped for coming from a very small K-6 experience. Oh, and the campus...wow...I just love drop-off and pick-up time! I am happy to talk with you directly if you wish to contact me.

We were very excited for our child to join the Park Day community, and loved the beautiful trees on campus and wonderful hot lunch.  However, we quickly noticed that the academics were not on par with what friends were being taught at other private schools in the area.  We initially liked the social justice focus, but that seems to come at the expense of academics.  In addition, though the open campus is lovely, when our young child wandered off campus unintentionally and unnoticed by staff, there was zero response from the administration when we raised the issue, which we thought was a very alarming safety and security concern -- especially given the neighborhood.  We brought up a number of other concerns with various members of the administration during our time at the school, and never felt like our concerns were heard or properly addressed -- responses were always opaque and vague, and left us feeling very unsatisfied with the leadership of the school.  There have been a number of changes in the head of school in recent years, and the school is currently searching for a new head, so hopefully there will be improvements in coming years.