By Murray Schneider
Glen Park School, a century strong, celebrated its 100th birthday on September 24th, putting on public display $5.5 million worth of building improvements. Children, parents and SFUSD officials circled the festivities, munching on freshly cooked tacos and home baked goodies while students had their faces painted, competed in hula-hoop contests and performed to live music.
All the celebratory activity on a freshly asphalted and painted Brompton Avenue schoolyard, no longer encumbered by legions of construction trailers and portable classrooms.
“This is a long time in coming,” said Marion Grady, now in her 29th year as Glen Park Elementary principal and her 52nd year as an educator in San Francisco schools. “I’m thrilled with the work, both inside and outside.”
Carlos Garcia, San Francisco Superintendent of Schools and Grady’s boss, looked pleased, as he chatted with parents at the Lippard Avenue school’s Saturday “Grand Re-Opening Celebration.”
“This looks pretty darn nice,” he said, looking at the ADA-compliant renovations and where a garden, along the Bosworth Street side of the 1935-built school, will eventually be placed, allowing the school children to practice urban gardening. “It came out spectacularly.”
The schoolyard was awash with giggling kids, ebullient parents and excited neighbors, who ambled along the play yard crisscrossed with four-square courts, hopscotch, kickball, basketball courts, and even a colorfully painted map of the United States.
Jacqueline Joshua, who has worked for five years as a lunchtime yard monitor, was as impressed as Superintendent Garcia.
“All last year the kids were confined and had to play between construction trailers and temporary portables,” said Joshua, who also works at Recreation and Parks with septuagenarians. “But kids are very adaptable.”
Cynthia Macfarlane, a literacy teacher, let her eyes wander over the freshly painted U.S. map on the play yard ground, thinking of geography lessons kids enjoy when they weren’t playing recess dodge ball or rounding third base, trying to beat out a throw winged by a kickball outfielder.
“There are blue states and red states,” she pointed out. “It has nothing to do with politics, though.”
As if to prove her point, Nicole Gonzalez, a fourth grader, trooped over to an outline of California and stood on the Golden State, appropriately painted sunny yellow.
Pointing to New York on the playground, Jacqueline Joshua said, “The kids can even identify state capitals.”
Gilda Wong, whose son graduated Glen Park two years ago and now attends Herbert Hoover Middle School, wandered by.
“The map look pretty good,” she said. “It’s nice for the kids.”
Sylvia Gonzalez, Nicole’s mother, has two other children at Glen Park, Joshua, another fourth grader, and Daniel a first grader. She recently moved from Arlington Street to Fillmore Street and drives her children to Bosworth Street each morning. Because she enrolls her children in an afternoon arts and recreation program run by Bill Burke, she doesn’t collect her kids until 5:45 P.M.
“Mr. Burke’s program is great,” she said. “Kids get help from teachers, even go to computer classes.”
“We have 100 kids in the program,” said Burke. “It’s a safe learning environment.”
Ten-year old Nicole Gonzalez walked across the cartographic facsimile of the U.S. in a only few seconds, stopping on Georgia.
“I love soccer and tennis and math and science,” she said, her foot tapping on the Okefenokee Swamp. “I have a best friend. Katie.”
There are 350 children enrolled in Glen Park Elementary, served by 22 teachers who are charged with teaching California State Standards from kindergarten to fifth grade in a Depression-era constructed building, which old time neighborhood fixtures still refer to as the Blue School. The art deco building facing the newly-minted play yard boasted 25 classroom windows festooned with the cardinal number 100 to mark the centennial of a school that has produced thousands of students such as Brigid Crosson, Marion Grady’s 18-year old granddaughter.
“I always like meeting all the kids here for the first time,” said Crosson, now studying physics at Skyline College.
Supervisor Scott Wiener walked toward a microphone, accompanied by Glen Park Elementary PTO president Shelly Smith, a mother of a second grader and a Kindergartener.
“I’m optimistic about San Francisco elementary schools in general,” said the supervisor, who represents Glen Park and Noe Valley. “Glen Park is one those schools parents now want to come to.”
“I can’t tell you how exciting this all is,” said Shelley Smith, who lives on Diamond Street. “So many wonderful things can happen when education is valued.”
Carlos Garcia stood in front of the microphone, looking out at an audience of some one hundred people, the ones who weren’t trampolining in a bouncy house or hurtling down a slide. “Working with children is always something to celebrate,” said the superintendent, now five years serving at his post. “Let’s not wait every 100 years to do so.”
Taking his turn before the amplified public address system, Wiener, holding a blue folder, spoke next. “Families are competing to get in here,” said the supervisor. He held up the folder. “By Board proclamation, September 24th is Glen Park Elementary School Day in San Francisco.”
Principal Marion Grady stepped forward. “I’m so happy to see you all here today,” she said. “I appreciate the support of the children and teachers, the district office and the voters.”
The electorate can continue their support, both Weiner and Garcia noted, by passing Proposition A on the November ballot, which will complete the renovation of the one-third of San Francisco schools remaining to be upgraded.
Teachers are like U.S. Marines, they’re tough and they watch each other’s backs. Cheryl Lee and Marguerite Blumenthal, both retired now, walked around the newly refurbished school building, now with state-of-the art computer wiring and acoustically sound dropped ceilings.
Blumenthal taught at Glen Park for 21 years before she retired in 2010. Spending much of her time now with her 10-month old grandchild, she took a Saturday afternoon off to pay her respects to Marion Grady.
“I had a wonderful experience teaching here,” she said, while turning pages of a PTO memento books that stretched back to 1935. “I’ll always remember my colleagues.”
Cheryl Lee, who retired in 2008 and who served as Lakeshore Elementary School’s principal before she took on the job of supervising 23 elementary schools, stood beside Grady on the playground and paid Glen Park School its best compliment all day, words that spoke volumes about the school’s nurturing learning environment.
“After a particularly hectic time,” said the former administrator, who now spends much of her time in Carson City, Nevada, “I’d come her for a rest.”
Anyone looking at Marion Grady must wonder if she holds the record for longevity as the longest serving teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District. She began teaching when John F. Kennedy defeated Richard M. Nixon for the presidency.
Dressed now in a blue T-shirt with Glen Park School embossed upon it, she stood close to her granddaughter, an alumnus of the school she has watched over for so long. One had to wonder if Grady were a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records.
Carlos Garcia, who was eight years old when JFK became chief executive and Marion Grady erased her first chalkboard, let his eyes wander over the freshly renovated school, then threw a glance at Grady, who looked as if she could go another decade.
“Easily,” said Garcia. Glen Park School looks as if it can beat that number by another 100 years.