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 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. 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.
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.
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 is between 3:30 pm – 5pm. CAIS also has after school care for an extra cost.
Attending CAIS is expensive. Tuition for the 2022-23 school year is $37,200 for all grades. $37,200 is about 40% more than for single-language private preschool tuition. Although, I expect CAIS tuition to go up to $40,000+ to match other private schools after it paid $40 million for the Mercy High School campus in 2021. We shall see.
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 movers and shakers in San Francisco, 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.
CAIS Review Overall Score: 4/5
CAIS 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 in. 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, which I hear is great. Feedback is that pre-K 3 and pre-K 4 has a lot of overlap because the classes are mixed.
I really also liked Linda Vann-Adibe, Head of Admissions at CAIS. She is a very lovely woman every time we met. She felt genuine and kind. She is leaving in 2022 unfortunately.
Although we are applying again (it’s free to reapply) for pre-K 4, it remains uncertain whether we will go even if we do get in. The pandemic has made schooling riskier. Further, my wife and I have the ability to homeschool our son since we are both “retired.”
It would be nice to save $37,200 a year in tuition and all that driving as well. We would invest the entire saved $37,200 in tuition savings into various passive income investments.
Note: We got in. So far so good. But the after school flexibility is not great. I asked if our son could stay back until 5 p.m. one day, and was denied.