Chinese American International School (CAIS), is the oldest Mandarin immersion school (preschool through 8th grade) in San Francisco and the nation. This is my thorough CAIS review after visiting the school multiple times, speaking to 12 CAIS parents about their kids’ experience, and studying their history.
CAIS is located at 150 Oak Street, San Francisco, CA 94102. The street the preschool is on is quiet, which is good for drop-offs and pickups. There are two more buildings that house its elementary and middle school schools.
Overall, I had a positive impression of CAIS and give it 4.3 out of 5 stars. Many families also consider Presidio Knolls School, the other mandarin preschool-8 school in San Francisco. However, I prefer CAIS for the following reasons below.
Chinese American International School (CAIS) Review
This article is mainly a review of the CAIS preschool and CAIS kindergarten. Once you get into the preschool, your child is generally in for the rest of the way if your family and child are in good standing. CAIS goes from Pre-K (three years old) all the way to the 8th grade.
Therefore, if your child gets in and enjoys the experience, you won’t have to worry about applying to middle school. Further, if you have a younger child, he or she will automatically be admitted, provided your family is in good standing.
CAIS has a nice preschool campus with a large indoor area, separate classrooms, and a good sized outdoor playground. The outdoor playground is a plus compared to many other preschools. The school is actively trying to recruit diverse students and families to the program.
In 2024, when the new 6.5+ acre campus is ready for students, Chinese American International School will have one of the best atmospheres in all of San Francisco. CAIS has already hosted a number of events there and it’s been wonderful to have so much space.
Most students are Asian (~40%), half Asian / half Caucasian/Other race ~36%), or Caucasian (~15%). Therefore, there is diversity, but not much among Black and Hispanic students. Further, many of the parents I know who send their kids to CAIS earn a top 25% income. Therefore, the socioeconomic diversity is not that great either.
That said, the school is actively trying to recruit diverse students and families to the program. It’s understandable that many of the students are of Chinese or Taiwanese background given the language immersion.
From what I’ve seen in person and online, the teachers are fantastic. The average tenure for a teacher at CAIS is about eight years according to the school’s intro presentation.
There is a mixture between American teachers and Chinese teachers given the curriculum alternates by day. Preschool is full Mandarin immersion. Kindergarten alternatives between English and Chinese.
CAIS is open Monday – Friday and has a very accommodating schedule for full-time working parents. Drop off is around 8:30 am and regular pickup by 3:30 pm. CAIS also has after school care until 6 pm with all sorts of activities for an extra cost.
Hickory Lane is an alley for pickup. It can get very busy at 3:15 pm – 3:30 pm and at 5 pm. Plan accordingly and be patient.
Attending CAIS is expensive. Tuition for the 2023-24 school year is $39,600 for K-8th and $38,300 for preschool. That is roughly 40% more than for single-language private preschool tuition. Tuition has risen two years in a row with rising inflation referenced as a main driver. I fully expect CAIS tuition to go up to $40,000+ to match other private schools since it paid $40 million for the Mercy High School 19th Ave campus in 2021. Renovations are already underway for an estimated 2024-2025 open at the new campus.
Tuition assistance is available to qualified families through the Adjusted Tuition program. One in five families receives some form of aid through the program. If you don’t qualify and have to pay full price, your family should probably try to make at least $260,000 per child.
This is the guidance I have when deciding between private and public schools in my WSJ bestselling book, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom.
There are some very connected and well-to-do parents who send their children to CAIS. I know several of them. If you want to join a community of highly-educated people who care about San Francisco, their family, and the environment, CAIS is a good one.
However, if you cannot comfortably afford the tuition and also the donation to their annual fundraising, you may feel out of place. That said, there is tuition assistance, so please inquire.
It takes effort to make connections. But you’ll be happy to know the more effort you make, the more rewarding connections you will also make.
One note. I did reach out to Jeff Bissell, the head of school twice over the course of three months to see if CAIS would be interested in hosting a personal finance video talk with me. The school has been doing a number of these talks with authors and other experts over the past couple of years. I figured many parents would enjoy discussing education choices, college funding, investing, the economy, and more.
Sadly, I received no response from Jeff over email. I thought Jeff would be excited to host a WSJ bestselling author on a subject so many people want to talk about. For example, when I talked with Facebook, 650 people attended. Hence, it takes effort to build a community. Everybody is so busy that they might not have time for you.
CAIS Review Overall Score: 4.3/5
Chinese American International School has a wonderful preschool, lower school, and middle school. Once you get into CAIS preschool, your child is automatically enrolled in subsequent grades as long as child and parents are in good standings.
CAIS preschool 3 (first year of preschool) and CAIS kindergarten are the most competitive grades to get into. For CAIS pre-K 3, there were around 80 applicants for around 12 spots in 2020.
We did not get in, but were invited to apply again for pre-K 4 at no extra cost. We ultimately got in the second time and decided to attend. Feedback is that pre-K 3 and pre-K 4 has a lot of overlap because the classes are mixed.
Linda Vann-Adibe, Head of Admissions at CAIS, is a lovely woman. Unfortunately, she is leaving at the end of 2022. However, her replacement, Elain Chang is also wonderful.
Health wise, the pandemic has made schooling riskier for children. There is now the flu, RSV, and COVID-19 floating around. As a result, kids and parents will likely get sick more often. Indoor masking for students K and up are no longer required.
My wife and I have the ability to homeschool our son since we are both have flexible schedules. It would be nice to save $39,600 a year in tuition and all that driving as well. We would invest the entire saved $36,600 in tuition savings into various passive income investments.
However, we find the community aspect and social practice for our son is worth the price. So long as he’s happy, we’ll keep sending him.
I highly recommend Chinese American International School (CAIS) for preschool or grade school. The community is wonderful, the teachers are great, and the administrators truly care about your child’s needs.
Check out: How To Get Into A Great Preschool Or Private Grade School
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