Recently, I toured Playgroup, one of San Francisco’s newer preschools, and interviewed founder Lonna Corder to learn more about its program and history. Playgroup is an impressive addition to San Francisco’s preschool options.
Playgroup was launched by director Lonna Corder in May 2015. Prior to founding Playgroup, Corder ran a private preschool that was housed in the Getty residence on Broadway, a school that was the prototype for Playgroup. That prototype was the subject of some controversy largely due to its licensing status. According to Corder, critics mistakenly claimed that Playgroup was unlicensed when Playgroup was in fact license exempt. Corder says, “Playgroup meticulously followed the state guidelines for the exemption and was always in compliance.”
Regardless, Playgroup’s reincarnation in the Presidio addresses many of the concerns that its critics previously brought up: the school is now licensed by Community Care Licensing (the same agency that licenses all childcare facilities in California), accepts applications from all families, and is also a non-profit.
Playgroup’s facility is one of the most beautiful in San Francisco. Located near the southern border of the Presidio, the school has a park-like setting and is surrounded by breathtaking views of San Francisco. In a large fenced-in yard, children play on several structures.
The school had the good fortune of securing free standing buildings for its campus, creating wide hallways and rooms flooded with light – a rarity in San Francisco. It also benefited from an extensive renovation. Other nice-to-have amenities include wash-basins in several of the classrooms, making it easy to clean up after projects; and bathrooms equipped with child-sized toilets. The school is also fully handicap accessible.
Corder is certified by the American Montessori Society and also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Child Development. Playgroup’s curriculum draws from her Montessori background, and includes mixed-aged classrooms from age three through age five, a key tenet of the Montessori philosophy. However, 2-year olds are in their own group, as are the 5-year-old pre-kindergarteners.
During my tour, I saw a teacher reading a book to several 3-year-olds perched on a rug. Literature is important at Playgroup: the school has a dedicated library room, and the hallways are filled with beautiful prints featuring characters and scenes from famous children’s books such as Charlotte’s Web and Winnie the Pooh. Corder wants children to learn about these classic stories and characters.
In addition to early education training required by licensing regulations, Playgroup’s teachers have Bachelors degrees, and some have even earned their Masters. When asked about what she looks for when hiring staff Corder said, “I am drawn to teachers who are very committed to their own goals outside of being a preschool teacher. We’ve had a lot of success with hiring former athletes. They tend to exhibit a dedication and diligence to whatever their sports is, making very good role models for the children.”
According to Corder, her teachers earn a living wage, and many can afford to live in San Francisco. They receive full benefits, including “mental health days,” which Corder encourages them to take (Corder still acts as a substitute for her teachers).
The Students And Families
Corder’s vision for Playgroup is for it to be a community for parents, children, and educators. Playgroup draws families from all over the city, and also from as far away as Marin. Many parents drive their children a half hour or more each way. According to Corder, most of the families have two working parents (the school is open from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM). Notwithstanding the school’s beautiful facility and impressive staff, I was surprised that parents would commute so far for a particular preschool (research shows that children whose parents prioritize preschool are probably those that will do well regardless of the type of school they attend).
I posed this question for Corder, who told me that she believed Playgroup helped parents become even more successful in raising their children by providing a community for them; by coaching them on various aspects of parenting and child development; and most of all, by providing a home for the children during the weekdays so that parents can pursue their professional goals. In fact, Corder is passionate about supporting working parents and encourages parents to not feel guilty about entrusting their little ones to Playgroup. Corder says, “I tell parents to let Playgroup be the home for their children during the week, so that they can get what they need to get done in that time. Then, on the weekends, they can be fully present with their children.”
Full-time tuition at Playgroup will be $24,500 for a full year, full-time starting in 2016 (part-time options are available). At just above $2,000 per month full time, the tuition is competitive with many other San Francisco preschools and a good value when taking into account the school’s facility and the quality of the teachers. Scholarships based on financial need are also available.
For the 2016 school year, Corder has already received about 100 applications for 15 two-year-old openings (openings for older children arise from time to time) and will not be accepting further applications. Parents may apply next for the 2017 school-year now.